Take a Look at CVG’s Abandoned Concourse C Through Ronny Salerno’s Lens

Ronny Salerno has established himself as one of the region’s best photo journalists. He covers the stories not often given light in the typical news cycle. The stories he publishes on his website, Queen City Discovery, aren’t often current events, but they are always topical.

One of his more recent features that garnered national attention uncovered the history of a ghost ship left stranded downstream from Cincinnati in a small tributary to the Ohio River. Salerno has become well-known for his thoughtful coverage of abandoned buildings and their stories they hold.

The most recent feature of his looks at the now abandoned Concourse C at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). While Concourse C was once a symbol of CVG’s prominence and significance, it is now a visual reminder of how far the airline industry in general, and the airport in specific, have fallen over the past decade.

Regional air travel, which is what Concourse C catered to through its Comair service, is becoming more and more a thing of the past. Throughout Europe, China, Japan and Korea, where inter-city high speed rail is prevalent, regional air travel has already fallen by the wayside. In North America, inter-city bus travel has grown in popularity while Amtrak sets ridership records each year.

But still, no sign of comprehensive inter-city high speed rail seems to be anywhere in the near future for Canada and the United States. What will that mean for metropolitan regions with millions of people, like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, now being left off the map? Smaller regions, like Birmingham, already lack expansive air service and must rely on larger metropolitan regions nearby for service.

Many cities and regions are being left off the map and have fewer and fewer transportation options to get from one city to the next. Who knows what that will mean for these people and regions in the future, but for now please take a look back at the history and stories of CVG’s Concourse C.

The Concourse: Part 1 – Island in a Stream of Runways
The Concourse: Part 2 – Unaccompanied Minor
The Concourse: Part 3 – The Film (embedded above)

The fall of 1994 was a good time for regional airliner Comair, the company had just opened a second hub in its hometown at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Regional Airport (CVG). Dubbed “Concourse C,” the building was an island in a stream of runways, accessible to passengers only via shuttle busses and the flights they arrived on. The concourse was always a center of human activity amongst the tarmac – featuring shops, eateries and over 50 gates to destinations across the continental United States.

It was a place where people reunited, strangers shared drinks between travels and employees fought the daily grind.

Comair was purchased by Delta Airlines in 2000 and both airlines plunged into bankruptcy protection by 2005. After emerging from bankruptcy in 2007, Delta began to scale back Comair flights and eventually relocated all operations to another section of the airport in 2008. Concourse C was left abandoned. In 2012, Delta completely folded Comair.

Today, Concourse C still remains out in the middle of the runways: no passengers, few visitors and closed off to the general public. It’s eerily quiet state is a stark contrast to the sea of humanity that once flowed through it. On a recent exclusive tour of the facility, I was able to make this short film in addition to several photographs.

Hamilton County Posted Largest Population Gain in Cincinnati MSA in 2013

New population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week show that Hamilton County’s population slide has ended and that the Cincinnati metropolitan region remains the largest in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana with more than 2.1 million people.

In 2013 Hamilton County added more than 2,000 new people – making it the biggest gainer in the 15-county tri-state region. Warren County came in a close second with just under 2,000 new people.

Boone and Kenton Counties in Kentucky and Clermont County in Ohio also posted population gains of more than 1,000 people. Meanwhile five rural counties in the region saw their population decline, with Brown County in Ohio losing the most at an estimated 165 people.

The Cincinnati region as a whole is estimated to have added just over 8,000 residents in 2013.

Cincinnati MSA Population Changes 2010-2013

Over the past year, the region also posted gains in terms of international migration, but saw continued losses for domestic migration. Net migration to the Cincinnati region was actually negative, but thanks to births significantly outpacing deaths, the region was able to post its overall population gain.

When compared to Columbus and Cleveland, Cincinnati lags in terms of international migration numbers.

Columbus, meanwhile, is the only region out of the big three in Ohio that posted gains in both international and domestic migration – making it the only metropolitan area in the state to have positive net migration in 2013.

Regionally, Hamilton County was the only county to see more than 1,000 new international migrants. But at the same time, Hamilton County also recorded the largest domestic migration loss of any county in the region.

While most all of Hamilton County’s population gains can be attributed to births exceeding deaths, approximately half of Warren County’s gain can be attributed to its positive net migration over the past year. Aside from Warren County, only four other counties in the region experienced positive net migration.

Ohio Metropolitan Region 2030 Population Projection

The population estimates continue to look bad for Cleveland, which recorded regional population loss once again. Since the 2010 Decennial Census, Cleveland has posted average annual population losses of 0.2%, while Cincinnati and Columbus have posted gains of 0.4% and 1.1% respectively.

Should these trends hold over the coming years, Columbus will follow Cincinnati’s lead and pass Cleveland, once the state’s most populous metropolitan region, in terms of overall population by 2017.

Due to the faster growth taking place in Columbus, it will also eventually catch and pass Cincinnati as the state’s most populous region a decade from now. Cleveland, meanwhile, will see its regional population dip below two million in 15 years.

A long forecasted but yet realized trend appears to be taking hold in the second decade of the new millennium. Instead of cities bleeding population to suburban areas, rural areas are now losing their population to suburban areas while cities hold on to their core population while also continuing to attract international and some domestic migrants from suburban and rural areas.

The Decennial Census in 2010 was a splash of cold water for many cities, including Cincinnati, who had thought that they had already reversed decades of population loss. Perhaps these new trends, now being realized, will finally result in the population gain so many cities have been longing for in 2020.

Uber Officials Credit Cincinnati’s Urban Revival, Tech Scene for their Arrival

Four days after our initial report that Uber would soon enter the Cincinnati market, the technology company that has been changing the way people think about the taxi and ridesharing industry officially launched their uberX and uberBLACK services in the Queen City.

With one week remaining on Uber’s initial two weeks of free service, people who wish to use the service are asked to download the company’s smart phone app and then create an account. This is important because this is how users will pay, rate their drivers and access information about where and how many vehicles are available.

The use of this application also allows Uber to track important data about their drivers and their customers. It also helps the company make business decisions.

“Cincinnati has certainly been a market that’s been on our radar for a while,” James Ondrey, Uber’s Ohio General Manager, told UrbanCincy by email. “As a tech company that likes to look at data to drive our decisions, we could see that many people had downloaded Uber or opened the app to look for a ride in the Cincinnati area. So there is definitely pent up demand here.”

Beyond that pent up demand, Ondrey also says that changes to Ohio’s for-hire-sedan code, which allowed for rates to be charged beyond only an hourly rate, opened the door for Uber to work with area limousine operators using rates based on time and distance.

Cincinnati, however, is not Uber’s first market in Ohio. They launched in Columbus in December 2013 and are currently rumored to be eyeing Cleveland for a launch later this year.

“Columbus has been great so far – riders and drivers have been embracing us in drovers and I think the city sees the benefits to having Uber in town,” continued Ondrey, whose position is based out of Columbus. “We expect to see the same here in Cincinnati.”

Ondrey says that the goal is to establish Uber as the most reliable transportation option for Cincinnatians, and he expects that service levels will only improve as they are able to add driver-partners.

“I want you to be able to open your Uber app and always see a car available in less than five minutes,” Ondrey said. “We are in soft launch phase now, so we start with just a handful of initial partners, but you’ll see that grow quickly as we try to keep up with all the demand.”

Not everyone, however, has been thrilled about Uber’s launch.

One UrbanCincy reader explained difficulties with signing up as a potential uberX driver, and was frustrated by what he perceived as a lack of transparency about the need for cars to be no older than eight years. Other readers from the taxi and limousine industries have also expressed frustration.

Bob Michaels, owner of Crown Car & Coach, told UrbanCincy by email that, “As a black car service operator of 11 years in Cincinnati, it is not the taxi industry that is affect, but our core business also.”

While those issues are sorted out, along with a variety of other complaints that have been lobbed at the startup company, Uber officials are moving forward and happy to bring a new transportation choice to Cincinnatians.

“I think transportation choice is ultimately a great thing for consumers,” Ondrey concluded. “We are bringing efficiency to the transportation system in Cincinnati. And again, consumers will ultimately benefit from that competition.”

“You look at all the resurgence that’s happening in Cincy right now – the continued neighborhood development and the increasing desire of folks to return to the urban core – and you can see why it’s a match made in heaven.”

In follow-up correspondence with Lyft officials, the company has said that it has not yet decided officially whether it too will enter the Cincinnati market, but conceded that they are considering it at this time.

Stay tuned to UrbanCincy for further developments on that, and for additional reports as we continue to examine the other aspects on the region’s car-for-hire industry.

Photographs provided by Uber.

Uber and Lyft to Soon Enter Cincinnati Market

Cincinnati’s taxicab industry has long been, and continues to be, a total embarrassment. The vehicles are old, rates are high, availability is limited and service is generally poor. That all may be changing in the near future, however, due to the impending arrival of Uber and Lyft – two new innovative ridesharing companies.

One of the long-standing issues with Cincinnati’s various taxicab companies has been the lack of uniformity or use of technology. There are scores of rag-tag taxicab businesses all across the city and region, with different levels of service and expectations to go along with each.

Forget trying to pay with a credit card, or by any sort of 21st century payment mechanism, in Cincinnati today. But both Uber and Lyft started with technology as a foundational element of their companies.

“In cities around the world, especially the major ones, you have a very stagnant transportation ecosystem,” explains Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. “A lot of times they don’t work. Bringing innovation to this world, which in many cases hasn’t been innovated on in decades, can really bring diversity to a system that hasn’t seen a lot of that.”

Lyft, founded in 2012, allows your friends and neighbors to become your taxi drivers while using their own person vehicles. Meanwhile, Uber, founded in 2009, uses the latest technological advances to allow users to book, reserve, pay and coordinate all elements of their trip. And both companies ensure that clean, new vehicles are the standard.

Lyft was the first to make the announcement that they would soon be entering the Cincinnati market. In February, the company posted ads on Craigslist soliciting new drivers in the Cincinnati area. Uber has since followed suit and posted a position for a Cincinnati Community Manager on their website.

Both of the new tech-savvy, ridesharing companies have been operating out of Columbus, and will also both soon be operating in Cleveland. As a result, Uber’s new community manager position is based out of the state’s centrally located capital.

“So much about cities is how you get around them,” Kalanick concludes. “If you can bring real efficiency, real convenience and real comfort to how you move around that city, you can change the way people live in that city.”

In Cincinnati, a city where the transportation has essentially been unchanged for several generations, the changes and new competition could not come soon enough for some.

“Convenience trumps all. Instead of digging around Google for local taxi numbers, both services come to you,” explained Josh Green from Roadtrippers, who had previously lived and worked in the San Francisco area and frequently used both services.

Green says that he never had a bad experience using either Lyft or Uber, and even envisions the tech-savvy employees at Roadtrippers to utilize it.

“Both services always had friendly drivers thanks to the mutual rating system. I particularly liked Lyft’s drivers because they are literally normal people off the street,” said Green. “I’m super pumped they are coming to Cincinnati because taxis, especially on week nights, are hard to come by.”

How do the housing markets in Ohio’s largest metropolitan regions compare?

A surge of new home construction rang in the new millennium just over a decade ago, but that surge quickly ended when the now infamous housing bubble burst, subsequently leading to the Great Recession.

In recent years the economy has begun to rebound, but the housing market still has not quite come back. In particular, the home ownership housing market has not come back.

This had led to a new surge of housing construction as developers work to build product for a still growing U.S. population. Cities have seen much of this new apartment construction as the rebounding economy has coincided with the entrance of Millennials into the housing market.

The narrative has been that rentals are surging while home ownership is sagging, but according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau, this common narrative is only partly true.

Home Ownership Rates in Ohio MSAs
Apartment Vacancy Rate in Ohio MSAs

In Ohio’s five largest metropolitan regions the data shows that home ownership rates have settled out around the same levels they were at nearly two decades ago. And while apartment vacancy rates have been plummeting in recent years, they are still higher than they were in the 1980s and 1990s.

Akron and Cleveland are virtually tied for the highest home ownership rates in Ohio at 66%, but this is down from their respective peaks of 80% and 77% around the height of the housing bubble. At 61%, Columbus scores the lowest of Ohio’s five biggest metropolitan regions in terms of home ownership.

Columbus boasts the state’s lowest apartment vacancy rate at 6%, which is approaching the capital city’s all-time lowest apartment vacancy rate of 5% in 1990. The Dayton region has the highest apartment vacancy rate in the state, with its apartments sitting empty nearly twice as much as those in Columbus.

Both when it comes to home ownership and apartment vacancy rate, Cincinnati seems to serve as the state’s trend line. For the year ending 2013, the Queen City had a home ownership rate of 63% and an apartment vacancy rate of 9%.

While the aforementioned data seems to cloud the discussion about housing market trends, additional data also shows that overall inventory and prices of owner-occupied units is decreasing, while inventory and pricing of rental units is increasing.

Locally, Cincinnati is in the midst of an apartment building boom, with thousands of units across the region currently under construction. While home permits have increased recently, those numbers pale in comparison.

CHART: The Best and Worst States in America for Transit Funding

According to data from the Federal Transit Authority (FTA), the State of Ohio provides some of the least amount of funding for its regional transit authorities of any state in America.

Texas, Georgia and Missouri also provide next to nothing to their various regional transit agencies, but in no other state are transit agencies as reliant on fares and local taxes as they are in the Buckeye State.

When broadening the search to examine transit agencies in the biggest cities across America, it also becomes clear that states like Pennsylvania, Utah and Maryland, Minnesota and Massachusetts invest large amounts of state dollars in transit. Some transit agencies with little state support, however, receive larger sums of money from regional transit taxes and federal aid.

Source of American Transit Funding

Ohio’s three largest metropolitan regions – all with more than two million people – are different in this regard and have the least diverse range of financial support of transit agencies nationwide. For both Columbus and Cleveland, it means that well over 90% of their total revenues come from fares and local tax dollars, while in Cincinnati it is slightly better at 84% thanks to a bit more federal aid.

“In the recession we saw transit service cut while gas prices drove transit demand to record levels,” stated Akshai Singh, an Ohio Sierra Club representative with the advocacy organization Ohio for Transportation Choice. “Roughly all of the state’s public transportation funding now goes to operating rural transit services.”

Honolulu is the only other region in the United States that has 90% or more of its funds coming from just fares and local tax dollars. Cities in other states providing next to nothing also approach this threshold, but do not exceed it as is the case in Ohio.

It recently reported that the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) is one of the best stewards of limited financial resources, when compared to 11 peer agencies across the country. One of the key findings from Agenda 360 report was how little state financial support SORTA receives.

Part of the problem in Ohio is due to state cuts that have reduced funding for public transportation by 83% since 2000. Those cuts have forced transit agencies in the nation’s seventh most populous state to reduce service and increase fares over the past decade.

According to All Aboard Ohio, the state only provides approximately 1% of its transportation budget to transit, while more than 9% of the state’s population lives without a car.

In addition to regional transit, Ohio continues to be one of the most hostile states in terms of inter-city passenger rail. The state remains almost untouched by Amtrak’s national network and boasts the nation’s most densely populated corridor – Cincinnati to Cleveland – without any inter-city passenger rail service.

“When Governor Kasich came to office, the first thing he did was send back $400 million in federal dollars, for the 3C Corridor, on the basis that operations and maintenance would have been too onerous on the state,” Singh concluded. “Today, ODOT is allocating $240 million to build a $331 million, 3.5-mile highway extension through a 40% carless neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side, a staggering $100 million per mile new capacity road, while openly acknowledging they are reducing access for local residents.”