Cincinnati One of 30 Cities Worldwide to Participate in AngelHack Hackathon

Cincinnati will be one of 30 cities worldwide to participate in AngelHack’s spring Hackathon. The event will take place May 3-4 at UpTech’s campus in Covington.

Event organizers credit Cincinnati’s history of innovation and burgeoning tech culture as the reason for hosting the world’s largest hackathon competition, which first took place in December 2011 in San Francisco, and is expected to attract more than 6,000 developers and work on more than 1,500 projects.

“AngelHack’s new hackathon competition, The Whole Developer, will take place in 30 cities around the world and focuses on soft skills for developers, designers and entrepreneurs, guiding them towards better overall business acumen and an improved lifestyle,” Ian Chong, from AngelHack’s Global Outreach Team, told UrbanCincy.

The Cincinnati event, Chong says, will have developers participating in a two-day event that will include coaching from emotional intelligence and well-being experts, and even allow participants to work with yoga instructors.

The hope, organizers say, is that this spring’s event will develop participants in a way that makes them more well-rounded.

“The Whole Developer is a hacker that masters their technical and emotional intelligence, focuses on establishing a well-rounded lifestyle and strives for growth,” Sabeen Ali, AngelHack’s CEO, stated in a prepared release. “As innovators, we have the ability and responsibility to teach the industry, our employers and our predecessors better, healthier working habits and more well-rounded lifestyles.”

In addition to the technical and personal training, participants will also be competing for cash prizes and an opportunity to join AngelHack’s HACKcelerator program and a trip to San Francisco.

The event itself will kick-off on Saturday, May 3 at 9am and end the next at 1pm. Winners will then been decided and announced on Sunday at 3pm. Due to the marathon nature of the event where developers are anticipated to work for 24 hours straight, AngelHack will be providing food and pillows for those who need a brief moment to relax.

Chong says that AngelHack is looking for developers to work on projects that can “wow the crowd” and have the potential to improve peoples’ lives. Ideally, the projects should also be scalable in case the idea hits the big time. Product demos, he says, are also mandatory and participants are banned from using slide decks.

Overall, organizers are encouraging junior developers looking to improve their skills, senior developers looking to work more effectively with new members of the industry, designers of all skill sets and “serious” entrepreneurs that can add value to the teams.

Those interested in participating can register online. Additional information, a detailed schedule and tickets can be purchased through the event’s webpage as well.

CORRECTION: Event organizers have relocated the venue from the University of Cincinnati to UpTech’s campus in Covington. The event is now also free for everyone.

Uptown Leaders Aiming to Help Small Businesses with $500,000 Development Fund

Leaders in Uptown are looking for a way to further help and encourage small businesses to set up shop in region’s second largest employment center. The hope is that a new revolving loan fund will help make the business climate better for those small businesses who often have trouble with upfront capital.

Uptown Consortium President and CEO, Beth Robinson says that the decision to start such a fund came as a result of feedback received during its business retention and small business visits in 2012. Those involved expressed a frustration with being able to secure necessary upfront capital. So to help solve that, the Uptown Consortium funded a new Development Opportunity Fund with $500,000 of its own money last year.

“The whole purpose of these things is to create a supportive business environment,” Robinson explained. “We have coaching services, means of communicating and now this fund. We really want to support job creation. That’s what this is about.”

McMillan Street in Clifton Heights
Uptown neighborhoods have seen a surge of private investment in recent years, but some small businesses are struggling to get involved. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

Robinson says that the fund is intended to support capital costs of new or expanding small and mid-sized businesses in the Uptown area, but that since it is funded with their own money there is a great deal of flexibility with how the money can be used.

“We’re open to whatever grows jobs in Uptown, and whatever stabilizes and moves the business districts forward,” noted Robinson.

These types of funds are typically administered by government agencies, not development corporations like the Uptown Consortium. This, in and of itself, gives the fund the much greater flexibility leaders are touting and on loan requirements.

The first and only business to take advantage of the fund so far is Stag’s Barbershop, which used $10,000 to complete a 1,400-square-foot expansion in Avondale. As a result, the neighborhood institution now offers, for the first time since its opening in the 1950s, a full beauty salon with hair, nail and feet treatments.

What that means is that applicants can apply for loans of the $490,000 in remaining funds. Should the program demonstrate viability and demand, Robinson says that it could be extended and potentially expanded.

“Since we are looking at it as a revolving loan fund, if the demand is there and it is having our desired intention, then there might be the possibility of expanding it,” Robinson told UrbanCincy.

Officials say that there are several businesses in the pipeline for loans right now, but that they are taking things on a first-come, first-serve basis. Ideally, they say, the new or expanding businesses will be located within one of the five neighborhood business districts in the area: Clifton’s Ludlow Avenue, Avondale’s Burnett Avenue, Corryville’s Short Vine, Calhoun/McMillan Streets in CUF, and Auburn Avenue in Mt. Auburn.

Those interested in learning more about the Uptown Consortium’s small business outreach programs, including this Development Opportunity Fund, are encouraged to contact Janelle Lee at jlee@uptownconsortium.org.

Decision from Board of Trustees More Than a Decade Ago Doomed Wilson Auditorium

In early 2000s the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees voted to build a new academic building for the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences along Clifton Avenue. That plan, of course, never came to reality due to fiscal constraints, but the unintended victim of that decision now be found in the rubble left behind by the now demolished Wilson Auditorium.

University officials revealed to UrbanCincy that while the Board of Trustees approved the new buildings, they did nothing to accommodate the ongoing maintenance costs of the aging Wilson Auditorium in the meantime. As a result, the building significantly deteriorated over the past five or so years.

In December part of the vision the Board of Trustees approved years ago came to reality when the 83-year-old structure was leveled. There are no plans, however, for any new academic facility to take its spot at this time.

Wilson Auditorium Site
Wilson Auditorium is now gone, but what will ultimately happen with the prominent site is anyone’s guess. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

According to the director of project management with the University of Cincinnati Office of Planning + Design + Construction, Dale Beeler, the site will be used as temporary classroom space during the $18.5 million renovation of the Teachers College over the next two years. That temporary space will amount to 25,000 square feet of modular buildings that the University of Cincinnati purchased from Cincinnati Public Schools following the district’s renovation of Walnut Hills High School.

What will happen with the prominent site on the university’s main campus is not yet clear.

“It is a too valuable piece of ground to leave unbuilt for an extended period of time,” explained Beeler. “Whatever is built there, however, would probably not be as imposing or close to Clifton Avenue as Wilson Auditorium.”

While the possibilities are wide open, the site is not. The small piece of land is surrounded by complicated slopes and other structures. The challenging site forced the previous design for the Arts & Sciences building to include a “tremendous amount of underground space” so that it was less imposing above ground.

While some rumors have included the possibility of a parking garage on the site, Beeler says that it will most likely be for some sort of academic use – indicating that either the Arts & Sciences building could come back into play, or the site could be used as the home for the new $70 million College of Law building.

Beeler was quick to deny that there were any plans in place to build new classroom space for the School of Design’s industrial design program, as was posted on the construction fence surrounding Wilson Auditorium’s demolition. It is assumed that this was prank by a student at the adjacent College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning (DAAP).

Until any solidified plans are put on the table and funded, students and area residents and workers, Beeler says, will at least be able to enjoy a better view of McMicken Hall.

“It’s amazing what it’s done for the view of McMicken Hall from that side of campus! It looks twice as big and twice as imposing.”

Cincinnati Aims to Open Initial Phase of Bike Share System This Summer

Cincinnati Bike Share Station MapCincinnati is set to join the ranks of American cities with bike sharing with the launch of Cincy B-Cycle next summer. The program is being organized by Cincy Bike Share, Inc. and is expected to begin operations in June.

Jason Barron, who previously worked in the office of former mayor Mark Mallory, was hired as the non-profit organization’s executive director in early December.

Over the last several years bicycle sharing programs have begun operating in several dozen cities across North America, and many more are planned. In July, CoGo Bike Share started operating in downtown Columbus and surrounding neighborhoods – marking the first bike share system to open in Ohio.

The planning for Cincinnati’s bike share system has been underway since 2011, when the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Leadership Cincinnati program started looking at getting a program running here. Then, in 2012, a feasibility study was commissioned by Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE).

It was not until the summer of 2013, however, that Cincy Bike Share, Inc. was established, and quietly selected B-Cycle to manage the installation and operations of the program.

B-Cycle operates bike share programs in over 25 cities in the United States, including Kansas City and Denver, and has started expanding overseas.

While traditional bike rentals are oriented to leisure rides, with the bike being rented for a few hours and returned to the same location, bike sharing, on the other hand, is geared for more utilitarian use.

According to Barron, usage of shared bikes is intended for one-way rentals over shorter time periods. Bikes are picked up and dropped off at unattended racks, where they are locked with a sophisticated system that is designed to allow users to quickly make trips that are just beyond walking range – often times about a half-mile to two miles in length.

The way the systems usually work is that users can either purchase a monthly or yearly membership that entitles them to a certain number of rides per month. Non-members, meanwhile, are typically able to purchase passes by the hour or day and are able to pay by cash or credit card at the informational kiosk present at each station.

Proponents view bike share programs as attractive components in the development of vibrant cities. With the continued revitalization of Cincinnati’s center city, Barron feels that bike share will fit well into the mix.

“With all systems of transportation, the more the merrier” Barron explained. He went on to say that he hopes that bike sharing, cars, buses and the streetcar “will work together to give people some great mobility options.”

One of the remaining tasks for Barron and the newly established Cincy Bike Share organization will be securing the necessary funding to build the approximately $1.2 million first phase of stations and the $400,000 to operate it annually. Barron believes that it can be accomplished through a number of ways including through a large number of small sponsors, as was done in Denver, or signing one large sponsor like New York City’s CitiBike system.

In addition to added exposure, bike share advocates point to research that shows improved public perceptions for companies sponsoring bike share systems. In New York, it was found that Citicorp’s sponsorship of CitiBike led to greatly increased favorability of the bank shortly after that bike share program launched.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for a corporation to tap into the young professional market,” Barron told UrbanCincy.

Cincy Bike Share is planning to start operations with about 200 bikes based at about 20 stations in downtown and Over-the-Rhine in the first phase, and would include a total of 35 stations with 350 bikes once phase two is built. Cincinnati’s initial system is modest in size when compared to other initial bike share system roll outs in the United States.

New York City CitiBike: 6,000 Bikes at 330 Stations
Chicago Divvy Bike: 750 Bikes at 75 Stations
Boston Hubway: 600 Bikes at 61 Stations
Atlanta CycleHop: 500 Bikes at 50 Stations
Miami DecoBike: 500 Bikes at 50 Stations
Washington D.C. Capital Bikeshare: 400 Bikes at 49 Stations
Denver B-Cycle: 450 Bikes at 45 Stations
Columbus CoGo: 300 Bikes at 30 Stations
Cincinnati B-Cycle: 200 Bikes at 20 Stations
Salt Lake City GREENbike: 100 Bikes at 10 Stations
Kansas City B-Cycle: 90 Bikes at 12 Stations

Cincinnati’s bikes are expected to be available for use 24 hours a day, and Barron says they will also most likely be available for use year-round. Cincy Bike Share will be responsible for setting the rate structure. While not final yet, it is estimated that annual memberships will cost $75 to $85 and daily passes will run around $6 to $8.

The 2012 feasibility study also looked at future phases opening in Uptown and Northern Kentucky. While it may be complicated to work through operating a bi-state bike share system, Barron says that Cincy Bike Share has already discussed the program with communities in Kentucky and says that they have expressed interest in joining.

While there is no state line or a river separating the systems initial service area downtown from the Uptown neighborhoods, steep hills at grades ranging from 7% to 9% do. These hills have long created a barrier for bicyclists uptown and downtown from reaching the other area with ease.

Barron views the hills as an obvious challenge, but part of Cincinnati’s character and what make Cincinnati great. When the Uptown phase gets under way, he says that it will be operated as one integrated system with the first phase, but that it is not known yet how many users will ride between the two parts of the city.

Over the past few years, the DOTE’s Bike Program has greatly increased the city’s cycling infrastructure, and it is believed that continued improvements will help make using this new system, and the increasing number of cyclists, safer on the road.

Cincinnati’s new bike share system also appears to have majority support on council and with Mayor John Cranley (D), who has publicly stated that he is in favor of the program. “We plan on working with the City as a full partner,” Barron noted. “We think everything’s in place.”

If everything goes according to plan, the initial system could be operational as early as this summer.

Salt Lake City GREENbike photographs by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

Episode #30: Looking Back at 2013 (Part 2)

U Square at The Loop

On the 30th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we bring you the second half of our conversation looking back at 2013. In the first half our discussion, we talked about recent events surrounding the Cincinnati Streetcar.

In this second half, we discussed a variety of development projects across the region. We speculate on the future of the Uptown area, with new projects such as U Square, other housing and mixed-use developments, a demolition on UC’s campus, and the upcoming new interchange at Martin Luther King Boulevard. We also cover downtown projects such as the Dunnhumby Centre, the Tower Place and Pogue’s Garage redevelopments, and the mystery of Phase II of The Banks. Finally, we touch on Manhattan Harbor, Blue Ash Summit Park, The Kenwood Collection, and the new Brent Spence Bridge.

Aerial photography of U Square by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

Gentrification Occurring in More Than Cincinnati’s Center City Neighborhoods

Like many cities across the United States, the City of Cincinnati is gentrifying, but it is doing so at a faster rate than most of its Midwestern peers – ranking fourth only behind Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Louis. When compared with the primary city in each of the nation’s 55 most populated metropolitan areas, Cincinnati is in the middle of the pack. Those cities that are gentrifying most quickly are located in the Northeast and along the West Coast.

The information comes from a new report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, which also dove into the financial implications of what is often generally considered a bad thing.

Gentrification is generally understood as the rise of home prices or rents in a particular neighborhood. In Cincinnati this has most vigorously been discussed as it relates to the transformation in Over-the-Rhine from what was one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, to now being one of its trendiest.

Clifton Heights
The Clifton Heights neighborhood, which continues to see a surge of private real estate investment, was found to be one of several Cincinnati neighborhoods that gentrified between 2000 and 2007. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

“Gentrification is sometimes viewed as a bad thing. People claim that it is detrimental to the original residents of the gentrifying neighborhood,” stated Daniel Hartley, a research economist focusing on urban and regional economics and labor economics for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. “However, a look at the data suggests that gentrification is actually beneficial to the financial health of the original residents.”

What Hartley’s research found is that credit scores for those living in a neighborhood that gentrified between 2000 and 2007 were about eight points higher than those people living in a low-price neighborhood that did not gentrify. He also discovered that delinquency rates, as represented by a share of people with an account 90 or more days past due, fell by two points in gentrifying neighborhoods relative to other low-price neighborhoods during the same period.

Some, however, caution against drawing conclusions about the data presented in Hartley’s report.

“I don’t see any reason why gentrification would affect the credit scores of existing residents – those who lived in the neighborhood prior to gentrification occurring,” commented Dr. David Varady, a professor specializing in housing policy at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Planning. “It was my impression that banks and other financial institutions were not supposed to take the neighborhood into account but rely on the family’s financial characteristics.”

The practice Dr. Varady describes of banks and financial institutions taking neighborhoods into account is called redlining. It is a practice that was rebuffed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, but some believe the practice persists in more abstract forms today.

One of the biggest concerns shared by those worried about the gentrification of neighborhoods is that it is particularly those that rent, rather than own, who are affected most. This too, however, is challenged by Hartley’s research.

“Mortgage-holding residents are associated with about the same increase in credit scores in gentrifying neighborhoods as non-mortgage-holding residents,” Hartley explained. “This result suggests that renters in gentrifying neighborhoods benefit by about the same degree as homeowners.”

Cincinnati Gentrification (2000-2007)
The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland noted gentrification in a wide variety of Cincinnati neighborhoods between 2000 and 2007. Map produced by Nate Wessel for UrbanCincy.

What is even more intriguing about the report’s findings is that original residents who moved from the gentrifying neighborhood, who many would consider displaced residents, experienced a 1.5 point higher credit score improvement than those who did not move.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland provided UrbanCincy with the data broken out by Census tract for Cincinnati. Approximately 72% of the city’s 104 Census tracts are defined as low-price, and of those 75 Census tracts with home valuation data, nine were found to have gentrified between 2000 and 2007.

When examined more closely it becomes clear that the neighborhoods experiencing the biggest gains in home value and income in Cincinnati are those that are in the center city. Specifically, and perhaps not surprisingly, five of the nine are located in the neighborhoods of Clifton Heights, East Walnut Hills, Fairview, University Heights and the East End. Outside of the center city, Pleasant Ridge, Oakley, Columbia Tusculum and Mt. Airy also experienced gentrification over the past decade.

Community council leaders for these neighborhoods did not respond to multiple requests for comments from UrbanCincy.

Unfortunately, the two neighborhoods where many expect gentrification has occurred most – Downtown and Over-the-Rhine – did not have median home value data available for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland to study.

While the report has generally positive findings about the impacts of gentrification, Cincinnati is at a disadvantage when it comes to improving the financial health of its neighborhoods.

According to the report, the percentage of low-price Census tracts in Cincinnati beneath the median home value of the metropolitan area is 14 percentage points higher than the national average, and the rate at which Census tracts are gentrifying in the Great Lakes region is approximately 4.5 points lower than the national average.

“I don’t have a clue what Hartley meant by the phrase ‘neighborhoods with a potential for gentrification’ but the assertion that 95% do in Baltimore is rather ludicrous given the high rate of abandonment,” Dr. Varady scoffed. “Baltimore certainly can use more gentrification but how the city can promote this is an open question.”

With the nine identified neighborhoods in Cincinnati spread throughout a mix of expected and unexpected locations, it is probably safe to say that the Census tracts in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine also gentrified during this period, or have since 2007.

Change in cities is inevitable, but whether these changes sweeping Cincinnati are good, bad or indifferent is probably still open for spirited discussion among those most interested.

“In general I think that gentrification presents benefits and costs,” Dr. Varady concluded. “Anyone who says it is all bad or all good is not contributing to the debate.”

This story originally appeared in the December 20, 2013 print edition of the Cincinnati Business Courier. You can view that story online for additional comments and discussion. UrbanCincy readers can take advantage of an exclusive premium digital Business Courier subscription that includes access via the web, smart phone or tablet applications for just $49 per year.