EDITORIAL: Don’t Cancel Homearama, Relocate It

The past ten days have been interesting. A week ago I spoke with Keith Schneider from the New York Times about the booming residential property values in Cincinnati’s center city. Then, just one day later, the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati announced that they would be cancelling this year’s Homearama event in Clermont County.

The annual suburban home show has been going since 1962, and was cancelled this year due to, “increased activity in other segments of the housing market.” One of the builders that has traditionally participated in those over-the-top suburban home shows is Great Traditions, which recently expressed a growing interest in developing urban properties.

Great Traditions is not the only one. Greiwe Development has also said that they would like to start building homes along the Cincinnati Streetcar starter line, John Hueber Homes made the same transition to Over-the-Rhine, and Ashley Builders appears to just be getting started on their work in the center city.

So while homebuilders are struggling in the region’s outlying suburbs, they seem to be thriving in a manner that is pulsating outward from Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

It seems more than likely that Homearama will return in the not-so-distant future, but should it? With all the demographic and economic trends pointing in the opposite direction, perhaps the energy and money put into the 53-year-old suburban home show should be shifted elsewhere. I could think of some very nice places to do urban home shows in Pleasant Ridge, Walnut Hills, Avondale, West End, Price Hill, East End, and College Hill. And that is not even considering the possibilities in Northern Kentucky’s river cities.

Yes, there is CiTiRAMA, but that annual home show is often limited in its scale and tends to leave much to be desired.

The writing appears to be on the wall, which makes the outlandish Fischer Homes Expressway proposal look all the more desperate. Why keep up the fight? There are plenty of opportunities in our region’s first-ring suburbs, and the city governments overseeing those sites will assuredly be more than happy to cooperate.

Don’t believe me? Just ask those developers that had been defined by their suburban subdivisions for decades how they are liking life in neighborhoods like East Walnut Hills, O’Bryonville, Northside, Clifton and Over-the-Rhine where condos are virtually sold-out.

I hope the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati decides to not cancel this year’s Homearama after all. I just hope they relocate it to the inner-city where the residential housing market is hot.

Eighth Annual BuyCincy Holiday Event to Take Place This Weekend

The Greater Cincinnati Independent Business Alliance (CiNBA) is hosting their second annual BuyCincy event this weekend between November 21 and November 23.

While in only its second year with CiNBA, the BuyCincy event has actually been running in some form for eight years now, following its initial launch through the now defunct BuyCincy blog.

CiNBA, which was established in in 2012, is the first independent business alliance, of 90 nationwide, to have successfully partnered with a university. In this case that institution is Xavier University’s William’s College of Business .

“CiNBA’s mission is to create a thriving community of local independent businesses and non-profits by supporting and representing the value of those in the Greater Cincinnati area and works to accomplish this mission through networking, marketing and events such as the BuyCincy Holiday Event,” said Madison Wallace, a Xavier University student in charge of the social media marketing for CiNBA and BuyCincy.

Initially launched as a blog in 2007, BuyCincy has since morphed into a brand used to promote local spending, and help area residents discover new local businesses. This year, organizers say, the event is expecting more than 150 businesses to participate from more than 15 different neighborhoods, including Bellevue, Over-the-Rhine, Hyde Park and College Hill.

Last year the event had 146 participating businesses from 20 different neighborhoods. Organizers estimate that the approximated spending during the four-day event totaled $25,000. Similar events to this one nationwide tend to boost sales in the participating neighborhood business districts. On average, independent business organizations estimate that those participating areas see 5.3% more business activity than other non-participating areas.

“We know small businesses get lost in frantic “big box” promotions during the holidays, so we created BuyCincy’s Holiday Event to bring our city’s local businesses together with a ‘buy local’ shopping message,” CiNBA explains.

The three-day BuyCincy Holiday Event will take place the weekend before Thanksgiving. The complete list of participating businesses can be found on the group’s website, and includes shops, restaurants, bars and other local establishments to round out your holiday shopping experience.

Apple Street Market Cooperative Hoping to Fill One of Cincinnati’s Food Deserts

For the first time there are no grocery stores in College Hill, Northside or Clifton. At one time each neighborhood had their own store including a Kroger in College Hill, IGA in Clifton and Save-A-Lot in Northside.

When Save-A-Lot closed its Northside store in November 2013, however, it got the attention of the Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative (CUCI) and sparked an effort to open a community-owned grocery store in its place called Apple Street Market.

There is only one full-service grocery store within a three-mile driving distance from Northside – a Kroger on Mitchel Avenue. That Kroger, however, is not served by Metro’s #17 bus route, thus leaving carless households with only Metro’s #16 route as their option. The problem is that the #16 bus route does not run on Sundays and only runs every half-hour after 4pm.

“This makes a grocery trip an arduous and time consuming journey if you do not have a car,” said Casey Whitten-Amadon, legal counsel for Apple Street Market. “The trip can take more than three hours, in all types of inclement weather.”

It was the closing of the Save-A-Lot, however, that really sparked the effort to open a new community-owned grocery store in Northside.

“I knew that CUCI had been starting worker owned ventures. So, I approached them about a grocery store within the first week of Save-A-Lot closing,” said Heather Sturgill, a Northside resident and community advocate.

CUCI did a lot of searching to find the best fit for the new store. They were not specifically tied to Northside, but after surveying about four different neighborhoods, along with conducting market studies and market analysis for grocery stores, they found Northside to be the perfect fit. One of the key reasons for this, they say, is that Northside had an existing space that was in great shape and needed little to no demolition or remodeling.

This was important, and stands in contrast to the ongoing difficulties Clifton is having in trying to open their own cooperative grocery store on Ludlow Avenue, because they did not have the capital nor did they have a large investor that would finance the project.

This is particularly complicated by the financial model of union co-op businesses, where a large investor cannot have a larger share of the profit or a larger share of the governance rights. Rather, each person or entity that invests in the store gets an equal share and one vote regardless of the investment.

In the case of Apple Street Market, CUCI is accepting $100 or $10 from lower-income investors.

While raising the capital for a union coop startup can prove to be extremely difficult, Northside’s effort has been aided by a large number of enthusiastic volunteers that also set the community apart from others in the city.

While this collection of neighborhoods represents a relatively new and small food desert in Cincinnati, it comes at a time when many policy makers are looking to fix such problems.

“This is another reason that we decided to go ahead with the project in Northside,” said Whitten-Amadon. “The main benefit to community ownership is the opening of a unique store that is owned by the workers and the community.”

He also says that success and profitability will be shared by the community, and that being able to make decisions collectively will help create a sense of pride in the neighborhood store.

While community leaders are excited about the potential benefits for the community investors and workers, they are also looking forward to the local specialty items that will be stocked at Apple Street Market. Organizers say that the plan is to provide a larger than average organic and produce section, and sourcing much of it from Our Harvest – another area worker-owned business started by CUCI.

But Sturgill says that they will also be including up-and-coming brands to give the store an affordability that most health food cooperatives do not have.

“We tried to get fresh foods in some of the other corner type shops but the owners didn’t seem interested enough to follow through,” Sturgill told UrbanCincy. “This is intended to be the first in a chain of worker/community owned groceries.

A future additional location for this type of store, she says, could be in College Hill at the new development planned for North Bend Road and Hamilton Avenue.

An official opening date has not yet been set for Apple Street Market, but Sturgill says the goal is to have it completed by spring 2015. Those who are interested in providing funding and making an investment in the store can do so by buying a share online.

CNU22: Cincinnati Wins National Planning Award for Form-Based Code

The City of Cincinnati’s Department of Planning & Buildings has been on a roll lately. This past weekend in Buffalo, at the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) national conference, the city won its third national award of the year for its new form-based code.

CNU’s grand prize for the Best Planning Tool or Process was actually a tie and thus jointly awarded to Cincinnati for its form-based code (FBC) and Station Center, a transit-oriented development in Union City, California.

As first reported by UrbanCincy, the Department of Planning & Buildings was honored with the Daniel Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan at the American Planning Association’s (APA) national conference in Atlanta.  Additionally, in late 2013, the Department won the Ohio APA’s award for Comprehensive Planning for a Large Jurisdiction.

In 2012, city leaders were also awarded with the Frank F. Ferris II Community Planning Award from the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.

In addition to city staff and thousands of Cincinnatians, those involved in developing Cincinnati’s award-winning FBC included Opticos Design, Hall Planning & Engineering, Urban Design Associates, glaserworks, Wise Economy Workshop, and Urban Fast Forward.

“It is an honor for us to have our code recognized by an organization that is on the cutting edge of best practices with regard to planning tools and good urbanism,” said Alex Peppers, senior city planner for Cincinnati. “We put a lot of work into developing a code that would fit our context and assets.”

What makes Cincinnati’s FBC unique is that it is a voluntary tool for neighborhoods who seek to preserve the character of their centers of activity and historic business districts. Thus far, it has been adopted in College Hill, Madisonville, Walnut Hills and Westwood.

Jurors noted that they were particularly impressed by the code’s extensive photo documentation and mapping analysis that calibrated the code’s application, and reinforced the unique characteristics of Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods.

“The Cincinnati code is an excellent example of that advancement in the deployment of SmartCode, with particular attention paid to public process, neighborhood structure and graphic presentation,” explained Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, one of CNU’s award jurors. “It reinforces Cincinnati’s historic urban patterns with guidance for appropriate infill and predictable redevelopment building.”

The final draft of Cincinnati’s form-based code is available online and can be accessed here.

On the twelfth official episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we were joined by Roxanne Qualls to discuss Cincinnati’s development and implementation of form-based codes. You can subscribe to The UrbanCincy Podcast on iTunes for free.

Month in Review – May 2014

Three of UrbanCincy‘s top stories in May revolved around a few dramatic transformations taking place in the urban core. We took you on a Street View tour of some of the biggest transformations in the city, showed you photos of the Cincinnati Streetcar’s construction, and shared news about changes to the city’s oldest historic district. In case you missed them, enjoy UrbanCincy‘s most popular stories from May 2014:

    1. PHOTOS: Cincinnati’s Dramatic, Decade-Long Transformation Visualized
      While many of us can feel that a transformation has taken place in Cincinnati over the past decade, it can be difficult to visualize it. Thanks to new Google Street View capabilities we have done just that.
    2. EDITORIAL: What Cranley’s Clever Budget Means for Urbanists
      The rookie Mayor John Cranley has proposed his first budget. At first glance, it doesn’t look so bad. But after further review what most feared is in fact the sad reality.
    3. The Littlefield to Bring Craft Bourbon Bar to Northside This June
      A craft bourbon bar called The Littlefield will open in Northside next month. The approximately 400SF establishment, which will also include a large outdoor terrace, has been years in the making.
    4. Western & Southern Aiming to Alter Lytle Park Historic District Boundaries
      Western & Southern has long been rumored to be eyeing a location for a new high-rise office tower to consolidate their headquarters; and proposed changes to the Lytle Park Historic District may be setting up for exactly that.
    5. PHOTOS: Construction Activities for $133M Streetcar Project Move Southward
      Significant visual progress continues to be made on the $133M first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar. Take a look at the progress and learn about a string of good news that may push forward the opening date.