Connoisseurs, Novices Can Start Getting ‘Half Cut’ at OTR’s New Beer Cafe Today

Tom O'Brien and Jack HeekinOver-the-Rhine will welcome another craft beer establishment when HalfCut Beer Cafe opens at southeast corner of Twelfth and Walnut Streets today.

In what seems to be a trend in the competitive OTR beer marketplace, HalfCut will attempt to distinguish itself from the rest with a unique twist – it is a beer café where their “beeristas” will help recommend beer choices and get to know their customers in a relaxed setting much like a coffee shop.

“When someone walks up to the counter, you’ll get to learn and sample different beers in a way that’s different than other bars,” Jack Heekin, HalfCut co-owner, told UrbanCincy. “We’ll learn where each customer is in their journey, and we’ll work with them.”

Heekin says that the important thing is understanding and getting to know each customer’s palate; saying that not everyone wants to try every beer, but that HalfCut will aim to inform them about the particular brewery and process used to make each particular beer.

To that end, the owners say that while they will have 16 taps at first, they will all be styled the same as to avoid people choosing a beer based on their familiarity with it or their fondness for its tap design. Later they will have the ability to expand to 32 taps.

The philosophy is one that was not crafted overnight. Instead, it came about during a more than 6,000-mile road trip in the name of beer education.

“What we’re really trying to do is add something that’s unique to Cincinnati,” Heekin explained. “When we were on our road trip we came up with this linear process of learning and wanted to bring it back to Cincinnati.”

This will not be the first attempt, for this group, to bring something new to Cincinnati. Several years ago the same team launched the now seemingly omnipresent Pedal Wagon, which is a 14-seat bike that can be reserved for special events and pub crawls. After starting with just one wagon in 2012, they now have three on Cincinnati’s streets and one in Columbus, with several more to be added later this year.

“Pedal Wagon helped us learn how to make something from nothing,” Heekin noted. “It made us realize how important it is to focus on both the customers and workers, and also how important it is to differentiate your idea.”

The group immediately differentiated HalfCut by launching a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo. While the campaign had aimed to raise $5,000 to help with build out costs of the 800-square-foot establishment, they ultimately raised nearly double that.

Heekin says that HalfCut also received some financial assistance from the Greater Cincinnati Microenterprise Initiative’s Microcity Loan.

The cozy HalfCut interior seats about 30 people and features tables and seating that are much lower to the ground than most bars. In an effort to keep the atmosphere relaxed, the owners also say that music will be set at a low volume and that they will close at 10:30pm during the week, midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and 6pm on Sundays.

To the owners, HalfCut, which is a 1920s slang term for the perfect state of mind after a couple of beers, is not the kind of place to go out and get hammered, but rather the type of place where you might go for some good conversation.

While they are unable to brew their own beer on site, HalfCut will offer a number of locally brewed beers as well as an extensive collection of craft beers from around the country that Heekin says are difficult to find elsewhere in the region.

Customers are able to choose from both an in-house and a to-go selection of beers. Those looking to take some beer home with them, either from the counter or HalfCut’s walk-up window on Twelfth Street, can choose between 32- or 64-ounce growlers, 22-ounce bombers (similar to a wine glass look), and standard or mixed six-packs.

Gomez Salsa will also soon be operating out of the walk-up window, selling tacos, burritos, taco salads and other items. This walk-up window along Twelfth Street was previously home to Lucy Blue Pizza, which relocated two blocks away on Main Street in March 2013.

Those who decide to stay inside and linger, perhaps to enjoy the 20-foot mural from Neltner Small Batch, will be able to order flights, pints, or 22-ounce bombers of any beer on tap, and also choose from 20 to 25 rotating bottle selections.

Heekin and co-owner Tom O’Brien said they signed a nine-year lease on the space and have hired eight employees. They will start serving customers today at 4pm.

All photographs by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

Dayton Secures $1M in Capital Funding to Launch Bike Share System in Spring 2015

Dayton Bike Share MapThe City of Dayton, in collaboration with Bike Miami Valley, Downtown Dayton Partnership and the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission (MVRPC), plans to start a bike share program in the spring of 2015.

The system will operate similarly to Cincinnati’s planned bike share system announced this past February. The main difference between the two, however, is that Dayton has secured $1 million in capital funding to build out the initial system of more than 200 bikes and 22 stations located throughout Dayton’s center city.

According to city officials, the bulk of the capital funding will come from a grant from the Federal Highway Administration Surface Transportation Program. The City of Dayton will then provide an additional $250,000 funding for capital costs and initial operations.

The accomplishment of securing the capital funding was one not lost on those at the press conference. Scott Murphy, director of business development at the Downtown Dayton Partnership, emphasized that Dayton is the second city in Ohio to secure the capital for a bike share program.

Even though Cincinnati officials have yet to secure the capital funding for their planned bike share system, they remain optimistic they can do so and start operations in 2014 – ahead of Dayton’s planned launch early next year.

Also unlike Cincinnati where a non-profit entity will manage the system, the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority will take the lead in managing the program, and in selecting an operator. According to Executive Director Mark Donaghy, a request for proposals will be issued in the next three months, and an operating contract will be awarded this summer.

Dayton officials estimate that the infrastructure will be delivered this coming winter, with the program becoming operational in the months thereafter. Bike Miami Valley, a local cycling advocacy group, spurred the whole effort to bring bike share to Dayton with the preparation of a feasibility study.

Findings of the study indicated that Dayton has a higher level of suitability for a program than some similarly sized cities that already have bike share, such as San Antonio, Chattanooga and Madison, WI. The study also estimated that Dayton’s system would handle approximately 50,000 to 70,000 annual bike share trips.

Local leaders are giving the program enthusiastic support.

“Bike share is a natural extension of our transit system,” stated Donaghy, who went on to say that the RTA was the first transit system in Ohio to equip its full fleet of buses with bicycle racks.

Such efforts to embrace bicycling have made Dayton a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community, as rated by the League of American Bicyclists. Community leaders in Dayton, however, intend to become reach the platinum rating by 2020.

Brian Martin, Executive Director of MVRPC, stated that the program will expand and enhance existing services of the Regional Transit Authority, while also helping reduce auto dependency. In part due to the study conducted by Bike Miami Valley, and the tangible changes taking place in Dayton’s center city, local leaders say they knew this was the right decision.

“The number of housing units in downtown Dayton has doubled in the last 10 years,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley told UrbanCincy. “We know this is what people want.”

What can UC’s School of Planning do to improve its graduates’ AICP exam pass rates?

The American Planning Association recently published their annual summary of AICP Exam pass rates of graduates from accredited planning programs, and both the University of Cincinnati’s masters and bachelors programs have once come in near the bottom of their respective quartile.

While some industry professionals believe the AICP credential no longer means what is used to, it is still, by and large, the distinguishing professional certification for professional planners.

The University of Cincinnati (UC) is one of just a select group of universities in North America with accredited masters and bachelors planning programs. Between 2004 and 2013, 65 out of 100 Master of Community Planning graduates passed the exam while 34 out of 68 Bachelor of Urban Planning graduates achieved a passing score. The total number of graduates taking the exam for both programs ranks them in the first and second quartiles respectively.

AICP Exam Pass Rates - Bachelor Programs
AICP Exam Pass Rates - Masters Programs

But while the overall number of planning students graduating from the University of Cincinnati’s planning programs is one of the highest in North America, their AICP Exam pass rates of 65% and 50% rank them near the bottom of their respective peers. These average scores also place both programs below the mean pass rate of 71% for accredited planning programs.

“The pass rates for both the MCP and BUP programs are very disappointing,” stated Dr. Danilo Palazzo, Director of UC’s School of Planning. “We have already met with the leadership from the Cincinnati section of APA Ohio and are devising a plan to make our students better aware of the topics covered by the AICP exam.”

One of the ways in which UC officials are hoping to improve this standing is by instituting a new course that would provide an AICP overview for those approaching graduation. The new course, however, does not yet have funding to support it twice per year as envisioned.

“I would like to believe that the pass rates are not a good reflection of the caliber of the professional planning education offered by our programs, though I will not make excuses. These low pass rates are unacceptable,” Dr. Palazzo emphasized. “We are very much open to the comments and suggestions from members of the AICP community, and would appreciate any actionable suggestions from your readers.”

Ohio State University’s Master of City and Regional Planning program, meanwhile, was the only other program in Ohio to be ranked. Its graduates passed the AICP Exam 75% of the time.

EDITORIAL NOTE: UrbanCincy’s owner and managing editor, Randy Simes, is a 2009 graduate of the UC’s Bachelor of Urban Planning program, and UrbanCincy’s local area manager, John Yung, is a 2013 graduate of UC’s Master of Community Planning program. Neither John nor Randy has applied to take the AICP exam.

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.”