PHOTOS: Covington Celebrates Unveiling of Region’s First Parklets

On Friday, Covington became the first community in the region to fully embrace the idea of transforming on-street parking spaces into usable space for people.

The public celebration marked the culmination of a months-long competition aimed at rethinking the space typically used to store private automobiles. In total, five parklets made their debut in Covington’s downtown thanks to a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Bank/Haile Foundation that was awarded to Renaissance Covington for the project.

Organizers of the effort say that, beyond re-imagining on-street parking spaces, they hope the project will help link the city’s MainStrasse and Renaissance districts at a time when investment continues to flow to the area.

Each of the five parklets take on a different life and activate the streetscape in a different way. This was purposefully done in order to create parklets that were responsive to their surroundings. As such, each designer was required to partner and work with the adjacent business owner as part of the effort.

Those businesses include Inspirado at Madison Gallery, Cutman Barbershop, Left Bank Coffeehouse, Stoney’s Village Toy Shoppe and Braxton Brewing Company.

Cities throughout North America have taken a different approach toward managing and regulating parklets, but in Covington these five installations will be allowed to stay in place for six months. Afterward, the parklets will be taken down for the cold winter season.

Covington city officials have no word as to what the future will hold for these or other potential parklets; but for now, you can go check them out for yourself at any time.

Neighborhood Development Strategies Focus of Niehoff Urban Studio Event

Cincinnati is a city known for its unique and dynamic neighborhoods; and over the past few years many of these neighborhoods have transitioned through the work and dedication of community development groups, active and engaged stakeholders and residents, and the assistance of leading experts in the field.

Successes like new developments, restoration of historic buildings, and implementation of placemaking strategies, however, have not come without challenges and lessons learned. Building healthy and resilient places, such as in some of the neighborhoods of Cincinnati, is the focus of this semester’s Neihoff Studio open house.

The Niehoff Urban Studio and UrbanCincy have invited several community development experts to gather for an in-depth discussion on creating success in several of Cincinnati’s great neighborhoods on Thursday, April 21.

Building on the second year of the Building Healthy and Resilient Places theme, the open house is the culmination of a semester-long effort by DAAP students working with six neighborhoods in Cincinnati and Covington to identify potential redevelopment opportunities in neighborhoods such as Roselawn, College Hill, Walnut Hills, East Walnut Hills, North Avondale, Price Hill, and downtown Covington.

Kathy Schwab, of LISC, will present awards to the winning student group.

“Our theme is Building Healthy and Resilient Places, and students are encouraged to make places that promote health in a number of categories,” Frank Russell, Director of the UC Niehoff Studio told UrbanCincy. “Above all students were challenged with how to make form and program that would make these NBDs ‘centers of activity’ in accordance with Plan Cincinnati.”

The event will culminate with a panel of experts moderated by UrbanCincy. Panelists include Phil Denning from the City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Development; Kathleen Norris, who is the Principal and founder of Urban Fast Forward, a real-estate consulting firm; and Seth Walsh with the Community Development Corporation Association of the Greater Cincinnati.

The event will kick off at the Niehoff Urban Studio Community Design Center on Short Vine at 5pm this Thursday, with the panel discussion starting at 6pm. The event is easily accessible by Red Bike with a station conveniently located across the street. It is also accessible via Metro Bus Routes #24, #19 and Metro Plus.

City of Covington Gathering Public Input On How to Spend CDBG Funds

City of CovingtonThe U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development distributes federal funding to communities throughout the United States each year. The allocation of those funds is based, in part, on need and population, but also on the input provided by the residents of each respective community receiving funds.

To that end, Covington is currently gathering public feedback for how it should use the federal funds it receives from HUD. In most cases communities spend the money on things like homebuyer programs, infrastructure improvements, recreation programs, crime prevention efforts, park maintenance or playground equipment.

According to Jeremy Wallace, Grants Administrator and Real Estate Specialist with the City of Covington, public input is solicited as part of Covington’s annual action plan process for Community Development Block Grant funds from HUD.

“We typically hold public hearings and have stakeholder meetings, but this year we decided to add an online survey,” Wallace explained to UrbanCincy. “We collect all the public comments from the various forms of public outreach and incorporate that into our strategies and programming of these funds to address the needs identified in the pubic comments.”

This year’s online survey will remain open until Monday, April 4, so people are encouraged to leave their feedback as soon as possible so that it can be incorporated into the public record. Once it is all compiled, Wallace says that the City of Covington will put together an action plan and submit it to HUD for their consideration and review.

The survey takes just a few minutes to complete and can be filled out online here: http://conta.cc/1SCUwZb.

Covington’s Parking Plan for MainStrasse To Go Into Effect March 30

After being approved this past October, Covington’s new parking plan for MainStrasse Village will go into effect later this month.

Historically it has been free to park in the area, but the parking plan, which includes new metered street parking, a pay lot, and parking permits, will change that. According to the City of Covington, pay stations will be installed along Main and W. Sixth Street on March 26, signs will go up a few days later, and the pay stations will be live on March 30.

The project is intended to increase parking turnover and create designated parking for residents, so that it is easier for both visitors and residents to find a spot to park in the popular business district.

MainStrasse has seen a surge of new business activity of late. The last year alone saw the opening of Son & Soil, Bean Haus, Frida 602, and Mac’s Pizza Pub. Three more – Commonwealth Bistro, Craft & Vines, and Lisse Steakhouse – are slated to open soon.

Since being announced last fall, the plan has proven to be controversial. Business owners, residents and area patrons have all spoken out both in favor and against the idea.

One of the common concerns is how the new parking fees will affect new and existing businesses. The worry is that the plan will hurt MainStrasse’s ability to compete with other nearby entertainment and restaurant districts including Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, and The Banks, even though those districts also include payment-based parking setups.

The enforcement hours in MainStrasse will be limited, relative to street parking in Newport or downtown Cincinnati, particularly in the evenings, which are prime business hours for restaurants and bars that make up the district.

With street parking free after 5pm, and lots capped at $2 after one hour, businesses may actually still struggle with limited parking turnover during their busy hours at night.

At $0.35 per half hour on the street, and $1 per half hour (with a maximum charge of $2) in lots, the cost of parking in MainStrasse will be somewhat lower than what is charged in Over-the-Rhine, downtown Cincinnati, or Newport, although slightly more expensive than parking in Cincinnati’s other neighborhood business districts.

In addition to visitor-oriented changes, the plan includes modifications to improve parking availability for nearby residents – for a fee.

Sections of Philadelphia Street, Bakewell Street, Johnson Street, W. Sixth Street, and part of the Fifth Street lot will become resident-only parking. Passes to park in these spaces will cost $25 to $30 annually, and each property will be allowed to purchase two passes. Going against national trends to get rid of one-way streets, Bakewell Street, between W. Sixth Street and W. Ninth Street, will become one-way to allow for even more residential parking spaces.

The move will place MainStrasse alongside Pendleton, Newport, and Clifton as areas that also have resident-restricted parking, but it will be the only area charging a fee for the residential permits.

While efforts continue to take place to establish something similar in Over-the-Rhine, such efforts have been stymied due to an impasse between Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s (D) administration and neighborhood residents and business owners. Under those previously proposed plans, Over-the-Rhine parking permits would have cost $108 per year or $18 per year for low-income households.

Covington Embraces Idea of Transforming On-Street Parking Into Public Spaces

Five sites and designs were recently selected for bringing parklets to the heart of Covington. The announcement came on Friday, January 15 and marked the conclusion of a design-build competition called Curb’d.

Organizers say that the intent of the competition was to support Covington’s business districts by promoting walkability, connectivity and placemaking – topics that align with the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, Renaissance Covington and MainStrasse Village Association, which provided financial support for the competition.

The five selected sites are also seen as a pathway link between the MainStrasse and Renaissance districts in Covington’s downtown.

First popularized in North America in San Francisco, parklets have grown in popularity over the years particularly in neighborhood business districts looking to reclaim public space from cars for people walking, biking, shopping or simply relaxing. Over the years, cities, like Chicago, have even embraced the idea so much that specific design guidelines and practices have been institutionalized to lend legitimacy to the movement.

In Cincinnati that has so far not been the case.

In 2012, a parklet program was proposed for Over-the-Rhine, but the effort never gained the community support, funding and endorsement from City Hall that it would ultimately require. Since that time, ideas have been pitched to develop a parklet in front of Tucker’s Restaurant on Vine Street, but those efforts have also fallen short.

Aside from that, the closest the region has come to experiencing the transformation of on-street parking spaces into other uses has come in the form of the international celebration of PARK(ing) Day.

While parklets have generally become known as public seating areas or small parks, the organizers of Curb’d said they wanted to push the limits with this competition.

“The examples that we showed the businesses and designers in our information sessions were glow-in-the-dark swings, a mini-movie theater, and a bus stop that resembled an old school radio,” explained Sam O’Connor, Curb’d project coordinator. “Ultimately, we wanted our design teams to really discover the potential of a parking space.”

After finding businesses interested in participating, O’Connor says they, in cooperation with the participating businesses, then proceeded to curate a collection of 12 design teams that would come up with proposals for the spaces. The selected design teams then worked with local fabrication workshops to discuss their ideas and work through the logistics of turning their designs into reality.

After some further refinement, five design teams had their proposals selected to receive funding to have them built.

A+D Design developed what they called Hopscotch Garden for space in front of Braxton Brewing on W. Seventh Street, and will work with 3dx on fabrication. The concept calls for a space that will allow for people to sit and enjoy a beer or coffee outside, while also offering a hopscotch zone.

BPHOGS Design came up with The Boxing Ring for a location in front of Cutman Barbershop and Flow. They will work with Weld Rite Industries to produce the parklet, which will include passive spaces for seating and dining. The parklet will also include several programmed spaces, which, fittingly enough, will include speed bags positioned along the sidewalk to allow for maximum accessibility, and a center area for a game of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em.

Hub+Weber Architects designed a parklet intended for people to exercise and enjoy virtual trips to far away destinations, or even classic movies shown on a projector powered by the pedaling of the bikes. The stationary bicycle space will be located in front of Inspirado at Madison Gallery.

In front of Left Bank Coffeehouse, Seth Trance and Harry Ross developed a concept they call Wish-Igloo, which they hope will promote engagement between the first person who uses the parklet and the last person who does so. Trance and Ross believe this will be accomplished through the parklet’s striking design that is both changeable and invites users to physically manipulate the space.

The final project is also, perhaps, the most unique. To be located next to Stoney’s Village Toy Shoppe, John Noble & Team came up with a design that includes a range of engaging toys for children of varying ages. In essence, the parklet is seen as a way to extend the shop’s culture out onto the street, while also encouraging children to be more active.

Fabrication of each of the five parklets is expected to begin within the next week or so, with installation taking place the first week of May. O’Connor says they plan to do a grand reveal on Friday, May 6, with the parklets staying in place until the end of October when they will then be taken down.

EDITORIAL NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that MSA Architects designed ‘The Boxing Ring’ parklet for in front of Cutman Barbershop. That parklet design was actually produced by BPHOGS Design. Additionally, due to a mix-up in winning project announcements, it was incorrectly stated that Hub+Weber Architects designed the coloring lounge concept for in front of Madison Gallery. Hub+Weber Architects actually designed a stationary bicycle parklet. Both items have been corrected in this story.