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.

Episode #32: Spring Update

Uber appOn the 32nd episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Randy, John, and Travis cover a few local issues recently in the news.

We cover the launch of Lyft and Uber in Cincinnati and what it could mean for local cab companies. We also talk about the proposed renovation of Burnet Woods and several other Uptown developments. Finally, we talk about the opposition to tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge and whether the bridge can be built without that funding source.

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.

New Artist Live/Work Homes Coming to Covington’s Lee-Holman Historic District

The Center for Great Neighborhoods (CGN) will celebrate the completion of Covington’s first of five affordable artist live/work spaces later this month. The artist residence project Shot Gun Row is named for the project’s five shotgun-style houses being rehabbed and developed by the Covington-based nonprofit organization.

Shot Gun Row is made up of five row houses on Orchard Street in Covington’s Lee-Holman Historic District. The houses were originally part of seven homes built in the late 1800s. After World War II, shotgun homes were seen as functionally obsolete and abandoned in favor of the modern ranch home, but Kentucky historic guidelines prohibit Orchard Street’s five remaining houses from being torn down.

The Center for Great Neighborhoods, which has completed over 25 historic renovations in the city nestled along the Ohio and Licking Rivers, said they looked at the houses as a unique opportunity to re-purpose the existing houses and help revitalize Covington’s west side.

In 2012 CGN was awarded a $168,000 grant for the project from the Kresge Foundation. Construction on the first house began last summer; the other four homes will be completed by summer 2014. The total project cost is around $600,000 for all five houses. According to Sarah Allan with CGN, most of the live/work spaces available to artists are only available for rent.

“We wanted to provide something [artists] could build equity in that was either the same as or cheaper than their rent,” Allan said. “Part of it is we want to lower people’s overall overhead. If they can live and work in the same space for cheaper, then it might help them to further their art.”

Shot Gun Row’s artist selection policy broadly defines an artist as “an individual who has seriously committed themselves to professional production of their respective art form (i.e. exhibitions, performances, screenings, grants, publications, reviews, commissions, peer recognition),” and earn at least 20% of their income from art.

This flexible definition allows applicants to include tattoo artists, graphic and interior designers, chefs, musicians and set designers in addition to traditional fine artists like sculptors, painters and photographers. It also helps that Shot Gun Row’s developers are able to customize the home’s layout depending on the artist’s needs.

“We recognize that artists want to have some creative say in their living space so we want to provide that flexibility,” Allan explained.

Shot Gun Row’s model home at 323 Orchard Street is laid out so that the studio is located in the front of the house so that it is accessible to the street for art openings and meetings, and also receives northern light which is attractive to many artists. In other homes, an artist could work with the contractor to develop the floor plan as an open studio or place the kitchen in the front of the house, depending on the homeowner’s needs.

While the development will offer affordable, flexible housing for artists, CGN also wants the project to encourage artists to get involved with their community. As part of Shot Gun Row’s artist selection policy, artists are required to contribute something back to the community within a year of purchasing the home, and will work with CGN staff to determine a specific project, whether it be a public sculpture, theater camp, or something else. A sculptor, for instance, might create a piece for Shot Gun Row’s public sculpture garden.

In addition, artists are expected to participate in SpringBoard, ArtWorks’ business development program for creative entrepreneurs, unless they have run a profitable arts-related business for more than three years.

“We’re looking at this not just as a housing projection but an economic development project,” Allan told UrbanCincy.

The market price for a home on Shot Gun Row is $90,000, though Allan said that some homeowners may receive a subsidy depending on income. The City of Covington also offers down payment assistance for anyone purchasing a home in Covington.

In addition to the Kresge Foundation grant, the project received funding through a combination of  U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development HOME Investment Partnerships Program and Community Development Block Grants, and private contributions.

All photographs by Chris Kromer for UrbanCincy.

Small Businesses Have Been Biting the Dust Early in 2014

Small Business ClosuresA staggering number of small businesses in Greater Cincinnati have resolved to shut their doors at the start of 2014. Already more than a dozen establishments have been effected since late last year in a downturn that has not been as drastic since 2008.

Cord Camera was the first to announce it would close. Once prosperous with over 30 stores in Ohio and Indiana, its remaining eight retailers struggled to meet expectations during the holiday shopping season. Chief Financial Officer, John Crotty, said the company’s demise was due to the increasing popularity of digital photography with smartphones and less demand for printing pictures.

The next was the shocking departure of It’s Just Crepes, with a vague note on their website that read “Thanks for a great five years!” The eatery had expanded to three locations, two downtown and another in Crescent Springs, and appeared to be constantly bustling during lunchtime. Both of the restaurant’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were shut down without notice, and the owners have not been able to be reached for comment.

Decorative retailer, Joseph Williams Home, began sounding the alarm in the fourth quarter, discounting items up to 60% off through the end of December. Owner Fred Arrowood explained that his five year lease was ending for his space at the corner of Thirteenth and Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. Upon renegotiating, he was unable to come to an agreement for another five-year lease with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), who wanted to increase rent despite the store’s marginal sales.

“3CDC has become focused on restaurants and bars rather than retail and meeting the needs of residents,” said Arrowood. In an interview with the Cincinnati Business Courier, Anastatia Mileham, Vice President of Communications for 3CDC, attributed the increase in rent to high demand for prime real estate in Over-the-Rhine, like Arrowood’s corner store location.

Further complicating the matter locally was a combination of aging owners and slow sales, such as was the case with Chez Nora in Covington. Just shy of its 20th Anniversary, the three-floor restaurant and jazz bar never recovered from the economic decline and lost too many customers to competition across the river.

“We got culinarily passed by,” said owner Jimmy Gillece of the new eateries that developed as part of The Banks and revitalization of Over-the-Rhine.

Down the street, Behle Street Café succumbed to a similar fate. After 19 years in operation, the loss of two major companies in Covington and new competition at The Banks and in Over-the-Rhine, prompted owner Shawn Thomas to close the restaurant. “We just couldn’t keep up. Although great for Cincinnati, it’s not so good for Covington,” he stated in a release.

The litany of other lost businesses continues to grow, including: Enzo’s (Over-the-Rhine), Bayou Fish House (Newport), Spare Time Grill (Alexandria), Take The Cake (Northside), Fabulous Finds For Less (Bellevue), Mayberry (Over-the-Rhine), Smartfish Studio (Over-the-Rhine), and Past & Presents (Bellevue).

Not all the news is grim, however, as many of these locations have either already been filled by another local business, or will be soon.

Five years is traditionally the make or break point for small businesses – businesses that exist to generate a customer. It will be increasingly important going forward that entrepreneurs are creating shops that meet the demand of a community and allow for the businesses to be sustainable.

But as businesses continue to reach the end of their tenure and evaluate progress, consumers should brace themselves for the trend of closings to continue.

Next up on the chopping block will be vintage clothing shop Atomic Number Ten, which closes its doors on Saturday, January 18. Located at Thirteenth and Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, owner Katie Garber simply stated that it was time to move on to bigger and better things. “We really hope you can make it in to say goodbye,” Garber wrote to her customers in a blog post. “It’s been a great ride!”

Covington to Become Home to Region’s 19th Tiny Streetside Library

Bellevue Little Free Library

The Little Free Library at Fairfield and Ward Avenues in Bellevue. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

The City of Covington will join the City of Bellevue soon when Jeff Pelini installs a “Little Free Library” at the intersection of Sixth Street and Craig Street.

The matter was approved by the Covington Commission at their January 7 hearing, and will allow for the miniature bookshelf to be installed along the street.

These fixtures have become increasingly popular across the United States and throughout the world as the sharing economy continues to take hold. They are initially stocked with some books and anyone is welcome to take a book and return it or place another book inside for others to read.

The Little Free Library to the east in Bellevue sits at the intersection of Fairfield Avenue and Ward Avenue just in front of the St. John United Church of Christ. It has been there for approximately three years. A new one was recently installed on Van Voast Avenue in Bellevue as well. In September the City of Bellevue approved a certification program to encourage community engagement through construction of the little free libraries.

“The goals of the program are to promote literacy in the city, improve neighborhood aesthetic and community. Little Free Libraries also indirectly increase pedestrian activity which promotes safety,” Ryan Salzman of the Bellevue Alliance told UrbanCincy.

In 2009, villagers in Somerset, England transformed one of their iconic red telephone booths into the country’s smallest library.

The idea for this concept first gained publicity in the United States during the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 when camps of protestors began creating a temporary community, including what they called The People’s Library. Then, in 2012, John Locke gained notoriety for his DIY libraries in New York City.

According to Little Free Library’s mapping system, there are 18 of these stands throughout the Cincinnati region today. The Covington location will be the second in Northern Kentucky.