Cincinnati Preservation Association Dolls Out Awards For Local Preservation Excellence

The Cincinnati Preservation Association gathered earlier this month to honor the best projects and professionals when it comes to preserving the region’s historic building stock.

The 51st annual meeting was held on Sunday, November 8 at the Renaissance Cincinnati Downtown Hotel, which is located inside the landmark Daniel Burnham tower at Fourth and Walnut Streets. The event itself was held inside the hotel’s stunning grand ballroom that had previously functioned as a banking hall.

Twelve awards were handed out to owners and developers of historic buildings throughout the region that CPA believes have substantially restored or rehabilitated those structures in accordance to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Those projects include the following:

  • Archdiocesan Archives Renovation – Archdiocese of Cincinnati | Chameleon Architecture | Danis Building Construction
  • Beasley Place (Over-the-Rhine) – Over-the-Rhine Community Housing | CR Architecture + Design | HGC Construction
  • St. Michael the Archangel Parish Buildings (Lower Price Hill) – Education Matters | Brashear Bolton Architects | HGC Construction
  • 408 Overton Street (Newport) – Mansion Hill Properties
  • The Crown (Over-the-Rhine) – Crown Building LLC | Hampton Architects | Premier Tri-State Roofing
  • J.H. Rhodes House – Benjamin and Kristen Walters | Preservation Architecture Services Team | Benjamin Walters/Chris Holtman/Jeff Niemis/Joel Stafford
  • Taft’s Ale House (Over-the-Rhine) – Ale House Landlord | Drawing Department | HGC Construction
  • Chatfield College OTR Campus (Over-the-Rhine) – Chatfield College | Emersion DESIGN | Endeavor Construction
  • Clifton Library (Clifton) – Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County | McClorey and Savage | Motz Engineering
  • Probasco Fountain (Clifton) – City of Cincinnati | Clifton Town Meeting
  • Frida 602 (Covington) – Lucky Twins LLC | Don Biendenharn
  • Stonelick Covered Bridge – Clermont County | Smolen Engineering | The Righter Company

In addition to the project-related awards, two special education awards were also given out to those who, according to CPA, have produced quality programs, publications, inventories, or have promoted the awareness of historic preservation.

The first went to CPA volunteer Jeanne Rolfes, who was described as being one of the area’s most innovative volunteers when it comes to historic preservation. This recognition was largely due to her request of funds and subsequent development of a virtual tour for those who are too old or unable to participate in typical walking sessions about historic preservation.

CPA officials say that the program, called Cincinnati Memories, has been so successful since its launch in 2008 that it has been expanded twice and now brings in much needed revenue for the non-profit organization.

CPA awarded its prestigious President’s Award for Service to Preservation to architect Dave Zelman for his years of service and critical leadership roles in such efforts as the West Side Preservation Summit in 2010, annual spring home tours, River West Working Group, restoration of a National Register-listed Matthew McWilliams House on River Road, and assistance in saving landmarks like Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Sedamsville and an ancient stone house in Sayler Park.

$3.3M Boone Block Redevelopment To Bolster Covington’s Resurgence

Last Friday city leaders gathered in Covington to celebrate the ground breaking for the $3.3 million Boone Block redevelopment project.

Located at 422 Scott Street, the project will result in the creation of nine single-family townhomes ranging from 2,185 square feet to 5,000 square feet in size.

City and project officials see the investment as part of a larger trend that is bringing new life to the heart of historic Northern Kentucky river city. In addition to this project, new commercial space, hotel rooms, residences and educational research space are all planned or in the process of construction in the nearby area.

The project is also evidence of the renewed interest in Cincinnati’s center city. While originally defined by the massive investment that took place in Downtown and then Over-the-Rhine, that investment and interest is now noticeably spreading outward to places like Covington, Mt. Auburn, Newport, Bellevue, Northside, Walnut Hills and the West End.

Project officials note that the Boone Block building was originally constructed in 1872 and still boasts many of its original architectural features. Each of the new residences, they say, will feature a modern interior finish with open floor plans, a gated courtyard, 14-foot ceilings, and an attached one-car parking garage.

So far the project team has pre-sold six of the units, which has provided some of the upfront project financing. In addition to that, the Catalytic Fund has provided mortgage gap financing and the City of Covington has provided a façade grant and development loan to the project.

Interested buyers for the final three available residences are instructed to contact either Rebecca Weber or Joy Amann at Huff Realty for additional information.

Red Bike Firmly Establishes Itself As Tri-State’s Largest Bike-Share Program

Red Bike recorded its 100,000th ride early last week when Keith Piercy checked out a bike at the Port Bellevue Station in Northern Kentucky.

According to Jason Barron, Executive Director of Red Bike, Piercy rode the bike across the river and docked it at the Freedom Center Station at The Banks. Piercy explained that he was out running some errands and was even on his way to go buy a new bike helmet.

“This is awesome. It [Red Bike] has been working out great for me,” Piercy said. “It is really helping out our one-car family.”

The moment comes as data from the American Community Survey found that Cincinnati has one of the fastest growing bicycling communities in the nation, and the biggest in Ohio. It also comes just after the one-year anniversary of Red Bike’s launch, which also took place in front of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

According to Barron, ridership has far exceeded initial expectations, with more than 17,000 people using Red Bike in its first year. This growth also fueled the quicker than anticipated expansion of the system. With 50 stations located on both sides of the Ohio River, Red Bike is the largest bike share system in Ohio, and the first public bike share system in Kentucky.

While it is expected that ridership and system growth will level off over the second year of operations, Red Bike leadership is looking to iron out finances and expand upon programs, like the one recently launched with CityLink, to make the system more accessible to people at all income levels.

Annual memberships can be purchased for $80, while day passes can be purchased for $8. Semester passes, which are good for 120 days and are marketed toward university students, can be purchased for $30.

LOT Expo Looking to Tackle Problem of Vacant Properties Throughout City

Just think if a vacant lot near you could be turned into a solar-powered wi-fi hub and electric car charging station, a home for egg-laying chickens, or any number of other creative and productive uses. That is what a group of thought leaders are trying to accomplish with a new program they hope will gain traction at City Hall.

In an effort to promote vacant properties as entrepreneurial and sustainable turnaround opportunities, Lots of Tiny Exposition will be held this week in Over-the-Rhine.

The brainchild of local U. S. Green Building Council activists, LOT Expo is an upcoming free two-day open air exhibit in OTR to draw attention to the “sub-prime” real estate plaguing many neighborhoods.

Specifically tied to the tiny house movement, LOT presents exhibitors that showcase inventive, small scale installations for big, immediate vacant lot impact. Exhibitors will include a tiny house on wheels, vertical garden systems, solar and wind power operations, mobile mini-chicken coops, a 1950’s Airstream retrofit, and pervious parking pads.

Organizers say that they hope visitors bring property addresses for vacant lots that they believe have potential. At that moment, they say an on-the-spot professional laptop “green diagnosis” rating report will be produced. Designers who want to stimulate new ventures for abandoned property blight will be on the lookout for those projects brought to attention.

While the idea seems easy enough, vacant lot redevelopment can actually be a complicated, multi-faceted subject requiring professional knowledge.

As a result, the LOT Forum Panels at the Expo are meant to offer public and private sector professionals to bring expertise, experience, and skills to the vacant lot syndrome – the knowhow for sustainable success. Four different panels are convening under roof at a three-minute walk from the LOT Expo venue; and panel discussions will turn attention to vacant lot gridlocks and reinvestments that lessen public subsidy supports.

Individual Lots on Massive Scale
According to Vacant Lots: Occupied – a guide produced by a group of University of Cincinnati students with the help of Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, the City of Cincinnati Department of Community Development and Building Value – there are approximately 22,000 vacant properties in the City of Cincinnati. These properties are classified as land with or without a structure that have been abandoned by its owners. It is estimated that 8,000 of these are without any structures.

Though not as dismal as some other American cities, vacant properties account for about 10% of Cincinnati’s parcels.

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful has successfully ‘cleaned and greened’ vacant lots throughout the city. This typically means cleaning up the lot before planting grass that then requires continued maintenance. Not satisfied with that approach, KCB collaborated with the University of Cincinnati Horticulture Program to develop Vacant Lots: Occupied. This award-winning manual established an analytical guide to select and transform abandoned lots.

While many individuals and families are already helping to stabilize lots in their community, 8,000 is a big number. Ryan Geismar, one of the professors that led the UC students, says the guide was originally intended for KCB and other organizations, but that it became clear that collective effort is needed to address the blight problem.

From a large-scale planning perspective, Geismar says the best approach is to “Identify assets within neighborhoods and use strategic investment catalysts that inspire others to take action.”

Return on Investments
Neighborhood developers are drawn to prime property, usually clear, open lots with existing infrastructure. There is a dire need to address the marginal, by-passed lots that are an economic drain on our city and region. Though numbers aren’t available in Cincinnati, the city of Philadelphia highlights the imperative of critical action. In 2010, their approximately 40,000 vacant parcels consumed about $20 million in city services (fire, police, maintenance, pest control, etc.) and represented $2 million in uncollected property tax revenue.

Vacant properties have always been around; their numbers surged after the recent recession and spike in housing foreclosures. Many large financial institutions faced lawsuits over fraudulent foreclosures or mortgages; and Ohio’s Attorney General settled a suit against five of the nation’s largest mortgage servicers over foreclosure abuses, fraud, and unfair and deceptive mortgage practices.

A portion of that money was disbursed to Ohio counties for home demolitions. The result in Cincinnati was to tear down hundreds of buildings over the last few years, creating even more vacant lots.

Blight or Bonanza
One of the few cities with data and a comprehensive approach to the problem is Philadelphia where a study concluded that blighting effect from vacant parcels reduced values by 6.5% citywide and by up to 20% in some neighborhoods. In order to counter this epidemic, Philadelphia officials responded by offering landowners adjacent to vacant properties the land for little to no cost.

Since not every lot is the same, solutions require resourceful, frugal and innovative investments. With depreciated property values and dwindling public dollars spread thin, small business opportunists may see vacant lots as overlooked economic potential or reframe the problem as an engaging community asset.

Place from Space, a design competition to transform vacant underutilized spaces into vibrant places, awarded Renaissance Covington with a $1,000 prize to transform a parking lot into a performance space after business hours. This was achieved with financial and infrastructure support from the City of Covington, and a large amount of volunteer hours from committed citizens and professional designers. The performance space, now known as MadLot, has since hosted live music, movies, and other programming since opening.

Individual efforts should not go unnoticed. Whether guerilla gardening or picking up trash, these small steps help improve appearance and reverse the effects of the broken window theory. While the sheer number of vacant lots is large, the challenge is not insurmountable. It will take economies of thrift, practical knowhow and strategic thinking to execute solutions.

A tiny house on wheels, bocce ball court, performance stage or another enhancement might find a way to a lot near you. It might not be long before you find a goat chomping down honeysuckle next door.

LOT Expo will take place from September 19-20 from 10am to 4pm each day at the New Findlay Market Playground at 1814-1822 Elm Street. The Saturday forum panel will focus on tiny living and the Sunday forum will focus on vacant lots. Both will take place between 11am and 2pm at Rookwood Pottery Company around the corner at 1920 Race Street.

The event is free and open to the public, but organizers are asking for those interested in attending to register in advance online.

Cincy Red Bike On Pace to Shatter First Year Ridership Projections

Community leaders gathered in Covington yesterday to celebrate the opening of the first six of 11 new Cincy Red Bike stations in Northern Kentucky. Four additional stations will be opened in Newport, and one in Bellevue, by the end of the week.

The expansion south of the river is a natural expansion for the system, which has thus far focused on Cincinnati’s center city neighborhoods. After initially launching with 30 stations in Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Clifton, Corryville and Avondale, Cincy Red Bike has now added new stations in the West End and Northside.

Perhaps more critical for the system’s ridership, however, is the fact that many of the newer stations in Ohio are what operators call “infill” stations. For these, Jason Barron, Cincy Red Bike Executive Director, says that they are looking at locations that focus less on landmarks, and more on where people live car-light or car-free.

“The three busiest stations, by a factor of a third, are Fountain Square, 12th/Vine and Main/Orchard,” Barron previously told UrbanCincy. “We will start to look at areas in the West End like Linn Street, Bank Street, City West and maybe Brighton. We have to look and see where there are opportunities to connect people and make a difference in their lives.”

Once the remaining installations are complete, Red Bike will boast 50 stations, making it the largest bike-share operator in Ohio and the first in all of Kentucky. CoGo Bike Share in Columbus is the second largest with 41 stations following a recent expansion of their own.

After a predictably sluggish winter, it now appears that Cincy Red Bike is on pace to at the very least meet, and most likely exceed, its first year ridership projections. When the system launched in September 2014 the hope was to attract 52,000 rides within the first year. As of now, some 46,000 rides have been made on the public bike-share system.

With the system average 4,600 rides per month, including the slow winter months, the initial projection will be easily surpassed. If that monthly ridership rate increases over the forthcoming summer months, and with the added stations and bikes, the non-profit agency may be able to significantly exceed its own goals.

The enthusiasm in Northern Kentucky appears to be setting the table for even more expansions in the Bluegrass State in the near future. Already, funding is being lined up for an additional station in Bellevue, and the president of Southbank Partners told River City News that they hope to see Red Bike added to Dayton, Ft. Thomas and Ludlow as well.

In addition to Northern Kentucky, additional infill stations are anticipated uptown and neighborhood leaders continue to call for the system’s expansion to the Walnut Hills area.

Red Bikes can be used by purchasing an $8 pass that is good for unlimited rides of 60 minutes or less over a 24-hour period. Those who plan on using the system more than 10 times per year are better off purchasing an annual membership for $80.