EDITORIAL: It’s Time for Cincinnati to Build a New First-Class Arena

The Cincinnati region has an arena problem that is two-fold. The first part of the problem is that there is no stand-out venue that offers both the capacity and modern amenities to attract large-scale events. The second is that the region has far too many venues competing with one another.

Within a one-hour drive from Fountain Square there are eight arenas with a capacity of more than 9,000 people for their primary tenants. Of these, only three have been built or undergone major renovations since the year 2000. The lone major project currently on the books is the $310 million renovation and rebuild of Rupp Arena in Lexington, which also happens to be the furthest away of the eight venues mentioned.

  1. Rupp Arena (23,500): Built in 1975 with minor renovations in 2001. Primary tenant is University of Kentucky athletics. Major renovation and rebuild planned for completion in 2017.
  2. U.S. Bank Arena (17,566): Built in 1975 with a major renovation in 1997 and subsequent minor renovations. Primary tenant is the minor league hockey Cincinnati Cyclones team.
  3. UD Arena (13,409): Built in 1969 with major renovations in 2002 and minor renovations again in 2010. Primary tenant is University of Dayton athletics.
  4. Fifth Third Arena (13,176): Built in 1989 with several minor renovations since. Primary tenant is University of Cincinnati athletics.
  5. Cintas Center (10,250): Built in 2000. Primary tenant is Xavier University athletics.
  6. Cincinnati Gardens (10,208): Built in 1949 with no major renovations since its opening. Primary tenant is the amateur women’s roller derby Cincinnati Rollergirls team.
  7. Bank of Kentucky Center (9,400): Built in 2008. Primary tenant is Northern Kentucky University athletics.
  8. Millett Hall (9,200): Built in 1968 with no major renovations since its opening. Primary tenant is Miami University athletics (sans hockey).

Recent talks closer to the core of our region have revolved around either embarking on a major renovation of Fifth Third Arena, or building a new one altogether; and performing major renovations on U.S. Bank Arena. The problem with these two approaches, however, fails to address the two core problems with the region’s plethora of arenas.

Any discussion on this topic should be focused on creating a stand-out venue that is both large enough and offers the modern amenities needed to attract major events, while also decluttering the regional arena landscape.

To that end, UrbanCincy recommends building a brand new arena adjacent to the Horseshoe Casino at Broadway Commons that would become the new home for the Cincinnati Cyclones, Cincinnati Rollergirls and University of Cincinnati Men’s Basketball. This venue would also accommodate the existing events held at U.S. Bank Arena and should be built in a way that is conducive for casino operators to program additional events, such as boxing, at the venue.

As part of this plan, U.S. Bank Arena and the Cincinnati Gardens should be torn down, and Fifth Third Arena used as the multipurpose facility it was originally intended to be.

This location makes perfect sense with immediate access to the center city’s hotels and convention facilities, casino, streetcar system, highways and abundant parking. Such a plan would also allow for the current U.S. Bank Arena site to be redeveloped with additional housing and shops akin to what is being developed at The Banks.

The land left over at the Cincinnati Gardens site in Bond Hill could then be repackaged, with surrounding land, to be developed as part of community-driven master plan.

As is often the case, funding is one of the primary hurdles preventing any of this from getting done. In this particular plan, each of the partners (University of Cincinnati, City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Horseshoe Casino) could contribute to the capital costs. Furthermore, value capture tools could be used for the U.S. Bank Arena and Cincinnati Gardens properties to help offset costs even more.

The last thing our region needs is another tax to pay for a sports or entertainment complex. Those scarce public resources should be reserved for more pressing things like improving our region’s transit network.

Our region’s political and business leaders need to think holistically when it comes to this challenge. Moving forward in a panicked and rushed fashion will get us an end result that does not solve the problems before us, and ultimately squanders public dollars.

Let’s build ourselves a modern arena venue that can attract top-level events, but do so without placing the burden on the taxpayers. Let’s also do so in a way that rids the region of some of its excess number of existing arenas, and frees up land to be redeveloped in a more productive manner for our neighborhoods.

There is a wealth of talent and C-Level executives in this region. Let’s get creative and start thinking beyond the sales tax. Let’s get this done.

Cincinnati Posts Population Gain for Second Consecutive Year

Cincinnati has added about 1,000 new people since the decennial census in 2010, according to new estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The modest increase comes from two consecutive years of population gains that followed an immediate downward revision after the 2010 Census. The increase also means that just Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton were the only big cities (more than 50,000 people) in Ohio to post gains.

Columbus and Cincinnati, meanwhile, were the only big cities to post population gains for the past two years.

The population estimates are derived using the 2010 Census as a baseline and then factoring in new permitted residential construction and mobile homes, and subtracting out the estimated number of homes lost each year. As a result, all of the annual estimates should come with a grain of salt.

Ohio Cities Comparison

With that said, Dayton’s population gains appear to be an anomaly, while the increases in Columbus and Cincinnati appear to be more rooted. In any case, the news for Ohio’s big cities is not good as the rest all lost population, especially those in the northeastern part of the state.

Columbus continues to stand out from the rest of Ohio’s big cities in terms of its population trends. In this latest estimate release, Columbus posted the fifteenth largest numeric population gain of any municipality in America; and it comes on the heels of equally impressive gains in prior years.

Some observers, however, would attribute some of the gains in Columbus to its unusually large municipal boundaries that include what would be far suburbs in other Ohio regions.

While Columbus has been growing by about 1.5% annually over the past several years, Cincinnati has been growing annually by about 0.25%.

When compared with other peer cities, Cincinnati’s gains look even more tepid.

Peer Cities Comparison

Of fifteen other cities competitive with Cincinnati, the city bested only five of them in terms of population growth, while being significantly outperformed by most all others. In this comparison, even Ohio’s best performer – Columbus –fares only reasonably well against the field.

For Cincinnati’s peer cities, national trends appear to hold true. Southern cities continue to grow at the fastest clip, but their growth rates are leveling off. In our comparison, Austin, Atlanta and Tampa have all experienced significant declines in annual population growth since the 2010 Census. Charlotte has also experienced a similar trend, but appears to be holding steady more so than its Sun Belt peers.

Meanwhile, while many Midwestern cities continue to lose population, they are doing so at a slower rate or have stopped the losses entirely.

As we previously examined on UrbanCincy, the Cincinnati region continues to grow by about 0.4% annually. The City of Cincinnati’s 2013 gain represents approximately 12.5% of the total regional population growth, and half of Hamilton County’s increase last year.

In a nutshell, Cincinnati is over performing regionally, but under performing amongst its peers. If Cincinnati were growing as fast as Charlotte or Austin, the city would be adding around 9,000 new people every year.

Comprehensive Study Needed to Examine Cincinnati’s Migration Problem

Cincinnati has a problem with attracting immigrants.

While it is the largest metropolitan region in Ohio, Cincinnati lags behind both Cleveland and Columbus in attracting foreign migrants. Even as Cleveland continues to lose population and struggles with a weak economy, Cincinnati, with its much stronger economy and national recognition, attracts fewer of America’s newest residents.

More alarmingly, at 4.6%, Cincinnati ranks behind all of its regional competitors (Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis) in percentage of foreign-born population. Columbus (10.5%) and Indianapolis (8.4%) have double or nearly-double the percentage of foreign born population. Cincinnati only bests Pittsburgh and Louisville in terms of attracting immigrants over the past three years.

International Migration 2010-2013

The United States as a whole continues to attract millions of new immigrants. They’re just not coming to Cincinnati at the same rate as elsewhere.

Mayor John Cranley’s (D) recent announcement to start an initiative to grow the immigrant population in Cincinnati is a welcome one. With statistics showing that immigrants are more likely than non-immigrant Americans to start a business, a flux of foreign residents would be good for Cincinnati’s economy in more than one way.

Cranley is not unique among mayors in cities across the nation that have suffered massive population losses since the 1950s. From Baltimore and Philadelphia, to Detroit and Dayton, cities across the country are now targeting immigrant communities in order to help bolster populations and foster economic growth.

Preferably, Cincinnati’s quest to attract new immigrants will be part of a larger plan to attract new residents, period. While lagging behind in attracting immigrants, the region also continues to shed existing residents to other parts of the country.

International - Domestic Migration in 2013

Local leaders should authorize a comprehensive study to find out why Cincinnati struggles so greatly with attracting domestic and international migrants. With a growing economy and incredible regional assets, there is no reason why Cincinnati should fail so miserably at attracting new people.

It may prove wise to set city funds aside to create some sort of media blitz that touts the benefits of the city and the surrounding region. With a recent Gallup poll showing that 138 million people around the world would choose to move to the United States if given the opportunity, the market for new immigrants is surely present. Some sort of economic incentive would help as well. Tax breaks for immigrant businesses and incentives to live within city limits will help attract immigrants of all economic levels.

It is not a stretch to imagine that Columbus’ ability to attract and retain so many more immigrants than Cincinnati is due to the presence of Ohio State University, one of the nation’s most prominent public universities. As a result, Cranley should take heed and foster greater cooperation between the City of Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University, using those nationally-recognized institutions to attract even more newcomers.

At the end of the day, however, immigration is a national issue. For that reason, regional leadership should be in active dialogue with Cincinnati’s Congressional delegation and lobby them to support immigration reform and initiatives that will help attract immigrants not just to the U.S. in general, but to the Cincinnati region specifically.

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.”

How do the housing markets in Ohio’s largest metropolitan regions compare?

A surge of new home construction rang in the new millennium just over a decade ago, but that surge quickly ended when the now infamous housing bubble burst, subsequently leading to the Great Recession.

In recent years the economy has begun to rebound, but the housing market still has not quite come back. In particular, the home ownership housing market has not come back.

This had led to a new surge of housing construction as developers work to build product for a still growing U.S. population. Cities have seen much of this new apartment construction as the rebounding economy has coincided with the entrance of Millennials into the housing market.

The narrative has been that rentals are surging while home ownership is sagging, but according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau, this common narrative is only partly true.

Home Ownership Rates in Ohio MSAs
Apartment Vacancy Rate in Ohio MSAs

In Ohio’s five largest metropolitan regions the data shows that home ownership rates have settled out around the same levels they were at nearly two decades ago. And while apartment vacancy rates have been plummeting in recent years, they are still higher than they were in the 1980s and 1990s.

Akron and Cleveland are virtually tied for the highest home ownership rates in Ohio at 66%, but this is down from their respective peaks of 80% and 77% around the height of the housing bubble. At 61%, Columbus scores the lowest of Ohio’s five biggest metropolitan regions in terms of home ownership.

Columbus boasts the state’s lowest apartment vacancy rate at 6%, which is approaching the capital city’s all-time lowest apartment vacancy rate of 5% in 1990. The Dayton region has the highest apartment vacancy rate in the state, with its apartments sitting empty nearly twice as much as those in Columbus.

Both when it comes to home ownership and apartment vacancy rate, Cincinnati seems to serve as the state’s trend line. For the year ending 2013, the Queen City had a home ownership rate of 63% and an apartment vacancy rate of 9%.

While the aforementioned data seems to cloud the discussion about housing market trends, additional data also shows that overall inventory and prices of owner-occupied units is decreasing, while inventory and pricing of rental units is increasing.

Locally, Cincinnati is in the midst of an apartment building boom, with thousands of units across the region currently under construction. While home permits have increased recently, those numbers pale in comparison.