More Developers Building “Convertible” Parking Garages

UrbanCincy readers may know that the 84.51° Center (formerly Dunnhumby Centre) in Downtown Cincinnati includes an above-ground parking garage that can be converted into office space at a later date. The building was designed this way because of anticipated future growth of the building’s namesake tenant.

An increasing number of parking garages across the country are now being designed in this way. That’s partially because developers are starting to understand that our urban real estate is better used for office space, residential, and retail as opposed to car storage. Developers also predict that the demand for urban parking garages will decline as self-driving cars start to appear in the coming decades — why park your car in an expensive garage downtown when you can send it back home after it drops you off at work?

From the Denver Post:

“It’s smart use of resources and space is a resource,” Cohen said. “If you’re designing a building and there’s space that potentially could become obsolete over time, that’s just a wasted opportunity.”

Building parking that has future life as something else requires particular thought to the garage’s floor-to-ceiling heights and slope of the floors, Fisher said.

“The typical sloped-ramp parking garage has about a 5 percent slope,” Fisher said. “You can’t work in that space.”

Instead, the floor plates need to be flat, with discrete ramps between the levels, Petersen said. At WTC Denver, the ramps are being designed so they can be removed someday, leaving a light-filled courtyard.

“It doesn’t take much more initial investment or cost,” he said. “It’s more just thinking creatively.”

Brink Brewing Aiming to Settle Into Cincinnati’s Resurgent College Hill Neighborhood

The groundbreaking for the $11.1 million Marlowe Court development in College Hill shined new light on west side neighborhood, but the influx of new investment in the neighborhood’s walkable neighborhood business district has been growing for some time.

One of the next large investments will come in the form of a new brewery called Brink Brewing. While Brink is part of a larger craft beer movement that has been surging for years, it is part of a younger craft beer culture on the city’s west side; and the owners are hoping to tap into that otherwise untapped market.

“First and foremost we are aiming to serve beer lovers in and around the College Hill neighborhood,” John McGarry, marketing and design manager for Brink Brewing, told UrbanCincy. “Our sights are squarely focused on being a neighborhood-oriented tap room.”

While the Brink Brewing ownership, which includes four young couples, does not have any previous ties to College Hill, McGarry says that they were drawn to the neighborhood after discovering the passion of its residents and business owners. The walkable character of the neighborhood business district also made it an ideal choice for the Brink Brewing team.

“College Hill wasn’t part of our initial search, but as soon as we discovered it we fell in love,” said McGarry. “The stretch of Hamilton Avenue where we’ll be located is a walkable strip of small businesses with a proud past and a bright future. We met some of the other business owners there like Marty at Marty’s Hops & Vines and Megan at Fern and knew right away we should be paying attention.”

When asked about whether or not the local beer market is becoming over-saturated, he said that Brink Brewing is going after a different segment than what many other brewers are aiming for. Rather than trying to grow production and fight for tap and shelf space throughout the region, they are planning to settle into the neighborhood and serve it with high quality beer.

“From my perspective, I think brewery/taprooms are still a fairly new concept in Cincinnati. Places like Denver, Portland, and San Diego have shown that small, neighborhood focused breweries can really thrive and be a great addition to the community,” McGarry explained. “I think of brewery tap rooms much like local coffee shops, and you never hear anyone say that there are too many of those.”

Construction work is underway on transforming the 3,200-square-foot space, which will be complimented by a large outdoor patio space behind the building. After accounting for the space that will be needed for production, there should be enough room left over to accommodate 100 guests at any given time.

The amount of construction work taking place inside the 90-year-old structure is extensive. In addition to the resurfacing the front of the building through a façade improvement grant from the College Hill Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, the interior has been completely rehabbed.

As part of the façade improvements, Brink Brewing will add a large commercial garage doors onto the front and back of the building to allow for the wall to open up on nice weather days – hopefully inviting more people from the neighborhood inside.

When it comes to the beer, McGarry says that the brewery will produce a range including pale ale, IPA, brown and stout beers. They will also serve some higher gravity and experimental beers, but will maintain a focus on core products.

“We will incorporate infusions and experimentations into some of our offerings, but we also recognize that the pendulum has swung a little too far into the exotic recently,” explained Kelly Montgomery, head brewer at Brink Brewing. “By frequently rotating our menu we feel there will always be something new to try along with the staples that have elevated craft beer.”

Since each of the young couples has young children, they say that they also hope the establishment will be family friendly. In order to help create this atmosphere, Brink Brewing will have a community table area and will even offer juice boxes, free wi-fi and board games.

The ownership group has signed a five-year lease on the space, which can be extended an additional 10 years. If all goes well, the team hopes that they can stay in the space for the long-haul.

“We want to be a part of revival of the Cincinnati beer tradition and become a part of the fabric of the neighborhood,” McGarry concluded. “We think our model of a modest-sized brewery and comfortable tap room to hang out in will allow us to do just that.”

Brink Brewing should open to the public sometime in November, and employ some 15 to 20 people within the next year or so.

Columbus is not the biggest city in Ohio, and Indy’s not bigger than Boston

Following the release of the U.S. Census Bureau’s updated population numbers for American cities, much has been made about the urban rise of the west. Even the Census Bureau itself touted the growing number of cities with more than 1 million people – the vast majority of which are located west of the Mississippi River.

These numbers can be misleading, and often don’t even pass the smell test.

Is Jacksonville, for example, really a bigger city than Detroit, Washington DC, Atlanta and Boston? Or out west, would most people actually consider Phoenix to be a larger city than San Francisco, Seattle, Denver or San Diego? Of course not.

In both scenarios, however, that is precisely the case. That is because the municipal boundaries for Jacksonville (885 square miles) and Phoenix (517 square miles) are disproportionately large compared to the population of their city. Closer to home the same is true for Columbus (223 square miles), Indianapolis (368 square miles) and Charlotte (298 square miles) – all of which skew the average population density for cities east of the Mississippi downward due to their huge municipal footprints.

If you were to simply pick-up a daily newspaper and read the listing of America’s most populated cities, you would not get this full perspective and perhaps be misled to think that Columbus is the biggest city in Ohio, or that Indianapolis is the fifth largest city east of the Mississippi River.

Using this same practice, some might consider Cincinnati to be a small city that doesn’t even crack the top 30 in the United States.

Of course, we know all of this is skewed by all sorts of factors. Some cities sit on state or county lines, others follow historical boundaries from hundreds of years ago that have never changed, while other are granted more liberal annexation capabilities. In short, it’s politics.

Now if we were to look at America’s 30 most populous cities again, but rank them by population density instead of overall population, the picture would change rather dramatically. Most cities in the west fall considerably, while older cities in the east would rise. The outliers that have artificially inflated their boundaries over the years also fall into a more normalized position on the chart.

While Cincinnati is not in the top 30 in terms of population, we considered it anyways since this is UrbanCincy after all. After adjusting for population density, Cincinnati would vault all the way to the 16th “biggest” city in America, just behind Denver and ahead of Dallas. This is also more in line with Cincinnati’s metropolitan population ranking that falls within the top 30 in America.

Those cities in this analysis that are in the east have an average population density, outliers included, of 6,579 people per square mile, while those in the west, come in at 3,804 people per square mile.

If outliers like Jacksonville actually were as large as they project, and followed the average population density for the region, it would need to add close to 5 million people. Likewise, Indianapolis would need to add around 1.6 million people and Charlotte 1.1 million. Local politics and market conditions in each of these cities will never allow for this many new people to move within city limits.

The Washington Post is correct in that the west is getting more populated and urbanizing at a fast pace, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The most populated cities in the west would only be average, at best, in the east if they were judged by population density instead.

Now, factoring for population-weighted density would be an entirely different ballgame.

Two Big Ideas to Bring Cincinnati’s Urban Housing Boom to Next Level

It has become painfully clear that we are not building enough housing supply to meet demand for center city living. In order to meet those demands, and prevent runaway price increases, now is the time to go big and develop thousands of more units.

In 2014, CBRE released a study about the strength of Cincinnati’s urban real estate market, and noted that the center city housing market could support thousands of additional residential units, even as 2,500 were under development at that time.

This was reinforced by CBRE’s economic outlook for the region released just days ago that said, “The multifamily recovery continues with unabated strength in the Cincinnati MSA with strong demand fundamentals pushing rents higher.” With occupancy hovering around 95% and the strongest demand in the urban core, their real estate analysts expect rents to continue to rise.

As of now, 3CDC is virtually sold out of all of their condos, luxury apartment buildings are being filled in a matter of weeks, and a parade of home builders continues to redirect their attention to the market. But it has not been nearly enough.

While 3CDC has done an incredible job at establishing a viable residential market in Over-the-Rhine, they have only produced a few hundred units over the past decade. Bigger projects in the central business district are turning historic office towers into posh residences, but are doing so at about 100 units per project. Even the long-planned residential tower at Fourth and Race Streets will only include 208 units once it is complete several years from now.

The rate of production at The Banks, which is by far the largest development in the center city, only averages out to a couple dozen units per year when you consider the time it continues to take to build out that massive undertaking.

Something bigger is needed. Something much bigger. Here are two options.

City Hall Quarters
Cincinnati’s majestic City Hall is unfortunately surrounded by decrepit, low-slung parking garages and a smattering of parking lots. The area’s proud history, however, can still be seen by taking a leisurely walk along Ninth Street. There, one can view the regal structures that were the original homes of Cincinnati’s economic and political elite.

Just around the corner, however, is a collection of parking lots controlled by collection of different limited liability companies. The original owner of the lots, if it is different from now, had long-planned to build offices on the site similar in nature to what was developed on its north side along Central Parkway. That building was completed in 1983, and times have certainly changed since then.

The large collection of parking lots allows for a unique opportunity to create a residential sub-district within the central business district. Look to Atlanta’s West Midtown, Chicago’s South Loop or Denver’s Cherry Creek District of examples of the type of development that could rise here.

Its density would respect its historic surroundings, but its scale could provide hundreds of residential units. Instead of lining each street with retail, thoughtfully placed corner markets and cafes could be placed intermittently in order to maintain a residential character for the sub-district.

CL&N Heights
Like its Broadway Commons neighbor to the north, this area was once part of the large warehouse district that previously occupied the site with the CL&N Railway. Those proud buildings, and the history that went along with them, are now largely gone and have been replaced by I-71. There are, however, some of the historic warehouse structures that can still be seen in the Eighth Street Design District and immediately to the south.

This collection of parking lots is largely out of site since they sit beneath I-71 and at a lower grade than the rest of the central business district. Procter & Gamble currently owns the vast majority of the site, but Eagle Realty has recently acquired some land with the interest of building a parking structure along with some office space.

Unlike the City Hall Quarters site, this location has an opportunity to go even bigger.

In order to properly develop the location, it would make most sense to raise the site up to the same level as the rest of the surrounding street grid. This would essentially create a situation akin to The Banks, where two or so levels of parking could be built as a platform, with the structures then rising from there.

Instead of building four- to five-story structures, like at The Banks or near City Hall, this site would be an ideal location for a handful of sleek, modern residential high-rises. In this case, think of Vancouver’s Yaletown or San Diego’s East Village near their ballpark.

In this location it is conceivable that four to five residential towers could be constructed, while also preserving some land for pocket parks and other neighborhood amenities. At such a scale and density, this site alone could produce upwards of a thousand residential units.

Like the City Hall Quarters site, there would be no strong need to build retail as part of this project. Instead, a small collection of service offerings, like dry cleaners and convenience stores, could be built as part of the development, thus allowing the new influx of residents to bolster the existing and potential retail offerings in the central business district and Over-the-Rhine.

Both development sites include their challenges, but they offer immense opportunities to not only provide the much-needed injection of housing, but also improve the city’s tax base, hold down skyrocketing residential prices, bolster center city retail, and rid the city of two of its largest-remaining surface parking lots.

Denver taking the corner store approach to solve their food desert problem

During his first State of the City address, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) made a point to discuss the city’s food desert’s and how he intends to address one of them with a new full-service grocery store in Avondale. Meanwhile in Denver, city officials there are taking a slightly different approach. More from The Denver Post:

This colorful corner store, painted orange and lime green, sits at the intersection of East 30th Avenue and Downing Street in the Whittier neighborhood, which is considered a food desert, far from a full-service grocer. It’s one of five corner stores in a pilot program called the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, started in August by the city and county of Denver’s Department of Environmental Health, and funded by a grant of more than $327,000 from the Colorado Health Foundation.

The plan is to implement the economic-development model in 50 corner stores throughout these neighborhoods over the next three years, helping the small-business owners by providing technical assistance to help carry more healthy products while promoting positive messages about nutritious foods in their stores. Other organizations in the neighborhood also offer classes in nutrition and healthy cooking.