Decision from Board of Trustees More Than a Decade Ago Doomed Wilson Auditorium

In early 2000s the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees voted to build a new academic building for the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences along Clifton Avenue. That plan, of course, never came to reality due to fiscal constraints, but the unintended victim of that decision now be found in the rubble left behind by the now demolished Wilson Auditorium.

University officials revealed to UrbanCincy that while the Board of Trustees approved the new buildings, they did nothing to accommodate the ongoing maintenance costs of the aging Wilson Auditorium in the meantime. As a result, the building significantly deteriorated over the past five or so years.

In December part of the vision the Board of Trustees approved years ago came to reality when the 83-year-old structure was leveled. There are no plans, however, for any new academic facility to take its spot at this time.

Wilson Auditorium Site
Wilson Auditorium is now gone, but what will ultimately happen with the prominent site is anyone’s guess. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

According to the director of project management with the University of Cincinnati Office of Planning + Design + Construction, Dale Beeler, the site will be used as temporary classroom space during the $18.5 million renovation of the Teachers College over the next two years. That temporary space will amount to 25,000 square feet of modular buildings that the University of Cincinnati purchased from Cincinnati Public Schools following the district’s renovation of Walnut Hills High School.

What will happen with the prominent site on the university’s main campus is not yet clear.

“It is a too valuable piece of ground to leave unbuilt for an extended period of time,” explained Beeler. “Whatever is built there, however, would probably not be as imposing or close to Clifton Avenue as Wilson Auditorium.”

While the possibilities are wide open, the site is not. The small piece of land is surrounded by complicated slopes and other structures. The challenging site forced the previous design for the Arts & Sciences building to include a “tremendous amount of underground space” so that it was less imposing above ground.

While some rumors have included the possibility of a parking garage on the site, Beeler says that it will most likely be for some sort of academic use – indicating that either the Arts & Sciences building could come back into play, or the site could be used as the home for the new $70 million College of Law building.

Beeler was quick to deny that there were any plans in place to build new classroom space for the School of Design’s industrial design program, as was posted on the construction fence surrounding Wilson Auditorium’s demolition. It is assumed that this was prank by a student at the adjacent College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning (DAAP).

Until any solidified plans are put on the table and funded, students and area residents and workers, Beeler says, will at least be able to enjoy a better view of McMicken Hall.

“It’s amazing what it’s done for the view of McMicken Hall from that side of campus! It looks twice as big and twice as imposing.”

PHOTOS: Thousands of New Residential Units to Transform Downtown

Downtown Cincinnati is experiencing a new wave of development, with new office space at the Dunnhumby Centre, two new hotels in the historic Enquirer Building, the new Mabley Place in the former Tower Place Mall, and several other projects. But at UrbanCincy, we are most excited about the large number of new residences.

With more residents, the urban core will be able to support more essential neighborhood businesses—such as grocery stores, dry cleaners, and affordable restaurants—that are necessary for the long-term stability of the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine neighborhoods.

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If all of the announced projects go according to plan, around 1,500 new units of housing will be added over the next two to three years, and each individual project will offer something unique. There will be a mix of apartments and condos; one-bedroom and two-bedroom units; affordable and luxury price points; historic renovations and new construction.

Most recently, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) announced a new development at 15th and Race that will include 57 new residential units and retail space; the exact mix of condos and apartments has not yet been announced. 3CDC is also proceeding with the three-phase Mercer Commons development, which will include a grand total of 126 apartments and 28 condos.

Other projects moving forward include:

  • The new tower at Fourth and Race will contain 300 luxury apartments and a 15,000 square foot grocery store. Developer Flaherty & Collins will begin demolition of the site’s existing parking garage, often called Pogue’s Garage, in the first half of 2014.
  • Phase two of The Banks is expected to finally break ground in 2013 2014, adding 305 new apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space.
  • Developers of the Fountain Place retail building want to add 180 to 225 residential units above the existing Macy’s department store.
  • AT580, formerly known as the 580 Building, is being converted from office space into 179 apartments. The existing retail spaces on the first and second floors will remain.
  • A new tower above the Seventh and Broadway Garage will feature 110 high-end apartments. The target demographic for these units will be empty-nesters and older professionals looking for downtown living, according to Rick Kimbler, partner at the NorthPointe Group.
  • Three buildings on Seventh Street, which have been purchased by Peak Property Group, will be converted into 75 apartments and 15,000 square feet of retail space.
  • Broadway Square, a $26 million development in Pendleton, will feature 39 apartments and 40,000 square feet of retail space in first phase. Developer Model Group will add at least another 39 apartments in the second phase of the project.
  • The Ingalls Building will be redeveloped into 40 to 50 condos and ground-floor retail space by the Claremont Group.
  • The Schwartz Building, formerly vacant office space, will be converted into 20 apartments. Developer Levine Properties cited the building’s location along the Cincinnati Streetcar route as a driving factor for the renovation.

All photographs by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

VIDEO: New Playground to Open at Smale Riverfront Park in May

Despite all the recent bad weather, work has been progressing on the 45-acre Smale Riverfront Park. The latest phase of construction activity has moved to the west side toward Paul Brown Stadium, and is now becoming visually identifiable.

The next part of the park that will open to the public is the Heekin/PNC Grow Up Great Adventure Playground, which is scheduled to be completed this May.

“The newest feature to be completed is a serpentine wall that’s along the east edge of the playground,” Smale Riverfront Park project manager Dave Prather explained the eight-minute video update. “The way its sculpted entices challenges and encourages folks to do a balance beam walking and being challenged by the narrowness and the way it serpentines its way south toward a toddler-sized slide that is en route and will be installed in the coming months.”

Meanwhile, a series of columns, approximately 75% complete, are now jutting up from the ground at Carol Ann’s Carousel and the Anderson Pavilion.

The glass-enclosed carousel will sit on the upper level of the site that will be flanked by the historic Roebling Suspension Bridge and the Vine Street Fountain & Steps. Cincinnati Park Board officials say that the Vine Street design will mirror that of the currently completed Walnut Street Fountain & Steps.

The Anderson Pavilion will include an event and conference center fronting onto the rebuilt Mehring Way and will sit directly beneath the carousel. Both the carousel and pavilion space are scheduled to open in spring 2015.

Prather goes on in great detail about the various construction activities, taking place now, and lays out what construction work will be taking place in the months ahead.

“There’s going to be a lot happening in the next six weeks or so.”

$5M Mabley Place Project is First Phase of 4th & Race Transformation

Demolition and reconstruction of the old Tower Place Mall, now named Mabley Place, began December 16 with the installation of construction fencing around the perimeter of the old mall at Fourth and Race Streets.

Demolition of Pogue’s Garage, however, will not begin until the conversion of the mall is complete. Once the parking garage is removed, it will clear the way for construction of the 30-story apartment tower planned for the site.

Tower Place Mall, which was purchased by the city early last year for $8.5 million, came attached with the deteriorating eight-story Pogue’s Garage. Originally constructed to serve as parking for the namesake department store across the street at the intersection. The department store closed and was replaced by the mall in the 1980’s.

The mall building also supported its own parking expansion that currently is only accessible via a skybridge from the Pogue’s Garage. The parking spaces above the old mall will remain open during construction.

“The 525 parking spaces that currently exist above Tower Place Mall must be able to be accessible by other means prior to the demolition of the Pogue’s Garage. Right now, the only way to access those spaces is through Pogue’s, so the interior ramping at TPM must be completed first,” explained Stephen Dronen with the city’s Department of Trade and Development.

City officials expect the $5 million Mabley Place project to take six to nine months, and are optimistic that the parking structure will open by June. In addition to the parking, the project will include 8,400 square feet of street-level retail. One retail space has already been leased.

From there, developers of the Pogue’s Garage site can begin the laborious task of taking down the parking structure.

Due to its close proximity to other buildings, and the fact that it does not have a basement, engineers say that the garage cannot be imploded and must rather be demolished conventionally. The city estimates the demolition will take about four months and should begin this summer.

Flaherty & Collins is the lead developer on the new 300-unit apartment tower that will also include 1,000 parking spaces and 16,000 square feet for an independent upscale grocery store.

Construction is expected to commence immediately following the demolition of the garage, with the potential for a tiered opening of the garage prior to the residential tower above. Under such a model, the grocery store and parking garage components could open in early 2016, while the high-rise residential tower would open near the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017.

Although the redevelopment project was originally planned to be funded through the long-term lease of the city’s parking assets, the deal evolved to no longer require funding from the now cancelled lease. As a result, the project is being funded private financing and a $12 million forgivable loan that, city officials say, is contingent on the satisfactory completion of the project and completion and operation of a first-class grocery store on the ground retail floor of the project for at least five years.

Photographs by Elizabeth Schmidt for UrbanCincy.

Episode #30: Looking Back at 2013 (Part 2)

U Square at The Loop

On the 30th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we bring you the second half of our conversation looking back at 2013. In the first half our discussion, we talked about recent events surrounding the Cincinnati Streetcar.

In this second half, we discussed a variety of development projects across the region. We speculate on the future of the Uptown area, with new projects such as U Square, other housing and mixed-use developments, a demolition on UC’s campus, and the upcoming new interchange at Martin Luther King Boulevard. We also cover downtown projects such as the Dunnhumby Centre, the Tower Place and Pogue’s Garage redevelopments, and the mystery of Phase II of The Banks. Finally, we touch on Manhattan Harbor, Blue Ash Summit Park, The Kenwood Collection, and the new Brent Spence Bridge.

Aerial photography of U Square by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

Streetcar Spurs Unsubsidized Growth in Portland

Portland is often cited as the “go to” city for rail transit and good planning initiatives. As someone who had ridden a fair share of streetcar, light rail and subway systems, I traveled to Portland with a dose of skepticism. TV shows like “Portlandia” showcase the quirky and often times absurd hipster culture that has blossomed in the city despite chronic problems with homelessness.

For a Cincinnatian, downtown Portland is a showcase of what could have been for downtown Cincinnati. A brief detour into Pioneer Place mall shows the potential of the failed Tower Place mall in downtown Cincinnati. A block away there is a downtown Nordstroms, something downtown Cincinnati failed to land in the 1990′s. A few blocks away, there is a downtown Target and TJ Maxx. The city’s retail scene is vibrant and its eclectic arrangement of food trucks and bicycle infrastructure add to that vibrancy.

It seems strange that these similarly sized metropolitan regions have realized two very different fortunes. One is of success through investing in transit infrastructure, the other struggling to make gains so far without it. This is why the construction and success of the Cincinnati Streetcar project is so vital.

Twenty-five guests of the Alliance for Regional Transit, spearheaded by John Schneider, toured Portland last month to ride the various modes of transit in the city and tour the different areas along the city’s expanding streetcar system. This is the 30th group Schneider has led out to Portland and also the largest.

Schneider has not always been a fan of rail transit. Citing the availability of bus transit, he was often critical of the need for rail in cities like Cincinnati. After the formation of Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI), however, a survey was conducted where rail transit was found to be the top priority for downtown residents and visitors. He was assigned as the head of the Transportation Committee and tasked with bringing rail to the region, something he scoffed at at the time.

When recounting this story, he told the group in Portland that he had ridden several systems until one day he was riding a train in St. Louis and it finally clicked. The self-identified Republican has been a supporter ever since.

The tour began at the South Waterfront district, located at the southern end of the North-South (NS) Streetcar line. It is a new neighborhood that serves as the residential and office extension off the Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital, which is landlocked at the top of the adjacent hill.

The $1.6 billion development started in 2004 and is home to thousands of residents. An aerial tram serves as a direct connection between the South Waterfront and the hospital. The tram also offers dramatic views of the city and the surrounding Cascades mountain range.

The east side of Portland, opposite the Willamette River, is primarily dominated by auto-oriented developments, however there is evidence that the recently opened Central Loop (CL) Streetcar line is having a positive impact on development in the area. A $250 million upscale apartment development has already begun construction at the junction between the streetcar and light rail lines at NE 7th Avenue and NE Holladay Street in the sleepy Lloyd District.

The next phase of the Portland’s streetcar system will connect the end of the CL Line in the east end to the end of the NS Line near the South Waterfront. To accomplish this the city is building a $134.6 million cable-stayed rail, bike and pedestrian only transit bridge that will open in 2015.

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The tour also took the group through the Pearl District, which is the oft-touted renovated warehouse distinct in Portland.

While there are many comparisons to Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, it would be an unjust assumption because Over-the-Rhine features a greater amount of remaining abandoned and underutilized mixed-use multi-family buildings than the Pearl District. The Pearl District has seen over $2 billion in development, but it has largely been new construction built on sites that once were once occupied by rail yards and warehouses.

During the tour the group was introduced to different leaders who shared their perspective of Portland’s progress on its streetcar system.  People like Paddy Tillett, Principle at ZGF Architects, who is with the firm that helped spearhead the effort to establish the transit mall in downtown Portland.

“People were calling it a toy train and saying that we already had light rail,” Tillett told the group. “Even TriMet didn’t want to operate it.”

However Portlanders soon came to embrace their streetcar system, which is now in its fifth phase of construction. Tillett continued, “The streetcar helps extend peoples walking distance, it is not supposed to serve as point-to-point transit. Today it has a dedicated ridership and is helping demonstrate how streetcars can play an important role in public transit around the country.”

The tour was capped off with a meeting with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales (D). Hales told the group, “We no longer have to provide subsidies for downtown development.”

Mayor Hales also stated that it took fifteen years for developers to begin  reducing the size need of parking structures for development.

Portland is a beautiful city with vibrancy and life. However, this vibrancy was hard fought over the last three decades. The construction of the transit mall, TriMet light rail and the streetcar were huge gambles that ultimately paid off, and took Portland from a sleepy waterfront lumber town to a place where people move to even if they don’t have jobs lined up. Portland’s problems are ones born from success, not failure and even those problems are good to have.

At today’s council meeting, Cincinnati’s new political leadership will be making decisions regarding the continuation of construction of the Cincinnati’s streetcar system. The new mayor and city council will have to decide whether to continue the same hit or miss approach to development in the urban core, or decide to embrace a system that has a proven track record of success in many cities throughout the country and the world.

Cities like Portland are where the future is headed, Cincinnati’s new leaders should take heed.