As Over-the-Rhine Evolves, So Does MidPoint Music Festival

MidPoint Music Festival, known to music fans as MPMF, returns to Cincinnati’s city center this week. Starting on Thursday, September 25, the three-day festival will take over local venues and bars with 150 acts from seven countries and 57 cities, including a great lineup of Cincinnati bands.

Unlike music festivals that take place in empty fields, like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, MPMF lives and breathes within Cincinnati’s urban core. This year, the festival will host 14 stages among 12 venues in bars, restaurants, concert halls, and nightclubs throughout Over-the-Rhine and Downtown.

The 2014 festival footprint will look slightly different than in years’ past, featuring the addition of numerous new venues and the elimination of several familiar stages. Since the festival relies on small businesses to host its live performances, the increasing popularity of Over-the-Rhine has, ironically, proven bittersweet for MidPoint’s festival organizers.

Dan Bockrath, CityBeat publisher and de facto executive producer of MidPoint Music Festival, explained that as Over-the-Rhine evolves, the festival has to change with it.

“When [CityBeat] first took over MidPoint [in 2008], there were a lot of empty storefronts that we could put to work, and there were a lot of rooms that served other functions typically that we could repurpose for MidPoint weekend. Now it’s getting a little more challenging to do that because Over-the-Rhine’s filled out,” Bockrath told UrbanCincy.

Bockrath reflects back to a few years ago. “We took a venue like Grammer’s and people thought we were crazy having our main stage, pre-dating Washington Park, at the corner of Liberty and Walnut.”

Now with Grammer’s under construction, MPMF had to find a new outdoor venue to host their bigger acts. This year the festival inched north of Liberty Street to Moerlein Brewing Company where they’ll have two stages: a larger outdoor stage that can hold roughly 1,500 people, and a secondary indoor stage for more intimate shows.

Other long-time MPMF venues have opted out of the festival as to not alienate the loyal customer bases they’ve built over the years. This will be the first year, for example, that Below Zero Lounge is not participating as a venue since 2007. “Businesses don’t want to abandon their successful business models now that they’ve built a loyal following,” Bockrath explained.

But as some opportunities go away, others seem to be coming online almost equally. One example organizers give is the Cincinnati Streetcar, which will allow for all kinds of new possibilities once it opens in advance of Midpoint’s 2016 festival.

“There are a lot of possibilities for the future. As the streetcar comes online I can see ourselves going further up into Over-the-Rhine.”

While the streetcar has not significantly impacted the layout of this year’s festival, the same can’t be said for 2015. For instance, the MidPoint Midway on 12th Street between Vine and Walnut sits right on the streetcar line. The free programming area which, since 2011, has hosted the ArtWorks Box Truck Carnival, the Powerhouse Poster Expo, and this year’s ArtWorks programming around the theme “Ink Your Love,” may need to find a new home next year or, perhaps, this may be its last year. Either way, Bockrath remains optimistic.

The festival is open to reinventing itself, he said. “It’s not a Bonnaroo plopped in some big field somewhere. Those kinds of festivals can happen in any city. We really think what we have is uniquely Cincinnati.”

Tickets for MPMF are available online at mpmf.com/tickets, and a comprehensive review of each artist can be found on CityBeat’s website.

DID YOU KNOW THAT MPMF…

  • Was almost called Mid by Midwest? Founders Sean Rhiney and Bill Donabedian eventually landed on MidPoint Music Festival.
  • Launched with only 12 venues, but across three cities? In 2002, the inaugural festival hosted 12 venues in Newport, Covington and Cincinnati, including Newport’s Southgate House (not to be confused with Southgate House Revival) and York Street Cafe, Madison Theater in Covington, and now defunct OTR spots Kaldi’s, BarrelHouse, Crush, The Cavern (now Below Zero Lounge) and Jefferson Hall (on Main Street, before it moved across the river and back across again).
  • Used to coincide with a music industry conference? Much like South by Southwest, the industry conference featured panel discussions, artist and industry keynotes and a trade show. Past keynote speakers included Big Star drummer Jody Stephens (2003), Everclear frontman Art Alexakis (2004), Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers frontman Greg Dulli (2005), CD Baby founder Derek Sivers (2006), Superdrag vocalist and songwriter, John Davis (2007) and Minor Threat guitarist, Lyle Preslar (2007).
  • Used to be four days long? The festival spanned across four days of live music and panels, but was condensed into three days when CityBeat acquired the festival in 2008.
  • Once hosted 25 stages, the most venues MPMF has ever had in one year? In 2010 MPMF expanded to empty storefronts and spaces like the Hanke Building and non-music venues like the Tax Place, ArtWorks, the Segway Room, and the Inner Peace Center.

HOW TO GET AROUND AT MPMF

Bike: BYOB (Bring Your Own Bike) – the festival has partnered with the City of Cincinnati to provide temporary bike racks adjacent to nearly every venue. You could also get around by using Cincy Red Bike for just $8/day for unlimited trips of 60 minutes or less. There are 19 Cincy Red Bike stations between OTR and Downtown, including at Washington Park, near the Midway at 12th & Vine, and by the Taft Theater at Broadway.
Car: Uber is offering first-time Uber users a discount during MPMF. Just use the promo code MPMF14 to receive a discount of up to $20 off.
Foot: The distance from MPMF’s northernmost venue (Moerlein Brewing Co.) to its southermost venue (Mainstay Rock Bar) is a little over a mile, so it’s totally doable to hoof it, though it’s bit of a trek if you’ve got a tight schedule.
Transit: Most of the venues for this year’s festival are located on Metro bus routes, but many are within a short walk of a number of bus lines. You can check out which routes and stops are most convenient for you by using Google Map’s transit feature or Metro’s Trip Planner.

On top of all the official MPMF activities, there are a number of complimentary events that will be taking place. On September 24, Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. will be hosting a preview party with a free show by THE PASS and Machines Are People Too. The event will run from 8pm to 11pm and also include a ceremonial keg tapping of Moerlein’s seasonal Helltown Rye.

On Friday and Saturday, FRCH Design Worldwide will host Framed at MidPoint at the Frameshop (1317 Main Street). The pop-up event will include a photo booth, postcard gallery, sculptures made of instruments and a missed-connections space titled You’ve Been Framed. Donations benefit Music Resource Center, a nonprofit that helps provide youth with musical resources. Open Thursday through Saturday from 7pm to 12am.

In addition to all of that, MPMF.FM will feature free daytime performances by MPMF bands at Findlay Market all weekend.

EDITORIAL: Cincinnati Should Embrace John Cranley’s Residential Parking Permit Idea

We subsidize parking for automobiles in almost all situations in our society, but it is especially true when it comes to public parking. This can be seen quite clearly throughout the city where public parking garages, lots and on-street spaces are regularly priced below market rates.

A recent proposal by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) to charge $300 annually for a residential parking permit in Over-the-Rhine was met with immediate criticism. Perhaps the criticism was fair given that such a rate would be the highest in the country by a long shot. And yes, that includes far higher than what’s charged in San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New York.

UrbanCincy, however, believes this says more about the sad state of subsidizing parking than anything else. In fact, we believe that the $300 annual parking permit is reasonable.

To better understand how this proposed permit fee stacks up, let’s consider that it averages out to approximately $25 per month. According to the most recent State of Downtown report, the average monthly parking rate in the Central Business District, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton is $89. This average accounts for approximately 36,400 monthly parking spaces available in 2013.

While this average monthly parking rate is skewed by much higher rates in the Central Business District, many lots and garages reserved for residential parking in Over-the-Rhine charge between $40 and $110 per month. This means that Mayor Cranley’s proposal would put the city’s on-street parking spaces nearly in-line with their private counterparts.

This is a smart move. We should stop subsidizing parking as much as possible. Therefore, such a proposal should not only be examined in greater depth for Over-the-Rhine, but all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods.

According to parking management policy expert and UCLA professor Donald Shoup, charging market rate prices is particularly important for a variety of reasons. One of the primary reasons, however, is the fact that the higher prices will cause higher turnover and thus positively influence a number of other factors such as reduced congestion from cars circling the block and reduced pollution from those cars’ exhaust.

UrbanCincy recommends identifying what the market rate for parking is throughout the city and establish districts where on-street residential parking permits can be purchased. The proceeds from those permits could then be reinvested back into those neighborhoods for improvements of selected by those neighborhoods.

In Over-the-Rhine it has been suggested that the money could go toward offsetting the operating costs of the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar, but in other neighborhoods it could support public art, cleanup activities, public art or whatever it is that neighborhood desires.

This may not have been what the mayor had in mind when first proposing the residential parking permits for Over-the-Rhine, but if it was then Mayor Cranley deserves serious kudos.

With Membership Rates Set, Cincy Red Bike to Begin Operations Monday

Those eager to sign-up for the region’s first bike share program found out at some point last week that the system was open. It marked the first time anyone was able to purchase annual memberships through Cincy Red Bike, and it also was the first time rates were revealed.

What those early members found out was that annual memberships cost $80 and daily rentals will cost $8. UrbanCincy has revealed that both of these rates are among the highest of B-cycle’s markets, but comparable to the other large cities served by the nation’s largest bike share company.

Part of the benefit for Cincy Red Bike members is the fact that the Cincinnati system is part of B-cycle’s national network. This means that their membership cards will also work in most any of B-cycle’s nearly two-dozen network cities.

B-cycle cities such as Austin, Denver, Fort Worth, Indianapolis and San Antonio all have the same annual membership rates as Cincinnati, but those amounts are slightly higher than the $75 annual fee charged for users in Chicago, Columbus and Washington D.C. where Montreal-based Bixi operates systems.

New York’s Citi Bike, which is also operated by Bixi, is the nation’s most expensive with $95 annual memberships.

In most cases the daily memberships cover an unlimited number of 30-minute rides. Bike share planners say that this is to encourage the use of the bikes for small trips and ensure high turnover.

Cincy Red Bike, however, will be a bit unique in that its $8 daily memberships will allow for an unlimited number of rides up to 60 minutes – making it one of just a handful of cities nationwide. The thought is that the longer ride period will allow for a better customer experience without damaging the performance of the system.

The longer check outs will lead to fewer people who don’t fully understand the pricing structure and therefore accidentally get charged user fees,” explained Cincy Red Bike executive director Jason Barron. “This is good from a customer satisfaction standpoint, but it is also good in that we will spend less time and resources dealing with unhappy customers.”

Those who go over that 60-minute time period will be charged $4 for each additional 30 minutes up to a total of $50 in added charges. Those who do not return the bike at all will be charged $1,200.

Cincy Red Bike locations

As of this point all of the 260 bikes and 30 stations have been put together and installed throughout Downtown and Uptown. Barron says that the system will officially go into operation on Monday, September 15 at 10:30am during a ceremony led by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) at The Banks.

Those who have already purchased memberships will be receiving their cards by mail next week, but Barron says that they can use the system through their membership prior to receiving their card by simply using the credit card tied to their account.

Those who have not yet purchased their memberships can do so online, and are encouraged to download the free B-cycle Now smartphone application to location stations and bike availability.

Cincinnati Gentrified at One of Nation’s Fastest Rates Immediately Following Housing Boom

During the housing boom years between 2000 and 2007, many cities saw an influx of new housing and new wealth into their core neighborhoods. It was a trend that was consistent throughout America as wealthier individuals looked to move back into the cities that had been abandoned in prior decades.

This trend was more pronounced in some cities – Atlanta, Washington D.C., Denver, and Seattle – than others. But for the most part, the majority of the cities were gaining wealth relative to their regional average. Following the burst of the housing bubble, however, virtually every city saw this rate of improvement slow down.

According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the majority of 59 cities studied now fall between either a one percentile decline or one percentile increase between 2007 and 2010. This is in contrast to the housing boom period which saw cities like Atlanta and Washington D.C. move up 8.7 and 5 percentiles respectively.

“During the housing boom, a number of large cities in the United States experienced redevelopment in their lower-income neighborhoods as higher-income residents moved in, a process known as gentrification,” wrote researcher Daniel Hartley. “Since lending standards have tightened with the onset of the housing bust and the financial crisis, we wondered whether gentrification has continued after the recession in places where it was happening before.”

The results of their research found that only a select handful of regions reasonably continued to see relative wealth growth in their principal cities. The findings also detected one region that bucked the trend and actually increased its gains over the housing boom period.

“Another interesting case is Cincinnati, which barely changed in income ranking from 2000 to 2007 but has increased at a pace similar to Denver or Washington during the 2007 to 2010 period,” the research team noted.

Hints of such activity were realized in December 2013 when UrbanCincy uncovered that census tracts all over the city were experiencing wealth increases.

While the gains in wealth may seem like a positive thing for the city, not everyone is so thrilled about the changes taking place in Cincinnati.

“It seems to me what this information really indicates is how, when people experiencing poverty are systematically removed from a certain area, and housing stock is renovated with the goal of selling to wealthier people, property values increase,” says Jason Haap, an area teacher and prominent advocate for the city’s homeless population. “The fact that Cincinnati has seen gentrified growth during a time of slow economic growth in minority communities further exacerbates the situation.”

One of the tools in order to prevent the displacement Haap mentions from happening is including ‘set asides’ in new developments for affordable housing. The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) has done this a bit in Over-the-Rhine at projects like Mercer Commons and Bremen Lofts, but there is no official city policy or requirement to do so.

What also factors into the relative changes studied by the Federal Reserve Bank is the widespread poverty and low income levels of those living within city limits. Thus, even nominal improvements would show up as a potentially significant increase.

We do know, however, that some housing prices, particularly in the city center where demand is highest, are starting to get out of hand. Most new apartment developments in the Central Business District now feature rents of $2,000 or more per month, and in one recent case, a three bedroom flat on Sixth Street rented for a whopping $4,600 per month.

In such cases it is leaving many now wondering if these prices are not only driving out existing residents but, paradoxically, also preventing many new potential residents from moving in.

“Demand in Cincinnati’s core is insatiable, and supply is only coming online at a trickle,” explained Derek Bauman, an urban development consultant and chairman of Cincinnatians for Progress. “Without urban housing supply, we may miss the coming wave of new residents. At nearly $2 per square-foot rents and $250-$300 a square-foot sales, we may not have Manhattan prices yet, but we’re damn near Brooklyn.”

VIDEO: New Views of Ohio River Opened Up with Latest Excavation Work at Smale Riverfront Park

Lots of visual progress has been made on Cincinnati’s $120 million Smale Riverfront Park over the past few months.

Since the last construction update in June, project manager Dave Prather explains that the steel framing for Carol Ann’s Carousel is now taking shape, and that the Vine Street fountains and steps have now fully taken on their form. These steps and cascading fountains will be similar to the Walnut Street fountains and steps already completed to the east.

Prather also takes us inside the rentable event space beneath the carousel and fountain plaza.

While it is still quite messy with construction activity, Cincinnati Parks officials are actively promoting it and booking reservations now. Park officials tell UrbanCincy that the Anderson Pavilion will have two event spaces – Longworth Room and Mendenhall Room – that can accommodate up to 300 people. Special events can be booked through Premier Park Events at 513-221-2610.

During the nearly 12-minute video, you can also now see a new view of the Ohio River now that excavation has begun on the park’s great lawn. This area of the park will bring visitors as closer to the water than anywhere else.

Most all of the work profiled in this latest video update is anticipated to be complete in time for the 2015 MLB All-Star Game at Great American Ball Park. The week-long festivities leading up to the weekend of games is expected to being thousands of visitors and millions of eyeballs to the city’s central riverfront.