PHOTOS: The Changing Face of Downtown Cincinnati

It’s not just housing that’s booming in the center city, there is also a slew of office, retail, hotel and infrastructure projects underway that are transforming Cincinnati’s skyline and its streetscapes.

All of the construction activity makes it feel as if there is work taking place in just about every corner of the central business district and its immediate surroundings. And for the most part, that feeling is valid.

In addition to the thousands of residential units under construction, work is also currently underway on the second phase of The Banks, which will include not only 300 additional apartments, but also General Electric’s new North American Global Operations Center, 313-room Renaissance Hotel, dunnhumbyUSA Centre, Mabley Place, reconstruction of Second Street, and work is about to get underway for the new 115-room Holiday Inn hotel at Seventh and Broadway Streets.

In addition to all of the construction work taking place, the weather earlier this month was terrific and made for a perfect time to take pictures of some of the center city’s beauty.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 22 photos were taken by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy between July 2 and July 9, 2014.

PHOTOS: Construction Progressing on Thousands of New Downtown Residences

Six months ago, we reported on 11 residential developments moving forward in the Central Business District, Over-the-Rhine, and Pendleton. At the time, these were expected to add about 1,500 new units of housing to the urban core. Although one of these projects has been downsized and another postponed, one new residential project was announced as well.

Most notably, the proposed tower at Fourth and Race was downsized from 300 to 200 units, and the grocery store that would have been located on the ground floor of the building has been dropped from the plan.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) is also shelving its plans for a new mixed-use project at 15th and Race, which would have added 57 residential units. However, 3CDC is also shelving its plan to build 53,000 square feet of office space as part of the third phase of Mercer Commons, and is considering building more residential at that location. The first two phases of Mercer Commons contain 126 apartments and 28 condos in addition to retail space.

Finally, the proposal to bring an AC Hotel to the former School for the Creative & Performing Arts (SCPA) in Pendleton has been scrapped. Developers are now moving forward with an alternate plan, which will convert the building into 155 market-rate apartments.

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The other projects still moving forward include:

  • Phase two of The Banks broke ground in April 2014. It will contain 305 new apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space, in addition to a new office tower for General Electric.
  • 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.
  • The Seven at Broadway project will feature 110 high-end apartments, built above an existing parking garage. 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.
  • Broadway Square, a $26 million development, is now under construction in Pendleton. Its first phase will feature 39 apartments and 40,000 square feet of retail space, and developer Model Group will add at least another 39 apartments in the second phase of the project.
  • The Schwartz Building, formerly vacant office space, is being converted into 20 apartments. Developer Levine Properties cited the building’s location along the Cincinnati Streetcar route as a driving factor for the renovation.
  • The Ingalls Building will be redeveloped into 40 to 50 condos and ground-floor retail space by the Claremont Group.
  • Peak Property Group plans to purchase and renovate three buildings on Seventh Street into 75 apartments and 15,000 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.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 12 photos were taken by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy between July 3 and July 8, 2014.

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.

Episode #36: Summer Update

Uptown Transit DistrictOn the 36th episode of The UrbanCincy PodcastJohn and Jake join Travis for an update on several projects happening around Cincinnati.

The main focus is transportation, with discussion of the Brent Spence Bridge and other I-75 work, the new MLK Interchange at I-71, Central Parkway bike lanes, the Uptown Transit District and various Uptown shuttle buses, as well as an update on the streetcar construction progress.

We also discuss the Uptown Consortium’s vision for new pedestrian-friendly development along Martin Luther King Drive, and revisit the conversation about the possibility of a downtown grocery store.

Chicago Serves as a Model for Midwestern Cities Looking to Bolster Bicycling

For the past few years anyone with an interest in bicycling has seen their Facebook and Twitter feeds stuffed daily with bike lane and bike share project updates from cities around the United States. Much of that news has come from our northern neighbor Chicago, where its first of 100 planned miles of protected bike lanes opened in 2012.

In 2013 Chicago also launched the nation’s third-largest bike share program, a 300-station network sprawling across large sections of the city. Then, in early 2014, construction began on the $60 million Navy Pier Flyover, an elevated structure that will speed Lakefront Trail bicycle traffic over the Chicago River and the congested Navy Pier tourist area.

In May I spent part of a vacation day biking 35 miles around Chicago to see its various recent bicycling improvements for myself. This ride included The Loop, parts of the Lakefront Trail, and various residential areas where bike lanes have been recently created.

Dearborn Street Two-Way Protected Bike Lane
This two-way protected bike lane opened on the otherwise one-way Dearborn Street in November 2012, and is among the most talked-about new bike lanes in the country. It occupies a 10-foot wide strip on the west side of this major north-south street, with bikes separated from vehicular traffic by bollards and on-street parking.

To manage conflicts between two-way bike and one-way automobile movements, bicycle traffic is controlled by dedicated signals at about a dozen intersections in The Loop.

I biked the length of this protected lane in both directions beginning at about 4:50pm on a weekday. It was immediately obvious that travel in the lane during rush hour was not particularly fast or orderly — pedestrians often stepped into the bike lane to hail cabs or to cross Dearborn Street mid-block. At cross-streets, bicycle traffic was sometimes unable to proceed when signaled due to surges of pedestrians or gridlocked traffic.

Bicyclist behavior within the protected lane was more chaotic than I expected.

Commuters riding their own bikes often passed slower Divvy bikes and northbound bikers sometimes drifted between the protected bike lane and Dearborn’s vehicular lanes. I observed a handful of northbound bicyclists ignoring the protected bike lane altogether, instead biking in mixed vehicular traffic up Dearborn Street as they had for the past 100 years.

Divvy Bikeshare
Chicago’s “Divvy” bike share system began operation on June 28, 2013 and by year’s end the system logged over 700,000 trips. This year the system is planned to expand from 300 to 400 stations and add 1,000 bicycles to its existing fleet of 3,000.

To say that the Divvy bikes are popular would be a gross understatement – the extent to which the blue bicycles have become a ubiquitous feature of Chicago’s cityscape in their first year has no doubt silenced all critics.

To that end, the utility of shared bicycles in Chicago is aided by the city’s flat layout. Recently a writer from Seattle expressed some skepticism of a planned bike share program’s popularity in the hilly Emerald City.

Similar questions have been raised locally and intensely debated on Internet forums. The questions bear enough validity to cause many proponents of Cincy Bike Share to concede that Uptown and Downtown operations may function and serve different customers from one another.

Navy Pier Flyover
Chicago’s Lakefront Trail stretches 18 miles along the city’s lakefront, and is home to a crush of bicycle traffic unlike anything to be seen in Cincinnati or elsewhere in the Midwest. In fact, the Active Transportation Alliance claims that Lakefront Trail is the busiest in the United States with peak daily usage reaching 30,000 people at key points.

Every type of bicycle and every type of rider uses the trail, along with joggers, walkers, and inline skaters – motivating the Chicago Tribune to remark earlier this year that the Lakefront Trail is “claustrophobic and dangerous—the antithesis of the shoreline as a refuge from urban crowding.”

The Navy Pier Flyover will link the north and south halves of the trail with 16-foot wide elevated approaches to the Outer Drive Bridge. The trail will cross the Chicago River on a new structure cantilevered off the west side of the famed 77-year-old bascule bridge.

General Observations
As someone who grew up biking the monster hills and hostile commercial avenues of Cincinnati’s west side in the 1980s, riding in Chicago – even the many areas without new bike lanes — is by comparison a piece of cake. So easy in fact that it’s boring.

Virtually all of Chicago’s streets are perfectly flat, perfectly straight, and traffic moves at pretty much the same speed and in the same fashion on all of them. There is little to no sense of exploration and discovery during a bike ride around Chicago – no wonder the Lakefront Trail is so popular when a ride between any two neighborhoods has the same character as any other combination.

No Chicago bicyclist knows anything like our varied street characteristics, our innumerable odd intersections, and of course the two-mile downhill runs that can be strung together between various Cincinnati neighborhoods.

Experimenting with side streets and alternate routes between points A and B is something that keeps the avid Cincinnati bicyclist exploring the city, year after year, and familiarity with all of the hills is a point of pride.

When Cincinnati’s bike share begins later this year, and if we eventually build more protected bike lanes beyond the current Central Parkway project, no doubt bicycling will become more popular in the center city, basin neighborhoods, and across the river in Covington and Newport.

Any city, however, can paint bike lanes and buy a few thousand bike share bikes, but the endless range of leisurely or challenging rides available to the Cincinnati bicyclist is something Chicago and most other American cities will never have.