Is an apartment development at Eighth and Sycamore worthy of public financing?

As was previously teased by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D), there is the possibility of building a residential mid-rise atop the planned parking garage at Eighth and Sycamore Streets. The developer initially engaged, however, is saying that they will need some gap financing from the City to make it happen. Do you think it’s worth the public investment? More from the Business Courier:

Rick Kimbler, a partner at NorthPointe Group, which is developing the project along with North American Properties and Al Neyer, said the group is trying to assemble financing for the project.

“We don’t have the financing put together, so it’s not really a project yet,” Kimbler said. “We will definitely need some gap filler from the city. There’s no question about that because mid-rise construction downtown is expensive, and the city is straining, trying to be helpful, but their funds are limited.”

Parking Guru Donald Shoup to Speak at Mercantile Library Next Tuesday

Donald Shoup, world renowned economist and researcher, will be speaking at the Mercantile Library on October 28.

For those unfamiliar with his work, he is a forerunner in examining the effects of parking policy on urban economics, which he presented in his 2005 book The High Cost of Free Parking. The book was preceded by an article of the same name, which Shoup wrote in 1997.

Mandated parking requirements, it seemed, was an issue that many planners felt ill-equipped to tackle. It had not been lectured on in their classes, and textbooks were often silent on the matter. And according to the American Planning Association, planners requested information on this topic more than any other.

Mandated minimum parking requirements have been a zoning code staple since the widespread adoption of the automobile. For example, a zoning code may require that apartment buildings supply one parking space per unit, or that a restaurant provide one parking space for every 300 square feet of space used by patrons. While parking minimums are typically set by the use of a property, they vary based on what kind of zoning district the property is found in – for example, a low density, auto-oriented district will require more spaces than a dense area that is more walkable.

As planners wrote their zoning codes, they had few tools at their disposal to discern where they should set their parking minimums, which led to the common practice of borrowing numbers used by other cities that often did not account for local conditions. And as Shoup found, even if planners could observe capacities and usage for, say an office building, not every office building was created equal. An office building that allowed employees their own offices instead of cubicles would have fewer employees per square foot and therefore should conversely be assigned a lower parking spot minimum.

And since minimums were based on the maximum capacity for a particular use, an additional quandary arose from requiring parking that would very certainly sit unused most of the time.

Upon examination of the issue, the numbers used to set minimum parking requirements were considered arbitrary – a best guess, and applied with broad brushstrokes. Therefore, Shoup set out to examine where and how the cost of this imposition on property development was being absorbed.

Analyses were able to estimate how much development costs increase due to parking minimums, and the results bred a new understanding of how parking requirements can increase the cost of real estate, particularly in urban areas. A portion of these costs are presumably passed on to tenants and patrons, regardless of whether they own a car and utilize a parking space.

When applied to denser historic districts built before the automobile, lots frequently are not large enough to provide the amount of spaces that a zoning code may require for parking. The result is a tangible barrier to redevelopment, revitalization and the adaptive reuse of buildings.

Brian Bertha, a researcher in California, analyzed project costs before and after the establishment of parking minimums in 1961 in Oakland. He found that after the requirements were put in place, construction costs per dwelling unit increased 18%, housing density fell by 30%, and land values decreased by 33%.

In Shoup’s research he speculates that if “emancipated from minimum parking requirements, land and capital will shift from parking to uses that employ more workers and pay more taxes.”

Instead he advocates making parking a pay-per use amenity, and thus encourage greater use of public and active transportation. Furthermore, he believes that revenues generated from on-street parking be utilized within neighborhood improvement districts in order to provide more amenities in those districts.

Just as we are taught in economics class that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” Shoup uses his skill for economic analysis to illustrate that there’s no such thing as a free parking space.

Driving is still necessary for ease of accessing employment in most American cities, but Shoup’s analysis allows policy makers to think critically about the interconnectedness of these policies, and the role that a thoughtful approach can play in reducing congestion, decreasing auto-dependence, and removing barriers to investment.

If you would like to attend Dr. Shoup’s lecture, he will be speaking downtown at 6pm at the Mercantile Library at 414 Walnut Street. Tickets can be purchased online for $10 for members and $15 for non-members.

Metro to Begin Selling One-Day Passes in November, Regional Fare Cards Next

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) will begin selling new day passes for Metro bus service on Sunday, November 2.

The new one-day, unlimited ride passes are part of Metro’s ongoing fare payment overhaul that began back in 2011 with the introduction of new electronic fare boxes.

The new day passes will be able to be purchased directly on any Metro bus as you board. Jill Dunne, Public Affairs Manager at Metro, says that all the purchaser will need to do is notify the driver before paying their fares. The pass is then activated upon its first use and will be valid for unlimited rides until 3am the next day.

The passes cost $4.50 for Zone 1, which is anything within city limits, and $6.30 for Zone 2. A pass purchased for either zone accounts for all necessary transfer fees.

Since these day passes will be ideal for visitors, you can also purchase them in advance at the sales office on Government Square. The passes can then be distributed to friends or family members and used at their convenience, only being activated upon their first use.

“Riders have been asking for day passes for several years,” Dunne explained to UrbanCincy. “They are great for visitors, occasional riders and anyone who plans to ride Metro frequently throughout the day without worrying about exact change or transfers.”

In many cities around the world, however, the idea of buying day or month passes is a thing of the past thanks to the advent of smart card payment technology. If Metro were to switch over to a system like this, which their new electronic fare boxes are capable of handling, it would allow for riders to use enabled bank cards or loadable fare cards.

“We are looking at all options for fares to make it convenient for our riders,” Dunne emphasized. “We have been working on ‘smart cards’ for a while and I hope we’d be able to roll them out in the future.”

Another new feature riders can soon expect, and has been rumored for some time, is a regional stored-value card that works on transit services offered by Metro and the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK). Metro officials say they are optimistic that will be available within the next few months.

Those interested in getting their hands on the new day passes can do so by attending a ceremony Metro will hold at Government Square on Monday, November 3 at 10am. To celebrate the moment, Metro employees and SORTA board members will be giving out 500 free day passes on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Rapidly Growing Cincybite to Expand Delivery Area and Service Offerings

Just about a year ago, a new food delivery service entered the Cincinnati market. The idea behind it was one not uncommon in other larger urban centers around the country, but was new to the area.

While it can be simple to get sandwiches, pizza, or Chinese food delivered locally, that tends to be the limit of your options. But Robbie Sosna, who had lived Miami, New York City and Los Angeles after growing up in Blue Ash, knew the city could do better. So he launched Cincybite last December.

What Cincybite does is partner with area restaurants to deliver their regular menu items to hungry customers around the city. Sosna said they first started with just six restaurant partners and delivered only during dinner time in the center city. However, after a strong start, Cincybite quickly added lunch delivery options and added an additional seven restaurant partners within two weeks after their initial launch.

The early success of the business is yet another example of the retail services not keeping pace with the city’s population growth. While the age-old idea of ‘retail follows rooftops’ may still be true, technology is also now allowing some of that to be bypassed through innovative on-demand delivery services.

“In New York and LA there were restaurant delivery services, and I was surprised to find none existed in town,” Sosna explained. “The response has been phenomenal and I’m working hard to expand the service through the metro area.”

This is not his first foray into the food industry. In 2009, he purchased his first Freshii franchise in Los Angeles before ultimately moving those operations to Cincinnati and bringing the popular fresh food chain to the region in 2012.

Cincybite’s offices are located downtown and are currently staffed by six employees who are tracking all sorts of data and usage patterns. The data they are collecting, Sosna says, is what is helping them determine what other restaurants to approach, types of food to add, and which areas to expand to next.

One area that has not yet been officially added to Cincybite’s delivery area is the city’s west side neighborhoods, but they say it is only a matter of time, and drivers, before that happens. As for now, the focus remains on the region’s center city neighborhoods and many on the city’s east side and along the I-71 corridor.

“When looking at future areas of growth, my director of ops and I study our current sales data and customer feedback,” Sonsa explained. “We’re looking at strengthening our variety of restaurants in our current zones and planning our growth north.”

When asked where those next areas of operations might be, he said that they are looking at Kenwood, Madeira, Blue Ash, Montgomery and Indian Hill, but also clarified that Cincybite has unofficially also begun serving the west side.

Growing Cincybite’s delivery area and food options is just the beginning of the company’s overall growth plans. They have just launched a new service that offers delivery of basic grocery items and other incidentals like batteries, cleaning products, toiletries, over the counter medicine, baby food and supplies, and snacks. Likening the service to Amazon Fresh, Sosna says that he is working with a number of other businesses in order to add even more items.

“We’ve had conversations with local pet shops, butcher shops, dessert companies and a variety of other businesses looking to add additional revenue and awareness to their brand,” said Sosna. “There really is no limit for what Cincybite can offer Cincinnati, and we’re working hard to expand the delivery zones so everyone in the city can enjoy.”

Those who want to use the service merely need to register for an account and then shopping as would typically be done with any online retailer. The website also allows customers to select the date and time they would like to have their items delivered, and also allows for the user to pre-select an amount to tip the driver.

But one thing that was made clear was that none of this would be possible for Sosna without the resurgence taking place in Cincinnati. Had it not been for that, he said he may have stayed in Los Angeles instead of coming home.

“The commute back and forth for 2.5 years helped calm my nerves, but as I opened my Freshii location and began spending more time in the city, I realized a lot of progress had been made and the city was headed in the right direction,” Sosna told UrbanCincy.

“The approval of the streetcar, construction of The Banks, revival of OTR, food scene throughout the city, investment in tech with Brandery and Cintrifuse, and GE selecting Cincinnati for their future operations center were just a few of the reasons highlighting how great the city had improved and made the transition all the easier.”

Economists: Cincinnati’s Regional Economy Outperforming Both Pittsburgh and Cleveland

Analysis of data recently released by the Cincinnati Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland shows the area’s economy in a relatively healthy position compared to nearby metro areas, and to the nation as a whole.

LaVaughn Henry, Vice President and Senior Regional Officer at the Cincinnati Branch, says that he believes the region’s economy is poised for continued economic growth, and he points to several factors that contribute to his optimism – a highly educated workforce, an economy healthily spread amongst different sectors, and numerous Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the city.

When diving into the numbers, Henry points to 30% of the regional workforce holding a bachelor’s degree as an item that makes the city an attractive place to do business.

He also touts the city’s relatively low unemployment rate which stands at 5.2% – about even with Pittsburgh and a full percentage point better than the rates nationally and for the state of Ohio. Making the area’s economy even stronger is the fact that its top industry sectors – professional and business services, health and education, and skilled manufacturing – all continue to experience healthy growth.

The Federal Reserve also pointed to continued capital spending as a bright spot that is boosting employment and earnings. Specifically, two hospital expansions and the opening of General Electric’s Global Operations Center at The Banks are expected to support thousands of jobs through 2016.

While the data found that Cincinnati is out-performing many of its peers, it also found that it has room for improvement in terms of wage and GDP growth.

Wages, the Federal Reserve says, have yet to reach pre-recession levels locally, and, while growing, are growing modestly at best. Researchers say that Cincinnati is suffering from a national problem of too many workers in the labor market, and high growth in low-paying service sector jobs that depress wage data. And while the region’s gross domestic product is growing faster than the national average, economists note that, like wages, it has yet to reach pre-recession levels.

When compared to Pittsburgh and Cleveland, the only other two metropolitan regions with more than 2 million people in the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland district, Cincinnati is, by far, the healthiest performer.

In Cleveland economists note that its economy is recovering from the Great Recession much better than the recession of 2001, yet it continues to trail national averages. While unemployment is falling throughout the region, it remains stubbornly high at 6.8% – above both the national and state averages. A bright spot, however, is Cleveland’s 28.5% bachelor’s degree rate within the workforce is at least on-par with the national average.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, recovered the quickest of the three from the Great Recession, but has since seen its economic indicators stall. While unemployment has consistently stayed below the national average, growth in almost all industries in the city was lower than the national average. And while GDP grew from 2009 to 2012, economists at the Federal Reserve expect the data to be somewhat more somber once data is released for 2013 and 2014.