Streetcar Supporters to Announce Expanded Coalition Urging for System’s Expansion Uptown

AcDowntown to Uptown Cincinnati Streetcar Routecording to officials at the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which governs Metro, more than 1,000 of the 1,500 Founders’ Club cards were sold within the first three days of going on sale.

The rate of sales is exceeding expectations, and many believe the remaining allotment will be sold within the next few days. In fact, $25 cards have already been taken off of Metro’s website, with a very limited number remaining at City Hall and Metro’s sales office.

The remaining $50 and $100 cards can still be purchased online, but it is not clear for how much longer due to their dwindling supply.

Streetcar supporters are pointing to this as clear evidence of the excitement surrounding the project, especially given that those buying the cards will not be able to use them until the system goes into operation in September 2016.

“Selling $72,000 worth of fare cards for a starter line that’s nearly two years from being operational shows the level of support and enthusiasm for the Cincinnati Streetcar to finally be up and running,” Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio, told UrbanCincy. “This is the definition of pent up demand.”

Of course, there is also the financial benefit. Selling all 1,500 of the cards will net Metro $72,000 in fare revenue nearly two years before the Cincinnati Streetcar goes into operation.

The news comes as Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots coalition that formed a year ago to save the project from cancellation, has organized a press conference to announce a broad new coalition of organizations and community leaders urging for the expansion of the streetcar system to Uptown.

“While we must celebrate the success we have had over the past year with construction of tracks in the OTR loop nearing completion and the downtown loop well underway, we must also be looking forward,” explained Ryan Messer, Founder of Believe in Cincinnati.

The path forward, evidently, goes uptown, and not to Northern Kentucky even as leaders there are calling for an expansion of the system south across the Ohio River.

“As of today, we still do not have an official plan in place for our uptown expansion that will link downtown and OTR to the University of Cincinnati and the uptown neighborhoods,” Messer wrote in an email. “We are ready to ignite these conversations and be prepared to implement these plans into action.”

The growing support for an uptown expansion comes at a time of large investment occurring along the initial starter line – investment that many streetcar supporters are crediting for the $18 million budget surplus at City Hall in 2014, and the rosy tax receipt estimates for 2015.

“Imagine what the impact will be when we connect Cincinnati’s core, with its 40,000 jobs and growing residential population, to the 30,000 jobs and 40,000 students in the uptown neighborhoods,” Bauman exclaimed. “This vision is as exciting as it will be transformative for the City of Cincinnati.”

The Believe in Cincinnati press conference will be held at the corner of Race and Elder Streets, near Findlay Market, and where track stub has been constructed for the accommodation of a future uptown extension. Organizers say the event will take place at 10am and will show off the new, expanded coalition of streetcar supporters urging for its expansion.

 

Revised Agreement for Redevelopment of Pogue’s Garage Poised to Advance This Week

More than a year after an initial deal was proposed to redevelop the aging Pogue’s Garage site into a sleek residential tower, a new deal may actually move forward that will allow for construction to finally move forward.

In November 2013, the City of Cincinnati had entered into a Development Agreement with Flaherty & Collins to build a 15,000-square-foot grocery store, 950-space parking garage and a soaring 30-story residential tower with 300 units costing $94 million. As part of this deal, the City had committed to providing a $12 million forgivable loan to the project. This came after an initial deal to fund the project through the proceeds generated by the then proposed Parking Modernization & Lease program.

The Parking Modernization & Lease program, however, was almost immediately cancelled upon the arrival of Mayor John Cranley (D); who then subsequently stated that the $12 million forgivable loan for the project was “too rich”, and that the entire project should be rethought.

This led to the engagement of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), and the new deal that will go before City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee, chaired by Vice Mayor David Mann (D), at 2pm today.

According to a leaked memo from City Manager Harry Black’s office, the new deal is substantially different from the previous Development Agreement. Instead it calls for a $5.5 million grant to Flaherty & Collins to construct an eight-floor residential tower including 208 units, and a $4 million loan to 3CDC to construct a 925-space parking garage and 25,000 square feet of street-level retail space.

The Cranley Administration is touting the deal as a savings for taxpayers, while also not sacrificing too much.

“We inherited an overly rich deal,” Jay Kincaid, Mayor Cranley’s Chief of Staff, told UrbanCincy. “This new deal saves taxpayers $6.5 million, and gives the City control over the garage.”

Much of the savings is realized through the changes to the parking agreement. The previous deal provided the developer a grant to build and operate the parking structure, while the new deal utilizes a $4 million performing loan to be repaid later by 3CDC. Once the loan is paid off, the revenue stream from the parking structure would be shared by the three parties.

The emergency ordinance that will be put before the Neighborhoods Committee today, and then most likely be voted on by the full City Council on Wednesday, also includes a 30-year property tax abatement for the apartment component.

As of now, property tax abatements in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine filter 25% to Cincinnati Public Schools, with the remaining 75% being the actual realized abatement. Starting on January 1, 2015, however, that latter number would be reduced to 67.5% with the 7.5% difference being put into a fund to help cover the costs of operating and maintaining the Cincinnati Streetcar.

With the development losing approximately two-thirds of its height, but only one-third of its number of residential units, it signals that the new development will look quite different than the initial renderings released to the public. The final result may mean smaller residential unit sizes or a wider tower that utilizes more of the site’s footprint.

Yet unanswered is what will happen with Paragon Salon, which has remained in operation at the site despite being served eviction notices from the City. Since the original Development Agreement was signed more than a year ago, the owners of Paragon have claimed the City is violating their lease agreement, and has requested assistance in finding a new location. The City, meanwhile, has rebuffed Paragon and said they will not submit to paying for the costs of its relocation.

One item previously holding up construction on this still unnamed project was the redevelopment of Tower Place Mall into Mabley Place. Now that the parking garage is complete and open for business, City leaders say they feel more confident in closing down Pogue’s Garage to allow for construction to commence.

System Designs Unveiled, Operating Agreement Reached for Cincinnati Streetcar

Officials with the City of Cincinnati and Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) made several major announcements last week pertaining to the rollout of the Cincinnati Streetcar system.

While the design of the rolling stock and the system’s color scheme were revealed more than a year ago, the official branding for the new mode of transit for the Cincinnati region had not. SORTA officials say that the branding will be utilized all throughout the system including its fare cards, ticketing machines, uniforms, wayfinding, brochures, website and social media, and, of course, the trains and their stations.

The branding scheme was put together by Kolar Design, whose offices are located in the Eighth Street Design District just two blocks from the nearest streetcar stop, after competing with more than 100 other firms interested in the opportunity to developing the design scheme.

Project officials say that the $25,000 cost for the branding effort was paid for through Federal funds.

Founders Club Card Sales
At the same time, SORTA and City officials announced the availability of 1,500 Founders Club Cards. The sale of the cards, officials said, would help raise some initial funds to be used to help offset initial operating expenses.

Project officials have informed UrbanCincy that approximately half of the 1,500 cards were sold within the first 24 hours of going on sale; and that more than 1,000 had been sold by Friday. A limited number of Founders Club Cards are still available for purchase at the Second Floor Cashier’s Office at City Hall, Metro’s sales office in the Mercantile Arcade across from Government Square, and online at Metro’s website.

There are three card options available. The first goes for $25 and allows for unlimited rides for the first 15 days of service, which is currently pegged for 2016. The second and third options go for $50 and $100, and allow for unlimited rides for the first 30 and 60 days, respectively.

The commemorative metal cards and matching metal cases were seen by some as one of the first ways for Cincinnati Streetcar supporters to show their support. Having experienced strong sales thus far, it seems as Metro’s strategy may prove to be a success.

“This is one of the first tangible opportunities streetcar enthusiasts can show their support,” said City Councilwoman Amy Murray (R), Transportation Committee Chair. “This is a great idea that Metro has developed to generate excitement. I think many will appreciate the privilege of being a Founding Club Member with this commemorative card.”

Operating Agreement Finalized
Perhaps lost amid the other news was the signing of an official operating agreement. Under the current structure, the City of Cincinnati is building the system, and is its owner, but will contract out its operations to SORTA.

The Cincinnati Streetcar Operating & Maintenance Agreement first came out of Murray’s Transportation Committee and was approved 7-2 by City Council in early November. It calls for expanded on-street parking enforcement in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine until 9pm, an increase in parking rates in those two neighborhoods, and a set streetcar fare of $1 for two hours.

The agreement also utilizes an innovative technique that would lower property tax abatements 7.5%. This is an important component of the agreement as it addresses a longstanding call from opponents for those benefiting from real estate valuation increases to cover more of the costs of modern streetcar system. It also eliminates the need to utilize the Haile Foundation’s $9 million pledge, and would instead only tap into those funds in a worst-case scenario.

Project officials estimate that the system will cost approximately $3.8 to $4.2 million annually to operate, and that those costs would be covered by $1.5 million in additional on-street parking revenue in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, $1.3 million from fares and advertising, and an estimated $2 million annually from the tax abatement reductions.

“This is the most innovative plan I’ve seen in the United States,” stated John Schneider, noted transit advocate and real estate developer, at the time of City Council’s approval in November.

The SORTA Board approved the agreement last week and touted the benefits of having operations of the Cincinnati Streetcar be handled through Metro, which also runs the region’s largest bus service.

In addition to the critical financing elements of the agreement, it also delineates various responsibilities once service goes into effect. To that end, the City of Cincinnati will be in charge of maintaining traffic signals, clearing blockages from the streetcar path, cooperation on utility interfaces, safety and security; while SORTA will be responsible for operating the system, maintaining vehicles and facilities, fare collection provision and maintenance, marketing and advertising sales.

Construction on the $148 million first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar continues to progress, with most track work in Over-the-Rhine now complete and track work now progressing through the Central Business District. Current time frames call for operations to begin in September 2016.

VIDEO: A Day in the Life of a Downtown Cincinnati Ambassador

DCI’s Downtown Ambassadors have become a fixture in the center city over recent years. Those working, living or just visiting downtown can easily spot them in their brightly colored uniforms.

Tasked with polishing up the public right-of-way and select buildings, working with panhandlers and the homeless, and providing guidance for the millions of annual visitors, the ambassadors serve a critical role in maintaining the success being experienced downtown.

Thanks to SaucePanCinematic, we now have this approximately three-minute, behind-the-scenes look at a typical day for a Downtown Ambassador.

How is Tucson’s New Streetcar Line Performing Compared to Expectations?

Construction on the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar system is well underway. While the project has been well documented in the media over the past decade, it is not often viewed from a perspective of where it stands in the national conversation.

Tucson recently opened their first modern streetcar line and their program administrator, Shellie Ginn, sat down with Jeremy Hobson from Here & Now to discuss their project. The two discuss both the pros and cons of such systems, while also highlighting the specific results being realized in Tuscon.

“We actually have higher ridership than we’d estimated. We have a lot more people riding that we hadn’t anticipated,” Ginn explained in terms of the perceived notion that only tourists would ride their streetcar. “We’ve had a really good response on taking advantage of the streetcar as well. It’s about a four mile line and it connects our University of Arizona Medical Center to some shopping districts that also connect to a downtown, and over to a western redevelopment area.”

Similarly, Cincinnati’s first modern streetcar line is 3.6 miles in length and connects a downtown, shopping districts, riverfront entertainment district and a neighborhood ripe for redevelopment. Should future phases extend the system to Uptown, it would connect the initial line with the University of Cincinnati, the region’s medical district and several other large employers and attractions. An extension across the river into Northern Kentucky would add additional shopping and entertainment districts as destinations.