Alternatives For Liberty Street Reconfiguration Improvements Vary Widely

Following a public meeting at the Woodward Theater on November 18, Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation and Engineering is asking for feedback on the latest proposed alternatives to potentially narrowing the seven-lane, 70-foot-wide road corridor.

At the meeting, City staff provided drawings for seven alternatives to the existing design. Drawings included configurations for two-, four- and seven-lane configurations of the street, along with commentary on the pros and cons of each.

The two- and four-lane configurations would give a certain amount of space back to property owners along the south side of the street, thus increasing the development potential of some corner lots. Only a few of the seven-lane configurations included bicycle lanes on each side of the street, while others sacrificed some on-street parking to make way for bike lanes.

At the public meeting, neighborhood residents raised concern about the impact of through traffic and trucks on the street. In particular, the concern was that the street is too wide and acts as a barrier for pedestrians.

The Over-the-Rhine Brewery District, which has been the leading group pushing for this project, asked at the public meeting why the reconfiguration developed as part of their Master Plan was not included. After some consideration, City Hall has since added an alternative based on the Brewery District’s concept that included a three-lane road configuration with protected bike lanes on each side.

The proposed narrowing of Liberty Street, which was originally built as a 25-foot-wide neighborhood street, is seen by many as an opportunity to bridge the physical and psychological divide between the northern and southern portions of Over-the-Rhine.

“Minimizing the number of lanes on Liberty Street is important so the neighborhood can take over the streets,” Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of Taste of Belgium, commented after the public meeting. “I think it is important to have development on the south side, but we should also accommodate bicycles.”

Allowing for new development, while also accommodating bicycles and preserving on-street parking seems to be the biggest challenge currently facing the project. At some point, one of the items will have to give.

“I bike on Liberty Street, but I bike everywhere, and the majority of people would not find this comfortable,” Flechet continued. “I have never done it during rush hour, and I cannot imagine this would be any fun.”

City officials are accepting public comment on the various alternatives until Wednesday, December 16. The city has posted the alternatives and a public feedback form has been posted on their website. Once the public comment period is closed, City staff says they will narrow the number of alternatives down to two, and recommend one to proceed to final design.

There is currently no funding identified to implement any of the alternatives, but City officials hope to secure the necessary funds at a later date.

 

GUEST COMMENTARY: How Personal Finances Factor Into Home-Work Commute

The recent Brookings study looking at “job growth” and “jobs near the average resident” got me thinking again about how my past two home and workplace decisions have affected my personal finances. For those not familiar with the report, it’s mostly negative news:

Between 2000 and 2012, the number of jobs within the typical commute distance for residents in a major metro area fell by 7%. Of the nation’s 96 largest metro areas, in only 29—many in the South and West, including McAllen, Texas, Bakersfield, Calif., Raleigh, N.C., and Baton Rouge, La.—did the number of jobs within a typical commute distance for the average resident increase. Each of these 29 metro areas also experienced net job gains between 2000 and 2012.

As employment suburbanized, the number of jobs near both the typical city and suburban resident fell. Suburban residents saw the number of jobs within a typical commute distance drop by 7 percent, more than twice the decline experienced by the typical city resident (3%). In all, 32.7 million city residents lived in neighborhoods with declining proximity to jobs compared to 59.4 million suburban residents.

As poor and minority residents shifted toward suburbs in the 2000s, their proximity to jobs fell more than for non-poor and white residents. The number of jobs near the typical Hispanic (-17%) and black (-14%) resident in major metro areas declined much more steeply than for white (-6%) residents, a pattern repeated for the typical poor (-17%) versus non-poor (-6%) resident.

Residents of high-poverty and majority-minority neighborhoods experienced particularly pronounced declines in job proximity. Overall, 61% of high-poverty tracts (with poverty rates above 20%) and 55% of majority-minority neighborhoods experienced declines in job proximity between 2000 and 2012. A growing number of these tracts are in suburbs, where nearby jobs for the residents of these neighborhoods dropped at a much faster pace than for the typical suburban resident (17% and 16%, respectively, versus 7%).

For local and regional leaders working to grow their economies in ways that promote opportunity and upward mobility for all residents, these findings underscore the importance of understanding how regional economic and demographic trends intersect at the local level to shape access to employment opportunities, particularly for disadvantaged populations and neighborhoods. And they point to the need for more integrated and collaborative regional strategies around economic development, housing, transportation, and workforce decisions that take job proximity into account.

Now looking at this from a personal finance perspective, I previously lived and worked in Indianapolis where my one-way commute was roughly 16 miles. For this distance, I found over time that it cost me about $5 a day to get to work.

When I moved to Cincinnati for a new job, I first lived in Covington where I paid $1 to ride the Southbank Shuttle in the morning and usually walked home. After moving to Clifton, I still found that my now driving commute of less than 3 miles came to cost around $1 per day.

So the $5 per day Indianapolis commute cost me roughly $100 per month in gas, where the $1 per day Cincinnati commute cost me only $20. Now this may not seem like a huge amount or difference, but to most people, $80 would nearly be a full day’s work. What’s not reflected in this difference is the reduced frequency and cost related to vehicle maintenance, specifically oil and tire changes. With the greatly reduced frequency of need for these two items, the monthly savings I’ve found is closer to the full $100 amount, essentially a pay raise simply for living close to work.

Employees obviously can have little impact on where an employer chooses to locate, but they do still have control over where they live and as long as I am able, 3 miles is the maximum distance I will live from work. This distance is also interesting as I’ve found it to be the maximum distance where taking the bus is a reasonable time-cost choice, a huge benefit during the recent snowy winters, and it is also a distance where my non-work trips to downtown stay at what I think is a reasonable level for places I like to visit.

EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest commentary was authored by Eric Douglas, a native of Grand Rapids, MI who currently lives in Cincinnati’s Clifton neighborhood. Eric is a member of the Congress for New Urbanism and earned a Bachelors of Science from Michigan State University. Since that time he has worked for Planning, Community Development and Public Works departments in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Detroit.

If you would like to have your thoughts published on UrbanCincy, simply contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.

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.”

Apple Street Market Cooperative Hoping to Fill One of Cincinnati’s Food Deserts

For the first time there are no grocery stores in College Hill, Northside or Clifton. At one time each neighborhood had their own store including a Kroger in College Hill, IGA in Clifton and Save-A-Lot in Northside.

When Save-A-Lot closed its Northside store in November 2013, however, it got the attention of the Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative (CUCI) and sparked an effort to open a community-owned grocery store in its place called Apple Street Market.

There is only one full-service grocery store within a three-mile driving distance from Northside – a Kroger on Mitchel Avenue. That Kroger, however, is not served by Metro’s #17 bus route, thus leaving carless households with only Metro’s #16 route as their option. The problem is that the #16 bus route does not run on Sundays and only runs every half-hour after 4pm.

“This makes a grocery trip an arduous and time consuming journey if you do not have a car,” said Casey Whitten-Amadon, legal counsel for Apple Street Market. “The trip can take more than three hours, in all types of inclement weather.”

It was the closing of the Save-A-Lot, however, that really sparked the effort to open a new community-owned grocery store in Northside.

“I knew that CUCI had been starting worker owned ventures. So, I approached them about a grocery store within the first week of Save-A-Lot closing,” said Heather Sturgill, a Northside resident and community advocate.

CUCI did a lot of searching to find the best fit for the new store. They were not specifically tied to Northside, but after surveying about four different neighborhoods, along with conducting market studies and market analysis for grocery stores, they found Northside to be the perfect fit. One of the key reasons for this, they say, is that Northside had an existing space that was in great shape and needed little to no demolition or remodeling.

This was important, and stands in contrast to the ongoing difficulties Clifton is having in trying to open their own cooperative grocery store on Ludlow Avenue, because they did not have the capital nor did they have a large investor that would finance the project.

This is particularly complicated by the financial model of union co-op businesses, where a large investor cannot have a larger share of the profit or a larger share of the governance rights. Rather, each person or entity that invests in the store gets an equal share and one vote regardless of the investment.

In the case of Apple Street Market, CUCI is accepting $100 or $10 from lower-income investors.

While raising the capital for a union coop startup can prove to be extremely difficult, Northside’s effort has been aided by a large number of enthusiastic volunteers that also set the community apart from others in the city.

While this collection of neighborhoods represents a relatively new and small food desert in Cincinnati, it comes at a time when many policy makers are looking to fix such problems.

“This is another reason that we decided to go ahead with the project in Northside,” said Whitten-Amadon. “The main benefit to community ownership is the opening of a unique store that is owned by the workers and the community.”

He also says that success and profitability will be shared by the community, and that being able to make decisions collectively will help create a sense of pride in the neighborhood store.

While community leaders are excited about the potential benefits for the community investors and workers, they are also looking forward to the local specialty items that will be stocked at Apple Street Market. Organizers say that the plan is to provide a larger than average organic and produce section, and sourcing much of it from Our Harvest – another area worker-owned business started by CUCI.

But Sturgill says that they will also be including up-and-coming brands to give the store an affordability that most health food cooperatives do not have.

“We tried to get fresh foods in some of the other corner type shops but the owners didn’t seem interested enough to follow through,” Sturgill told UrbanCincy. “This is intended to be the first in a chain of worker/community owned groceries.

A future additional location for this type of store, she says, could be in College Hill at the new development planned for North Bend Road and Hamilton Avenue.

An official opening date has not yet been set for Apple Street Market, but Sturgill says the goal is to have it completed by spring 2015. Those who are interested in providing funding and making an investment in the store can do so by buying a share online.

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.