Finding Inspiration From Seoul For Cincinnati’s Public Staircases

ArtWorks has become well-known for its mural program. Over the past eight years, the program has created 90 murals that have added to the vibrancy of 36 city neighborhoods.

This year, however, ArtWorks started to branch out a bit more. In addition to 10 mural projects, they also installed more than 50 public art pieces throughout the city. Some were poetic, while others charming. Regardless of the project, they have always worked to actively engage young people in the city with the artist community.

The program’s impact on the visual appearance of the city cannot be overlooked. Public spaces have been dressed up and walls have been decorated in truly Cincinnati fashion. When considering one of Cincinnati’s most defining features – its hillsides – another opportunity seems to be sitting in waiting for future ArtWorks programs.

Over the years The Hillside Trust has worked to promote and preserve the city’s hillsides and the view sheds that they offer. At the same time, many of the city’s public staircases, which long served as a critical component of the sidewalk network, have fallen into disrepair. In many cases, due to either lack of maintenance or neighborhood distrust, public staircases have been closed off altogether.

This should not be the case.

One potential way to address this would be to focus an ArtWorks program on the city’s public staircases. Artists could be engaged to come up with creative mural designs for the stairs themselves, or perhaps suggest other installations. These could then be complimented by lighting installations that would not on

ly add an artistic touch after dusk, but also make the corridors safer for their users and the neighborhoods around them.

Seoul’s Ihwa neighborhood has done exactly this.

Set on the side of a steep hill leading to Seoul’s historic fortification wall, the neighborhood has seen many of its staircases painted, along with surrounding building walls, to create a truly unique environment. A variety of art installations were also undertaken in order to create an even more dynamic experience.

Today visitors flock to the area to view the murals and experience the other installations some 60 artists created in 2006 as part of Naksan Project. Due to this influx of people, small cafes, galleries and restaurants are now prevalent throughout the neighborhood.

While Cincinnati’s hillsides and surrounding neighborhoods present a different challenge than what exists in Ihwa, there are equal, yet different, opportunities that also exist.

Right now Cincinnati’s hillsides and their public staircases are mostly viewed as barriers and have been constrained to afterthoughts in the city’s public psyche. ArtWorks has changed the way we viewed vacant walls and barren streetscapes. Here’s hoping they can work similar magic on the city’s long-forgotten staircases.

Crossroads To Undertake $12M Restoration of Old Saint George in Clifton Heights

Old Saint George has sat vacant in Clifton Heights for many years, but will soon come back to life when Crossroads opens its newest church there.

The announcement was made earlier this year, but follows a string of news signaling that the urban regeneration of Cincinnati is more than skin deep. In addition to tens of millions of dollars in private investment flowing into the city, both jobs and population are growing. This has resulted in budget surpluses, growing enrollment at Cincinnati Public Schools, and a need for a new permitting center.

Crossroads will fill a space long occupied, and originally built, for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1874. It stayed there until St. George parish was merged with St. Monica parish down the street in 1989, and continues to carry on there to this day.

Since that time the building has sat vacant with a variety of proposals coming forward that would have restored the church for alternative uses.

Crossroads leadership say that their $12 million plan, which is celebrated by the Archdiocese, will not only restore the historic place of worship, but also bring it up to modern standards so that it boasts wifi and the audio and video displays that have become synonymous with Crossroads’ services.

“We’ll hold weekend services in this space, which will become the permanent location for our Crossroads Uptown site that currently meets at Bogart’s,” Jennifer Sperry, Crossroads Client Services Manager, told UrbanCincy.

“In addition, we hope for people to use our building as a community center, as it’ll be open throughout the week. We envision it as a space where students and locals can hold meetings, meet with project groups, pray, read, etc.”

The multitude of uses and variety of technology are all attempts to make inroads with younger individuals that have largely strayed away from religion throughout the United States.

At the University of Cincinnati, for example, Crossroads says that some 99% of students are not part of a church on campus. While they may attend churches elsewhere, such a huge gap also presents an opportunity for Crossroads.

Once complete, the restored Old Saint George will feature an 800-seat auditorium, a worship and community center, lecture venues, a coworking space with free coffee and wifi, and will see the structure’s grand steeples restored to their former glory before being burned down following a freak lightning strike.

Sperry says that they expect some 2,000 people to visit the facility on a weekly basis, which will be open seven days each week.

Unlike Crossroads massive facility in Oakley, Old Saint George is in a dense urban environment and is not surrounded by a sea of parking. As a result, church officials are expecting many of its visitors to arrive by walking, biking – a Red Bike station is located one-block away – or public transportation. But they also say that they are working with owners of nearby parking garages to determine if those spaces can be used during services.

The project is being funded mostly through private donations, but also through New Market Tax Credits. Project leaders say that several million more dollars need to be raised in order to complete financing, but also say that they are moving forward full speed ahead.

“The fundraising effort will be completed as part of a campaign that we’re launching this fall,” Sperry said. “We will use some of the initial money given in the campaign to finish the Crossroads Uptown project.”

Sperry says that the goal is to move into the restored structure by August 2016. Until then, she encourages those interested in learning more about Crossroads to attend their services currently being held at Bogart’s on Short Vine every Sunday at 7pm.

VIDEO: Bearcats Prepare For Season Opener at Renovated Nippert Stadium

The University of Cincinnati is less than one month away from welcoming college football fans back to one of the nation’s most historic stadiums.

After a year away from the friendly confines of Nippert Stadium, the Cincinnati Bearcats will host Alabama A&M on Sunday, September 6. School officials say that the game is not yet sold out, but that ticket sales have been brisk. There are big hopes for this season as the team comes back to a renovated and expanded stadium. It also comes at a time when the University of Cincinnati is trying to position itself for a potential spot in the ACC or Big 12 Conference.

The $86 million renovation and expansion of Nippert Stadium, which was designed by Heery International and paid for entirely with private funds, is expected to help bolster those chances of landing in one of the nation’s top athletic conferences.

With less than a month before the first game of the season, construction workers and cleaners are busy preparing the facility.

In a unique situation for the University of Cincinnati, the readying of the stadium is also significant for the return of students to campus at the end of this month. This is due to the fact that the stadium, unlike almost all other major college football venues, is open at all times and used by students for recreational purposes, and as a pathway to navigate the densely built campus.

Bob Marton, project manager for the Nippert Stadium reconstruction project, says that while much work remains it is fully expected that the facility will open on-time, and within the targeted budget.

Those who are interested in attending the home opener at the newly reopened Nippert Stadium can still purchase tickets online for the game.

Car-Sharing Could Reduce Costs, Improve Efficiency of Cincinnati’s Vehicle Fleet

When a brother and sister are fighting over the same toy, a parent quickly steps in and teaches the children to take turns and share.

Now that Over-the-Rhine parking is at a premium, and the residential permit plan has been vetoed, the residents of OTR are going to have to find a way to share parking, or risk losing more of the historic neighborhood to parking lots and garages. Sharing also presents an opportunity when it comes to modernizing the City of Cincinnati’s fleet of 2,149 vehicles.

Mayor John Cranley (D) received unanimous support for this year’s budget, which includes $110 million to make much-needed upgrades to the City’s fleet and roadways over the next six years. While some vehicles, like those for police and fire, cannot be shared, others certainly can; and by implementing a program like Zipcar’s FastFleet program, Cincinnati would benefit from significant savings and operating efficiencies.

In 2012, an internal audit of the Fleet Services Division found that fleet management has been “unwieldy” and mentioned that a knowledgeable and empowered staff is needed to properly manage the system. This has proven difficult over the past decade due to a severe cut in funding for the department in 2003.

“Almost the entire management team left the department near the end of 2007 and was not replaced,” the internal audit noted. “While the staff operates to the best of their abilities, they are undermanned without the resources to correct the inertia of the department.”

The Fleet Services Division operates under the Public Services Department, and controls and maintains 2,149 motorized vehicles for various departments at City Hall. These departments pay $63 an hour for maintenance and repair of the vehicles and are allocated a portion of the capital budget based on their proportion of need with regards to their percentage of obsolete fleet.

In 2011 Fleet Services was allocated $4,301,900 in capital dollars and $5,240,600 was allocated for 2012. These numbers are expected to rise as soon as the approved budget is published on July 1, but more money for new vehicles is only part of the solution. The 2012 audit also recommended reducing the size of the fleet, evaluating underutilized equipment, and examining the cost of leasing sedans and light trucks.

With services like FastFleet, City Hall could optimize its fleet without degrading operations, thus lowering maintenance and administrative costs.

FastFleet works by tracking vehicle usage by employees through GPS monitoring systems. This enables the service to produce real-time data, with recommendations on synergy and optimization. Once this data is analyzed, car assignments can be reorganized to allow for sharing of each vehicle by city employees, ultimately allowing for more efficient usage of vehicles.

In Washington D.C., city officials there were able to benefit from $6 million in savings over a five-year period by eliminating more than 200 administrative vehicles from their fleet. While Cincinnati’s fleet is smaller than the nation’s capital, proportional savings are safe to be assumed.

With City Hall poised to invest millions into its fleet operations, now is the perfect time to look into a solution such as this that could potentially reduce the City’s fleet, while also improving its performance.

A program could even be put in place to allow for public use of the vehicles, akin to the city’s existing Zipcar system, when city employees are not in need of the fleet. The revenue collected from these services could then be used to offset the public’s cost of maintaining the city’s fleet, while also expanding car-sharing services to other neighborhoods outside of the city center.

As it stands now, the City of Cincinnati does not even know what the optimal size is for its vehicle fleet. Tracking the performance of the fleet and analyzing the data will help bring clarity to the matter, and allow for the fleet to perform more efficiently.

Implementing a vehicle sharing program for Cincinnati’s municipal fleet would help save additional taxpayer dollars, improve operations and bolster car-sharing throughout the city.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Chad Schaser contributed to this article.

Uptown Neighborhoods Have Outsized Role in Regional Economy

Data released by the UC Economic Center shows that Cincinnati’s uptown neighborhoods – Avondale, Clifton, Corryville, Clifton Heights, Fairview, University Heights, and Mt. Auburn – contribute heavily to the regional economy.

Commissioned by the Uptown Consortium, a non-profit dedicated to development in the area, the collection of neighborhoods actually have an outsized influence on the regional economy.

According to the study, uptown houses more than 800 businesses that collectively employ around 52,000 employees and contribute more than $3 billion in annual wages in the Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area. For the City of Cincinnati, the area represents 18.2% of all income tax collections taken in by City Hall.

These statistics are buoyed by the fact that the area also has one of the fastest growing job rates in the region. From 2012 to 2013, uptown neighborhoods saw employment rise by 12%, while growth throughout the rest of the city stood at 0.2%, and the rest of Hamilton County at 0.7%. All of this growth has led to a building boom that is changing uptown’s image.

Furthermore, the UC Economic Center found that while average city-wide property taxes collected per acre held averaged $8,000, while in the uptown area that figure stood at an average of $14,000 per acre.

This economic impact is driven mostly by what the report refers to as anchor institutions – education, healthcare, and social assistance agencies. These types of employers make up a large portion of the city economy, but particularly so uptown. Overall, these types of employees make up 16.3% of the city’s total workforce, and contribute around $98 million in city income taxes and $17 million in Hamilton County sales taxes annually.

All told, they account for 7.8% of the Cincinnati MSA’s gross regional product.

The report also demonstrates that, in addition to the direct economic impact of anchor institutions, they also draw considerable indirect impact from the money injected into the local economy.

While the institution and what are referred to as their auxiliary businesses are a boon for the regional economy at the moment, an over reliance on them could be dangerous.

As the Economic Center stated, “were the University of Cincinnati to close, much of the economic activity in Uptown would leave the region.”