Delay Presents Opportunity for 3CDC to Rethink 15th and Race Development

Between two of Over-the-Rhine’s most treasured attractions is a Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) proposal currently on hold. As a result, the non-profit development corporation will either need to obtain a new funding source or the project will need to be “a little more within the scale of the existing market.”

The current proposal for the mixed-use project at Fifteenth and Race includes over 300 parking spaces, 57 residential units, and almost 22,000 square feet of commercial space. With the project now on hold, now is the time to step back and critically evaluate a major development in the heart of Over-the-Rhine.

The unnamed development sits primarily along Fifteenth Street, between Pleasant and Race Streets, and would occupy almost an entire city block with a massive parking garage and what can otherwise be described as a lackluster design. Think Mercer Commons 2.0.

Stand at the northern edge of Washington Park and look down Pleasant Street. If your eyes are better than mine, you’ll see Findlay Market. If you’d like to walk there, it is only a leisurely five to ten minute stroll. This proposed development’s car-centric design places a parking garage exit on Fifteenth Street, and would force vehicular traffic onto one of Over-the-Rhine’s most important pedestrian axes.

Additionally, the garage packs in 200 more vehicles than is mandated by law, forces the partial demolition of two historic structures, and limits the available commercial and residential space sandwiched between the phase one Cincinnati Streetcar route. If the streetcar should increase property value as predicted, a parking garage may not be the best use of land for such a prominent location along the line.

As is currently designed, the buildings that would wrap the garage present themselves as a homogeneous wall. This character contrasts heavily with the existing fabric that presents gaps between buildings, portals to interior courtyards, and strong visual relief. While the roof line makes an attempt at creating rhythm in concert with windows, its variation is not enough to mask that it is one big building.

These characteristics detract from the pedestrian scale, though the new construction hints at these qualities with balconies, recessed entries, and slightly offset building faces. These expressions are more akin to developments at The Banks and U Square at The Loop, and are a cheap imitation of Over-the-Rhine’s authenticity.

Along Pleasant Street, the Fifteenth and Race townhomes are compressed by the large, central parking garage. The private walk at the townhomes’ rear is noted as a ‘garden space’ but these spaces are approximately 10 feet wide and will be shadowed by a three-and-a-half-story parking garage. Along the street, the crosses and boxes highlighting the townhomes’ windows are wholly contemporary, which are expressions out of place on a building that is neither modern nor traditional; it is non-committal.

It should be noted that an entire block design is a difficult task in Over-the-Rhine because its designation as a historic district stems from the collection of smaller individual buildings built over time. Furthermore, the neighborhood’s historic character, established before the invention of the automobile, does not easily accommodate cars.

However, there will be a need for more parking, and the Over-the-Rhine Comprehensive Plan recognizes this, but states that new parking should be done “without impacting the urban fabric or historic character of the neighborhood.”

Individually rehabbed buildings do not typically have the potential to alter a neighborhood’s character, but when large-scale development is proposed, community members should have a place at the table.

When asked about developers engaging community stakeholders, Steve Hampton, Executive Director of the Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, says, “If there’s one place for community outreach it is in large-scale development because of the unique architecture, historic neighborhood, and diversity of people in Over-the-Rhine.”

In the case of this Fifteenth and Race development, the first stages of community engagement were initiated by Over-the-Rhine Community Housing (OTRCH) and Schickel Design, who completed the Pleasant Street Vision Study (PSVS) in 2013.

While the proposed development incorporates all of the individual elements from the PSVS, it is not in the spirit of the pedestrian-focused Pleasant Street Vision Study and on a very different scale. The size and location of the parking garage is a major difference between the 3CDC proposal and the PSVS, and Mary Rivers, of OTRCH, noted that this is a big issue for many people.

Of course there is a gap between a vision study that outlines a community’s desires or needs, and the market forces that drive a real development, but there are various ways a community should be engaged in a project of this scale.

While OTRCH held focus groups prior to beginning the award-winning City Home project one block south along Pleasant Street, Rivers said that 3CDC did not engage OTRCH until after the current plans had been unveiled.

Rivers said, “We asked a diversity of people, ‘What do you like in Over-the-Rhine? What are you looking for in a home?’ Their answers ultimately influenced the design.” This type of engagement is not easy; and Rivers acknowledged that the best way to engage a community is on big issues not the details.

3CDC needs to step up, engage community stakeholders, and propose a design that is more respectful to Over-the-Rhine’s residents, and its unique architectural and urban form.

Walnut Hills Embracing Tactical Urbanism in Pursuit of its Own Transformation

It has been an eventful summer Walnut Hills following the assignment of two grants for neighborhood ventures, kickoff of the Findlay Market Farmstand and Cincy Summer Streets events, as well as a host of other neighborhood events.

UrbanCincy last reported about the rehabilitation of the Samuel Hannaford-designed firehouse, and leasing of the ground floor commercial space by Fireside Pizza in June, and the We Are Walnut Hills Festival in May. Since then, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation (WHRF) has moved into the summer months with full roster of projects and activities.

The Findlay Market Farmstand began in early June with a variety of fresh, seasonal produce, all from within a 100-mile radius. Funded through a Healthy Initiatives Grant by Interact for Health, attendance was strong at the first Findlay Market Farmstand, but the WHRF says they will be going door-to-door within the neighborhood to ensure that all residents know where and when the farm stand will be open.

“Passersby and residents need to support the farmstand for it to be financially viable,” said Thea Munchel of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. “We wanted to ensure that it would be in a space that would attract the neighborhood residents while also interesting people passing through.”

Organizers say that the farmstand will be open, going forward, on Thursdays from 4pm to 7pm at 767 McMillan Street, next to the aforementioned Firehouse. In addition to the produce offerings, they say there will be music, grilling, cooking classes and other rotating activities to build a sense of engagement.

It should be noted, however, that this is not the only, or even first, location for Findlay Market’s outreach into the city’s neighborhoods. Ohio’s oldest public market also sets up farmstands in East Price Hill and Westwood.

In addition to the Healthy Initiatives grant, the WHRF has partnered with Fifth Third Bank to create what they are calling the THRIVE Grant, which provides $3,000 to $15,000 to attract established businesses to the Peeble’s Corner business district. Angst Coffee is the first recipient of the grant, and is expected to open at 2437 Gilbert Avenue this fall. Built in 1890, and featuring exposed brick, warm colors and modern interior finishes, owners expect the space to be ideal for a coffee house.

Cincy Summer Streets, an open streets celebration, kicked off in Walnut Hills this past weekend as well. The event closed McMillan Street between Gilbert and Woodburn, and Woodburn between McMillan and Madison Road to automobiles, while opening the street up for biking, walking, dancing, art-making and fitness classes.

The event was meant to, and did, breathe new life into the streets with residents of all ages, mingling and enjoying the unseasonably mild weather. The Walnut Hills Area Council, Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, East Walnut Hills Assembly, Art on the Streets, and the City of Cincinnati organized the event, while sponsorship came from The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and Interact for Health.

Both Cincy Summer Streets and the Findlay Market Farmstand are examples of how the Walnut Hills community is embracing tactical urbanism as a way to transform itself.

To build on all this activity, neighborhood leaders will be preparing over coming weeks for the City of Cincinnati’s award-winning Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP), which will kick off in Walnut Hills on August 15. But for those looking to score some fresh produce from area farmers – you can do that at the next Findlay Market Farmstand set up in Walnut Hills this Thursday from 4pm to 7pm.

BoBa Cha Brings Taiwanese Flavor to Over-the-Rhine’s Northern Liberties

After opening earlier this month, BoBa Cha has been attracting a healthy crowd for its bubble tea offerings at 1606 Main Street.

The small Over-the-Rhine bubble tea shop is owned by Ingrid Huang and Andrew Lui. The couple previously owned Tea N’ Bowl in Clifton Heights, and said they wanted to open a shop closer to where their customers were coming from.

Huang and Lui moved to Cincinnati from California to raise their family and open Tea N’ Bowl in April 2007. The restaurant offered both the bubble tea in which they now focus, but also healthy Asian food selections. They won a Best of Cincinnati award in 2012, but after seven years their bubble tea had become so popular that they thought it was time to consider a new concept.

In Chinese, cha (茶) means tea and boba (粉圆) is a slang term that stands for the tapioca pearls typically found in bubble tea, which was popularized in Taiwan in the 1980s.

With their family and cultural roots in mind, Huang and Lui said they were looking for a new location with a steady stream of customers that would also serve as a place that would bring the community together; where friends and families can meet with no worries.

“We decided to move to OTR to make our place more accessible and now focus, 100%, on making the bubble tea better and healthier, and using fresher ingredients than before,” Huang explained.

The new shop does not serve any food, but the owners have set up an arrangement with Maki to deliver sushi to the location should customers chose to order it. In addition to the fresh ingredients, the primary focuses of BoBa Cha is on the overall health benefits of the tea they serve.

“The common thing [among flavors of tea] is antioxidants that help to clean the body and help metabolism,” said Huang. As a result, they are also offering more tea bases like Oolong, Jasmine, Green Tea, Black Tea, Golden Tea, Thai Tea, as well as organic herbs like Lotus, Ginseng, Dandelion Root, Peppermint and others.

In addition to their new Over-the-Rhine shop, BoBa Cha has a drink cart that can be found on Fountain Square every Tuesday and in Washington Park each Wednesday. Huang also says that they hope to bring the cart to Findlay Market on Saturdays and Sundays in the near future.

The owners say that BoBa Cha will close down during the cold winter months, but that they are working on arrangements with area Asian restaurants to sell their tea while they are closed for the season. In the meantime, however, the couple says they are excited to be in Over-the-Rhine.

“Right after opening we felt the welcome and support of our neighborhood,” Huang explained. “It made us feel like we were a big part of the community and so far.”

Located inside a 154-year-old building that was renovated in 2008, BoBa Cha is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 8pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 8pm.

URBANexchange Returns to Taste of Belgium in Corryville This Thursday

URBANexchange at Taste of BelgiumIt’s been a busy month for news, so what else could be better than a gathering with fellow urbanists to talk about it all?

General Electric will most likely either locate their new Global Operations Center at The Banks or in Oakley, Cincy Bike Share is rapidly advancing, the Central Parkway Cycle Track had all sorts of controversy, Toyota will relocate its North American headquarters to Plano, Texas, the Republicans in town are now all agush for the Cincinnati Streetcar, ground was finally broken on the second major phase of work at The Banks, and new tenants will soon open at Findlay Market.

Plus, on top of all that, we’ve had Jocelyn and John in Atlanta for the APA 2014 National Planning Conference, and Jacob running all around Colombia to check out their transport systems.

But nevertheless, URBANexchange will go on and we’ll be having this month’s event at Taste of Belgium on Short Vine in Corryville again. The last time we gathered here we were joined by Vice Mayor David Mann and a large group filled the room. And for this month, Councilmember Chris Seelbach and State Representative candidate Dale Mallory have confirmed their attendance on Facebook.

Due to all this recent news, we figure there will be lots to debate and gossip about, so try to make some time in your schedule to join us sometime between 5:30pm and 8:30pm at Taste of Belgium in Corryville.

This month we will be giving away two prepaid transit passes for Metro, who, by the way, recently updated their system maps to include other regional transit operators and show the route of the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar.

Those interested in attending can come and go at any time during the event, which is free and open to anyone who would like to participate. We do, however, ask that you kindly support our generous host by drinking and eating like a Belgian.

Eli’s Barbeque, Maverick Chocolate First of Several New Tenants to Open at Findlay Market

Findlay Market business leaders and city officials gathered this morning on Elder Street to announce two new tenants that will soon open.

One of the new establishments will be the wildly popular Eli’s Barbeque, while the other is called Maverick Chocolate, which is a craft chocolate maker that will produce its product direct from cocoa beans at the shop.

The announcement comes following a several month-long renovation of three store fronts on the south side of the Market House. According to Findlay Market management, the City of Cincinnati’s Department of Trade & Development contributed approximately $500,000 to “whitebox” the three spaces – each of which is around 1,000 square feet in size.

“We’ve had a pretty significant amount of interest in these spaces, especially the final one of the three remaining,” Joe Hansbauer, President and CEO of Findlay Market, explained to UrbanCincy.

Findlay Market Storefronts

Hansbauer says that concept behind Maverick is similar to the craft coffee movement that emerged several years ago, and explained that this will be the first bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer in Ohio.

Meanwhile, business leaders say that the real exciting thing about Eli’s, aside from the fact that they are returning to the place where they got their start years ago, is that they will stay open until 9pm six days a week.

“This will create an opportunity to generate a little more activity in the evening,” Hansbauer said. “We’re talking to some other tenants, mostly on the exterior of the Market House, where they may stay open later as well.”

While interest has been extremely high in the lone remaining space in between Eli’s and Maverick, Findlay Market management says that they are being selective with the eventual tenant for that space, and are hoping to fill it with something that is not already available at the market.

When asked what kinds of places they are seeking out, Hansbauer said that Findlay Market would love to add a smoked meat place that does their production on-site, a cookware store to compliment the market’s retail offerings, and a Hispanic grocer to help fill a gap in available food offerings.

A big goal, however, is to increase the amount of foot traffic and business activity on the quiet south side of the Market House, and improve visibility for existing businesses like Saigon Market and others.

Over the coming months, Findlay Market shoppers can expect even more changes as additional storefronts are built out on that side of Elder Street. Once all of this work is complete by the end of the year, Hansbauer expects all of the storefronts on the south side of the Market House to be occupied, with the exceptions of Luken’s cold storage building and Mr. Pig building.

One of the more prominent spaces he expects to fill up soon is the storefront at the corner of Race and Elder Streets, where the owners are looking for a café to set up shop.

“All of this will do a tremendous amount for creative foot traffic and creative vibrancy on that side of the market,” Hansbauer emphasized.

Since taking his post at Findlay Market last January, Hansbauer says that one of the challenges has been the growth in popularity of Ohio’s oldest public market. He says that there is constant interest in people wanting to open up stands inside the Market House, but no room for them to go since it is fully leased.

As a result, management and city leaders will be looking to expand the retail footprint out into the surrounding neighborhood.

“People are interested in buying and eating local, and that push has driven a significant increase in shoppers for us over the past couple of years,” Hansbauer concluded. “But the renaissance of Over-the-Rhine continues to benefit Findlay Market not only due to all the new residents, but also with those former shoppers who are feeling comfortable once again with coming to this neighborhood.”

Both Eli’s Barbeque and Maverick Chocolate signed three-year license agreements for their spaces. The third space included in this project is currently available and those interested in it can contact Joe Hansbauer at jhansbauer@findlaymarket.org or 513-604-7567.