An Indie Guide to Cincinnati During the Holidays

With Thanksgiving behind us, the holidays are officially in full swing in Cincinnati. If you’re looking to get in the holiday spirit, there are dozens of options in the city center. While Downtown Cincinnati keeps the traditional holiday festivities on lock down with the Fountain Square ice rink and Holiday Junction at the Cincinnati Museum Center, Over-the-Rhine has embraced a more eclectic mix of urban craft markets, revisited German traditions, historic tours, and local shopping. If you’re looking for more than wassailing and Breakfast with Santa this season, check out UrbanCincy’s round up of things to see and do in Cincinnati’s city center.

Beginning this weekend, the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce kicks off the holiday shopping season on Black Friday with its sixth annual “Holidays in the Bag” special. Purchase a bag and receive discounts from over 25 participating businesses in OTR. Bags cost $5 and this year’s proceeds from bag sales benefit Future Leaders OTR. Score deals from new OTR businesses like Homage, Brezel, Macaron Bar, and Cincy Shirts, and more. Check out the full list of discounts here.

In addition to Black Friday specials, OTR will also continue its regular Final Friday gallery hop with a variety of events and shop specials. November’s Final Friday art walk will include Walk This Way, a pop-up art gallery inside OTR’s alleys. Located between Clay Street and 13th Street, the event transforms Drum Alley and Coral Alley into an artist market featuring over 13 local artists, a majority of whom are students from Art Academy of Cincinnati. Walk This Way is a collaboration between Spring in Our Steps, the Art Academy and Urban Sites. Afterward head back to 13th street for another pop-up shop at Exposure/13, the Art Academy of Cincinnati’s student-run gallery.

Other Thanksgiving weekend highlights in OTR include the kickoff of the OTR-a-Glow window display competition, Small Business Saturday, and Main Street Stroll and Shop and Caroling.

Several indie pop-up markets in the city center will highlight fine art and handmade goods by regional artists. Visit the fifth annual Crafty Supermarket at Music Hall November 29 to browse 90 crafters, artists, and makers from the eastern U.S. On Sunday, November 30, City Flea Small Mall brings together local brick and mortar businesses like Parlour, Leftcoast Modern, indigenous, Fern Studio, Casablanca Vintage, Rock Paper Scissors, and more. This year the second annual event will expand into Contemporary Arts Center in addition to its original location at 21c Museum Hotel.

Looking for more opportunities to shop local? Findlay Market will host “Christmas at the Market” December 6, 7, 13 and 14 where visitors can find gifts, holiday entertainment, warm drinks and the Caracole Christmas tree sale. Other craft markets include Art Academy of Cincinnati’s Snowflake Sale on December 6, featuring fine art, crafts, “poetry while you wait,” on-site screen printing and a clothing swap, Art on Vine’s holiday market at Rhingeist on December 14 and City Flea’s special nighttime Unwrapped Market at Washington Park on December 15.

Washington Park will host several holiday events this season. In addition to regular weekend programming like caroling at the bandstand and visits to Santa’s Workshop on Saturday afternoons, Washington Park hosts its fourth annual Light Up OTR party. On December 12 the community is invited to assemble and distribute over 1,000 luminaries. Afterward Washington Park will light its Christmas Tree.

The holidays are also an excellent opportunity to catch special holiday arts events and concerts. For those looking to tap into their German roots, American Legacy Tour hosts Christmas Saengerfest December 5 and 6. More than a dozen regional choirs will perform at venues including Memorial Hall, Christian Moerlein Brewery, and St. Francis Seraph.

Meanwhile, The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Pops have a full concert schedule through December 21 and theater nerds can delight in Know Theatre’s Bureau of Missing Persons and Ensemble Theater’s Sleeping Beauty.

If urban exploration is more your thing, consider the Main Street OTR Walking Tours. These new guided walking tours will explore the architecture and history of Over-the-Rhine’s Main Street. Tours will be available December 6 and December 11. For a more traditional trip downtown, free horse drawn carriage rides are available on weekends through December 14. More downtown holiday activities can be found at downtowncincinnati.com.

What are your new favorite holiday traditions in Cincinnati? Share your favorite off-the-beaten path traditions with us in the comment section.

Film Center Renovation to be First Project in Northern Liberties for Urban Sites

Looking EastOver the seven year history of UrbanCincy, we have seen a tremendous amount of revitalization and new development in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Most has occurred in the southern half of the neighborhood, near the Central Business District. We’ve often wondered what it would take for development to jump across Liberty Street into the part of the neighborhood known as the Northern Liberties.

We may have recently hit that critical point. Findlay Market is thriving and growing, and will the addition of Eli’s BBQ, will soon offer a late-night dining option. The nearby tap room at Rhinegeist Brewery has quickly become a hot spot, bringing hundreds of visitors each weekend into a part of the neighborhood that was desolate just a short time ago. And Model Group has announced a $14 million office development along Race Street.

Most recently, the Business Courier reported that Urban Sites is moving forward with a plan to revitalize the 40,000 square foot Film Center building. It will be “the largest single site construction project that Urban Sites has performed to date,” according to Michael Chewning, Chief Operating Officer for Urban Sites. It is also the company’s first foray into the Northern Liberties.

The building was originally owned by Warner Bros. and contains dozens of large vaults that were used for storing films and protecting them against the elements. “The Film Center is unique in that it gives us a glimpse of the lesser known, but important role that Cincinnati played in the film industry,” said Seth Maney, Vice President of Development for Urban Sites.

Over the next 18 months, Urban Sites will put together a development plan for the property. The company is considering office space or residential as potential uses for the building.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 13 photos were taken by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy on a recent exclusive building tour.

PHOTOS: Streetcar Maintenance Facility, OTR Track Work Nearing Completion

Construction of the Cincinnati Streetcar system has been moving quickly over the past several months. In the Central Business District, track work on Walnut Street has been completed between Central Parkway and Seventh Street, and two stations are under construction along this stretch.

Downtown drivers will soon get a break from track construction until next year, when crews will return to the CBD to finish the Walnut Street track after the holiday season.

In the mean time, crews have moved to the Northern Liberties to finish up the Over-the-Rhine portion of the system. The special track work in this area includes turnouts on Henry and Race streets, connecting to the Maintenance & Operations Facility, and turnouts to Findlay and Elder Streets, which will allow the Uptown Connector to be built in the future without disrupting service.

Crews recently finished resurfacing portions of Elm and Race streets along the route, which means that underground utility work has wrapped up. Many of the streetcar stops in Over-the-Rhine are also now complete and many of the new traffic signals have been activated.

While much has been accomplished, a significant amount of construction remains, including track work along Main and Second streets in the CBD. But anyone taking a walk down Race Street, in Over-the-Rhine, today should get a good impression of what the finished track and stations will look like.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 14 photos were taken by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy between October 21 and November 1, 2014.

Findlay Market Ready to Work With Developers Poised to Transform Area Around It

The area in Over-the-Rhine south of Liberty Street has seen hundreds of millions of dollars of investment poured into it over the past five to seven years. The part of the 319-acre neighborhood north of Liberty Street, however, not so much.

While this makes sense for a number of reasons, especially considering that is where Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) placed their initial focus, it is a bit odd that one of the region’s landmarks – Findlay Market – was largely spared investment throughout this entire period. Yes, Ohio’s oldest public market saw gains in terms of sales and number of shoppers, but the area surrounding the 162-year-old market sat essentially untouched.

This is about to change.

With 3CDC acquiring a collection of properties from the City of Cincinnati surrounding Findlay Market, visitors to that area will soon see new life in the form of apartments, shops, offices and restaurants.

One of the earliest projects to be announced is the $14 million redevelopment of an entire block of Race Street that will be led by Model Group. When announcing the project to the public, the Walnut Hills-based development company also stated that the project would include a small grocery store.

With this project marching forward, and several others looming, how exactly does Findlay Market – the area’s longtime anchor – fit into the picture?

“The Corporation for Findlay Market expects to be heavily involved in all the new retail, working with property owners on product mix,” said Joe Hansbauer, President and CEO of Findlay Market. “We will be careful to make sure that competition exists, without diluting.”

With retail traditionally following the arrival of new residents, developers will need to take to ensure that appropriate demand exists in the area before introducing too much new retail. According to Hansbauer, that is already being considered, even with the potential arrival of a new grocery store across the street from Findlay Market.

“We are directly involved in the discussions, and even introduced the proprietor to Model Group,” Hansbauer explained with regard to the new grocer expected to come online with the development. “The concept will only work if what they offer compliments and fills holes in the product offerings of the market.”

He says that this has been a long-standing issue, with potential customers skipping trips to Findlay Market due to the inconvenience presented by not offering all of what they want or need. The idea is that additional retailers can help capture some of these missed shoppers now, thus adding to the customer base for existing vendors.

One of the biggest opportunities for the area, with the addition of new residents, office workers and shops, is the possibility for more activity during the weekdays and weekday evenings. As of now, these are some of the slowest times for vendors.

“Once it is proven that there are customers and business to be had, adjustments will be made,” Hansbauer emphasized. “As the neighborhood gets populated with office and residential, there will be higher demand for later hours.”

In a nod to the significant progress made over recent years, he went on to note that is was not long ago when Findlay Market was only three days per week, not six as it is presently, and had much more limited hours of operation. But in order to take the area to the next level, Hansbauer believes it may not just be food that helps drive the change.

“I think there is a lot of opportunity for complimentary retail near the market. We think the Findlay Market area will be a retail district in a similar way that Vine Street has become a restaurant district.”

With track work and stations being completed around Findlay Market right now for the Cincinnati Streetcar, it is not difficult to see the near future where those districts are seamlessly connected to one another, and other destinations that lie further south in the central business district.

Can Metro, Megabus Come to Terms on Moving the Intercity Bus Operator Into the Riverfront Transit Center?

Following the announcement last week that Megabus would relocate its downtown Cincinnati stop to a parking lot at 691 Gest Street in Queensgate, there has been a new round of public calls for the intercity bus operator to move its stop into the underutilized Riverfront Transit Center.

The move is just the latest in a series of moves after Megabus was forced out of its original stop at Fourth and Race due to construction taking place at Mabley Place, and complaints from neighbors about noise and loitering. Those complaints have since plagued Megabus as it has tried to find a new stop somewhere in the center city.

Perhaps the most troublesome complaint has been allegations of public urination at Megabus stops by their riders. As a result, city leaders have been looking for a more permanent stop location that includes public restrooms. This has led to a number of people to suggest Findlay Market and the Horseshoe Casino, near the existing Greyhound station, as possible locations.

But through all of this there appears to be a growing sentiment that the Riverfront Transit Center be used not only to accommodate Megabus, but all intercity bus operators serving Cincinnati.

“There is, of course, plenty of parking available, and riders can wait in a safe and secure enclosed area, out of the elements and with restrooms available,” stated Derek Bauman, urban development consultant and chairman of Cincinnatians for Progress. “Megabus will benefit by finally having a permanent home that was built for just this purpose.”

In addition to there being plenty of parking nearby, the Riverfront Transit Center, designed to accommodate up to 500 buses and 20,000 passengers per hour, also has plenty of capacity.

Beyond Megabus, there may be an even greater upside for other operators, like Greyhound and Barons Bus, to relocate into the Riverfront Transit Center.

“Greyhound could benefit by moving from and selling its current location near the casino, which would then be ripe for development as a hotel or other higher use. This would also save the company millions in capital dollars to fund needed upgrades and rehab of the current facility.”

As has been noted by Vice Mayor David Mann (D), someone who has served as a leader on trying to find a solution to this problem, there are difficulties with getting Megabus and others into the transit center neatly tucked beneath Second Street.

The Riverfront Transit Center is technically owned by the City of Cincinnati and operated by Metro, which uses the facility Metro*Plus layover, special events and leases some of its east and west aprons for parking. According to transit agency officials, these operations generate approximately $480,000 in annual revenue and net roughly $170,000 in annual profit for Metro.

Therefore, any new operators or changes to this structure would not only present logistical issues, but also potentially negatively affect Metro’s finances unless new revenues are collected – something Megabus has not been particularly keen of thus far.

“It’s our understanding that Megabus pays a fee to share transit facilities in other cities,” Sallie Hilvers, Metro’s Executive Director of Communications, told UrbanCincy. “As a tax-supported public service, Metro would need to recover the increased costs related to maintenance, utilities, security, etc. from Megabus, which is a for-profit company.”

Hilvers also stated that while Metro is open to the idea, that there would also be some legal and regulatory issues that would also need to be addressed.

Nevertheless, the Riverfront Transit Center seems to be the logical place to consolidate intercity bus operators. The facility is enclosed, includes bathrooms, waiting areas, is centrally located and within close proximity to other transportation services such as Government Square, Cincinnati Streetcar and Cincy Red Bike.

“Welcoming visitors to Cincinnati at the RTC at The Banks showcases our city and is much more welcoming than a random street corner in Queensgate outside of downtown,” Bauman emphasized. “This just makes sense, it’s as simple as that. Everyone involved should continue do whatever is necessary to come to an agreement and make it happen.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann (D) did not respond to UrbanCincy‘s request for comment on this story.