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.

As Over-the-Rhine Evolves, So Does MidPoint Music Festival

MidPoint Music Festival, known to music fans as MPMF, returns to Cincinnati’s city center this week. Starting on Thursday, September 25, the three-day festival will take over local venues and bars with 150 acts from seven countries and 57 cities, including a great lineup of Cincinnati bands.

Unlike music festivals that take place in empty fields, like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, MPMF lives and breathes within Cincinnati’s urban core. This year, the festival will host 14 stages among 12 venues in bars, restaurants, concert halls, and nightclubs throughout Over-the-Rhine and Downtown.

The 2014 festival footprint will look slightly different than in years’ past, featuring the addition of numerous new venues and the elimination of several familiar stages. Since the festival relies on small businesses to host its live performances, the increasing popularity of Over-the-Rhine has, ironically, proven bittersweet for MidPoint’s festival organizers.

Dan Bockrath, CityBeat publisher and de facto executive producer of MidPoint Music Festival, explained that as Over-the-Rhine evolves, the festival has to change with it.

“When [CityBeat] first took over MidPoint [in 2008], there were a lot of empty storefronts that we could put to work, and there were a lot of rooms that served other functions typically that we could repurpose for MidPoint weekend. Now it’s getting a little more challenging to do that because Over-the-Rhine’s filled out,” Bockrath told UrbanCincy.

Bockrath reflects back to a few years ago. “We took a venue like Grammer’s and people thought we were crazy having our main stage, pre-dating Washington Park, at the corner of Liberty and Walnut.”

Now with Grammer’s under construction, MPMF had to find a new outdoor venue to host their bigger acts. This year the festival inched north of Liberty Street to Moerlein Brewing Company where they’ll have two stages: a larger outdoor stage that can hold roughly 1,500 people, and a secondary indoor stage for more intimate shows.

Other long-time MPMF venues have opted out of the festival as to not alienate the loyal customer bases they’ve built over the years. This will be the first year, for example, that Below Zero Lounge is not participating as a venue since 2007. “Businesses don’t want to abandon their successful business models now that they’ve built a loyal following,” Bockrath explained.

But as some opportunities go away, others seem to be coming online almost equally. One example organizers give is the Cincinnati Streetcar, which will allow for all kinds of new possibilities once it opens in advance of Midpoint’s 2016 festival.

“There are a lot of possibilities for the future. As the streetcar comes online I can see ourselves going further up into Over-the-Rhine.”

While the streetcar has not significantly impacted the layout of this year’s festival, the same can’t be said for 2015. For instance, the MidPoint Midway on 12th Street between Vine and Walnut sits right on the streetcar line. The free programming area which, since 2011, has hosted the ArtWorks Box Truck Carnival, the Powerhouse Poster Expo, and this year’s ArtWorks programming around the theme “Ink Your Love,” may need to find a new home next year or, perhaps, this may be its last year. Either way, Bockrath remains optimistic.

The festival is open to reinventing itself, he said. “It’s not a Bonnaroo plopped in some big field somewhere. Those kinds of festivals can happen in any city. We really think what we have is uniquely Cincinnati.”

Tickets for MPMF are available online at mpmf.com/tickets, and a comprehensive review of each artist can be found on CityBeat’s website.

DID YOU KNOW THAT MPMF…

  • Was almost called Mid by Midwest? Founders Sean Rhiney and Bill Donabedian eventually landed on MidPoint Music Festival.
  • Launched with only 12 venues, but across three cities? In 2002, the inaugural festival hosted 12 venues in Newport, Covington and Cincinnati, including Newport’s Southgate House (not to be confused with Southgate House Revival) and York Street Cafe, Madison Theater in Covington, and now defunct OTR spots Kaldi’s, BarrelHouse, Crush, The Cavern (now Below Zero Lounge) and Jefferson Hall (on Main Street, before it moved across the river and back across again).
  • Used to coincide with a music industry conference? Much like South by Southwest, the industry conference featured panel discussions, artist and industry keynotes and a trade show. Past keynote speakers included Big Star drummer Jody Stephens (2003), Everclear frontman Art Alexakis (2004), Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers frontman Greg Dulli (2005), CD Baby founder Derek Sivers (2006), Superdrag vocalist and songwriter, John Davis (2007) and Minor Threat guitarist, Lyle Preslar (2007).
  • Used to be four days long? The festival spanned across four days of live music and panels, but was condensed into three days when CityBeat acquired the festival in 2008.
  • Once hosted 25 stages, the most venues MPMF has ever had in one year? In 2010 MPMF expanded to empty storefronts and spaces like the Hanke Building and non-music venues like the Tax Place, ArtWorks, the Segway Room, and the Inner Peace Center.

HOW TO GET AROUND AT MPMF

Bike: BYOB (Bring Your Own Bike) – the festival has partnered with the City of Cincinnati to provide temporary bike racks adjacent to nearly every venue. You could also get around by using Cincy Red Bike for just $8/day for unlimited trips of 60 minutes or less. There are 19 Cincy Red Bike stations between OTR and Downtown, including at Washington Park, near the Midway at 12th & Vine, and by the Taft Theater at Broadway.
Car: Uber is offering first-time Uber users a discount during MPMF. Just use the promo code MPMF14 to receive a discount of up to $20 off.
Foot: The distance from MPMF’s northernmost venue (Moerlein Brewing Co.) to its southermost venue (Mainstay Rock Bar) is a little over a mile, so it’s totally doable to hoof it, though it’s bit of a trek if you’ve got a tight schedule.
Transit: Most of the venues for this year’s festival are located on Metro bus routes, but many are within a short walk of a number of bus lines. You can check out which routes and stops are most convenient for you by using Google Map’s transit feature or Metro’s Trip Planner.

On top of all the official MPMF activities, there are a number of complimentary events that will be taking place. On September 24, Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. will be hosting a preview party with a free show by THE PASS and Machines Are People Too. The event will run from 8pm to 11pm and also include a ceremonial keg tapping of Moerlein’s seasonal Helltown Rye.

On Friday and Saturday, FRCH Design Worldwide will host Framed at MidPoint at the Frameshop (1317 Main Street). The pop-up event will include a photo booth, postcard gallery, sculptures made of instruments and a missed-connections space titled You’ve Been Framed. Donations benefit Music Resource Center, a nonprofit that helps provide youth with musical resources. Open Thursday through Saturday from 7pm to 12am.

In addition to all of that, MPMF.FM will feature free daytime performances by MPMF bands at Findlay Market all weekend.

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.