First ‘Portland Loo’ Public Toilet Facility to Open Along Cincinnati’s Central Riverfront

Cincinnati Parks announced that they will install a first-of-its-kind public toilet facility at Smale Riverfront Park. The facility, often referred to as a ‘Portland Loo’ due to where it was first popularized, is an effort by city officials to come up with a more functional and affordable public restroom option.

The idea of installing such facilities throughout Cincinnati first came up in June 2011 when then political activist Jason Happ proposed them as a form of social equity. The issue came up again following the renovation of Fountain Square, and the subsequent frequent closures of the public restrooms built near the elevator head house next to Via Vite.

“Though some of us have more means than others, that doesn’t mean we are always prepared or capable to go buy something just for the privilege of using a toilet at a private business. That’s why, for years, I have been talking about the Portland Loo,” Happ wrote for StreetVibes in November 2012. “In short, the Portland Loo is an elegant solution for the problem of easy access to clean and safe public facilities.”

The issue resurfaced recently when community leaders, including City Councilman Chris Seelbach (D), called for the installation of a Portland Loo facility at Findlay Market.

“With more people, there’s more need for public restroom facilities that we just don’t have,” Seelbach said in January 2013. “A lot of research and thought has gone in to making sure that behavior that we don’t want to happen, doesn’t.”

While project officials have designed permanent restroom facilities into Smale Riverfront Park, the new Portland Loo will give Cincinnati Parks the opportunity to see how such a facility works for their operations. The idea is that such a system would allow for more public access with fewer operational costs and risks.

“This is an opportunity for the Park Board to test how well this facility works as a ready and free comfort solution for our community,” Willie F. Carden, Director of Cincinnati Parks, explained to UrbanCincy. “What we believe, however, first and foremost, is that the Portland Loo will become an essential park enhancement that demonstrates utmost respect for the human dignity each and every citizen deserves.”

As of now, public restroom facilities in city parks are often closed or not fully operational. They also often are considered a public health and safety concern due to their design. Some of the biggest benefits of the Portland Loo system is that they are designed in manner that allows for 24-hour use and are easily monitored, cleaned and maintained.

According to park officials, the improved safety is due to the angled lower louvers at the top and bottom of the facility, which allows for external monitoring of what is happening inside without disturbing the occupant’s privacy. They also say that the facility will be covered in graffiti-proof coating.

The new facility at Smale Riverfront Park will come online June 19 and will feature an outside hand-washing station, rooftop solar panels to power the station’s lights, and will be handicap accessible and include room for a bike or stroller.

Using just 1.28 gallons of water per flush, the toilets are also comparable to sustainable low-flush toilets that use anywhere between 1.1 to 1.6 gallons of water per flush.

Should the results of this first installation come back positive, it would seem likely that the City of Cincinnati would revisit the idea of installing one at Findlay Market where its bathroom facilities are also considered to be problematic. Beyond that, several other parks and neighborhood business districts might be ideal candidates for further expansion.

On the 47th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Northside neighborhood leader James Heller-Jackson discussed the hopes the community has for improving Jacob Hoffner Park in the heart of the neighborhood’s resurgent business district.

“The neighborhood has said that they want somewhere they can hold events, and have it [Hoffner Park] be the center of the community,” Heller-Jackson said on the podcast. “There are also some amenities that we would like – like bathrooms for instance. Those would be awesome there and would make it a lot easier to have events there.”

For now, however, the first Portland Loo will be put to the test along the central riverfront. Carden says that Cincinnati Parks will then assess if and when additional Portland Loos will be added to other parks in the system.

PHOTOS: Custom-Designed Banners Installed Throughout Central Business District

The holiday season was another record-setting year for Downtown with tourists, shoppers, and general holiday revelers packing the center city. At the same time Downtown Cincinnati Inc. partnered with Resource/Ammirati to design and install custom street pole banners.

DCI leaders say that the concept is modeled off of the iconic I “heart” New York marketing campaign that has since been copied countless times around the world. In this rendition, Resource/Ammirati developed 10 original designs that play off local traditions and things that people enjoy doing downtown.

In addition to the 10 total designs, the spelling of Cincinnati is done with typography that is drawn from logos from some of the city’s most famous brands including the Reds, Christian Moerlein, Skyline Chili, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Bengals, Findlay Market, Know Theatre, and the Taft Museum of Art.

In total, DCI installed 42 of these street banners throughout the Central Business District. They will remain in place throughout 2015. There is no word as to what will happen with the campaign at that point, or if the campaign will be expanded to other mediums.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All nine photographs in this gallery were taken by Eric Anspach for UrbanCincy in January 2015.

Mechanical Optimizers Aiming to Help Area Nonprofits Assess, Update Facilities

Local contracting companies, from air conditioners to electricians, have teamed up to form a group called Mechanical Optimizers to help local nonprofits with the upkeep of their operations.

The newly formed group creates, for the first time, a single point of contact for an audit of a nonprofit’s building’s situation and help with the budgeting and finding grants and funds for the project. All of this, remarkably, is done free of charge for the area’s churches, mosques and many other private institutions.

Jeff Wilmink, an executive at Century Mechanical Solutions since 2012, said that he noticed an acute need for long-term strategies for local nonprofits to maintain their buildings. He told UrbanCincy that he saw institutions were not spending money on proper upkeep and were repairing things that long needed to be replaced. With no master plan for how/what to fix, these nonprofits were putting band-aids on visible problems while invisible problems were compounding, thus creating crisis situations that cost much more money to fix.

With this in mind, he created Mechanical Optimizers to help local nonprofits be proactive and find funds to proactively tackle such projects. When I asked Jeff whether there was a light-bulb moment for this idea to come about, he told me of a call he received from the pastor at St. Louis Church downtown.

The pastor, he said, called because of a noise coming from the basement. After traversing an old, narrow stairway with limited access and even more limited use, Wilmink’s team found an ancient boiler that was leaking, and a basement covered in asbestos. The emergency fix needed for St. Louis Church ended up being much more costly than it would have otherwise been if fixed sooner.

There is not much blame to lay, either. Leaders of nonprofit organizations often do not know or understand the mechanical problems going on in their buildings and, therefore, do not know to fix it. In addition, technicians will often solve superficial problems that create short-term fixes, but neither party tends to think about what will need to be done in a year, five years or ten years.

Add this to the tight budgets of local nonprofits, and many cruise from emergency to emergency without ever fixing the underlying problems in their aging buildings.

“It’s irritating that we’ve allowed these buildings to get in the condition they’re in,” said Wilmink. He continued by saying that many institutions will spend thousands of dollars on cosmetic fixes while the mechanics of their building are literally rotting; or spend $25,000 every other year to fix a unit in order to save $75,000 upfront.

Mechanical Optimizers comes into the equation by offering to provide a free assessment of a nonprofit’s building. Then, after telling “the blunt truth” about what it will take to fix it right, Wilmink and his team will help locate grants and create a budget for fixing the problem and updating aged equipment.

The goal is to be smarter about maintaining a building’s mechanical systems so that high-priced emergency projects do not emerge later. Furthermore, Wilmink says that the very nature of these buildings – churches, mosques, markets, etc. – means finding funds can often be easier once the problem is identified, because someone is typically willing to step up and donate money to help out.

There is, as you might suspect, more to it for Mechanical Optimizers than the charitable work. Once they complete their free assessment, Wilmink says that they will often times submit a bid to perform the work like they would for any other project. Essentially, Mechanical Optimizers has found a way to combine charitable work with their daily business operations. At the same time, this “no agenda” charity is helping many local nonprofits save thousands of dollars.

One of the biggest savings that nonprofits typically receive comes from technology and equipment that can replace outdated systems with ultra-efficient units.

When asked about how government policies help or hinder his efforts, Wilmink pointed to a recent program in New Jersey where the state will pay 80% of the costs for upgrading systems and improving efficiency. The money for the program, he explained, comes from funds utility companies there are mandated to set aside for the state to use for such purposes.

In addition to St. Louis Catholic Church, Wilmink says that Mechanical Optimizers has worked on Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Findlay Market, the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and a slew of other buildings throughout the region.

Pointing to the work’s importance, the contractors involved with the group say that they will do whatever it takes to offer up their help and get the project done.

“If you want our help, we’ll find a way to make it happen.”

$11.2M Redevelopment of Historic Heberle School to Breathe New Life Into West End

A team of New York-based developers have purchased a number of properties in the West End, and a recent tax credit from the State of Ohio may spark the first major redevelopment investment in the historic district in decades.

In 2012, Zada Development purchased two historic school buildings from Cincinnati Public Schools for $60,000 each at auction. The two schools sit within a block of one another in the Dayton Street Historic District, and have sat vacant for the better part of the last decade.

The development team told UrbanCincy that they intend to begin construction on the 86-year-old Heberle School in February, thanks to a $1.8 million Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit – the biggest award in the recent round of funding in Southwest Ohio aside from Music Hall’s $25 million catalytic project award. It is due to the neighborhood’s proud history that the developers decided to enter the Cincinnati market and take on their first project here.

“This area has been abandoned for some time, which prompted us to collaborate with the Dayton Street Neighborhood Association in order to revive a community rich in history and architecture,” explained Golan Marom from Zada Development Group.

The group’s previous experience is largely comprised of high-rise residential rehabilitations in the New York area.

The $11.2 million Heberle Lofts project, meanwhile, is seen as phase one of the team’s efforts. The second phase will focus on the 100-year-old Lafayette Bloom Middle School on Baymiller Street. There, developers anticipate a project similar in scope to what will be done at Heberle, which is planned to include 59 market-rate apartments and 5,000 to 6,000 square feet of street-level commercial space.

A striking similarity at both school properties is the large open space in front of their main entrances. In both cases, Marom says that the plan is to maintain some of it as parking for the development, while also creating new public and green space for the community.

While redevelopment has been moving northward from Over-the-Rhine’s Gateway Quarter, all the way up to the Brewery District surrounding Findlay Market, it has yet to spread west into the West End or its Brighton District. An injection of activity like this, however, could improve the neighborhood’s ability to support service retail and restaurants, which so far have proved difficult to attract within the Brighton District or along Linn Street at the nearby City West development.

The development team says they are still working to secure some additional financing, but are optimistic they will be able to get started in the coming months. Should everything go according to plan, the Heberle Lofts project is expected to be completed approximately two years after construction work begins.

A Look Back at the Top Stories on UrbanCincy in 2014

Findlay Market StorefrontsNow that 2014 has come to a close, we at UrbanCincy would like to take a moment to look back on what’s happened in the past year. The following are UrbanCincy‘s top five most popular news stories from 2014:

  1. Eli’s Barbeque, Maverick Chocolate First of Several New Tenants to Open at Findlay Market
    This year marked a turning point for the area known as the Northern Liberties in Over-the-Rhine, with several new developments being announced. The first of these announcements was in April, when craft chocolatier Maverick Chocolate and popular East End restaurant Eli’s Barbeque announced they would open at Findlay Market. Later in the year, Model Group announced a $14 million office development along Race Street and Urban Sites announced their plan to renovate the historic Film Center building.
  2. Uber and Lyft to Soon Enter Cincinnati Market
    In 2014, Cincinnatians gained a brand new transportation option as ridesharing services Uber and Lyft came to town. Our own Jake Mecklenborg began driving for Uber shortly after their launch and told us about his experiences on The UrbanCincy Podcast Episode #41. In November, Cincinnati City Council passed new regulations for carsharing providers, and we discussed this at the beginning of Episode #44.
  3. City Planners Recommend Transportation Overlay District for Wasson Railroad Corridor
    For years, UrbanCincy has been following the Wasson Way project and writing about the corridor’s potential usage as both a bike trail and a rail transportation corridor. The project took a step forward this year, as the Department of City Planning & Buildings announced a plan that would allow for both uses. We’ll be keeping our eye on this project in 2015.
  4. Popular St. Louis-Based Pi Pizzeria to Open Cincinnati Location in AT580 Building
    In collaboration with our partners at nextSTL, UrbanCincy reported on Pi Pizzeria’s entry into the Cincinnati market. The restaurant opened in the AT580 Building, which is currently undergoing a transformation from office space into residential. Pi co-owner Chris Sommers mentioned that the company was “amazed at the resurgence of Downtown and OTR” and chose the location based on its proximity to the Cincinnati Streetcar route.
  5. Findlay Market Ready to Work With Developers Poised to Transform Area Around It
    UrbanCincy talked to Joe Hansbauer, President and CEO of Findlay Market, about how Findlay Market can serve as the hub for new retail, office, and residential development in the Northern Liberties.

Ohio RiverOccasionally, we like to share a photo gallery or video taken by an UrbanCincy team member or a guest contributor. In 2014, our top five most popular visual features were:

  1. Take a Look at These 20 Breathtaking Photos of Cincinnati’s Center City
    Brian Spitzig shares some of his aerial photography from the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine.
  2. Take a Look at CVG’s Abandoned Concourse C Through Ronny Salerno’s Lens
    Photographer Ronny Salerno documents the abandoned Concourse C at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, which serves as a symbol of how far the airport has fallen.
  3. Check Out These 14 Amazing Images of Cincinnati’s Inner City Neighborhoods
    Enjoy more of Brian Spitzig’s aerial photography, this time from the West End, Queensgate, Corryville, Mt. Auburn, Mt. Adams, Clifton Heights, Walnut Hills, and University Heights.
  4. Thousands of New Residential Units to Transform Downtown
    Anyone visiting Downtown Cincinnati in 2014 was certainly aware of the huge amount of construction happening in the urban core. Looking back at this photo set shows how much progress has been made on Seven at Broadway, Mercer Commons, AT580, Broadway Square, and other projects in just a year.
  5. 49 Shots from the 2014 Northside Fourth of July Parade
    Jake Mecklenborg captures some interesting sights from Cincinnati’s most eclectic parade.