With Opening of St. Lawrence Square, East Price Hill Welcomes New Gathering Space

Yesterday the City of Cincinnati, Price Hill Will and members of the East Price Hill community gathered to celebrate the grand opening of St. Lawrence Square.

Located at the corner of St. Lawrence Avenue and Warsaw Avenue, the opening of the new public park marks the culmination of a years-long effort to develop a community gathering place in the historic west side neighborhood.

“While the space is small, we know it will become a center of events for the community ranging from concerts to theatre performances, and even Christmas tree lightings,” Price Hill Will Executive Director, Ken Smith, explained to UrbanCincy. “The project is a great example of what can happen when you involve residents to help improve their neighborhood.”

Assisted by Jeff Raser at Glaserworks, who has otherwise been well-known throughout the city for his work on developing form-based codes, members of the East Price Hill community came up with the idea for establishing a public gathering place, and subsequently developing the final product which includes a small lawn, performance stage, paver-covered walkways, and a water feature honoring the five branches of the military.

“Projects that turn underutilized spaces into public gathering places through a process that engages the community is true placemaking,” Oscar Bedolla, Director of the Cincinnati’s Department of Community & Economic Development, said at the grand opening. “Price Hill Will and everyone involved in revitalizing East Price Hill’s business district have a lot of momentum right now.”

The project was made possible through an unfortunate situation of a fire bringing down a historic structure. Following that, Price Hill Will acquired the property and received $261,595 in CDBG grant funds, along some grant money from PNC Bank and $20,000 of its own money to make it all happen.

Following the grand opening ceremony, community leaders are not wasting any time programming and activating the space. A kickoff party will take place this Sunday at St. Lawrence Square from 4pm to 6:30pm. Event organizers say there will be live music, food and other activities to welcome the community to their new gathering space.

St. Lawrence Square is located in the heart of East Price Hill. It is easily accessible from numerous bus routes; and free bike parking is also readily available in the immediate surrounding.

City Selects Preferred Developer to Execute College Hill’s Form-Based Code

Last week the College Hill Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation announced that an agreement had finally been reached between the City of Cincinnati and the Saint Francis Group to develop a collection of properties at the intersection of Hamilton Avenue and North Bend Road.

The 7.5-acre site is actually a collection of three properties that the City of Cincinnati acquired over recent years. Perhaps most prominent is the 5.2 acres of land at the northwest corner of the intersection where a Kroger and Eastern Star once operated. While the Eastern Star site was cleared in 2012, it was not until 2014 when the Kroger site was cleared and readied for new development.

The third piece of land that makes of the rest of this site is actually across the street at the northeast corner of the intersection. This 2.3-acre site has also been cleared and is largely ready for development.

The announcement of the preferred developer agreement comes more than a year-and-a-half after City Hall approved the community’s form-based code, which the Saint Francis Group has committed to work with as part of their planned development.

“CHCURC has worked with the City of Cincinnati for a decade in the acquisition of these parcels, which are key in the continued revitalization of College Hill,” said the president of non-profit development corporation, Michael Cappel.

While the original designs for the redevelopment of these sites were conceptual in nature, it is the hope of many in the community that Saint Francis Group continues down that path.

“The vision for the redevelopment of the former Kroger’s, Shuller’s Wigwam, and the Eastern Star Retirement Community includes a mixed-used development, with retail, residential, and offices uses, that will bring increased density and vitality to this walkable, urban village,” Cappel explained.

Should such a vision be realized at this location, it would serve as a major boost for the northern end of the neighborhood business district, and would inject notable amount of residents into the area.

While Saint Francis Group has a fairly extensive track record of real estate consultancy and development, its ability to execute a project of this nature will be tested. Fortunately, they have hired Jeff Raser from Glaserworks, and a key architect of Cincinnati’s form-based codes, as their lead architect for the project.

Project officials say that architectural drawings are being put together now, in conjunction with neighborhood leaders, and they hope to announce a project name, cost estimates and a project schedule within the next four to eight months.

John Yung to Become Lead Project Executive at Urban Fast Forward

John Yung, UrbanCincy’s Associate Editor of Public Policy, will take on a new role with Urban Fast Forward as the firm’s Lead Project Executive.

John will maintain his position at UrbanCincy, where he has contributed for nearly five years. Over this time he also worked for the Bellevue, KY, and led the effort there to implement one of the region’s first form-based codes. He then obtained his American Institute of Certified Planners certification in 2014, and took on a leading planning role at the Village of Yellow Springs this past winter.

John says that he is excited to be back in Cincinnati full-time and is looking forward to the possibility of living car-free with his new office within walking distance of his Over-the-Rhine apartment. Kathleen Norris, Managing Principal at Urban Fast Forward, is also excited about the addition to her team.

“John is an urban rock star. His insight into the ebb and flow of cities and their neighborhoods is going to add real value for our clients,” Norris said.

In the new role, Norris says that John will be taking the place of Matt Shad, who is moving on to become Cincinnati’s Deputy Director of Zoning Administration. While at Urban Fast Forward, Shad assisted Norris with strategic planning consulting that complimented the firm’s retail leasing and development consultancy.

“The City of Cincinnati is lucky to be getting Matt,” said Norris. “He knows the intricacies of planning and zoning, in both theory and practical application, and I think he is going to make the whole development process lighter, quicker and faster.”

Since its founding in 2012, Urban Fast Forward has established itself as a firm that specializes in urban real estate and development, with a particular focus on retail district revitalization.

Urban Fast Forward has been particularly involved with the retail strategy in Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton and along Short Vine in Corryville. More recently the firm has been taking on bigger roles in Walnut Hills and Northside, and is also overseeing the strategic development of a Race Street retail corridor downtown.

New Parks Levy Plan Appears to Scrap Vision for Westwood Square

Imagine a picturesque park that is easily known as the center of a neighborhood district. A square with lush landscaping, a stage for plays and space for a farmers market. It’s a square that is easily the envy of Hyde Park or Mt. Lookout or Oakley. That was the vision of Westwood Square.

Westwood Square was born out of the month-long city-wide charrette that helped formulate the city’s four form-based code districts. The vision was further refined in the fall of 2012 by community groups Westwood Works, Westwood Civic Association, Westwood Historical Society, Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation.

As part of the process, citizens, planners and engineers looked at the problems Harrison Avenue had been causing the neighborhood. Serving mostly as a four-lane connector to Cheviot, ideas were floated to design some traffic calming measures for the corridor.

The idea was that Westwood should not be a place for cars to fly through on their way to downtown, but instead a place to be visited and enjoyed.

Through this process, which was championed by then Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D), the team came up with the idea for a central square. By taking a section of Harrison Avenue at the intersections of Epworth and Urweiler Avenues, the square would be constructed to deliberately force vehicles to slow down and turn to navigate around the public gathering space.

City planners found that they could create an opportunity to form a community green space, slow traffic and make the area safer for people walking and biking by implementing such a change.

After MadCap Puppet Theater moved into the old Cincinnati Bell switching station, they cited the plan as one of their main draws to the area. Theater director John Lewandowski spoke about that plan, and the hopes for the neighborhood last year on The UrbanCincy Podcast.

During the 2013 mayoral campaign, Qualls lost to Mayor John Cranley (D), who spoke against the idea of form-based codes during the campaign, and has continued to challenge them ever since.

The recent parks levy announcement from Mayor Cranley and other city leaders included a notable change to the long-held and developed plans for Westwood Square. The adjustments to Harrison Avenue, and creation of the square, are now gone.

Instead, City Hall is now calling for $2 million to renovate the existing green space adjacent to Westwood Town Hall. The new vision will do nothing to slow the traffic at the intersection and appears to make feint aspirations at building the kind of place originally envisioned by the community in 2012.

Such changes were first hinted at during Mayor Cranley’s campaign, and emphasized during his inaugural State of the City address last September.

While specific details for the new plan have yet to be provided, the end result is now expected to be a major departure from the form-based approach that was first laid out.

Mt. Airy Looking to Transform Part of Colerain Avenue Into Walkable Business District

On October 30, Klosterman’s Dry Cleaners, in the heart of the Mt. Airy neighborhood business district, was torn down. Long seen as an eyesore, the demolition was heralded by community leaders hopeful that it would spark a revitalization movement along the quarter-mile stretch of Colerain Avenue.

The demolition project came as part of the City of Cincinnati’s most recent award-winning Neighborhood Enhancement Program where various departments work together to improve neighborhoods through blight removal and code enforcement. It was funded through a $55,000 grant from the Department of Trade & Development and acquired through the Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corporation.

This is the first phase of a more comprehensive plan to redevelop the district that was put together by the Mt. Airy Community Urban Redevelopment Enterprise (C.U.R.E.), CR Architects, Urban Fast Forward thanks to a $30,000 grant from the City of Cincinnati. The Mt. Airy Revitalization Strategy was completed in March 2013 and provides a four-phase vision to enhance the business district.

The 20-page report concludes that buildings separated from the street by parking on the western side of Colerain Avenue have diminished the quality of the business district. The authors of the report also point to the prospects of implementing a form-based code for the area.

“Ideally new construction in Mt. Airy would apply the principles of a form-based code, at least in such matters as relationship of the building to the sidewalk and the placement of parking,” the report stated. “This will protect and build upon the existing good of the business district and help to give Mt. Airy a unique character as a neighborhood.”

Leadership at Mt. Airy C.U.R.E. says that the demolished dry cleaner will allow for the creation of a new centrally located parking lot in the business district that will also function as a gathering space for community events. The second phase of work, which community leaders hope can be completed by the end of 2015, will make streetscaping improvements and look to address existing storefronts.

“The existing conditions of the facades and storefronts are not that good,” Gerald Fortson, Senior Development Officer at Cincinnati’s Department of Trade & Development, told UrbanCincy. “Upgrading them will allow property owners to attract the caliber of tenants the district desires.”

Phases three and four of the plan call for more aggressive action through the development of new structures along the western side of the street currently dominated by auto-oriented buildings.

As part of phase three work, a vacant lot and an existing 3,200-square-foot structure would be torn down and replaced by a new street-fronting 3,500-square foot retail building and a 24-space parking lot. Then, in phase four, two structures totaling 9,400 square feet of retail space would be razed to make way for a new 7,500-square-foot retail building that would also front onto Colerain Avenue. This part of the plan also calls for the creation of a new mid-block crossing for pedestrians.

“We hope to make this area a place that could encourage people to slow down and to see the business here,” explained Corless Roper, President of Mt. Airy C.U.R.E.

Over time neighborhood officials also hope to develop a wayfinding system and branding for one of the west side’s rare neighborhood business districts. If all goes according to plan, the whole revitalization program could be complete within five years.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Mt. Airy to rebrand and market itself in a new light, focusing on a safe and clean community that will draw our diverse neighborhood together, and eventually attract new businesses as we achieve the phases in our plan,” Roper stated. “Moving forward, we will creatively launch a campaign to raise funds in order to make our dream a reality, knowing that Mt. Airy is on the move!”