Townhomes Removed from Development Plan for The Banks

Hamilton County leaders announced last Thursday that they had struck a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals regarding a number of issues pertaining to the county’s stadium contract with the team.

The biggest component of that new agreement is that the Bengals will waive their veto right over the heights of buildings at The Banks. This clause in the stadium deal, signed in 1997, delayed the start of construction of Phase IIA work at The Banks by more than a year, and posed a significant risk to the City of Cincinnati in its efforts to lure General Electric and its new Global Operations Center to the central riverfront.

Now that the agreement is signed, developers of The Banks have announced that they will immediately begin construction on Phase IIA project that will include 291 apartments and 19,000 square feet of retail space.

Should the city succeed in its efforts to land General Electric’s facility at The Banks, it is expected that its new office tower would either be located at the office pad within the Phase I footprint, or more likely on top of the street-level retail adjacent to the apartment midrise at Phase IIA.

The development team believes both sites could accommodate the approximately 400,000 square feet of office space desired by General Electric.

The announcement also brought with it renewed questions about the status of the hotel at Phase I, located immediately across the street from Great American Ball Park. On that note, the developers said that they are still working to sign a hotel operator for the space, and that it is unlikely it will be completed ahead of the 2015 MLB All-Star Game.

That leaves only one element of Phase I of The Banks still in question – the oft-forgotten townhomes lining the Schmidlapp Event Lawn.

When asked about the status of the townhomes, and if their delay in moving forward was related to constructability issues with the adjacent and unbuilt hotel site, Libby Korosec, spokeswoman for The Banks development team, said that there are no longer plans for townhomes at that location.

Korosec went on to say that the future of that particular site has yet to be determined, but that it is possible it could be used as part of the hotel, but that no decisions have been made.

“That site was originally planned to have six to eight townhomes, which is not really an efficient number to go in and build,” Korosec explained. “Not only was it not efficient, but it also wasn’t going to be a very good environment for townhomes with all the in and out traffic nearby.”

Korosec noted that the elimination of townhomes from the Phase I footprint does not mean that townhomes will not be built elsewhere. In fact, she said that the development team believes there are other sites at The Banks that would be better suited for such housing.

Part of the change can also be explained by the housing bubble that burst around the time construction started at the site.

“The market on condos and townhomes turned south just when we signed the MDA,” Korosec said. “However, homeownership via condos is still a strong possibility at The Banks for future phases should the market demand it.”

The development team opted to forgo building condos at $91 million Phase IA of The Banks, and instead built apartments due to the housing downturn. The decision has proved successful as apartments at The Banks fetch some of the highest prices per square foot in the region and have a waiting list of approximately 60 people.

Since that time the MDA was signed, however, the owner-occupied housing market has shown signs of life throughout the center city where there is currently little supply available. Recent developments, led by 3CDC in Over-the-Rhine, have sold quickly and, in some cases, for more than $300 per square foot.

The Banks development has drawn a significant amount of publicity since its first phase opened in 2011, but work is far from over at the massive riverfront project site. As of now, The Banks is only approximately one-third of the way built out.

Hamilton County Posted Largest Population Gain in Cincinnati MSA in 2013

New population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week show that Hamilton County’s population slide has ended and that the Cincinnati metropolitan region remains the largest in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana with more than 2.1 million people.

In 2013 Hamilton County added more than 2,000 new people – making it the biggest gainer in the 15-county tri-state region. Warren County came in a close second with just under 2,000 new people.

Boone and Kenton Counties in Kentucky and Clermont County in Ohio also posted population gains of more than 1,000 people. Meanwhile five rural counties in the region saw their population decline, with Brown County in Ohio losing the most at an estimated 165 people.

The Cincinnati region as a whole is estimated to have added just over 8,000 residents in 2013.

Cincinnati MSA Population Changes 2010-2013

Over the past year, the region also posted gains in terms of international migration, but saw continued losses for domestic migration. Net migration to the Cincinnati region was actually negative, but thanks to births significantly outpacing deaths, the region was able to post its overall population gain.

When compared to Columbus and Cleveland, Cincinnati lags in terms of international migration numbers.

Columbus, meanwhile, is the only region out of the big three in Ohio that posted gains in both international and domestic migration – making it the only metropolitan area in the state to have positive net migration in 2013.

Regionally, Hamilton County was the only county to see more than 1,000 new international migrants. But at the same time, Hamilton County also recorded the largest domestic migration loss of any county in the region.

While most all of Hamilton County’s population gains can be attributed to births exceeding deaths, approximately half of Warren County’s gain can be attributed to its positive net migration over the past year. Aside from Warren County, only four other counties in the region experienced positive net migration.

Ohio Metropolitan Region 2030 Population Projection

The population estimates continue to look bad for Cleveland, which recorded regional population loss once again. Since the 2010 Decennial Census, Cleveland has posted average annual population losses of 0.2%, while Cincinnati and Columbus have posted gains of 0.4% and 1.1% respectively.

Should these trends hold over the coming years, Columbus will follow Cincinnati’s lead and pass Cleveland, once the state’s most populous metropolitan region, in terms of overall population by 2017.

Due to the faster growth taking place in Columbus, it will also eventually catch and pass Cincinnati as the state’s most populous region a decade from now. Cleveland, meanwhile, will see its regional population dip below two million in 15 years.

A long forecasted but yet realized trend appears to be taking hold in the second decade of the new millennium. Instead of cities bleeding population to suburban areas, rural areas are now losing their population to suburban areas while cities hold on to their core population while also continuing to attract international and some domestic migrants from suburban and rural areas.

The Decennial Census in 2010 was a splash of cold water for many cities, including Cincinnati, who had thought that they had already reversed decades of population loss. Perhaps these new trends, now being realized, will finally result in the population gain so many cities have been longing for in 2020.

Will Detroit actually demolish 117,000 buildings over the next five years?

At the end of 2012 we sounded the alarm about a new grant from the State of Ohio that would allow for Hamilton County leaders to demolish approximately 700 buildings in the name of blight removal. Well try this on for size: the City of Detroit has proposed increasing its blight removal budget so that it can demolish 400 to 450 buildings a week over the next five years. For those keeping score, that would be anywhere from 104,000 to 117,000 total demolitions. More from The Detroit News:

Orr filed his debt-cutting plan of adjustment last month in U.S. Bankruptcy Court and continues to meet opposition from retirees and other city creditors, but says his main focus is getting Detroit on track for its 700,000 residents.

Orr’s plan calls for the infusion of $1.5 billion into capital improvements over the next decade. Among them is an ambitious plan to target Detroit’s blight that Orr insists is “doable.” Orr dedicated about $520 million to blight removal over the next five years. The funding would ramp up demolitions from 114 a week to between 400 and 450.

What would moving Hamilton County BOE mean for those without cars?

Unsurprisingly, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) has sided with his fellow Republicans in Hamilton County and cleared the way for Hamilton County’s Board of Election offices to move from Downtown to Mt. Airy. The ruling came as a result of the Hamilton County BOE’s deadlocked vote on the matter, which went along party lines.

Such a move will not happen for several years, but when it does it will make Hamilton County the only urban county in Ohio without its election offices located in its downtown.

Democrats seem to fear that the move will make early voting more difficult for the tens of thousands of residents who do not own a car. Republicans, on the other hand, seem giddy with the prospect of the new site being surrounded by an abundance of “free” surface parking options.

So what would the move mean for those living without a car in Hamilton County? In short, it would make voting a lot more difficult – especially for those in the eastern part of the county. It would also mean that the elections office and lone early voting location for Hamilton County would be moving further away from the population center and where most people work.

Those coming from the transit center at Anderson Towne Centre would see a four-hour round-trip, if they made all of their transfers seamlessly and nothing ran behind schedule. Those in the center city, the most densely populated area in the county, would need to block out several hours to account for the two-hour round-trip journey from Government Square.

If you are trying to get to the new Mt. Airy location from the Glenway Crossing Transit Center, Uptown Transit District or Kenwood Towne Center, your travel time would largely remain unchanged. That is if those people lived within a close walk to those transit centers like those near Government Square. The reality is that each of those three areas are much less walkable and would take considerable time accessing on their own right, thus adding significantly more time to the journey.

Cincinnati Population Density Cincinnati Employment Density

Should Greg Hartmann (R), Chris Monzel (R) and Alex Triantafilou (R) move forward with this it will in fact make the elections office and lone early voting location more accessible for those with cars in the western and northern parts of Hamilton County. It would also, however, make it less accessible for those with cars in the central and eastern parts of the county, and also worse for those without a car at all.

What is troublesome is that those with a car have access to the existing site. Yes, they may have to pay to park, but that is a minor inconvenience that absolutely must be weighed against creating hours-long journeys for those without a car.

The burden would be shifted to those who already have the least in our community. We hope Hartmann, Monzel and Triantafilou realize this would be morally wrong and decide to keep non-back office and early voting operations of the Hamilton County Board of Elections downtown.

Is the Eastern Corridor Project a Trojan Horse for an Extension of I-74?

The Eastern Corridor Program has been part of Cincinnati’s political landscape since 1999. That year the Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) completed a Major Investment Study that envisioned construction of a new expressway between I-71 and I-275 and commuter rail service on existing freight railroad tracks as a multi-modal solution to limited east-west travel in eastern Hamilton County.

But are the incremental upgrades planned for Red Bank Road that appeared in the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) December 21, 2013 Preferred Alternative Implementation Plan part of a long-term plan to extend Interstate 74 across Hamilton County and east to Portsmouth, OH?

A veteran of Cincinnati transportation planning thinks so. Speaking on terms of anonymity, a source claims that he was approached in the mid-1990s by Hamilton County officials and out-of-state toll road builders who sought to extend I-74 from its current terminus in Cincinnati at I-75 to SR 32 in Clermont County.

According to the individual, the Eastern Corridor Program charts a different route for I-74 across Hamilton County but it achieves a similar end. Specifically, it aims to open eastern Hamilton County and Clermont County to development in a way that interstate-quality upgrades to SR 32 east of I-275 could not alone achieve.

Extension of I-74 east to Portsmouth was widely discussed in the Cincinnati media in the early 1990s. On November 11, 1991, The Cincinnati Post reported that the newly passed Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 named “an extended I-74 – and a new I-73 between Detroit and Charleston, SC, through Ohio – as one of 21 high-priority corridors”.

Planning for new sections of I-74 began in the early 1990s in North Carolina, and today 122 miles of I-74 are now open in that state.

While ODOT has never explicitly studied an I-74 extension, it did begin planning I-73 immediately after passage of the highway bill. This planning took place in an unorthodox manner when, in 1991, former Ohio Governor George Voinovich (R) directed the Ohio Turnpike Commission (OTC) – not ODOT – to study construction of a new interstate highway connecting Toledo, Columbus and Portsmouth.

An 80% toll hike in 1995 raised suspicions that construction of I-73 was imminent, however the OTC ended its planning 1997. This event appears to have coincided with West Virginia’s decision to slowly build its section of I-73/74 as a public/private partnership with various coal companies. With the end of I-73 planning also went any expectation that SR 32 might soon be upgraded to I-74 between Cincinnati and Portsmouth.

Since the conclusion of the Ohio Turnpike Commission’s study in 1997, ODOT has not explicitly planned for I-73 or the I-74 extension. However, many of its recent activities are consistent with the OTC’s plans in the 1990s.

On July 22, 2013 Governor John Kasich (R) announced that excess Ohio Turnpike toll revenue will fund construction of the $450 million Portsmouth Bypass, which was part of the Ohio Turnpike Commission’s 1990’s-era I-73 study, and is a critical link in the national I-73/I-74 plan. To be initially signed as SR 823, the Portsmouth Bypass will be a fully grade-separated and access-controlled highway – an interstate highway in everything but name.

No mention of I-73 or an I-74 extension appears on ODOT’s website; but an October 12, 2010 post on the National I-73/I-74 Association’s website named Steven Carter, Director of Scioto County (Portsmouth) Economic Development, as well as two officials from the Toledo area, as attendees at the association’s fall 2010 “Road Rally” in Washington, D.C.

Near Cincinnati, improvements to SR 32 are bringing the roadway closer to Interstate Highway design specifications. A new $32 million interchange is under construction at I-275, and the Clermont County Transportation Improvement District is studying full grade separation and controlled access from Batavia to the Brown County Line.

Within Hamilton County, ODOT divided a possible I-74 route into two separate projects: SR 32 Relocation and Red Bank Road upgrades. At an August 2011 public meeting, ODOT displayed drawings of Red Bank Road reconstructed as a fully grade separated and access controlled expressway. Those drawings do not currently appear on the project’s website.

New drawings shown at ODOT’s Oct 2, 2013 meeting and in its December 21, 2013 report are less ambitious but do not preclude a future full conversion of Red Bank Road into an interstate highway.

The project website states that the relocated SR 32 will “feel like a boulevard or parkway…it will not be a highway like I-71 or I-75”. However, no design feature presented to-date by ODOT prevents relocated SR 32 from being improved to full grade separation and limited access. In the meantime, planning and promotional activities for the future I-74 connecting the Midwest with the coastal Carolinas continue in earnest.

Editorial Note: In the coming weeks, we will publish two follow-up stories related to the Eastern Corridor Program. The first will take an in-depth look at the Portsmouth Bypass and West Virginia portion of the I-74 extension, and the second will provide an updated look at the program’s proposed Oasis Commuter Rail line.

America’s infrastructure is spread far and wide, without enough people to pay for it

As readers of UrbanCincy know, America has put off paying its infrastructure bills for some time and now has an increasingly terrible standard of roads, bridges, sewers, pipes, transit and energy. But what can or should communities throughout America do? They have infrastructure spread far and wide to support far-flung suburbs that defined The American Dream through much of the 20th century. While those early generations were able to sit back and enjoy the new suburbs, the bills of replacing this infrastructure are now coming due…and the communities are not densely populated enough to be able to properly fund the maintenance. More from NextCity:

Earlier this year, when the American Society of Civil Engineers released its quadrennial report card on the nation’s infrastructure, it gave a D to drinking water. The report estimated that there are 1 million miles of water mains in the country, some dating back to the mid-19th century and many in dire shape…Unlike bridges, roads or many other types of infrastructure, the pipes that carry our water are underground and out of sight. It’s only when they break — which, according to the ASCE, happens about 240,000 times each year — that people become aware of the problem.

“The top concern is our aging infrastructure and how we’re going to go about ensuring it’ll be around for future generations,” Kail said. “Over the next 25 years, it will cost U.S. communities more than a trillion dollars to repair water infrastructure. And by that I mean pipes in the ground. That’s a challenge for a lot of communities, especially small ones. Rural communities have many miles of pipes and not many people to spread the cost.”