Hamilton County Pushes Forward With Latest Phase of The Banks

Hamilton County has awarded the latest bid package for a variety of trade contracts on the infrastructure work for Phase III of The Banks, which includes a 690-space addition to the Central Riverfront Garage and a one-block addition of other infrastructure south of Freedom Way.

All three contacts were valued at a combined $653,228; and all went to area companies. According to Phil Beck, project executive for The Banks development, Universal Contracting Corporation will perform site work, Geograph Industries will handle signage, and ESI will manage security of the site.

While not particularly large or sexy contracts, project officials say they are representative of the continued progress being made at the massive central riverfront mixed-use development.

“Awarding these contracts for work at The Banks signals that another aspect of the riverfront development is nearing completion,” said Chris Monzel (R), president of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners. “This phase of the project sets the stage for more economic impact.”

The University of Cincinnati Economics Center has estimated that, once fully completed, the first phase of The Banks will positively impacting the local economy by some $276 million per year – a figure they expect to grow substantially once later phases are built out. General Electric’s new 338,000-square-foot Global Operations Center, alone, is projected to boost the region’s economy by roughly $1 billion annually.

While Hamilton County is overseeing the construction of the infrastructure work at Phase III, the City of Cincinnati and the private development team is making progress on the vertical build of GE’s new building, the 165-room AC Hotel, and 291 apartments and 19,000 square feet of retail within the first two phases of the project.

THP Limited and Burgess & Niple are in charge of the design of Phase III work, while Messer is handling the construction.

As of now, all the infrastructure work being managed by Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati is $29.3 million within budget; and project officials say that they have achieved 30% Small Business Enterprises participation on all work, but just 17.3% on phase three activities thus far. Beck also says that phase three work is on schedule to be complete by September.

How Do You Want OKI To Shape Future of Region’s Transport Network?

The OKI Regional Council of Governments is in the midst of updating its 2040 Regional Transportation Plan. In the early stages of developing this plan, they region’s designated metropolitan planning organization is looking for feedback regarding the types of transportation and land use policies it pursues over that time.

As of now, agency officials are looking for public feedback in the form of an online survey that takes less than five minutes to complete. It asks the public what kinds of transportation modes should be prioritized, where the region’s transportation network is lacking, whether maintenance or expansion should be prioritized, and how you currently and would like to get around for your daily needs.

Planners at OKI say that the results of this public input will help define what types of transportation improvement recommendations are made in June 2016. This is critically important since OKI serves as the regional authority in charge of administering federal transportation dollars.

Over the past four years this has included $86.3 million for 77 roadway projects, $22.9 million for 12 transit capital improvements, and $6.6 million for 15 bicycle and pedestrian projects.

As with any planning exercise, the OKI 2040 Regional Transportation Plan (2016 Update) is based on a number of factors to help guide decision-making.

One of the most important baseline factors is population growth and the distribution thereof. For this, OKI is using 2010 Census data, and its preceding decades, as the baseline for future forecasting.

As a result, OKI is projecting that Hamilton County will lose 2% of its population between now and 2040, thus resulting in a loss of regional population share from its 40.1% today, to 35.4% in the future. In fact, based on those prior trends, OKI believes that Hamilton County’s population will stand at approximately 790,000 in 2020 – down from the 802,374 baseline in 2010.

The problem with using these historical trends is that Cincinnati has seen a dramatic turnaround over the past decade – one that has reversed Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s long population loss trend. This has been reflected in the latest population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, which say that Hamilton County has actually gained population since 2010, and now has approximately 806,000 residents. Meanwhile, growth in the region’s outlying counties has slowed down considerably based on historical trends.

This is important because leadership at OKI has consistently said that it needs to continue to accommodate growth in the region’s outlying counties, which means funds that could otherwise be directed toward mobility, safety and maintenance improvements are instead spent on capacity expansion.

While there may be an overstated importance placed on the need for capacity expansion, OKI planners do acknowledge the need to improve the mobility, safety and maintenance of the regional network. Of the plan’s eight stated goals, none of them include, with perhaps the partial exception of Economic Vitality, the need to add capacity.

“In addition to its economic impacts, transportation also plays an important role in the region’s quality of life,” the report states.

“Transportation improvements have an effect on development, travel patterns and opportunities for all the region’s citizens. The transportation system should be balanced so that no group or groups of people assume a disproportionate share of positive or negative impacts.

The survey will remain open until Friday, January 8. After that time OKI officials say that their staff will begin formulating a draft project list to recommend for funding. Once that list is completed, OKI will host five public involvement events in the spring to gather feedback on the recommended projects.

Now’s the time to speak up.

Metro Looking For Feedback On How To Improve Regional Transit System

Over the past month, Metro has been hosting public listening sessions in order to get a better idea for what current and would-be transit riders are looking for out of the region’s largest transit provider.

While the five sessions have been completed, Metro is still accepting feedback through an online survey that takes about five minutes to complete. Agency officials have not said when that process will be closed, but they say that the goal is to compile the data by the end of the year.

This public feedback process falls in line with growing speculation that Metro will ask Hamilton County voters next fall to approve a sales tax increase that would pay for expanded bus service throughout the county. As it is now, Metro is almost exclusively funded by the City of Cincinnati, and thus primarily provides service within those boundaries. Service outside of those boundaries costs riders extra – a situation that would be removed should voters approve the sales tax increase.

“At the end of the day, the transit system belongs to the people,” explained Jason Dunn, SORTA Board Chair. “It is our job to be good stewards of the transit system and uphold its mission. Ultimately, we’ll use this feedback to help us make decisions that will set the agenda for transit in the future.”

The public is asked to weigh in on a number of key items in the survey, including where bus service should be extended, and what kinds of operating schedules are preferred. The survey also asks about whether real-time arrival display boards, enhanced shelters and ticketing machines would be desired. All of these are items Metro has been adding over recent years, but at a modest pace.

In relation to service operations, Metro officials ask about adding more direct crosstown routes, park-and-ride lots, operating buses earlier or later, increasing weekend frequencies, and adding service to major commercial corridors like Glenway Avenue, Hamilton Avenue, Vine Street, Reading Road and Madison Avenue.

Each of these corridors have been identified for more robust service akin to what has been done along Montgomery Road, which features the first Metro*Plus route in the region. While not full-blown bus rapid transit, Metro officials see it as a step in that direction with its more frequent service, enhanced bus shelters and less frequent stops that allow for faster travel.

Of course, without a dedicated regional transit tax many of these improvements will be difficult to accomplish, or take many years to realize. In the most recent round of TIGER funding, Cincinnati did not apply for any transit-related projects, nor did it even compete for any funds in the recent distribution of the FTA’s Transit-Oriented Development Planning Pilot Program.

While City Hall focused its TIGER grant applications on the Elmore Street Bridge and Wasson Way, both of which were unsuccessful, Metro officials said they did not apply for the FTA funds because they did not believe they had projects ready for successful consideration. But some local transit advocates disagree.

“Our elected officials and administrators are asleep at the wheel,” said Derek Bauman, Southwest Ohio Director of All Aboard Ohio and Chair of Cincinnatians for Progress. “Pools of money exist, particularly at the federal level, for all types of transit planning and construction. We must at accept that times have changed, prepare for the modes of transportation that people are demanding today, and then avail ourselves to resources to make it happen as they become available.”

An additional meeting will be held to gather public feedback from young professionals on Wednesday, November 11 from 6pm to 7:30pm at MORTAR Cincinnati in Over-the-Rhine. Metro CEO and General Manager Dwight Ferrell will be there to take part in the Q/A, and the first 50 people in attendance will receive a free $10 stored value bus pass.

Metro officials say that all of the feedback from the listening sessions and online survey will be considered by the newly created Metro Futures Task Force, which is made up of community leaders who will then present their findings to the SORTA Board in early 2016.

EDITORIAL NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect an additional public meeting that will be held on the evening of Wednesday, November 11.

CDK Global Appears Poised To Bring 1,000 Tech Jobs to Norwood

On Monday it was announced that CDK Global, an integrated technology and market services provider, would relocate 1,000 jobs to the Cincinnati region. At the time of the announcement, however, a specific site was not identified.

Given the company’s focus, UrbanCincy suggested a site somewhere in the center city would make sense for CDK and their employees. Since that time we have learned that the company will most likely move into the large Central Parke office complex in Norwood.

Located at Montgomery Road and Sherman Avenue, the site is in the heart of Norwood and is just down the street from Paycor’s new headquarters in Linden Pointe. Cassidy Turley lists Central Parke as having a block of 95,000 square feet of office space available following the relocation of Cincinnati Bell’s operations to downtown Cincinnati over the past year-and-a-half.

REDI Cincinnati, the region’s job attraction and retention organization, would not confirm the location, but sources close to UrbanCincy say that a deal is in fact close to being finalized. Representatives at CDK Global also would not confirm the information, but did say that they expect to close on a deal by Monday.

If true, it would follow a trend of major employers increasingly choosing in-town locations rather than suburban alternatives that long defined economic moves over the past several decades. It would also be a major win for Norwood which has struggled to maintain its tax revenues as company after company has left the aging industrial city for other locations.

With annual payroll estimated to be around $45 million, the City of Norwood would receive approximately $900,000 annually in new tax revenues from their 2% earnings tax. This is not accounting for any types of tax breaks that may have been offered by the City of Norwood in addition to those given by the State of Ohio.

The Central Parke complex was developed on the former General Motors production plant that was shuttered, along with its 4,000 jobs, in 1987. Since that time, the City of Norwood has struggled economically and been dealt several setbacks in its efforts to diversify its tax base. Such struggles have meant credit rating hits and caused the city to drastically cut its budget and reduce public services over the years.

While landing CDK would help in the short-term, the future continues to look problematic for Norwood with fewer and fewer resources coming from the statehouse in Columbus. As a result, it may still make sense for a municipal merger with the City of Cincinnati in the future, which is both more economically powerful and stable.

The former office space occupied by Cincinnati Bell is reportedly in good condition and will require minimal upgrades in order to accommodate CDK’s staff. Its location is accessible by two Metro bus routes – the #4 and #51 – and has a Walk Score of 85.

Project Officials To Move Forward With Phase III of The Banks Ahead of Schedule

Business leaders and public officials from the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will gather tomorrow morning to celebrate the groundbreaking of the next phase of work at The Banks.

As has been done in the past at the massive central riverfront development, the first work to be done will be the construction of a public parking garage that will lift the project out of the Ohio River’s flood plain. From there, the existing public streets surrounding the project site will be extended to frame the block.

While the event is being touted as a groundbreaking ceremony, workers from Prus Construction and Beaty Construction began mobilizing on the site to perform preparation work. The news is a bit of a departure from previous announcements that said construction work would hold off until the close of the Bengals season in order to preserve parking for tailgaters at Paul Brown Stadium.

In this particular phase of work, project officials say that 690 parking spaces will be built on two levels that will be connected with the rest of the underground parking deck at The Banks, which has been casually described as one of the largest underground parking structures in North America.

This $29.3 million effort is being jointly funded by the City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, and the State of Ohio’s Jobs Ohio program. Representatives from the various public agencies funding the project say that it will create an estimated 200 jobs, with at least 30% of the contract totals spent with Small Business Enterprises.

Such a claim for small business inclusion is on-target for what the project has been delivering thus far. As of June 2015, the latest reporting date, The Banks has had an average of 36% small business participation and approximately 17.5% minority and female workforce participation.

Nearby work continues on the private sector vertical construction of Radius, a 291-unit apartment midrise with 19,000 square feet of street-level retail, and the 340,000-square-foot General Electric Global Operations Center.

Once these two phases of work are complete, it will allow for the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park to move forward, and will set the stage for private real estate development south of Freedom Way and in between Race and Vine Streets.

So far, Carter USA and the Dawson Company have yet to reveal what will ultimately be built on top of this latest garage extension, but most suspect it will be some combination of apartments and condominiums.

While The Banks has received much positive praise as of late, it has not come without its struggles. The retail in the first phase of the project continues to find its footing, and the area continues to struggle with a brand identity and architectural designs that people feel are worthy for the prominent piece real estate that this development occupies.