Support Continues to Grow for Daily Train Service Between Cincinnati and Chicago

Midwest Regional Rail ServiceOhio is surprisingly one of the nation’s least-served states by intercity passenger rail service, but All Aboard Ohio is working to change that.

Perhaps best well known for their fruitless advocacy for the 3C Corridor – an intercity passenger rail line that would have linked Ohio’s largest cities – All Aboard Ohio has regained relevancy as of late. While continually advocating for improvements on existing Amtrak service across the northern reaches of the state, the non-profit organization has also become increasingly involved with efforts to establish rail service between Columbus and Chicago, and Cincinnati and Chicago.

Columbus currently has no connections to the capital of the economically robust Great Lakes region, but Cincinnati does, albeit ever so slightly. As of now, Cincinnatians can get to Chicago via the scrappy three-day-a-week train service offered on Amtrak’s Cardinal Route. In addition to not being daily service, trains infamously arrive and depart in the middle of the night.

This is something, however, that area leaders and All Aboard Ohio officials are working to change. One potential example, they say, is to extend existing service offered on Amtrak’s Hoosier Route. The combination of Amtrak’s Cardinal and Hoosier routes offers Indianapolis daily service to Chicago. From there, the hope is to make gradual improvements to bring the service up to 110mph speeds.

“There is a buzz and excitement in southwest Ohio about connecting to Indy and Chicago that is palpable,” explained Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio. “Even those that have not necessarily been fans of previous rail projects see the necessity of connecting to Chicago – the business and commerce epicenter of the U.S. between the coasts.”

The energy Bauman speaks of was recently seen at an area meeting held by All Aboard Ohio at the Christian Moerlein Tap Room in Over-the-Rhine. According to Ken Prendergast, Executive Director of All Aboard Ohio, such meetings are typically pretty dull, but this was not the case in Cincinnati.

“Our free local meetings are usually less extravagant than our statewide meetings, and are more akin to briefing or coordination gatherings,” Prendergast told UrbanCincy. “They generally only draw a dozen or two dozen people, so this meeting’s attendance was pretty good.”

All Aboard Ohio welcomed Cincinnati City Councilwoman Amy Murray (R) as their special guest. Over the past few months Murray has taken on a bit of a leadership role in the discussion about establishing daily rail service to Indianapolis and onward to Chicago. Her leadership has also come at a time when Hamilton County Commissioners, in a surprising fashion, voted unanimously in favor of studying the establishment of such service.

Bauman says that All Aboard Ohio has been working with the OKI Regional Council of Governments on a potential scope and funding plan for a feasibility study on the manner, following the unanimous vote from Greg Hartmann (R), Todd Portune (D) and Chris Monzel (R). He says that the group has also been meeting with local jurisdictions and business leaders to grow support even further.

“A big part of this is educating stakeholders on what our competitor regions throughout the Midwest are doing,” said Bauman. “For example, Detroit has three Amtrak roundtrips a day, Milwaukee has seven, St. Louis has five, and even Carbondale, IL has three. Simply put, we are being left behind.”

Some of that recent outreach has included both Hamilton and Oxford – communities that sit along the existing Cardinal Route and would be prime candidates for stops in a case where service is enhanced. To that extent, both communities, in addition to Miami University, have expressed their support for the effort. Now, according to Bauman, the next steps are to reach out to Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati.

“As we continue to work with business and government leaders toward establishing at least daily service to Cincinnati, coordinating with our regional institutions of higher learning will be a growing and vital piece of our advocacy partnership focus,” Bauman explained. “Bringing back proper inter-city rail services will be transformative for our region and positively impact the lives of people.”

Construction Work Progressing on Hamilton’s $11.8M Artspace Lofts Project

From the construction of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, to aggressively marketing Pyramid Hill, to proclaiming itself The City of Sculpture, Hamilton has been actively reinventing itself as an arts-friendly and arts-centered community since the early 1990s. One of the most recent efforts, however, has been the development of the Artspace Hamilton Lofts, a partnership between Neighborhood Housing Services of Hamilton and Minneapolis-based Artspace Projects.

When finished next summer, the $11.8 million mixed-use development will include 42 market-rate rental units including studios, one-, two-, and three-bedroom options. It will also include commercial and studio space on the first floor for burgeoning local artists.

Since its inception in the late 1970s, Artspace has transformed itself from simply being an advocate for the needs of artists into one of the premier non-profit developers of art-centric residential and commercial space in the United States. From artist cooperatives, to family lots, to non-residential projects, the Artspace Hamilton Lofts will continue their mission of creating unique, historic spaces for artists and arts organizations.

The Artspace project is also indicative of Hamilton’s efforts to reinvigorate its downtown by embracing its architectural past. Beginning in the 1960s and 70s, in an effort to appear more modern and match the neighboring structures that were being constructed, many of Hamilton’s downtown buildings had superficial metal facades installed on them that masked the original architectural details.

Fortunately, two of these surviving buildings, the Mehrum Building and Lindley Block, are in the process of having those metal facades removed as part of the Artspace project. The two properties were selected for the project after an extensive search, for the best location in Hamilton, over the past several years.

According to the Hamilton Lofts project lead, Sarah White, these facades have, in an ironic twist, protected the buildings from the elements over the years. While the structurally important aspects of the two century-old buildings will be left intact, the soft interiors are being completely gutted and rebuilt so that they will function as one.

The project was funded through a combination of public and private sources, including state historic tax credits and the National Endowment for the Arts and the Hamilton Community Foundation.

Project officials say that leasing will begin in the spring, and that those who are interested in applying for one of the residential or commercial art spaces can do so by attending their next informational session on Tuesday, November 18 at the Oxford Community Arts Center.

EDITORIAL NOTE: As part of our efforts to continue to keep you connected with what is happening in the urban areas of our region, we have added a new writer dedicated to covering Butler County’s historic urban cities of Hamilton and Middletown.

David A. Emery, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s School of Planning and former Hamilton resident, will be covering these cities in an effort to provide coverage of two other urban centers in our metropolitan region that boast significant populations and were 19th century boomtowns along the Great Miami River and Miami-Erie Canal.

Over many generations, both cities have been pulled into Cincinnati’s cultural and economic influence, and now essentially serve as satellite cities to the Queen City. The both, however, also are interesting places that are dealing with issues of urban redevelopment, diverse populations and changing economies.

Do Hamilton and Middletown possess a unique advantage when it comes to urban agriculture?

We have seen urban farming grow in popularity throughout Cincinnati – by far the largest urban center of the more than 3 million person mega-region – but is there an even brighter future for these community green spaces and food production zones in other smaller cities throughout the region? Might small, older cities like Hamilton and Middletown be well-suited to take the trend to the next stage? More from Urbanful:

Some two-thirds of the world’s urban land is located in small to medium urban clusters, defined as areas that are less than 10 square kilometers and up to 100 square kilometers, respectively, Shareable reports. Because more people live in small/medium urban centers, farm land in these areas can have a greater impact on the population than those of their bigger counterparts. Beyond that, less population density in smaller places means there’s a greater chance for larger land plots, which accordingly, can yields larger harvests.

A medium-sized “urban cluster” like Flint, Michigan, for instance, is just about the same size as Manhattan. According to the logic of the study, the smaller people-to-land ratio means more land would be available for urban farming in Flint. As a result, more food could be produced, and more people could reap the benefits of the production.

Cincinnati Posts Population Gain for Second Consecutive Year

Cincinnati has added about 1,000 new people since the decennial census in 2010, according to new estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The modest increase comes from two consecutive years of population gains that followed an immediate downward revision after the 2010 Census. The increase also means that just Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton were the only big cities (more than 50,000 people) in Ohio to post gains.

Columbus and Cincinnati, meanwhile, were the only big cities to post population gains for the past two years.

The population estimates are derived using the 2010 Census as a baseline and then factoring in new permitted residential construction and mobile homes, and subtracting out the estimated number of homes lost each year. As a result, all of the annual estimates should come with a grain of salt.

Ohio Cities Comparison

With that said, Dayton’s population gains appear to be an anomaly, while the increases in Columbus and Cincinnati appear to be more rooted. In any case, the news for Ohio’s big cities is not good as the rest all lost population, especially those in the northeastern part of the state.

Columbus continues to stand out from the rest of Ohio’s big cities in terms of its population trends. In this latest estimate release, Columbus posted the fifteenth largest numeric population gain of any municipality in America; and it comes on the heels of equally impressive gains in prior years.

Some observers, however, would attribute some of the gains in Columbus to its unusually large municipal boundaries that include what would be far suburbs in other Ohio regions.

While Columbus has been growing by about 1.5% annually over the past several years, Cincinnati has been growing annually by about 0.25%.

When compared with other peer cities, Cincinnati’s gains look even more tepid.

Peer Cities Comparison

Of fifteen other cities competitive with Cincinnati, the city bested only five of them in terms of population growth, while being significantly outperformed by most all others. In this comparison, even Ohio’s best performer – Columbus –fares only reasonably well against the field.

For Cincinnati’s peer cities, national trends appear to hold true. Southern cities continue to grow at the fastest clip, but their growth rates are leveling off. In our comparison, Austin, Atlanta and Tampa have all experienced significant declines in annual population growth since the 2010 Census. Charlotte has also experienced a similar trend, but appears to be holding steady more so than its Sun Belt peers.

Meanwhile, while many Midwestern cities continue to lose population, they are doing so at a slower rate or have stopped the losses entirely.

As we previously examined on UrbanCincy, the Cincinnati region continues to grow by about 0.4% annually. The City of Cincinnati’s 2013 gain represents approximately 12.5% of the total regional population growth, and half of Hamilton County’s increase last year.

In a nutshell, Cincinnati is over performing regionally, but under performing amongst its peers. If Cincinnati were growing as fast as Charlotte or Austin, the city would be adding around 9,000 new people every year.

Join UrbanCincy in Showing Your Love for Mahogany’s This Week

The restaurant and bar industry is a tough one. The vast majority of them fail, and many come and go in Cincinnati’s center city every year. One of those businesses that has been struggling, as has been well publicized by the local media, is Mahogany’s.

Mahogany’s got its start in Hamilton in 2010, but relocated its southern-style cuisine restaurant to The Banks in 2012. One of the things that makes Mahogany’s unique is that it is one of the few locally owned and operated establishments in the massive riverfront development’s first phase. Mahogany’s is also the only African American-owned business at The Banks.

Mahogany's

After receiving financial aid from the City of Cincinnati to build out their space, owners have struggled to make payments on their rent and repayment of those loans. They have until Tuesday, April 1 to make a $25,000 payment or be evicted.

The owners have publicly discussed their struggles and, according to their landlord, have been making good faith efforts to repay their debts. Mahogany’s is a terrific establishment and it is worthy of our business, and worthy of rallying together to save.

As a result, we would like to encourage our readers to patronize Mahogany’s this week in order to help boost sales and support the owners in their effort to make the $25,000 payment. If you would like to meet with some of our team members, and others from Cincinnati’s urbanist community, then please join us on Thursday, March 27. We’ll be there for dinner and drinks.

But the most important thing is not us. It’s about supporting a great local business that many out-of-towners are exposed to during baseball and football season. So if you cannot join us on Thursday, please go another day or evening this week.

After a brutal winter that has been tough on everyone, and right before the start of the baseball season, it would be a real tragedy to see Mahogany’s evicted. So please show your #MahoganysLove this week.

We recommend trying the ribs or the chicken wing dinner. Or if you are vegetarian, they also have a very good vegetarian plate that you can build yourself. Mahogany’s also has a full bar and offers happy hour specials daily from 4pm to 7pm. So be sure to come both hungry and thirsty. See you Thursday!