Lower Price Hill’s MetroWest Site Looking for Someone to Follow

Buildings ablaze 10 years ago, now long gone. The former Queen City Barrel Company site is mostly empty, but not devoid of potential.

As you travel 1.5 miles from downtown along the Eighth Street Viaduct, you pass over the 18 acres of vacant land that welcomes you to Lower Price Hill. While new construction happening elsewhere in the city is constrained by existing buildings and streets, MetroWest Commerce Park is a blank slate 4.5 times the size of a typical city block, and almost as close to downtown as Findlay Market is to Fountain Square.

Though no tenants or buyers have agreed to terms on the City-owned property, Al Neyer Inc., Resurgence Group, and Colliers International are working to market the site. Highly contaminated from previous industrial uses, redevelopment of MetroWest has been years in the making, but the City has received notice from the Ohio EPA that the site is now clean enough for new construction. Sam Stephens, an economic development officer at the city, believes in the site’s potential.

“The project is not only about cleaning up the Queen City Barrel Company site, but more importantly facilitating a development that can bring productive jobs to Lower Price Hill and positively impact the environment,” Stephens told UrbanCincy.

The team marketing MetroWest believes it is an ideal location for manufacturing thanks to its easy access to I-75, active rail lines on site, and is within 1.5 miles of downtown. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Sewer District is nearby and can offer up to 50 million gallons of any water quality daily, potentially lowering the costs for businesses that require high water use that need not be potable.

In 2008, Cincinnati completed its Growth and Opportunities Study (GO Cincinnati) with a team of national advisers in economic development and real estate. The final study categorized the Queensgate/South Mill Creek Corridor as “a generally obsolete corridor,” but also noted that “recycling South Mill Creek into the hub of green production in the region, and perhaps the nation, is indeed a unique market opportunity that could catalyze development in this aging industrial stock area.”

Perhaps serving as a contradiction is that while GO Cincinnati recommends the corridor for mostly ‘drivable sub-urban’ development, it also specifically identifies Lower Price Hill as “a ‘walkable-urban’ place, which is experiencing the beginning of a revitalization.”

The current task is marketing the site to find a buyer or tenant. Images shown to promote the site look ripped from the context of a suburban industrial park, places that are not even remotely ‘walkable-urban.’ Even though, project team members say, these images are only intended to show buildable square feet, they could quickly become reality.

The GO Cincinnati Study cites industrial tenants’ primary concern to be purely functional, with little concern for aesthetics or prestigious location. It should then fall to the City to make sure what is developed is actually beneficial to Cincinnati and the surrounding neighborhoods. Does Lower Price Hill want to welcome people on the Eighth Street Viaduct to their community with dirty manufacturing rooftops cluttered with mechanical units?

When asked about the City’s vision for the site, all of the development parties emphasized there will not be heavy industry and welcomed any interested manufacturing or light industrial businesses. Given the site’s history, and the City’s spotty responsiveness to environmental concerns in the past, the neighborhood would be right to be weary of new industrial development.

Eileen Gallagher, Lower Price Hill Community Council Secretary, says that the neighborhood is open to a variety of businesses but would want express their opinions on any business, saying, “LPH would welcome positive, safe development that would utilize potentially valuable land, create jobs, expand the city’s tax base, and perhaps give training and employment to neighborhood people.”

A vision should be expected from the city, one to which residents can respond. GO Cincinnati began that vision, but the recommendation for a “green industrial park” is not being followed. The City has owned the property for almost a decade and has spent years marketing the site without finding a buyer or tenant. Stephens, however, puts the idea of visioning a little differently.

“It’s the city’s job to serve our citizens, not define communities,” Stephens explained. However, even if Lower Price Hill creates a vision, will the City listen?

Alternative Vision: Industrial Mixed-Use with Residential
MetroWest is a few hundred feet east of Oyler School, and another few hundred feet from the LPH Community School. Paired with Evans Field Park, it will be a gateway to the future Price Landing park and Ohio River Trail West.

Increasingly, developers are recognizing the potential benefits of light industrial mixed use as manufacturing becomes greener, lighter, and cleaner. A Los Angeles study showed tax income on mixed-use development to be five times greater than solitary industrial uses. With a prime location near downtown and access to transportation, it would seem that MetroWest is a great location for residential use. Perhaps even the Eighth Street Viaduct could once again allow access to buildings from the sidewalk.

Ohio EPA’s approval for development at MetroWest, however, came with a caveat: the site can only be used for industrial and commercial uses. While the site is approved as safe, residential uses are prohibited. City officials say that the decision was made to only clean the site to commercial/industrial standards because the remediation grant would not cover the increased cost of cleaning the soil to a residential standard.

Another problem is that the site is currently zoned Manufacturing General, which would limit residential use. While the site, as is, cannot be used for residential, the decisions leading to this circumstance now appear short-sighted. Cincinnati’s zoning code is changing; and MetroWest will likely become Industrial Mixed Use (IX) in the current draft of the City’s Land Development Code. This important change would allow for residential use on upper floors, except for the covenant with Ohio EPA.

The city could go after more grant money to remediate the site to residential standards, but this would require a total restart of the remediation process – something that may very well be a bridge too far.

Alternative Vision: Sustainable Dreams
Without changing the site plan in marketing images, these are a few solutions that could significantly enhance the property.

  1. Densely plant trees around the building. Over time the ‘forest’ would help absorb air and noise pollution, and would be aesthetically breathtaking.
  2. Where deeper soil is clean enough, water gardens surrounding buildings could help contain storm water and provide an ecological habitat to complement the Mill Creek and Ohio River.
  3. Rooftop gardens could be used for edible or non-edible plants. If a nursery were created for native trees, any nearby resident could pick up a sapling (ash, maple, oak, walnut, cherry, locust) for free. In 40 years the neighborhood could be heavily forested. Alternatively, Kroger might be interested in a new distribution center with edible greens on their roof similar to what Whole Foods had done with one of their stores in Brooklyn, NY.

While much is not yet clear about the future of this site, it is evident that something will be built at MetroWest; and when it is, it will bring some amount of jobs to Lower Price Hill. The question now is whether a developer or industrial tenant will dictate the development, likely benefiting their own interests, or if the City of Cincinnati will work to enhance its environment with sustainable infrastructure and buildings that benefit Lower Price Hill.

Award-Winning Filmmaker’s Latest Project Highlights Lower Price Hill’s Oyler School

Lower Price Hill is a neighborhood that has seen better days, but recent and ongoing efforts to turn things around in the largely Appalachian and Hispanic community have begun to prove successful.

Some of those efforts include the more recent co-op approach being employed by the Lower Price Hill Community School to help deliver services and offerings that are not currently available to residents of the historic neighborhood. But it is the $21 million renovation of Oyler School that is seen as the spark for the recent improvements.

“Roughly half of the children in U.S. public schools today come from low-income families, and a debate is raging over how to help more of them succeed,” write filmmakers for the new documentary entitled Oyler. “Oyler School’s approach—combining academic, health, and social services under one roof—is catching on around the country.”

Amy Scott, an independent documentary filmmaker and correspondent for public radio’s Marketplace show, says that she has spent a year reporting from Oyler, and believes the documentary tells a story that has become commonplace throughout America.

Oyler tells a gripping story of individuals fighting for change in a unique American community, but it also takes on one of our country’s most pressing challenges – the persistent achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers,” wrote Scott on the project’s Kickstarter page.

The major underlying theme is about how Lower Price Hill is using its public school to transform itself and the lives of those who call it home. In a more direct message, the film also speaks to the nationally acclaimed community learning centers being employed by Cincinnati Public Schools.

While Scott’s team has already been successful at raising just over their initial goal of $25,000 for the film through Kickstarter, the campaign will remain open for one more week. The team says that the funds will be used to cover the costs associated with producing an original music score, sound mix and color correction, rights for commercial music and archival footage, and a professional website.

After the campaign closes next week, the team will get to work on finishing up the documentary and doing the requisite post-production work for a film of this nature. They say that there will be film screenings in Cincinnati and Baltimore next fall, at a minimum, and at other locations depending on those who provided more than $5,000 to the campaign.

Lower Price Hill Community School Aiming to Rebuild Neighborhood, Lives through Cooperative Approach

The efforts to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods across the country have been well-documented, but it is not often that these efforts revolve around a truly cooperative approach. But this is exactly what Lower Price Hill Community School’s (LPHCS) Community Matters non-profit organization is trying to do.

Lower Price Hill is a relatively small neighborhood in terms of size, but its central location, historic building stock, and close proximity to both the Ohio River and Downtown make it extremely important.

The neighborhood was originally built in the 19th century in order to provide housing for workers in the Mill Creek Valley. Today the neighborhood is largely made up of Appalachians and a more recent influx of Hispanic immigrants from Guatemala.

Knowing the community inside and out, LPHCS, which is also is made up of a second non-profit called Education Matters, has developed a unique model of community redevelopment that places the neighborhood’s residents at the center of decision making and management. To this end, Community Matters will soon embark on a number of cooperative initiatives that will aim to both empower neighborhood residents and also provide them with something their neighborhood needs.

The Sanctuary - Lower Price Hill
Interior rendering of The Sanctuary upon completion. Image provided.

“While we’re doing all of these projects, we want to help provide jobs to these groups and folks in the city, but also help employ folks in the community and even give them some ownership,” Mike Moroski, Director of Outreach Services at LPHCS, explained in a phone interview.

The first project is an $8.2 million renovation of the St. Michael the Archangel Parish buildings.

In order to move this project forward, the neighborhood took it upon itself to raise the first $2 million and using that as a commitment in order to leverage an additional $6.2 million in state and federal tax credits. Once complete, the renovated buildings will serve as a community focal point and special events venue, called The Sanctuary.

The next project will be a laundromat called Washing Well, which will feature eight washers and eight dryers. Due to the age of the neighborhood and low average household incomes, most residents need to use laundromats, but none currently exist in Lower Price Hill.

Moroski says that Washing Well will be an earned-income venture at first for Community Matters, but will be owned and managed by the Lower Price Hill community, with its revenues eventually going back into the neighborhood to support additional investment while also covering the costs of operating the laundromat.

During this process, LPHCS will also develop a co-op service learning center, along Warsaw Avenue, to support its existing GED program and a new Cincinnati State satellite operation, both of which will be managed by Education Matters.

After that Community Matters will move forward with renovating Urban Appalachian Council’s former building at Eighth and State Streets, which will then become the home of Jack’s Diner – the neighborhood’s only restaurant.

Moroski says that they decided to name it Jack’s Diner after one of LPHCS’ most engaged workers who developed a passion for the food industry after going through the Freestore Foodbank’s Cincinnati Cooks program.

Jack will manage the restaurant and has even come up with the idea of doing bike delivery service from the restaurant to businesses in Queensgate. Like the new Laundromat, the restaurant will start as an earned-income venture, but then be turned over to the community as a co-op.

In addition to all of this, Moroski says that Community Matters will open a thrift store, choice food pantry, and launch a business incubator in conjunction with Xavier University.

The cooperative visions for Lower Price Hill do not end, or even begin, with this wave of initiatives. When talking with Moroski, it is easy to see that Waterfields serves as a major inspiration for Community Matters.

Waterfields began operating in 2013 as an urban warehouse that provides restaurants with fresh micro-greens, and makes a point of employing Lower Price Hill residents at their rapidly growing aquaponics company. One of the company’s two founders also lives in the neighborhood.

Oyler School is another bright spot for the community. Since its $21 million renovation in 2012, it has been viewed as a national model for community involvement and engagement, attracting visits from prominent leaders from around the country to learn from its successes.

“What Dan started at Waterfields, what we’re doing, and with what Oyler is doing; all of these forces combining at one time is very cool,” exclaimed Moroski. “It’s all right here.”

Lower Price Hill is, perhaps, one of Cincinnati’s more overlooked neighborhoods, but with a strong neighborhood school, engaged community group, rapidly growing local food production business, laundromat, community and events center, restaurant and more all owned and managed by the community, the future only seems strong.

Those who want to help facilitate the process are encouraged to contribute to the LPHCS IndieGoGo campaign to help provide funding for these new initiatives. And Moroski says to be on the lookout for unique events that will be held throughout the year, culminating in the fall with what he is billing a “big blowout” event to close out the campaign in early October.

“With one donation you can support green energy, co-op business models, creation of pathways to careers, re-imagining historic buildings for new use, and the breathing of renewed life into a beautiful neighborhood.”