PHOTOS: Cincinnati’s Bold Net-Zero Energy Police District Headquarters

Last July the City of Cincinnati opened its first new police station in more than 20 years. Aside from updating and expanding the previous offerings inside a  107-year-old building, the new facility also aimed to create a new community gathering place for the city’s most populous neighborhood, while also achieving net-zero energy consumption.

The 36,000-square-foot facility was built for Cincinnati Police Department’s District 3, which serves 14 west side neighborhoods and some 95,000 residents. The $16 million landmark includes 40 geothermal wells, a 330-kilowatt solar panel system, and high-tech energy zones inside the building for system optimization.

Such investments have resulted in a LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the organization’s highest rating, and an energy usage coming in 20% lower than what was originally estimated for the environmentally sound building.

While the District 3 Headquarters is one of America’s most sustainable police stations, it is part of a growing trend where environmentally and economically conscience cities are looking to both reducing their carbon footprint, while also aiding their budgets through lower utility costs.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 13 photographs were taken by Eric Anspach on March 17, 2016.

Cincinnati Bringing Neighborhood Enhancement Program to Lower Price Hill, Mt. Auburn

The City of Cincinnati has announced that it will take its award-winning Neighborhood Enhancement Program to Lower Price Hill and Mt. Auburn this year.

These two neighborhoods represent the 21st and 22nd communities to participate in the program, which utilizes a 90-day collaborative focus between various city departments and community organizations to address crime hot spots, beautifying streetscapes, and tackling blight.

“Cincinnati has a long and proud history of neighborhood involvement and that core value is one of the reasons the NEP is so effective,” Mayor John Cranley (D) said in a prepared statement. “The importance of collaboration with local businesses and volunteers in making our neighborhoods sustainable cannot be underestimated.”

City officials say that Lower Price Hill’s NEP will take place from March through May, while the program will take place in Mt. Auburn from mid-August through mid-November.

While the NEP has consistent goals for each community in which its employed, city leaders also work closely with each individual neighborhood to make sure the program is tailored specifically to meet its needs. Those details, program administrators say, will be developed more for both Lower Price Hill and Mt. Auburn over the coming months.

In addition to reducing blight and addressing crime activity, the program has also started to take on signature projects identified by each respective community. Last year, this included the renovation of Grant Park Playground in Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Outdoor Gym in Roselawn.

“This program is about much more than just building playgrounds and cleaning up empty lots,” noted Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black. “It’s about making meaningful and sustainable investments in some of Cincinnati’s historic communities in order to ensure they’re thriving places.”

Cincinnati Preservation Association Doles Out Awards For Local Preservation Excellence

The Cincinnati Preservation Association gathered earlier this month to honor the best projects and professionals when it comes to preserving the region’s historic building stock.

The 51st annual meeting was held on Sunday, November 8 at the Renaissance Cincinnati Downtown Hotel, which is located inside the landmark Daniel Burnham tower at Fourth and Walnut Streets. The event itself was held inside the hotel’s stunning grand ballroom that had previously functioned as a banking hall.

Twelve awards were handed out to owners and developers of historic buildings throughout the region that CPA believes have substantially restored or rehabilitated those structures in accordance to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Those projects include the following:

  • Archdiocesan Archives Renovation – Archdiocese of Cincinnati | Chameleon Architecture | Danis Building Construction
  • Beasley Place (Over-the-Rhine) – Over-the-Rhine Community Housing | CR Architecture + Design | HGC Construction
  • St. Michael the Archangel Parish Buildings (Lower Price Hill) – Education Matters | Brashear Bolton Architects | HGC Construction
  • 408 Overton Street (Newport) – Mansion Hill Properties
  • The Crown (Over-the-Rhine) – Crown Building LLC | Hampton Architects | Premier Tri-State Roofing
  • J.H. Rhodes House – Benjamin and Kristen Walters | Preservation Architecture Services Team | Benjamin Walters/Chris Holtman/Jeff Niemis/Joel Stafford
  • Taft’s Ale House (Over-the-Rhine) – Ale House Landlord | Drawing Department | HGC Construction
  • Chatfield College OTR Campus (Over-the-Rhine) – Chatfield College | Emersion DESIGN | Endeavor Construction
  • Clifton Library (Clifton) – Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County | McClorey and Savage | Motz Engineering
  • Probasco Fountain (Clifton) – City of Cincinnati | Clifton Town Meeting
  • Frida 602 (Covington) – Lucky Twins LLC | Don Biendenharn
  • Stonelick Covered Bridge – Clermont County | Smolen Engineering | The Righter Company

In addition to the project-related awards, two special education awards were also given out to those who, according to CPA, have produced quality programs, publications, inventories, or have promoted the awareness of historic preservation.

The first went to CPA volunteer Jeanne Rolfes, who was described as being one of the area’s most innovative volunteers when it comes to historic preservation. This recognition was largely due to her request of funds and subsequent development of a virtual tour for those who are too old or unable to participate in typical walking sessions about historic preservation.

CPA officials say that the program, called Cincinnati Memories, has been so successful since its launch in 2008 that it has been expanded twice and now brings in much needed revenue for the non-profit organization.

CPA awarded its prestigious President’s Award for Service to Preservation to architect Dave Zelman for his years of service and critical leadership roles in such efforts as the West Side Preservation Summit in 2010, annual spring home tours, River West Working Group, restoration of a National Register-listed Matthew McWilliams House on River Road, and assistance in saving landmarks like Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Sedamsville and an ancient stone house in Sayler Park.

Phase One of Ohio River Trail West Secures $1.3M in Funding

River West Working Group has announced that the western leg of the Ohio River Trail through Cincinnati has been awarded a $1 million Federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality grant. An additional funding commitment of $261,000 from the City of Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Program brings the total to $1.3 million.

Project leaders say that the money will be put toward construction of the first phase of the bikeway and greenway project along Cincinnati’s western riverfront.

“We greatly appreciate the initiative of the City’s Department of Transportation & Engineering in developing and submitting the grant application, and the support of Mayor John Cranley, who set up the bike program funding that seeded the Federal grant,” said Tom Croft, co-chair of River West Working Group.

Croft, a Price Hill community activist, also credited the work of ODOT, OKI Regional Council of Governments, State Senator Bill Seitz (R), and Representatives Bill Blessing (R) and Lou Terhar (R).

The first phase of work will extend roughly 3.7 miles downriver from the planned Price Landing park to the Gilday Recreation Center. The recently allocated funds will go toward constructing more than half of this phase of work.

The overall plan for Ohio River Trail West is a 28-mile bikeway and greenway network, separated from nearby roads, that serves as a connection between Smale Riverfront Park and Shawnee Lookout.

The river alignment of this trail makes it unique to any other east/west corridor on Cincinnati’s west side in that it does not traverse steep or extended hills. Such an orientation will allow cyclists the opportunity to get to the trail and have a level path into the city center.

Due to the relationship of the project to the existing freight railroad lines, project leaders say that additional coordination is needed before the group is able to move forward with the third segment of work within the first phase of construction activities.

“We are not going to announce work on that until we have negotiated some type of agreement”, Dave Zelman, co-chair of River West Working Group told UrbanCincy.

Further complicating matters is that the City of Cincinnati recently worked with the freight railroad companies to rebuild the four tracks along that stretch in recent years. Regardless, neighborhood leaders and project proponents are confident that the work will progress and serve as a major benefit for the communities along the corridor.

“The Ohio River Trail West is a big factor in the ongoing revitalization of our western Hamilton County neighborhoods, many of which are underserved by this kind of amenity,” concluded Zelman. “It will encourage access to the Ohio River and its surrounding hillsides, our greatest natural assets.”

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.