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.

Construction Nearing Completion for Latest $546k Phase of Mill Creek Greenway

Construction is nearly complete on the fourth phase of work on the Mill Creek Greenway. As part of that work, a new 0.7-mile trail stretches along the border of South Cumminsville and Milvale, from the Millcreek Road Bridge to the intersection of Fricke Road and Beekman Street near Ethel Taylor Academy.

Once this work is complete, project planners say, the stretch will include additional accommodations for the trail to safely cross the creek on the existing roadway bridge, along with traffic calming measures for a safe crossing at Beekman Street near the school.

This latest phase of work is part of the much larger Mill Creek Greenway project that is being spearheaded by Groundwork Cincinnati – Mill Creek. The non-profit organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and is hoping that the planned 15-mile green corridor, which starts at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds in Carthage and will eventually reach the Ohio River Trail in Lower Price Hill, will help clean up one of the region’s most notoriously polluted corridors.

“We have done 33 ecological restoration projects as part of the greenway program,” Robin Corathers, Executive Director of Groundwork Cincinnati – Mill Creek, told UrbanCincy. “That includes bank stabilization, stream bed stabilization, wetland restoration, wildlife habitat restoration.”

In addition to that, Corathers says that edible forest gardens have been planted along the trail, with seven layers of vegetation that mimic a natural forest ecosystem. Improving the health of the ecosystem is a key component of Groundwork’s strategy, and more work is planned to help revitalize and heal damage to the natural resources within the Mill Creek Valley – one of the city’s oldest industrial corridors.

This latest phase of work was funded through a $245,000 grant from the Clean Ohio Trail Fund, $80,000 grant from the Interact for Health Foundation, $30,000 grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, and $191,000 from the City of Cincinnati that was provided through its annual capital budget. Corathers also notes that the C.W. Wood Company donated a strip of land along Fricke Street for the trail.

The project, however, is not just about new trails and habitat restoration. Groundwork leadership also says that they are focused on capacity building, community involvement, and environmental education programming for 4,000 fourth through twelfth grade students each year.

“Phase four is really important to us for several reasons” explained Corathers. “As a ground work trust we are committed to working in economically distressed and historically under-served communities and neighborhoods; and in this case it’s the neighborhoods in the lower Mill Creek watershed.”

To this end, Corathers says that community leaders and neighborhood residents have been excited about the project and the process by which it is being implemented. She says that neighborhood councils become involved in the planning and design work of each phase of the trail, which leads to moments like this past November 12 when they celebrated the groundbreaking for the latest phase of work with about 85 area residents and business owners.

While there has been a good deal of neighborhood support, there are still challenges that exist for project leaders. One of those challenges is the Millcreek Road Bridge, which is envisioned as a crossing for the trail, but is currently only one lane in each direction for automobile traffic.

To tackle this issue, Groundwork Cincinnati has been working closely with Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE) to address safety issues with the narrow bridge. City officials say that the aging Mill Creek crossing is not considered a priority bridge and is not scheduled for replacement.

As a result, transportation engineers have come up with a solution that will retrofit the lightly used span to have one lane for shared two-way traffic flow, and one lane dedicated to the trail. The DOTE says that new signals will be installed, in February, at either end of the bridge to control alternating movements of vehicles across the Mill Creek Bridge.

“It’s a great investment. The bridge will be so much safer for people, for bikes, and also for vehicles,” Corathers said when emphasizing the importance of the trails connection. “The trail provides opportunities for outdoor exercise and recreation, active living, and active transportation for people in the Mill Creek corridor and nearby.”

Crossing the Mill Creek at this location is critical in the project’s overall goal of eventually reaching the Ohio River to the south. Once getting past this location, project planners say that a former CSX rail corridor can be used to take the trail all the way to its envisioned terminus.

The former freight rail right-of-way is considered to be wide enough to accommodate the Mill Creek Greenway Trail, as well as tracks for a future transit line. The use of this corridor, Corathers says, will also allow the Mill Creek Greenway Trail to tap into the planned $192 million Lick Run project, which will include another corridor of green space and trails.

Ultimately, the ongoing efforts could produce what would become a large network of interconnected trails through the heart of the city, including the Ohio River Trail, Little Miami Scenic Trail, Mill Creek Greenway, Lick Run, and West Fork Mill Creek Trail in Carthage.

The next 2.9-mile phase of work on the Mill Creek Greenway is estimated to cost $860,000, and project officials say they have already secured $500,000 of that from the State of Ohio, $50,000 from Interact for Health, and $10,000 from Duke Energy. The hope is that the remaining funds can come from City Hall. Should the final funding fall into place, Groundwork Cincinnati believes phase five work could be completed next year – creating a continuous eight-mile stretch of trails.

An attempt has been made all along to keep the trail close to the Mill Creek, but in some places, such as along Este Avenue, project planners say that it has not possible. But in locations where restoration and stabilization work has been performed along the creek, recovery of the ecosystems is easily visible.

“We now have great blue heron that fish in Mill Creek. We’ve got turtles, lizards, salamanders, beavers, birds, and all kinds of wildlife” Corathers exclaimed. “What we’re doing is breathing life back into this corridor. The trail allows users and visitors to experience an urban river that is coming back.”

In addition to Groundwork Cincinnati and the DOTE, Queen City Bike, Human Nature, IBI Group, Kolar Design, and Prus Construction have contributed to the development of the Mill Creek Greenway over the past six years.

West Side Leaders Land $46k for Long-Planned ‘Price Landing’ Park Along Riverfront

River West Working Group and Price Hill Will announced last month that they have received two grants to create a park framework plan for Price Landing, an integral piece of the overall western riverfront vision.

The first is a $30,000 grant from Interact for Health, and the second is a $16,000 grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. The combination of the two will allow for the development of a vision and preliminary design for the park that would become the eastern bookend of the Ohio River Trail West.

Cincinnati’s western riverfront spans 22 miles from downtown to Shawnee Lookout, and Price Landing is seen as a critical step in reclaiming the riverfront ecosystem as a recreational and educational experience, rather than industrial.

Glaserworks and Human Nature have been hired to create the plan for the park, which will include major park features and a preliminary budget for the construction of the project. River West Working Group will manage the design process in coordination with both firms; and they say the goal of the process is to complete the park framework plan by the middle of 2015.

“This is a very exciting addition to the many positive developments driving the ongoing revitalization of our West Side neighborhoods,” said Tom Croft, Co-Chair of River West Working Group. “With the creation of Price Landing, and the expansion and renovation of the Cincinnati Recreation’s nearby Evans Fields, Lower Price Hill will be a true recreation destination.”

Having advocated for the park since 2007, River West Working Group says their mission is to foster communication among West Side neighborhoods about development and land use issues, and to promote proactive strategies to make Cincinnati an attractive place to live and work.

In fact, the group was founded during the debate over the approval of the controversial Queensgate Terminals project. That project, which is the same site as Price Landing, would have brought a modern rail-to-barge transfer facility to the area.

In 2009 Croft said the development of Queensgate Terminals would “consign Lower Price Hill, East Price Hill, Sedamsville and Riverside to permanent blight”, and would damage perceived recovery efforts taking place at the time.

“[This site] is located at key gateways to and from West Side neighborhoods,” Croft said at the time. “In accord with the Cincinnati Scenic View Study adopted by City Council last summer, it must be protected because of its position in the line of sight from Mt. Echo and the City.”

So far the group has been quite successful. In addition to the Queensgate Terminals project being scuttled, work has also progressed on the Ohio River Trail West, and Price Landing will permanently ensure that a critical piece of riverfront property will not be developed as an industrial use.

According to Dave Zelman, co-chair of River West Working Group, the progress is something to be celebrated, saying, “With planning well underway to link Lower Price Hill to the Gilday Recreation Complex in Riverside, this park will serve as a gateway to western Hamilton County, and be a positive addition to our region.”

Cincinnati Dronescape is a Soundtrack of the City and the Sounds That Define It

Cincinnati has a rich history in music production, and recently it has become more of a hotbed for live performances. In addition to that, there are a number of well-known local or locally started musicians out there making the national rounds these days.

A new mashup project, however, is a bit of a change of pace from all of that.

Cincinnati Dronescape is the brainchild of Isaac Hand, and is a bit of an experiment involving art, music, technology and the city.

Hand worked with his friend Nick Denlinger to record what they thought were quintessential sounds from around the city. This included recordings from more than a dozen locations including the sound of the Western Hills Viaduct, Queensgate Railyard, Christian Moerlein Brewerythe hum of the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. From there, they then distributed the audio recordings to local musicians who them composed music to complement those sounds.

One of the interesting components of the project, aside from it recording background city sounds, is the fact that Hand and Denlinger recorded the sounds by using drones.

“The results are simultaneously a representation of the diversity of the Cincinnati music community, but also an aural portrait or sonic map of the city,” explained Hand.

Long-time readers of UrbanCincy may remember Hand from a project he helped champion in 2010 called Aural Grid, which was a “musical-spatial exploration” through Over-the-Rhine. Many of the artists involved with that project, Hand says, were also involved with Cincinnati Dronescape.

“Although I curated it, this really was a community endeavor,” Hand emphasized. “It took a whole bunch of people to make it possible.”

The community description is an apt one with roughly a dozen musicians contributing directly to the effort. In addition to that, Ian Gullett mixed everything into a cohesive recording, Arthur Brum produced the album artwork, and Micah Freeman composed the poem used for linear notes.

Nick Swartsell, who has grown increasingly fascinated by the history of the West End and its Kenyon Barr neighborhood, has even been working on a visual component to complement the track he contributed for the album.

It actuality, there are two albums available for streaming or purchase. The first, entitled Cincinnati Drones, is an album of the recorded sounds, while the second, entitled Cincinnati Dronescape, is the collection of artist remixes of those sounds.

Both albums can either be downloaded online for $7, or purchased in CD form for $10 on the project’s bandcamp webpage, Shake It Records, Everybody’s Records, Rock Paper Scissors and Torn Light.

Ohio River Trail Project Moving Westward from Center City

For those coming from the west side along the Ohio River, Cincinnati’s western riverfront serves as a bit of a welcome mat. However, after losing residents and jobs since mid-20th century, many in the area believe now is the time to rethink this historic area.

While oft-viewed as an industrial stretch, it is a little known fact that Cincinnati’s western riverfront is actually one of the region’s largest green corridors with riverfront parks and wooded hillsides. And just a few feet down from the busy streets and railways, there is a different Cincinnati – one community leaders believe has the potential to serve as a national example of environmental stewardship and urban recreation.

Perhaps the biggest asset this area boasts is the Ohio River with its views and access to unique amenities. The existing amenities offered by the river and surrounding hillsides, combined with potential amenities from a string of riverfront parks, have the ability to create a powerful attraction for new residents and jobs. It is because of this potential that community leaders see so much value in Ohio River Trail West, which is part of the city’s larger Western Riverfront Plan.

The proposed three-segment first phase of Ohio River Trail West. formerly known as the Western Riverwalk, ties together the reconstruction of the Waldvogel Viaduct, ongoing redevelopment in Lower Price Hill, and repurposing of the former Hilltop Concrete property into a park.

URS estimates that the first two segments within the first phase of work will cost approximately $1.3 million and build upon the much larger Ohio River Trail. This particular phase of trail would extend roughly 3.7 miles downriver to the Gilday Recreation Center.

The biggest of these three pieces of the puzzle is the $55 million reconstruction of the Waldvogel Viaduct. As part of the planning and engineering of the new viaduct, there will be improved views and access to the river from Lower Price Hill. Once the viaduct’s construction is complete, more than 16 acres of riverfront property will become accessible at the former Hilltop Concrete site, which had once been planned for a new rail-to-barge shipping facility, and will now become Price’s Landing.

The combination of all these ongoing efforts creates the possibility for a dramatically different future for the long-troubled Lower Price Hill neighborhood.

Olyer School – an architectural treasure and a foundation of the Lower Price Hill community– recently underwent a $21 million dollar renovation; and the reconstruction of the Waldvogel Viaduct will reconnect the neighborhood to the river for the first time in over 60 years.

Meanwhile, the western end of the first phase of Ohio River Trail West is the Gilday Recreation Center, which will support the trail through its current configuration and planned upgrades.

It is estimated that the stretch of properties between the former Hilltop Concrete site and Southside Avenue are controlled by no more than five entities, and project planners have already secured roughly 70% of the right-of-way needed for this first phase of work.

So while ownership and access are typically major hurdles for projects of this variety, proponents are particularly excited that all of the needed right-of-way required for the first phase of work is either controlled already, or is vacant and potentially available for the new trail. Furthermore, each endpoint is owned by the City and will be able to provide both access and parking for future users.

The efforts to make this plan a reality were given a boost by former Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory (D) when he delivered his final State of the City Address and made the western riverfront a key component of that speech.

“If you think about the proposed investment here…this could serve as a landmark development for the west side of Cincinnati,” Mallory stated.

The efforts were then given another jolt in April 2014 when current Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) allocated $250,000 to the project for ongoing engineering work, and pledged to support the project going forward.

There is currently no timetable for phase one construction activities, but project proponents hope to finalize engineering work and secure construction funding for phase one over the next year or so.