Episode #62: Urban Parking Challenges

The parking garage that will support Phase 3 of The Banks is now under construction.

On the 62nd episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, TravisRandy, and John discuss some of the challenges related to parking that developers face when building in the urban core.

We discuss how parking requirements have impacted a variety of recent proposals including the Strietmann Biscuit Company building, Fifteenth & Vine, and LibertyElm, and we look back at suggestions UrbanCincy made in 2012 about how to deal with parking problems in Cincinnati.

Finally, we give a few updates on a few projects moving forward in the urban core, including the Ziegler Park/Cutter Playground renovation and Eighth and Sycamore.

Photo: The parking garage that will serve as the foundation for The Banks Phase 3 is under construction. Taken on February 22, 2016 by Travis Estell.

Proposed Development at Fifteenth & Vine Lives Up to 3CDC’s Parking Promises

When 3CDC first began developing the 359-space Mercer Commons Garage in 2012, they defended their actions for building such an over-sized garage by saying they would share the spaces with other planned nearby developments.

Nearly three-and-a-half years have passed since that time, but it is now becoming clear that 3CDC has largely lived up to the promises they made at the time.

When first criticized by UrbanCincy, 3CDC noted that the spaces at the Mercer Commons Garage were meant not only for the $50 million Mercer Commons development, but also the office space at the Paint Building, Cintrifuse, and former Boss Cox building. In total, 3CDC’s former Vice President of Development, Adam Gelter, estimated that those projects alone would need 90 to 100 spaces.

In addition to that, 3CDC’s previous plans for the former Smitty’s site called for 30 to 40 residential units, which would also have their parking provided for at the Mercer Commons Garage. Since that time, those plans have evolved, and 3CDC is now proposing a 55,000-square-foot office and retail building, which, by law, would require 155 parking spaces – much more than would have been required under the previous residential scheme.

City officials say that a potential 77-space reduction may be permitted due to the existence of the nearby Mercer Commons Garage and Washington Park Garage, which have an availability of 141 and 14 spaces, respectively.

Should 3CDC pursue to utilize those two garages to their fullest extent, then it would be feasible for the non-profit development organization to avoid providing any parking at all in the $16 million project slated for the southwest corner of Fifteenth and Vine Streets.

In addition to being located to two nearby parking garages, this site is directly across the street from a Kroger grocery store, located a block away from the Cincinnati Streetcar’s first phase, and within blocks of several Red Bike stations.

With a Walk Score of 96 out of 100 points, the proposed unnamed development at Fifteenth and Vine Streets boasts one of the most walkable locations in the region.

If all goes according to plan, and 3CDC is granted their zoning variances by City Hall, then project officials say they hope to begin construction as soon as possible, with a project completion scheduled for mid-2017.

16-Bit Bar+Arcade to Open Largest-Ever Location in OTR at Mercer Commons

Troy Allen announced through our friends up north at Columbus Underground that the wildly popular 16-Bit Bar+Arcade will open a Cincinnati location in 2015.

The Columbus-based business opened its first “barcade” to overflowing crowds late last summer and added a Cleveland-area bar in Lakewood earlier this year.

It’s the kind of place that is perfect for those that want to cherish their memories of the late 1980s. Not only do the arcade games date back to that time, but the cocktails served at 16-Bit Bar+Arcade also take their names from the icons of that era.

While there is no food provided, Allen says that customers are always able to bring food in from neighboring restaurants. That means that you can hang out, eat and drink inside while playing throwback arcade games and enjoying music and television from the ‘80s and ‘90s.

“It’s a throwback concept; when you step inside, you’re really immersing yourself in the ’80s and early ’90s,” Allen explained. “It’s next to impossible not to smile about something.”

The barcade would have opened in Over-the-Rhine even sooner had 3CDC had its way, but the owners were not quite ready for expansion a year ago. Allen did say, however, that they have been looking at spaces in Over-the-Rhine for the past year; and that he’s happy to finally have the paperwork signed.

Occupying 4,300 square feet at Mercer Commons, the Cincinnati location will be the largest 16-Bit to-date. Allen says that it will have almost the same style as their locations in Columbus and Cleveland; and that they will have the same amount of arcade games, but with a bit more room to move around. Located at the corner of Walnut and Mercer Streets, the location will also have garage doors that open up along Mercer.

“We are dedicated to giving everyone that walks through our door a killer experience while exceeding their expectations,” Allen said. “We truly appreciate the feedback and input, we will continue to evolve and refine the business to meet as many expectations as possible.”

Once open, 16-Bit Bar+Arcade will be open Monday through Friday from 4pm to 2:30am, and Saturday to Sunday from 12pm to 2:30am. The owners are aiming to open up sometime in the first quarter of 2015.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All five photos were taken by Flickr user Sam Howzit in July 2014.

Delay Presents Opportunity for 3CDC to Rethink 15th and Race Development

Between two of Over-the-Rhine’s most treasured attractions is a Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) proposal currently on hold. As a result, the non-profit development corporation will either need to obtain a new funding source or the project will need to be “a little more within the scale of the existing market.”

The current proposal for the mixed-use project at Fifteenth and Race includes over 300 parking spaces, 57 residential units, and almost 22,000 square feet of commercial space. With the project now on hold, now is the time to step back and critically evaluate a major development in the heart of Over-the-Rhine.

The unnamed development sits primarily along Fifteenth Street, between Pleasant and Race Streets, and would occupy almost an entire city block with a massive parking garage and what can otherwise be described as a lackluster design. Think Mercer Commons 2.0.

Stand at the northern edge of Washington Park and look down Pleasant Street. If your eyes are better than mine, you’ll see Findlay Market. If you’d like to walk there, it is only a leisurely five to ten minute stroll. This proposed development’s car-centric design places a parking garage exit on Fifteenth Street, and would force vehicular traffic onto one of Over-the-Rhine’s most important pedestrian axes.

Additionally, the garage packs in 200 more vehicles than is mandated by law, forces the partial demolition of two historic structures, and limits the available commercial and residential space sandwiched between the phase one Cincinnati Streetcar route. If the streetcar should increase property value as predicted, a parking garage may not be the best use of land for such a prominent location along the line.

As is currently designed, the buildings that would wrap the garage present themselves as a homogeneous wall. This character contrasts heavily with the existing fabric that presents gaps between buildings, portals to interior courtyards, and strong visual relief. While the roof line makes an attempt at creating rhythm in concert with windows, its variation is not enough to mask that it is one big building.

These characteristics detract from the pedestrian scale, though the new construction hints at these qualities with balconies, recessed entries, and slightly offset building faces. These expressions are more akin to developments at The Banks and U Square at The Loop, and are a cheap imitation of Over-the-Rhine’s authenticity.

Along Pleasant Street, the Fifteenth and Race townhomes are compressed by the large, central parking garage. The private walk at the townhomes’ rear is noted as a ‘garden space’ but these spaces are approximately 10 feet wide and will be shadowed by a three-and-a-half-story parking garage. Along the street, the crosses and boxes highlighting the townhomes’ windows are wholly contemporary, which are expressions out of place on a building that is neither modern nor traditional; it is non-committal.

It should be noted that an entire block design is a difficult task in Over-the-Rhine because its designation as a historic district stems from the collection of smaller individual buildings built over time. Furthermore, the neighborhood’s historic character, established before the invention of the automobile, does not easily accommodate cars.

However, there will be a need for more parking, and the Over-the-Rhine Comprehensive Plan recognizes this, but states that new parking should be done “without impacting the urban fabric or historic character of the neighborhood.”

Individually rehabbed buildings do not typically have the potential to alter a neighborhood’s character, but when large-scale development is proposed, community members should have a place at the table.

When asked about developers engaging community stakeholders, Steve Hampton, Executive Director of the Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, says, “If there’s one place for community outreach it is in large-scale development because of the unique architecture, historic neighborhood, and diversity of people in Over-the-Rhine.”

In the case of this Fifteenth and Race development, the first stages of community engagement were initiated by Over-the-Rhine Community Housing (OTRCH) and Schickel Design, who completed the Pleasant Street Vision Study (PSVS) in 2013.

While the proposed development incorporates all of the individual elements from the PSVS, it is not in the spirit of the pedestrian-focused Pleasant Street Vision Study and on a very different scale. The size and location of the parking garage is a major difference between the 3CDC proposal and the PSVS, and Mary Rivers, of OTRCH, noted that this is a big issue for many people.

Of course there is a gap between a vision study that outlines a community’s desires or needs, and the market forces that drive a real development, but there are various ways a community should be engaged in a project of this scale.

While OTRCH held focus groups prior to beginning the award-winning City Home project one block south along Pleasant Street, Rivers said that 3CDC did not engage OTRCH until after the current plans had been unveiled.

Rivers said, “We asked a diversity of people, ‘What do you like in Over-the-Rhine? What are you looking for in a home?’ Their answers ultimately influenced the design.” This type of engagement is not easy; and Rivers acknowledged that the best way to engage a community is on big issues not the details.

3CDC needs to step up, engage community stakeholders, and propose a design that is more respectful to Over-the-Rhine’s residents, and its unique architectural and urban form.

3CDC eliminates office space from Mercer Commons plans

Construction of the second phase of Mercer Commons is nearly complete, but the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) is changing the plan for the third phase of the development. As 3CDC didn’t receive a New Markets Tax Credit for the project, the office component has been dropped and could be replaced with more residential. Several other 3CDC projects will be moving forward as planned, without the tax credits. More from The Enquirer:

“Our work program still remains incredibly aggressive,” said Stephen Leeper, 3CDC’s president and chief executive. Leeper and other 3CDC officials made the comments last week at an Enquirer editorial board meeting.

3CDC, though, is shelving plans to develop a new office building as part of Mercer Commons’ third phase and a mixed-use project at 15th and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine. […]

The $18.3 million Mercer Commons plan on 14th Street between Vine and Walnut called for creating 53,000 square feet of office space. Gelter said a company approached 3CDC about developing the building, but the project wasn’t feasible without tax credits. The site could be repositioned as residential.