AC Hotels by Marriott to Partner With Eagle Realty on $35 Million, 165-Room Location at The Banks

After several years of trying to attract a hotel to The Banks, the project has landed a brand that is sure to attract the fastest growing customer segment in the industry – millennials.

In a special meeting before the Joint Banks Steering Committee, Eagle Realty Group development affiliate Main Hospitality Holdings and Blue Ash-based hotel operator Winegardner & Hammons announced plans to build a seven-story, 165-room AC Hotels by Marriott on the southwest corner of Freedom Way and Joe Nuxhall Way, directly across from Great American Ball Park.

The news was broken was UrbanCincy last month and comes one year after the brand backed out of a deal to redevelop the former School for Creative and Performing Arts in Pendleton.

Known for its upscale, contemporary European influences, the brand began as a joint venture between Marriott International and leading European hotel developer Antonio Catalán in 2011. The brand officially launched in the North American market in 2013 and now boasts locations in Chicago, Kansas City, Miami Beach, New Orleans, and Washington, DC, making it the fastest launch of a Marriott brand in history.

“We’ve wanted this brand for over five years,” explained Mike Conway, president and CEO of Winegardner & Hammons, with regard to why the third largest hotelier in the world wants to grow in the Cincinnati marketplace. “We think it’s a…absolutely home run in Cincinnati. The reason why we say that is people are moving back to the urban core; and our city, like all major cities across the country, is experiencing a revitalization of downtown.”

Adding to Conway’s enthusiasm was Cincinnati Reds president and CEO, and committee chairman, Bob Castellini.

“The Banks offers up perhaps the best location for a hotel in the city,” Castellini noted. “It took us a while to find and secure the best possible flag and developer for the hotel at The Banks, and I really believe that we have the best possible flag and developer.”

The designs show an L-shaped structure, with the main building height fronting on Joe Nuxhall Way and a smaller, one- to two-story portion to the building’s south.

Along Joe Nuxhall Way, the building will include the front desk and guest rooms – expected to have a $180 per night average rate – and will be capped with a rooftop terrace bar and deck overlooking the Ohio River. It will also include a water feature and a four-story animated LED video board.

The shorter southern portion, made necessary due to height restrictions, will include a lounge, library, fitness facility, conference rooms, and a courtyard overlooking Smale Riverfront Park.

The project team will present the plans to the Urban Design Review Board on Thursday. If all goes according to plan, construction could begin in August and be completed by spring 2017.

The development is expected to cost approximately $35 million, with the equity and debt financing already in place. But the best part, steering committee member Tom Gabelman said, was that it will require no city or county subsidies.

“That’s rather phenomenal in this environment,” he said. “And it’s rather phenomenal, too, that we basically have the quality of hotel that the city and county desired for this premier location.”

Meanwhile, construction continues on Phase 2 of The Banks, most notably on a 339,000-square-foot office building for General Electric that is expected to employ between 1,800 and 2,000 workers when completed in late 2016. Next door, a building featuring 291 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space is slated for completion next spring.

Project officials provided some additional details on the infrastructure buildout for Phase 3, which will be paid for with revenues produced by prior phases. This infrastructure work is critical to lift the development out of the Ohio River floodplain, and must be completed before any private real estate development can begin.

Leadership also said that there is a desire to diversify the retail environment along the central riverfront, and further add to the “live, work, play” mantra driving the development.

“I want to add another word there pretty soon, because we hope to have there not just a hotel, but a grocery store and some other retail opportunities so it will be a great place to live, work, shop and play,” said Castellini, who also explained how he used to have to walk down to the river at 4am to make sure it was below 52 feet so that he could open his produce business.

Much has changed along the northern banks of the Ohio River since the days of Castellini’s produce business, and much more will change over the coming years. Project officials say that they will bring a detailed plan for the next round of work to City Council within the next one to two months.

The world’s best cities have lots of traffic congestion, and that’s a good thing

When discussing transportation, the difference between traffic and congestion is often lost. There is, however, a difference between the two and that often plays a significant role in the livability of a city. What we have learned over the years is that congestion is often a good thing, particularly in cities. More from Streetsblog USA:

The pattern that emerges is that the places with the most traffic and driving also have the least congestion…Swan notes that the most congested places are also the places where people have good travel options that don’t involve driving. His chart suggests that car congestion itself is not the problem that needs to be solved — as long as there are other ways to get around, in a congested city few people will actually have to sit in traffic.

Rapidly Growing Cincybite to Expand Delivery Area and Service Offerings

Just about a year ago, a new food delivery service entered the Cincinnati market. The idea behind it was one not uncommon in other larger urban centers around the country, but was new to the area.

While it can be simple to get sandwiches, pizza, or Chinese food delivered locally, that tends to be the limit of your options. But Robbie Sosna, who had lived Miami, New York City and Los Angeles after growing up in Blue Ash, knew the city could do better. So he launched Cincybite last December.

What Cincybite does is partner with area restaurants to deliver their regular menu items to hungry customers around the city. Sosna said they first started with just six restaurant partners and delivered only during dinner time in the center city. However, after a strong start, Cincybite quickly added lunch delivery options and added an additional seven restaurant partners within two weeks after their initial launch.

The early success of the business is yet another example of the retail services not keeping pace with the city’s population growth. While the age-old idea of ‘retail follows rooftops’ may still be true, technology is also now allowing some of that to be bypassed through innovative on-demand delivery services.

“In New York and LA there were restaurant delivery services, and I was surprised to find none existed in town,” Sosna explained. “The response has been phenomenal and I’m working hard to expand the service through the metro area.”

This is not his first foray into the food industry. In 2009, he purchased his first Freshii franchise in Los Angeles before ultimately moving those operations to Cincinnati and bringing the popular fresh food chain to the region in 2012.

Cincybite’s offices are located downtown and are currently staffed by six employees who are tracking all sorts of data and usage patterns. The data they are collecting, Sosna says, is what is helping them determine what other restaurants to approach, types of food to add, and which areas to expand to next.

One area that has not yet been officially added to Cincybite’s delivery area is the city’s west side neighborhoods, but they say it is only a matter of time, and drivers, before that happens. As for now, the focus remains on the region’s center city neighborhoods and many on the city’s east side and along the I-71 corridor.

“When looking at future areas of growth, my director of ops and I study our current sales data and customer feedback,” Sonsa explained. “We’re looking at strengthening our variety of restaurants in our current zones and planning our growth north.”

When asked where those next areas of operations might be, he said that they are looking at Kenwood, Madeira, Blue Ash, Montgomery and Indian Hill, but also clarified that Cincybite has unofficially also begun serving the west side.

Growing Cincybite’s delivery area and food options is just the beginning of the company’s overall growth plans. They have just launched a new service that offers delivery of basic grocery items and other incidentals like batteries, cleaning products, toiletries, over the counter medicine, baby food and supplies, and snacks. Likening the service to Amazon Fresh, Sosna says that he is working with a number of other businesses in order to add even more items.

“We’ve had conversations with local pet shops, butcher shops, dessert companies and a variety of other businesses looking to add additional revenue and awareness to their brand,” said Sosna. “There really is no limit for what Cincybite can offer Cincinnati, and we’re working hard to expand the delivery zones so everyone in the city can enjoy.”

Those who want to use the service merely need to register for an account and then shopping as would typically be done with any online retailer. The website also allows customers to select the date and time they would like to have their items delivered, and also allows for the user to pre-select an amount to tip the driver.

But one thing that was made clear was that none of this would be possible for Sosna without the resurgence taking place in Cincinnati. Had it not been for that, he said he may have stayed in Los Angeles instead of coming home.

“The commute back and forth for 2.5 years helped calm my nerves, but as I opened my Freshii location and began spending more time in the city, I realized a lot of progress had been made and the city was headed in the right direction,” Sosna told UrbanCincy.

“The approval of the streetcar, construction of The Banks, revival of OTR, food scene throughout the city, investment in tech with Brandery and Cintrifuse, and GE selecting Cincinnati for their future operations center were just a few of the reasons highlighting how great the city had improved and made the transition all the easier.”

Cincinnati Aims to Open Initial Phase of Bike Share System This Summer

Cincinnati Bike Share Station MapCincinnati is set to join the ranks of American cities with bike sharing with the launch of Cincy B-Cycle next summer. The program is being organized by Cincy Bike Share, Inc. and is expected to begin operations in June.

Jason Barron, who previously worked in the office of former mayor Mark Mallory, was hired as the non-profit organization’s executive director in early December.

Over the last several years bicycle sharing programs have begun operating in several dozen cities across North America, and many more are planned. In July, CoGo Bike Share started operating in downtown Columbus and surrounding neighborhoods – marking the first bike share system to open in Ohio.

The planning for Cincinnati’s bike share system has been underway since 2011, when the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Leadership Cincinnati program started looking at getting a program running here. Then, in 2012, a feasibility study was commissioned by Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE).

It was not until the summer of 2013, however, that Cincy Bike Share, Inc. was established, and quietly selected B-Cycle to manage the installation and operations of the program.

B-Cycle operates bike share programs in over 25 cities in the United States, including Kansas City and Denver, and has started expanding overseas.

While traditional bike rentals are oriented to leisure rides, with the bike being rented for a few hours and returned to the same location, bike sharing, on the other hand, is geared for more utilitarian use.

According to Barron, usage of shared bikes is intended for one-way rentals over shorter time periods. Bikes are picked up and dropped off at unattended racks, where they are locked with a sophisticated system that is designed to allow users to quickly make trips that are just beyond walking range – often times about a half-mile to two miles in length.

The way the systems usually work is that users can either purchase a monthly or yearly membership that entitles them to a certain number of rides per month. Non-members, meanwhile, are typically able to purchase passes by the hour or day and are able to pay by cash or credit card at the informational kiosk present at each station.

Proponents view bike share programs as attractive components in the development of vibrant cities. With the continued revitalization of Cincinnati’s center city, Barron feels that bike share will fit well into the mix.

“With all systems of transportation, the more the merrier” Barron explained. He went on to say that he hopes that bike sharing, cars, buses and the streetcar “will work together to give people some great mobility options.”

One of the remaining tasks for Barron and the newly established Cincy Bike Share organization will be securing the necessary funding to build the approximately $1.2 million first phase of stations and the $400,000 to operate it annually. Barron believes that it can be accomplished through a number of ways including through a large number of small sponsors, as was done in Denver, or signing one large sponsor like New York City’s CitiBike system.

In addition to added exposure, bike share advocates point to research that shows improved public perceptions for companies sponsoring bike share systems. In New York, it was found that Citicorp’s sponsorship of CitiBike led to greatly increased favorability of the bank shortly after that bike share program launched.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for a corporation to tap into the young professional market,” Barron told UrbanCincy.

Cincy Bike Share is planning to start operations with about 200 bikes based at about 20 stations in downtown and Over-the-Rhine in the first phase, and would include a total of 35 stations with 350 bikes once phase two is built. Cincinnati’s initial system is modest in size when compared to other initial bike share system roll outs in the United States.

New York City CitiBike: 6,000 Bikes at 330 Stations
Chicago Divvy Bike: 750 Bikes at 75 Stations
Boston Hubway: 600 Bikes at 61 Stations
Atlanta CycleHop: 500 Bikes at 50 Stations
Miami DecoBike: 500 Bikes at 50 Stations
Washington D.C. Capital Bikeshare: 400 Bikes at 49 Stations
Denver B-Cycle: 450 Bikes at 45 Stations
Columbus CoGo: 300 Bikes at 30 Stations
Cincinnati B-Cycle: 200 Bikes at 20 Stations
Salt Lake City GREENbike: 100 Bikes at 10 Stations
Kansas City B-Cycle: 90 Bikes at 12 Stations

Cincinnati’s bikes are expected to be available for use 24 hours a day, and Barron says they will also most likely be available for use year-round. Cincy Bike Share will be responsible for setting the rate structure. While not final yet, it is estimated that annual memberships will cost $75 to $85 and daily passes will run around $6 to $8.

The 2012 feasibility study also looked at future phases opening in Uptown and Northern Kentucky. While it may be complicated to work through operating a bi-state bike share system, Barron says that Cincy Bike Share has already discussed the program with communities in Kentucky and says that they have expressed interest in joining.

While there is no state line or a river separating the systems initial service area downtown from the Uptown neighborhoods, steep hills at grades ranging from 7% to 9% do. These hills have long created a barrier for bicyclists uptown and downtown from reaching the other area with ease.

Barron views the hills as an obvious challenge, but part of Cincinnati’s character and what make Cincinnati great. When the Uptown phase gets under way, he says that it will be operated as one integrated system with the first phase, but that it is not known yet how many users will ride between the two parts of the city.

Over the past few years, the DOTE’s Bike Program has greatly increased the city’s cycling infrastructure, and it is believed that continued improvements will help make using this new system, and the increasing number of cyclists, safer on the road.

Cincinnati’s new bike share system also appears to have majority support on council and with Mayor John Cranley (D), who has publicly stated that he is in favor of the program. “We plan on working with the City as a full partner,” Barron noted. “We think everything’s in place.”

If everything goes according to plan, the initial system could be operational as early as this summer.

Salt Lake City GREENbike photographs by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

Cincinnati Leaders Approve City’s Third Form-Based Code in Walnut Hills

Last week Cincinnati City Council approved the form-based code for Walnut Hills. The unanimous vote marks the third neighborhood to adopt this new regulatory tool for neighborhood redevelopment. Yet even after several years of development, many do not understand the basics about the new land use planning tool.

First of all, a form-based code is type of regulation that is developed by community stakeholders to guide future development or redevelopment of a community. Under a form-based code, new developments are typically configured to mesh with the character of the community’s vision.

Form-based codes get their name because it creates a type of regulation that typically focuses more on the form of the building and its relation to the public realm (i.e. the street) rather than the usage of the building. Development under the code occurs “by-right” and means if a new development complies with all the code’s provisions it can be built without having to go through the extensive and sometimes drawn-out process of traditional development.

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Over 700 American cities have adopted some type of a form-based code, with Miami being the largest city to completely adopt this type of code. Near by they have been used in Nashville and Columbus to spark development in revitalizing areas of their inner cities.

Former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D) championed this movement locally and actually led groups of local officials and business leaders to Nashville to study the results of their form-based codes in 2008 and 2012.

While some cities have used these tools to encourage pedestrian friendly, mixed-use developments where none exist, older more established cities such as Cincinnati have opted to implement them in order to ensure that new development integrates seamlessly into the historic charm and character of the city.

Bellevue, KY became the first municipality in the Cincinnati region to adopt this type of regulation in 2011.

Cincinnati first began pursuing the idea of developing a form-based code in 2009. After receiving funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, city staff selected Opticos to lead in developing the new code. Dan Parolek, principal of Opticos, wrote the book on form-based codes, quite literally.

After conducting a city-wide charrette in May 2012, the City of Cincinnati worked with Opticos to refine the code and prepare it for adoption. The form-based code was adopted in early 2013. From there staff from the city’s planning department worked closely with neighborhoods to craft the regulating plan map.

Four neighborhoods were included in the initial implementation schedule: Madisonville, College Hill, Westwood and Walnut Hills. Both Madisonville and College Hill have fully adopted the code with Walnut Hills being the latest. Westwood appears to be the next neighborhood poised to adopt the code after winning unanimous support from the city’s Planning Commission in December 2013.