EDITORIAL: City Should Move Forward on Liberty Street

Liberty Street was originally built as a typical 30 foot wide city street, but was widened to 70 feet in 1955 to serve as a connector to Interstate 471 and Reading Road. The widening required a significant number of building demolitions and physically severed the neighborhood into two halves. Over the past fifteen years, as the southern half of OTR has redeveloped, the northern half has seen much less investment–and most of this has been in the area around Findlay Market, not along Liberty Street.

It is uncomfortable as a pedestrian to cross Liberty Street, as the walk light changes almost immediately to a countdown timer, and it takes about a half a minute to cross walking at an average speed. The current design, at 7 lanes wide, is optimized for speeding cars and is wholly inappropriate for a dense urban neighborhood like Over-the-Rhine.

Liberty Street is too wide and the City knows it. At an open house event in 2015, the City of Cincinnati first proposed a “road diet” for the street. Over the next several years, they facilitated several community input sessions regarding what came to be called the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Project. Each of these meetings was held at the Woodward Theater for a packed audience of people who live, work, or spend time in Over-the-Rhine. Members of the community spoke about the need to make Liberty Street safer for all people, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders–not just drivers.

DOTE staff took the community input into consideration and ultimately presented their final plan to OTR Community Council on October 23, 2017. The plan called for removing two lanes from the south side of Liberty Street, reducing the crossing distance for pedestrians and discouraging excessive speeding. Additionally, this will free up land for new development along the south side of the street, providing space for new housing, retail, or office space.

As of June this year, the project was set to go out for bid this fall and begin construction in 2019, according to the city’s website.

Unfortunately, in August, the City Administration decided to “pause” the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Project because of concerns about the traffic that will be generated by the new FC Cincinnati stadium in the West End and a sudden concern about how the installation of a new water main would be funded.

The Liberty Street plan, which has been in the works for years, has now been mothballed because of a stadium plan that didn’t exist until a few months ago–publicly, at least. To make matters worse, City Council previously denied the OTR Community Council’s request to be involved in the stadium’s Community Benefits Agreement, saying that OTR would not be impacted by the stadium; but now seems that Over-the-Rhine may be negatively impacted by the cancellation of the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Project.

The City Administration’s concern about traffic is bizarre, as the narrowed Liberty Street would maintain five lanes of traffic during peak traffic times, the same number of travel lanes that exist today. Typically the outer lanes would be used for parking during off-peak periods, but the city could install “no parking” signs on game days. Therefore, the impact on traffic through the neighborhood would be minimal or non-existent.

As for the water infrastructure, that can be solved through a mix of council and departmental leadership. An example of that is a potential solution presented by Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld to use the money from the sale of the Whex garage to plug the budget gap.

We urge the City Council to keep the city’s promise to the Over-the-Rhine community and pass legislation requiring the City to follow through with the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Project.

Christmas Came Early for Southwest Ohio Developers, Historic Preservationists

The Ohio Development Services Agency provided developers and historic preservationists around the state with an early Christmas present when they announced 18 projects that would receive Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits.

In total, the tax credits are worth $22.8 million and are expected to spur $225.6 million in private investment.

“A community’s historic buildings make it unique,” said David Goodman, director of the ODSA. “Giving a building new life honors the history of the building, while creating construction jobs in the short-term and opportunity for economic activity in the future.”

In recent years southwest Ohio had fared extremely well in the competitive bid process for the funds, and this round proved to be much of the same. This group of winning applicants includes five from Cincinnati, one from Hamilton, and two from the Dayton area.

One of the Dayton projects was the winner of one of the state’s two prestigious $5 million awards. That money will go toward the $46 million United Brethren Building project in downtown Dayton, which will transform the long-vacant, 112-year-old building into 164 apartments.

While the Cincinnati-region had the most number of awarded projects, most of the tax credits were small in size. Four projects, three located in Over-the-Rhine and one in Hamilton, received amounts ranging from $150,000 to $250,000. While small in scope, the projects will save numerous historic structures from demolition, while also creating dozens of residential units and commercial space.

The long-debated Freeport Row project, located at Liberty and Elm Streets, received a sizable $1,358,772 tax credit to help restore five historic structures as part of the overall $25 million development. Once complete, the project is expected to yield 110 apartments, 17,000 square feet of retail, and a total of 100,000 square feet of new construction on the vacant lots surrounding the historic structures.

Just blocks north of Freeport Row, along the Cincinnati Bell Connector, is another project that took home the largest tax credit in Cincinnati. Market Square III was awarded with $1,690,000 in tax credits and push forward the latest phase of Model Group’s massive redevelopment efforts surrounding Findlay Market.

Market Square III will renovate eight historic structures, most of which are currently vacant, to include street-level commercial space with 38 apartments in the upper floors.

DOTE Hosts Final Open House for Liberty Street Narrowing Alternatives

The City’s Department of Transportation and Engineering will present the final two design alternatives for consideration at its third public open house tomorrow night at the Woodward Theater. The study which began in 2013 as a Complete Streets initiative proposed by the OTR Brewery District Master Plan now lives on as a proposal to physically narrow the street by ten to twenty feet on the south side. The new land could potentially unlock development sites along the street.

In its original configuration Liberty Street was once the dividing line between unincorporated territory and the city of Cincinnati. It was a narrow street with enough room for parking and less than two full lanes for traffic. In 1959 the City began to demolish properties along the south end of the street to widen the street to seven vehicle lanes and two parking lanes. The once quiet side street became a thru-way for automobile traffic looking to connect to the interstates and Central Parkway.

As revitalization progresses in Over-the-Rhine renewed attention is being paid to the street. The narrowing is an attempt to stitch back the fabric of the north and south halves of the neighborhood. Because of its configuration it is difficult for pedestrians to cross the street in the provided amount of time and bicycling is unsafe due to the high volume and speeds of automobile traffic.

Initial configurations were many ranging from a restoration of the original street width to preserving the current set up. In between proposals called for a reduction to four or five lanes with bicycle lanes or rush hour traffic configurations. After two subsequent meetings the options are down to two: A five-lane and a six-lane configuration. Input taken from this open house will be used to narrow down to the final alternative. Once that alternative is selected it will be presented for adoption at the Over-the-Rhine Community Council in September.

The meeting is this Tuesday evening, 6PM at the Woodward Theater on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. The Theater is accessible by the #17, #19 and #24 Metro bus routes, and is within 100 feet of a Cincy Red Bike Station located at Main Street and Orchard Street.

Cincinnati’s business community supports idea of putting Liberty Street on ‘road diet’

So far, neighborhood residents have been quite consistent in their support for reducing Liberty Street’s width. As of now, residents appear to be supportive of a plan to reduce it by 20 feet, while other neighborhood groups want it to be reduced by even more to allow for dedicated bike facilities and more developable land along the street’s southern side.

In an informal poll, the Business Courier recently asked their readers if they supported the idea of reducing the width of Liberty Street. The response from the city’s business community was overwhelming, with 78% of respondents saying that they support the idea.

More from the Business CourierDo you the support plan to shrink OTR’s Liberty Street?

Revised Plan, Drawings Submitted for $27M Mixed-Use Development at Liberty and Elm

After announcing plans for a $27 million mixed-use development at Liberty and Elm Streets, Source 3 Development, the developers of record for the project, have been met with both cheers and push back on their proposal.

Located directly on the streetcar line, the project would be the first major new construction project to occur north of Liberty Street in Over-the-Rhine in many years. As scores of historic buildings are now being renovated around Findlay Market, many see this site as a critical piece of the Northern Liberties puzzle.

While preliminary designs were not released in January when the project was announced, the developer did discuss building massings and programming. Those plans called for the creation of 15,000 square-feet of street-level retail, 165 parking spaces in a three-level garage, and 118 apartments in new buildings, and within four existing historic structures that would be renovated as part of the effort.

In response to those details, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation issued a list of 12 concerns they had about the project. One of the primary issues was related to the appropriateness of a 85-foot-tall structure in a historic district made up of buildings that are generally shorter than that.

“The proposed height of the structure dwarfs all buildings in the surrounding area especially considering the smaller scale of Elm Street and the topographic elevation change from Liberty Street northbound on Elm,” a joint committee made up various neighborhood groups wrote to City Hall March 24.

“This will not only change the historic character of Elm Street and the Over-the-Rhine Historic District, but eliminate the views of downtown Cincinnati’s skyline enjoyed by residents on Elm and Logan.”

Source 3 responded to the comments from Over-the-Rhine Foundation by varying the heights of the two buildings to be construction, and reducing their heights from 85 feet to approximately 76 feet and 54 feet. These adjustments, Source 3 says, will increase the cost of the building and also forced the development team to reduce the number of apartment units in the development by eight.

The developer has also made a variety of other changes to respond to those 12 concerns from the community, including the elimination of two parking spaces in the garage and adjustments along the Liberty Street facade to minimize garage exposure and add retail frontage.

These will be presented to Cincinnati’s Planning Commission, due to a request to rezone the properties from Commercial Community Auto (CC-A) and Residential Mutli-Family 1.2 (RM-1.2) to Planned Development, on Friday, April 15 at 9am.