PHOTOS: Take a Look Inside Northside’s Rapidly Evolving Urban Artifact Brewery

A group of four young men are quickly transforming what was a vacant, historic church into a brewery and event space called Urban Artifact. The group says they are dedicated to saving historic buildings and adding new life to the community.

While some elements of the former St. Pius X Church will be familiar, other parts of the interior will be less recognizable. The group has big plans for the space and intend to open up operations later this year.

You can click on any image to enlarge it.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 8 photographs were taken by Travis Estell on February 25, 2015.

New Transit Hubs on the Way for Northside, Walnut Hills

Walnut Hills and Northside have long been two of the region’s busiest transit hubs, and now it appears that they will finally get their due as part of an ongoing effort by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) to broaden its services beyond its traditional hub-and-spoke model.

To-date those efforts have included the construction of the Glenway Crossing Transit Center, Uptown Transit District and Montgomery Road Metro*Plus Route – all of which have been found to be helping boost ridership.

Two action items before today’s meeting of SORTA’s Planning & Operations Committee call for the award of funds to two companies to design transit hubs in both neighborhoods.

The first item is a $126,000 award to Woolpert. This contract would fund the final design and construction contract services for what is being called the Walnut Hills Transit District, which would include new passenger shelters, lighting, route information, sidewalk improvements and other amenities at seven bus stops throughout the Peeble’s Corner District.

While not yet approved, the investment was hinted at when Metro announced that monthly passes and regional stored-value cards would be available for purchase at the Walnut Hills Kroger.

The second item on the agenda would provide $319,000 to Michael Schuster Associates Architects (MSA), who also designed Government Square and the Uptown Transit District, to provide the preliminary and final design and construction contract administration services for an off-street transit center in the heart of Northside’s business district at the intersection of Spring Grove, Hamilton and Blue Rock.

According to official documents, the new transit center will include new passenger shelters, pedestrian-scale lighting, next bus information, sidewalk and waiting area improvements, and other amenities. Further adding to the firm’s strength, MSA had completed a conceptual layout for the Northside Transit Center in 2012.

According to SORTA officials, the funds for both of these allocations will come from the agency’s annual capital budget funding.

For Northside it comes at a particularly good time, as the first Cincy Red Bike station outside of Uptown or Downtown is currently being installed.

53T Hoping to Breathe New Life Into Cincinnati’s Bike Courier Industry

After years of few options for those seeking food or product delivery in Cincinnati, several companies have started to spring up over the past year. One of those includes 53T, which is not only offering delivery services, but doing so in an effort to bring back the city’s once vibrant bike courier industry.

Although limited to Over-the-Rhine, Downtown and the West End, 53T offers delivery from seven different restaurants, and parcel delivery that utilizes their cargo bikes and trailers.

Local eateries served by 53T include Happy Belly on Vine, Pho Lang Thang, Cheapside Café, Quan Hapa, Park+Vine and Brezel. Pi Pizzeria was most recently added in February.

Dave Adams and Ian Bulling partnered to start 53T early last year. The two started working on the concept independently, but were introduced to each other in January 2014, and decided to team up.

Each has their own reason for wanting to start the business. Bulling was working as a bicycle messenger and wanted to keep making a living at it, while also bringing back the bike messenger community that existed in the city a decade ago.

“Like the advertising industry, legal work involved a continual flow of documents circulating throughout the city,” Jeffrey Kidder wrote in his 2011 book entitled Urban Flow: Bike Messengers and the City. “While the advertising industry is an example of why bike couriers are still useful, it should be apparent that much of what messengers were delivering in the early 1980s can now be digitized…In fact, messengers today are delivering little more than the table scraps remaining from the grand conversion to virtual data.”

In understanding that changing landscape, Adams says it was the lack of restaurant delivery options prompted him to enter the business. After identifying that need, he worked with Bulling to develop a business plan, and then go through the CO.STARTERS business planning course for creative entrepreneurs.

“It really helped in synthesizing getting our ideas together, realizing what we had to do on a daily basis, on a yearly basis, as far as stuff as basic as tax filings,” said Bulling. “There were a lot of things we overlooked initially, and it helped to get some dialogue started between us that may not have otherwise happened.”

Bulling explained that their business is named for a 53 tooth, which is typically the largest chain ring on a road bike, and equates to the quickest gear on a bike.

Adams and Bulling are 53T’s principal couriers, but they say that they employ other riders as contractors and demand dictates. That demand, Bulling says, has been picking up since their launch last June.

“We have gotten an explosion in volume since the new year” Bulling explained. “We got a spike in October when it started getting cold and then in January we got hit hard.”

In mid-February they extended evening delivery hours to 9pm, with service from Pi Pizzeria, Quan Hapa and Brezel during those expanded times. Currently 53T only offers service on weekdays, but Bulling noted that they have contemplated the idea of adding weekend service as well. The problem, he says, is that their clients are so busy on weekends that they are concerned about adding to their kitchen volume with deliveries.

In the future, the pair also is looking to add service to areas outside of the center city.

“Since our model is so simple, when we get to that point it’s just as easy as transplanting to Northside or Mt. Adams or Walnut Hills,” Adams explained.

From there he says that they would most likely create different zones throughout the city that would operate separately from one another, but under the same organizational structure.

In many cities, including Cincinnati, courier services like this have taken a hit due to the increasing use and reliability of electronic communications. Since the courier industry had typically focused on the delivery of documents, Adams and Bulling said they needed to find a new niche delivering food and parcels.

“I think the model in the industry has been expanding to be as flexible as possible, diversifying the kind of work you’re doing,” stated Bulling. “I think there’s a lot of potential for same-day retail delivery.”

Same-day delivery is something a number of businesses in the center city are already doing on their own, but the potential seems even greater to Adams and Bulling. They have added delivery options for Park+Vine, for example, but so far just focus on their lunch counter.

“We wanted them [Park+Vine] as a client so when we do expand into doing grocery delivery or ancillary items, we will already have them as a client and it will be easy to get started.”

They are not alone in their positive outlook on the industry, as Cincybite launched similar offerings at the end of 2013. One key difference between the two, however, is that Cincybite utilizes cars for their operations instead of bikes.

“I think the thing that distinguishes us from those companies is that we love what we do and we take what we do very seriously,” Bullings responded. “We believe that what we do takes a certain unique set of skills and physical ability, and I think that dedication and passion comes through in our work. Plus, we’re faster than cars.”

EDITORIAL: Don’t Cancel Homearama, Relocate It

The past ten days have been interesting. A week ago I spoke with Keith Schneider from the New York Times about the booming residential property values in Cincinnati’s center city. Then, just one day later, the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati announced that they would be cancelling this year’s Homearama event in Clermont County.

The annual suburban home show has been going since 1962, and was cancelled this year due to, “increased activity in other segments of the housing market.” One of the builders that has traditionally participated in those over-the-top suburban home shows is Great Traditions, which recently expressed a growing interest in developing urban properties.

Great Traditions is not the only one. Greiwe Development has also said that they would like to start building homes along the Cincinnati Streetcar starter line, John Hueber Homes made the same transition to Over-the-Rhine, and Ashley Builders appears to just be getting started on their work in the center city.

So while homebuilders are struggling in the region’s outlying suburbs, they seem to be thriving in a manner that is pulsating outward from Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

It seems more than likely that Homearama will return in the not-so-distant future, but should it? With all the demographic and economic trends pointing in the opposite direction, perhaps the energy and money put into the 53-year-old suburban home show should be shifted elsewhere. I could think of some very nice places to do urban home shows in Pleasant Ridge, Walnut Hills, Avondale, West End, Price Hill, East End, and College Hill. And that is not even considering the possibilities in Northern Kentucky’s river cities.

Yes, there is CiTiRAMA, but that annual home show is often limited in its scale and tends to leave much to be desired.

The writing appears to be on the wall, which makes the outlandish Fischer Homes Expressway proposal look all the more desperate. Why keep up the fight? There are plenty of opportunities in our region’s first-ring suburbs, and the city governments overseeing those sites will assuredly be more than happy to cooperate.

Don’t believe me? Just ask those developers that had been defined by their suburban subdivisions for decades how they are liking life in neighborhoods like East Walnut Hills, O’Bryonville, Northside, Clifton and Over-the-Rhine where condos are virtually sold-out.

I hope the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati decides to not cancel this year’s Homearama after all. I just hope they relocate it to the inner-city where the residential housing market is hot.

On-Bike Advertising, System Expansion On-Deck for Cincy Red Bike

Cincy Red Bike Phase 1 MapCincy Red Bike has been in operation for nearly six months. So far, city leaders and system operators are encouraged by the more than 600 members and roughly 18,000 trips that have been made during that time. As a result, many are now calling for the system’s expansion as it heads into the best six weather months of the year.

As of now, Cincy Red Bike’s system includes 30 stations throughout Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, Clifton Heights, Clifton, Corryville, University Heights and Avondale. While 263 bikes were originally purchased, the bike share system’s executive director, Jason Barron, says that there are normally around 220 bikes deployed, and that the number has dropped to as low as 140 during recent heavy snow events.

Barron told UrbanCincy that the goal was to reach 52,000 rides in the first year of operations. While Cincy Red Bike has so far provided approximately one-third of that, they say they are undeterred.

“We are obviously under that projection so far, but that assumes linear ride rates,” he explained. “Because of the weather, we do not expect to be above the pace so far. What we do know is that we had huge numbers in our first month, which was decent weather, and we have seen a great spike on decent weather days in the winter.”

When comparing Cincinnati’s performance to other cold weather peers, Barron’s optimism appears to be justified. In January, for example, Cincy Red Bike logged around 1,800 rides, while the system in Indianapolis had just 1,200.

While opening up to cold weather months may seem like a rough way to start a system, Barron says that it was, in part, intentional to have a slow start period in order to have time to learn how to make modifications to the system and its operations.

One of those lessons learned is that stations like the one at Main/Orchard are far more popular than what was originally anticipated. This falls in line with national research that shows stations located in densely populated residential clusters are more heavily used than those located by landmarks. As a result, the next round of expansion will most likely include stations situated in those types of locations.

“The three busiest stations, by a factor of a third, are Fountain Square, 12th/Vine and Main/Orchard,” noted Barron. “We will start to look at areas in the West End like Linn Street, Bank Street, City West and maybe Brighton. We have to look and see where there are opportunities to connect people and make a difference in their lives.”

Beyond the West End, most additional stations, which cost approximately $50,000 each, will most likely be placed near the existing service area, but much has recently been made about an expansion across the river into Northern Kentucky. Since political discussions, permitting and fundraising are still underway, Barron was naturally hesitant to discuss specific details about the number or location of new stations.

“Public space is at a premium. The trick is finding a place where people want to be, but that is also available.”

A recent partnership between Cincy Red Bike and The Enquirer yielded over 1,000 location suggestions for new stations. In addition to Northern Kentucky, Barron says that Northside and Walnut Hills were also top choices.

Rumors have it that there will be 10 to 12 stations to open initially in Covington, Newport and Bellevue; while, in Cincinnati, Northside may be the next neighborhood to be graced with a station near Hoffner Park.

What is confirmed is that four new stations will be installed in Cincinnati in March, and Barron says the goal is to roll out the initial expansion into Northern Kentucky later this summer. Like Uptown and Downtown, bike share operators clearly see Kentucky’s densely populated river cities as a major opportunity.

“It’s not enough to just launch in Northern Kentucky. We need to launch successfully,” Barron said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to raise all the funds we need to roll this out right.”

Fundraising continues to be a significant matter for Cincy Red Bike, which was launched, with much acclaim, under the auspice that it would primarily be funded with private contributions. While financial data has not yet been released, Barron says that they have been hitting their targets and plan to unveil on-bike sponsorship opportunities in the coming months.

“We going to be building out a bit here or there, but we really want to go where we think we can activate new ridership bases,” said Barron. “Really, though, I can’t wait for spring.”