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.”

The City Series Aims To Create Scalable Development Model In Established Walkable Neighborhoods

The City Series is an interesting and somewhat new approach for urban housing development in Cincinnati. Instead of pursuing big developments with a large amount of land, or the redevelopment of existing structures, it instead is focused on challenging infill sites.

Leadership at Great Traditions and D-HAS, which is overseeing The City Series, say they chose the sites due to their walkable environments. They believe that the city’s neighborhoods represent the most important aspect of real estate today – walkability.

In addition, the development team says that they were attracted to each particular site cluster, of which they currently have three, because of its distinctive character. As of now their sites are located in Northside, O’Bryonville and East Walnut Hills.

So far, it seems as though the team’s assessment is correct. Two of the five currently available homes located on Gold Street in O’Bryonville and Cleinview Avenue in East Walnut Hills have already sold. With six more homes coming soon, the team expects that number to quickly rise.

What is also unique is that in each case the homes are being built in line with traditional design characteristics of their neighborhood surroundings. But starting at $595,000, the homes in East Walnut Hills and O’Bryonville are also being priced higher than most nearby properties. In Northside, the townhomes will range from $250,000 to $350,000.

The four homes on Cleinview Avenue are being built around an 1860s servant’s house from the original Klein Estate – the developer of the neighborhood in the late 19th century. In this case D-HAS came up with a design solution that uses three variations on an open floor plan, with car access coming through a rear yard with detached garages. This, the design firm says, allows the new homes to contribute to the streetscape at a pedestrian scale – no curb cuts to accommodate cars – and match the historic nature of the neighborhood.

About a mile east on Madison Road is the three-home Gold Street development, which actually sits on a road named Paul Street. Sitting at the end of a narrow side street, the site is within easy walking distance of both the Hyde Park and O’Bryonville business districts. For this development, D-HAS says that they looked to maximize the use private outdoor space in spite of the site’s difficult location and terrain.

Across town sits the team’s newest announced project on Fergus Street. Like the other projects, the five homes in this development are located in the heart of a historic neighborhood and feature a design reflective of its roots. Due to the differences of Northside compared to the other two neighborhoods, these homes are slightly smaller, but have the added benefit of being next to a neighborhood playground.

“We worked with the community groups – Cincinnati Northside Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (CNCURC) and the Northside Community Council to design a series of homes that would be a catalyst for the surrounding neighborhood”, explained Doug Hinger, owner of D-HAS and President of Great Traditions. “There are a lot of very cool and committed people in Northside that have been active for decades and I really enjoy our partnership.”

Driven by his passion for urban design, Hinger said he established D-HAS to provide a vehicle for his architectural pursuits. And from a business standpoint, he said they saw an opportunity to start these three smaller projects as a way to bridge the gap to bigger sites and see how designs in walkable neighborhoods like this will be accepted.

“We have found value in several facets,” Hinger told UrbanCincy. “Probably the biggest value is that we’re growing the business and developing a body of work that we can take into other Cincinnati neighborhoods.”

Great Traditions and D-HAS believe they are off to a good start, and hope to use these developments as a foundation for more projects like on a somewhat larger scale.

“We’re always looking for the next project and there are several neighborhoods where we think The City Series can work,” Hinter stated. Having a viable commercial aspect in place will certainly help bolster the prospects for scalable projects of this nature, especially since they are intending to push the boundaries of the current marketplace focus.

For many urbanists, the idea of scaling up the size of such an approach is an appealing one, and one that many thought would be the defining feature of Cincinnati’s annual CiTiRAMA home show. CiTiRAMA, however, has not yet been able to consistently produce successful urban infill in the way that Great Traditions and D-HAS are attempting to do.

Hinger’s hope is to make The City Series a citywide endeavor. If successful, Cincinnati’s urbanists may finally get the annual urban home show they have long desired.

First ‘Portland Loo’ Public Toilet Facility to Open Along Cincinnati’s Central Riverfront

Cincinnati Parks announced that they will install a first-of-its-kind public toilet facility at Smale Riverfront Park. The facility, often referred to as a ‘Portland Loo’ due to where it was first popularized, is an effort by city officials to come up with a more functional and affordable public restroom option.

The idea of installing such facilities throughout Cincinnati first came up in June 2011 when then political activist Jason Happ proposed them as a form of social equity. The issue came up again following the renovation of Fountain Square, and the subsequent frequent closures of the public restrooms built near the elevator head house next to Via Vite.

“Though some of us have more means than others, that doesn’t mean we are always prepared or capable to go buy something just for the privilege of using a toilet at a private business. That’s why, for years, I have been talking about the Portland Loo,” Happ wrote for StreetVibes in November 2012. “In short, the Portland Loo is an elegant solution for the problem of easy access to clean and safe public facilities.”

The issue resurfaced recently when community leaders, including City Councilman Chris Seelbach (D), called for the installation of a Portland Loo facility at Findlay Market.

“With more people, there’s more need for public restroom facilities that we just don’t have,” Seelbach said in January 2013. “A lot of research and thought has gone in to making sure that behavior that we don’t want to happen, doesn’t.”

While project officials have designed permanent restroom facilities into Smale Riverfront Park, the new Portland Loo will give Cincinnati Parks the opportunity to see how such a facility works for their operations. The idea is that such a system would allow for more public access with fewer operational costs and risks.

“This is an opportunity for the Park Board to test how well this facility works as a ready and free comfort solution for our community,” Willie F. Carden, Director of Cincinnati Parks, explained to UrbanCincy. “What we believe, however, first and foremost, is that the Portland Loo will become an essential park enhancement that demonstrates utmost respect for the human dignity each and every citizen deserves.”

As of now, public restroom facilities in city parks are often closed or not fully operational. They also often are considered a public health and safety concern due to their design. Some of the biggest benefits of the Portland Loo system is that they are designed in manner that allows for 24-hour use and are easily monitored, cleaned and maintained.

According to park officials, the improved safety is due to the angled lower louvers at the top and bottom of the facility, which allows for external monitoring of what is happening inside without disturbing the occupant’s privacy. They also say that the facility will be covered in graffiti-proof coating.

The new facility at Smale Riverfront Park will come online June 19 and will feature an outside hand-washing station, rooftop solar panels to power the station’s lights, and will be handicap accessible and include room for a bike or stroller.

Using just 1.28 gallons of water per flush, the toilets are also comparable to sustainable low-flush toilets that use anywhere between 1.1 to 1.6 gallons of water per flush.

Should the results of this first installation come back positive, it would seem likely that the City of Cincinnati would revisit the idea of installing one at Findlay Market where its bathroom facilities are also considered to be problematic. Beyond that, several other parks and neighborhood business districts might be ideal candidates for further expansion.

On the 47th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Northside neighborhood leader James Heller-Jackson discussed the hopes the community has for improving Jacob Hoffner Park in the heart of the neighborhood’s resurgent business district.

“The neighborhood has said that they want somewhere they can hold events, and have it [Hoffner Park] be the center of the community,” Heller-Jackson said on the podcast. “There are also some amenities that we would like – like bathrooms for instance. Those would be awesome there and would make it a lot easier to have events there.”

For now, however, the first Portland Loo will be put to the test along the central riverfront. Carden says that Cincinnati Parks will then assess if and when additional Portland Loos will be added to other parks in the system.

Episode #47: Northside

The UrbanCincy PodcastOn the 47th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Jake, John, and Travis are joined by James Heller-Jackson to discuss the neighborhood of Northside.

We discuss the neighborhood’s thriving arts and music scene, events such as the annual Rock N’ Roll Carnival in Hoffner Park, and the neighborhood’s many successful small businesses. We mention a number of new developments that have changed the neighborhood in recent years, including the American Can Factory, and others that will be coming soon, such as The Gantry, a collection of new townhomes, and the Urban Artifact brewery and performance space. We speculate about the possibility of Northside gaining improved Metro bus service and Red Bike stations. And finally, we talk about the Apple Street Market that aims to bring a grocery store back to this walkable neighborhood.