Why Does Kroger Continue to Avoid Urban Store Model in Cincinnati?

Kroger is one of the Queen City’s prized Fortune 500 gems. The company was founded here in 1883 and has grown into the nation’s largest grocer, and one of the nation’s largest retailers overall. While the company has done much good for the city, the question is now being asked if they are now content with their hometown market.

While public officials work to rid the city of its food deserts, Kroger has been largely absent from the conversation. Furthermore, the grocer’s remaining stores throughout the city are seemingly in a constant state of fear of closure. Cincinnati still has Kroger stores in about a half-dozen neighborhoods, but many have either fallen into disrepair or are showcases of urban design failures.

In 2008, Kroger rebuilt its East Price Hill store to the pleasure of city and neighborhood leaders. The possibility of losing the neighborhood’s only full-service grocery store was a real concern. While shiny and new, the rebuilt store now sits more than 100 feet off of Warsaw Avenue, with a sea of parking and a Kroger Fueling Station in front.

Mt. Washington had their neighborhood Kroger built in 1999. In this case, the parking for the store is off to the side of the building, and it sits right along Beechmont Avenue. However, the building includes virtually no windows, and instead of serving as an anchor for the business district is more of an eyesore. While its site plan differs from Kroger’s East Price Hill store, both are still oriented to cars, not the pedestrians or cyclists that make the respective neighborhood business districts attractive.

As UrbanCincy reported yesterday, Kroger is now working with transit officials to improve bus facilities in and around their Walnut Hills store in Peeble’s Corner. But aside from that, the store is essentially defined by the same story as its Mt. Washington counterpart.

In Corryville a different story is unfolding. First developed in the 1960s as part of what is now seen as an awful urban renewal project, Kroger’s uptown store is one of its worst. Fortunately the store will soon be torn down, but after years of discussions with neighborhood leaders and developers, it sounds as if the new store will be not much different from the existing one in terms of its form or function.

Kroger stores in Winton Place and Westwood, and the one currently under construction in Oakley, are nothing more than urban design atrocities ignorant of their surroundings.

Of course, all of this goes without discussing the poor state of Kroger’s Over-the-Rhine store, which practically sits in the shadow of the company’s global headquarters, or the fact that Kroger has yet to actively pursue a store for the city’s exploding residential population downtown.

Meanwhile, approximately 80 miles south along I-75, Kroger has worked with community leaders in Lexington on a new store near the University of Kentucky. The newly opened 86,000-square-foot store is two stories tall with parking situated on the building’s rooftop. The structure is built to the street, includes facades with windows, café seating both inside and out, local food offerings, and has been designed with the surrounding community in mind.

In short, Lexington’s brand new Kroger shines as an example for what the Cincinnati-based company could and should build in its hometown.

Cincinnati is fortunate to have Kroger headquartered here; and the half-dozen or so neighborhoods that have a store are surely thankful to not be left stranded, but at some point Cincinnati should demand better from its hometown company. It is not too late for Kroger to get it right in Corryville, Walnut Hills, Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, or any of the city’s existing neighborhoods without any access to a full-service grocer.

New Center City On-Street Parking Rates, Hours of Enforcement Now In Effect

New parking rates and hours of operation went into effect for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine on Friday. The changes come after Cincinnati City Council approved the matter in November 2014.

Under the arrangement, 500 new electronic parking meters have been installed throughout Over-the-Rhine to complement the existing set already in place in the Central Business District. Over the coming weeks, the City of Cincinnati will also be installing 1,000 additional electronic meters throughout the Clifton, Hyde Park, Mt. Lookout, Northside, O’Bryonville, Oakley, and Pleasant Ridge neighborhood business districts, as well as key locations throughout Uptown.

The electronic meters, officials say, are meant to replace the old ones with newer models that accept credit card payments and are compatible with future plans for pay-by-phone technology and dynamic pricing structures. Pay-by-phone capabilities are expected to be operational by the middle of 2015.

While nearly a dozen neighborhoods will benefit from the new technology, only Over-the-Rhine will see its on-street parking policies change across the board. As part of the new policy, parking rates in Over-the-Rhine will double to $1/hour; while rates will remain set at $.50/hour and $2/hour in the other neighborhoods and in the Central Business District, respectively.

As of today, parking meters in the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine will now also be in effect from 9am to 9pm Monday through Saturday, and 2pm to 9pm on Sundays. Parking hours of enforcement in the remaining 50 neighborhoods, meanwhile, will remain unchanged.

The sweeping changes are meant to help improve the performance of the City’s broken parking system. While many small business owners in Over-the-Rhine have expressed their support for the changes, especially in light of ongoing vandalism of meters in Over-the-Rhine, some believe they have been singled out following the cancellation of a previous agreement that would have raised rates and increased enforcement city-wide.

“I’m not opposed to longer meter hours and higher rates, but what upsets me, as an OTR resident and business owner, is the fact that our neighborhood has been singled out,” Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of Taste of Belgium, wrote in a Facebook post. “The same hours and rates should apply to other neighborhoods.”

The original Parking Lease & Modernization Plan approved in early 2013 was, of course, cancelled by Mayor John Cranley (D) almost immediately upon his arrival at City Hall at the end of 2013. While the mayor and many members of City Council bemoaned the previous plan, a similar plan appears to be taking shape, but in a piece-by-piece approach.

As like the original plan, new electronic meters are being installed that accept credit card payments and utilize dynamic pricing models, meters are being upgraded city-wide, and a contract has been signed with Xerox.

The Cranley Administration has not yet commented on plans for new hours or rates in the city’s remaining neighborhood business districts, where on-street parking meters exist, but they do say that they intend to systematically create multi-space parking that will “produce more aesthetically clean public right-of-way areas in Over-the-Rhine.”

This means that the newly retrofitted parking meters in the historic neighborhood will eventually be removed to make way for multi-space equipment, similar to what has been used in the Central Business District in the past. The upgraded parking meters from Over-the-Rhine will then be shifted to other neighborhoods throughout the city. This process, officials say, could begin as soon as this spring.

In addition to the specific focus on center city neighborhoods, the new parking policy differs from the previously approved plan by creating Sunday hours of enforcement. While the new Sunday hours of enforcement are only in effect for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine, it crosses what was considered a red line in the previous public debate over proposed parking changes.

All of the changes are expected to bring confusion to those parking in the affected areas, including a large group of people who drove to Christ Church Cathedral for the Boar’s Head & Yule Log Festival on Sunday. According to Michelle Dillingham, Director of Education at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, parking enforcement officers ticketed many cars parked on the street during the event.

“I walked out of the Boar’s Head event that was barely an hour long and almost every car had a parking ticket on their windshield…on a Sunday and in front of a church celebrating 75 years of a Cincinnati tradition,” Dillingham wrote. “I don’t know, but it just rubbed me wrong.”

The former Cincinnati City Council candidate went on to say that she had two separate conversations with people, who lived outside of the center city, that were very upset by the situation and would reconsider visiting downtown again due to the aggressive parking enforcement.

City officials acknowledge that there will be a bit of a learning curve, and say they are working to improve awareness of the new rates and hours of enforcement by distributing flyers and working with groups like Downtown Cincinnati Inc. and the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce to inform drivers of the changes.

PHOTOS: Metro Partners With Richard Renaldi on ‘Touching Strangers’ Bus Shelter Exhibit

As part of the latest partnership of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and ArtWorks, 60 bus shelters throughout the city of Cincinnati now feature photographic portraits of local residents, part of a project by nationally renowned photographer Richard Renaldi.

Due to a 2013 decision by Cincinnati City Council to prohibit advertising in the city right-of-way, SORTA as been left with the question of how to fill sign panels in Metro bus shelters. Last year, the transit agency partnered with ArtWorks to present a series of graphic prints, inspired by works of literature, on 24 bus shelters.

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This year the entities have again teamed up to present Touching Strangers: Cincinnati. This project is also part of the 2014 edition of Fotofocus, a biennial celebration of the art of photography.

Originally from Chicago, Renaldi now works out of New York, and his work has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world.

Renaldi took the photos during a June visit to the city. Residents of Cincinnati area posed for the photos; most feature two people, but in several of the images three are included. The subjects were strangers to each other, having met only for the taking of the pictures, yet are positioned in poses in that suggest a level of intimacy.

Four ArtWorks youth apprentices and two local professional photographers worked with Renaldi and produced additional Touching Strangers portraits.

Renaldi and several of the apprentices dedicated the collection of photos at an event on October 16 at a shelter on Sycamore Street downtown. On hand was a Metro bus that has been wrapped with one of the images from the collection.

Many of the shelters featuring the portraits are centrally located downtown and in Over-the-Rhine, the West End, and Uptown, but others are scattered around the city in neighborhoods such as Westwood, Roselawn, and Oakley.

City Planners Recommend Transportation Overlay District for Wasson Railroad Corridor

Following the guidance of City Council, Cincinnati’s Department of City Planning & Buildings has completed its land use study for the Wasson Railroad Corridor. The study’s findings and recommendations offer the clearest guidance to-date as to how to proceed with redeveloping the abandoned freight rail corridor, following the issuance of preliminary designs in July 2014.

City planners took a comprehensive look at the history of the corridor, its current conditions and the best path forward that respects the desires of the city and the impacted neighborhoods.

In that analysis City staff revealed seven studies and plans that recommend the corridor either be used for rail transit, or a combined multi-modal network that accommodates rail transit, bicycles and pedestrians. Some of the most notable of these include the 2002 MetroMoves regional transit plan, 2010 Bicycle Transportation Plan, 2012 comprehensive Plan Cincinnati, and the 2013 Railroad Safety Improvement Plan – all of which either specifically call for the corridor to be used for rail transit, or a multi-modal corridor.

The history is important as it influenced the study’s recommendation as to how to proceed with acquiring and preserving the corridor. As of now, the 5.7-mile Wasson Railroad Corridor is still owned by Norfolk Southern, but the City of Cincinnati has stated that they are in the process of acquiring the property from them.

“With this corridor being so crucial to the future development of multi-modal transportation in the City, the threat of potential development within the railroad right-of-way would significantly slow down, if not completely hinder, those possible public transportation opportunities from occurring,” city planners wrote in the 32-page land use study released earlier this month.

Of course, this fact has been known by policy makers at City Hall for years. As a result, City Council has, on several occasions, approved interim development controls to protect the corridor from being built upon. These controls, however, are just temporary and city officials must now decide how they would like to move forward.

In the study city planners examined the pros and cons of three potential options for accomplishing this.

The first option examined the idea of rezoning the property to a Parks and Recreation classification. This would offer the corridor significant protections, but it would also severely restrict the City from being able to implement rail transit in the future due to federal regulations that prohibit the use of public parks or wildlife refuges for transit corridors.

A second option studied looked at simply dedicating the land as City right-of-way. This too would offer significant protections, but is not possible until the City acquires the land from Norfolk Southern.

The third option, and the one recommended by city staff, is enacting a Transportation Overlay District over the corridor. While planners admit that crafting the language for such legislation may be complicated, they also stated that it would be most aligned with the preferences of neighborhood residents and publicly adopted planning documents.

In order to address the complexity of the legislation required for such an overlay district, city planners recommended looking at the Atlanta BeltLine Overlay District that was implemented to protect a 22-mile abandoned freight rail corridor. In Atlanta civic leaders are currently in the process of converting the corridor into a similarly envisioned multi-modal network with rail transit, bikeways, parks and pedestrian paths.

“While all options present advantages and disadvantages, the Transportation Overlay District is seen as the best solution for preservation of the Wasson Railroad Corridor,” city planners wrote. “This tool, while it may take a bit longer to craft the ordinance language, will provide more flexibility and also protect the contiguous nature of the corridor.”

City officials say that this solution will allow for the development of the Wasson Way Trail to move forward in the near term, while affirming the City’s intentions to develop the corridor as a multi-modal transportation facility that includes rail transit in the future.

The solution crafted by the Department of City Planning & Buildings appears to be a perfect compromise between the two constituencies looking to use the corridor. Bicycle advocacy groups can see the right-of-way acquired and preserved so that they can move forward with their plans for a bike and pedestrian trail, while transit advocates can rest assure that those immediate efforts are not being done in conflict with ongoing planning and design work for a future light rail line.

With the Wasson Railroad Corridor Land Use Study now complete, it will go before the city’s Planning Commission. Should it be approved by Planning Commission, it will then go back to city staffers so that draft overlay district language can be crafted and recommended to City Council. From there, it would go before City Council for approval.

It is a standard process and one that advocates hope can be completed in the coming months.

KZF Releases Preliminary Designs, Cost Estimates for Wasson Way

A newly released feasibility study, produced by KZF Design, finds that construction of the 6.5-mile Wasson Way Trail would cost anywhere from $7.5 million for just a trail to $36 million for both a light rail line and trail totally separated from one another.

The cost estimates vary so much due to the three potential design options studied. The lowest cost alternative looked at placing a 12-foot-wide trail along the entire existing rail alignment. This, however, would make the inclusion of a future light rail line extremely difficult.

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The most expensive alternative would construct an entire new trail alignment that does not interfere with any existing rail right-of-way. This would include the construction of several new bridges and completely preserve the ability to easily construct the long-planned light rail line adjacent to the new trail.

Alternative B, which was recommended by KZF and priced at $11.2 million, was a bit of a hybrid. It would include a 12-foot-wide trail offset from the existing rail alignment, but utilize existing rail right-of-way at pinch points along the corridor.

The 45-page study is the first detailed look at the corridor, which has been hotly debated and discussed over recent years. Much of the controversy has surrounded whether or not both light rail and a trail can be accommodated. KZF’s findings appear to show that much of the corridor could in fact accommodate both, but that some segments may prove to be difficult, albeit feasible.

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If project supporters are able to advance the trail plan, KZF estimates that it would connect eight city neighborhoods and approximately 100,000 residents with an overall network of more than 100 miles of trail facilities.

“It is hard to build in the urban core, and to find an intact corridor ripe for development is a unique thing,” explained Eric Oberg, Manager at the Midwest Rails to Trails Conservancy. “If this is done right, this can be the best urban trail in the state of Ohio. I have no doubt.”

Some of the most difficult segments of the corridor are the nine existing bridges where the right-of-way is extremely limited. If both light rail and trail facilities are to traverse this corridor together, additional spans will be needed in order to have safe co-operation.

In addition to introducing what may become the region’s best urban trail and light rail corridor, some proponents also see it as an opportunity to fix other problems along the route. Most notably that includes the congested and confusing intersection of Madison, Edwards and Wasson Roads near Rookwood Pavilion.

While the newly released feasibility study offers the most detailed analysis of this corridor to date, the City of Cincinnati has yet to close on its purchase of the former freight rail line from Norfolk Southern.

City officials are reportedly in negotiations with Norfolk Southern now, and have made an initial offer of $2 million. In April, Mayor Cranley’s Administration also allocated $200,000 to the project.