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.

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.

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.

BuyCincy Holiday Event Aims to Give Local Shops $500,000 Bump

The final two months of the year are often the make-or-break month for retailers. In some cases this relatively short time period can account for more than a third of a retailer’s annual revenues.

There is always much hype surrounding what specials the big retailers are offering on Black Friday, but there are also opportunities to support small, locally owned businesses this holiday shopping season.

What was previously known as Cincinnati Unchained will return this year as an expanded four-day event meant to encourage area shoppers to support locally owned shops, restaurants and bars. The BuyCincy Holiday Event will take place the week before Black Friday from Thursday, November 21 to Sunday, November 24.

East Walnut Hills Retail
Woodburn Avenue in East Walnut Hills. Photograph provided by 5chw4r7z.

According to Kurt Myers, co-founder and business director of BuyCincy, this will mark the seventh season for the event and that in previous years some merchants have reported that it ends up being their busiest day of the year.

There are more than 300 businesses participating in this year’s event, and that those shops are located in over 25 neighborhoods throughout the region. Organizers say that their goal is to generate new spending from over 35,000 customers, which would create an estimated economic impact of more than $500,000 with each shopper spending approximately $15.

“Supporting locally owned businesses has a three-and-a-half-times greater impact on the economy than shopping at a store that is not owned locally,” Myers explained. “Plus you get to support your friends and neighbors businesses and keep Cincinnati unique.”

In order to help encourage local shoppers to participate in the event, the Greater Cincinnati Independent Business Alliance (CiNBA) is working with retailers to offer raffle prizes. When customers visit a participating business they will receive a ticket to use in the raffle of thousands of dollars of prizes. To help further promote the effort, organizers are also encouraging people to use the #BuyCincy tag on social media.

A full list of the participating businesses and neighborhood business districts can be found at BuyCincy.com. Those businesses that are still interested in participating can do so by registering online and submitting a $25 minimum raffle donation.

If you want to support local businesses but are not quite sure about what to buy for that special someone, then you can also purchase them a Downtown Gift Card, which is redeemable at 180 stores and restaurants in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, including all Findlay Market merchants. Those gift cards can be purchased online, at the offices for Downtown Cincinnati Inc., or at Findlay Market.

MetroMoves: A Decade Later

The election held earlier this month marked the 10-year anniversary of MetroMoves, the Hamilton County ballot issue that would have more than doubled public support for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA). Specifically, a half-cent sales tax would have raised approximately $60 million annually, permitting a dramatic expansion of Metro’s bus service throughout Hamilton County and construction and operation of a 60-mile, $2.7 billion streetcar and light rail network.

MetroMoves was SORTA’s third attempt to fund countywide transit service – sales tax ballot issues also failed in 1979 and 1980.


The 2002 MetroMoves plan called for five light rail lines, modern streetcars, and an overhauled regional bus system. Image provided.

Bus System Expansion
According to John Schneider, who chaired the MetroMoves campaign, SORTA planned to expand bus service immediately after collection of the tax began. In 2003 Metro’s schedule would have been reworked with more frequent service on every existing bus line, including more late night and weekend service. By 2004, with the arrival of newly purchased buses, Metro planned to link a dozen new suburban transit hubs with new cross-town bus routes.

The Glenway Crossing Transit Center, which opened in early 2012, is an example of the sort of suburban bus hubs planned as part of MetroMoves. The 38X bus, which began service when the transit center opened, is an example of the sort of new routes that MetroMoves would have funded.

Modern Streetcars & Light Rail Lines
In 2003 design work would have begun on a modern streetcar line and the first of five light rail lines. The streetcar line was planned to follow a route nearly identical to the line currently under construction in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine. The modern streetcar line was planned to have traveled up the Vine Street hill to the University of Cincinnati, then turn east on Martin Luther King Drive, cross I-71, and meet a light rail line on Gilbert Avenue.

Construction would have begun in 2004 and operation would have begun by 2006 or 2007.

The start date for light rail construction was less certain because the MetroMoves tax revenue was to be used as the local contribution for a large Federal Transit Administration (FTA) match. This process became standard practice in cities throughout the country since federal matching began in the early 1970s.


Modern streetcars, similar to those used in Portland, OR, could have been in service as early as 2005 had Hamilton County voters approved MetroMoves in 2002. Photograph provided by John Scheinder.

The first light rail line to be built was the system’s “trunk”, a line connecting Downtown and Xavier University on Gilbert Avenue and Montgomery Road. At Xavier, three suburban light rail lines were planned to converge on a trio of abandoned or lightly used freight railroad right-of-ways.

The first to be built would have been the northeast line through Norwood to Pleasant Ridge and Blue Ash. It was expected that the second line would be one incorporated into a rebuilt I-75; however that highway project has now been pushed back past 2020, meaning the Wasson Road line to Hyde Park likely would have been built soon after the line’s abandonment in 2009.

Renovating the Central Parkway Subway
Lost in the rhetoric employed to defeat MetroMoves was perhaps its most intriguing feature: a plan to renovate and at last put into use the two-mile subway beneath Central Parkway. This tunnel was built between 1920 and 1922 as part of the Rapid Transit Loop, a 16-mile transit line that would have connected Downtown with Brighton, Northside, St. Bernard, Norwood, Oakley, and O’Bryonville. Construction of the Rapid Transit Loop ceased soon after the Charterite ouster of the Boss Cox Machine and never resumed.

Three subway stations at Race Street, Liberty Street, and Brighton were to have been renovated and put into use as part of the 2002 MetroMoves plan. North of the subway’s portals, the line would have traveled on the surface to Northside, then entered I-74’s median near Mt. Airy Forest. Park & Ride stations were planned in the I-74 median at North Bend Road and Harrison Avenue/Rybolt Road in Green Township.

A fifth light rail line, requiring construction of four miles of new track, was planned to connect Northside and the Xavier University junction. Trains on this fifth line would travel from the far West Side to Hyde Park on the I-74 and Wasson Road corridors.

MetroMoves failure at the polls
MetroMoves was placed on the November 2002 ballot by SORTA in anticipation of a new federal transportation bill in 2003. What became known as SAFETEA-LU, a $286.4 billion measure, was not passed until 2005. Although SORTA’s board had the authority to place a transit tax on Hamilton County’s ballot in the years before the federal transportation bill was passed, MetroMove’s 2002 defeat was so lopsided (161,000 to 96,000 votes) that the regional transit authority choose not do so.

When speaking with those affiliated with the 2002 MetroMoves campaign, the failure of the ballot issue is usually attributed to four key factors:

  1. Anti-tax mood caused by the 1996 stadium sales tax and ensuing cost overruns
  2. 2001 Race Riot
  3. The MetroMoves campaign was thrown together quickly during summer 2002. SORTA’s board did not vote to place the issue on the ballot until August 20.
  4. A dirty opposition campaign comprised of Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes (D), Commissioner John Dowlin (R), Commissioner Phil Heimlich (R), and Congressman Steve Chabot (R).

The opposition campaign was led by Stephan Louis, who in late 2002 was reprimanded for false statements made during the campaign by the Ohio Elections Commission. Nevertheless, as a reward for his work in opposing MetroMoves, he was soon after appointed to SORTA’s board along with fellow public transit opponent Tom Luken in 2003.


Opponents to the 2002 MetroMoves campaign were accused and found guilty of using unethical campaign tactics. Newspaper image taken from a 2002 issue of CityBeat.

In 2006, Louis came under fire for having written racist and anti-public transportation emails and was forced off the board soon after. He reappeared to campaign in support of COAST’s anti-streetcar Issue 9 in 2009 and Issue 48 in 2011.

Another MetroMoves?
In 1972 when Cincinnati voters approved the .3% earnings tax that enabled creation of a public bus company, it was expected that city funding would be temporary and Hamilton County would eventually fund the region’s public transportation. Instead, nearly 40 years later, Cincinnati’s bus company is still funded only by the city and therefore provides only limited service outside city limits.

Ten years after the defeat of MetroMoves, despite a tripling of gasoline prices and the viability of transit systems proven by an increasing number of mid-sized American cities, it seems unlikely that a similar effort stands a chance of passage in Hamilton County in the immediate future. Many of the same public figures who opposed MetroMoves ten years ago have acted repeatedly in the past five to obstruct Cincinnati’s current streetcar project.

Furthermore, since the election of President Barack Obama (D) in 2008, the Tea Party has fomented an irrational suspicion of local government, and local anti-tax groups have authored intentionally misleading ballot issues. Meanwhile our local media, especially talk radio, continues to harass public transportation at every opportunity.

The way forward for the Cincinnati area has, since 2007, been the City of Cincinnati by itself. Despite the efforts of politicians, anti-tax groups, and utility companies to stop Cincinnati’s streetcar project, it broke ground in early 2012 and track installation will begin next year. Along with ongoing demographic shifts within Hamilton County, the success of Cincinnati’s initial streetcar might persuade the county’s electorate to approve county funding of public transportation for the first time.