Cincinnati Lags Milwaukee In Establishing Itself As Hub For Water Technology

Water’s importance, not only as a natural resource but as a driver of innovation and new technology, has been much-touted recently. While Cincinnati has hosted meetings and been pin-pointed as a national focus area for water innovation, impressive progress in this sector can be seen further north in Milwaukee.

Sitting on Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is a natural candidate for water innovation technology. As far back as 2006, a group of local business leaders created The Water Council with the intended goal of developing cooperation between the more than 100 water-related businesses and universities, government agencies, and other means of support.

Initiatives like B.R.E.W. (Business. Research. Entrepreneurship. In Wisconsin.) are among the many activities The Water Council supports.

Because of Milwaukee’s important water industry, those groups involved with The Water Council are creating the Water Technology District – intended to be a cluster and hub of innovation in the water industry. The city, looking to help The Water Council incubate water-related businesses in Milwaukee, has committed to developing the Reed Street Yards.

Dissected by the Menomonee River, the Reed Street Yards is a former rail yard, truck depot, and brownfield site in close proximity to downtown and with large amounts of available space for development.

The result has been the Global Water Technology Park.

Infrastructure within the park reflects the intentions of the involved organizations. The new public access road Freshwater Way, for example, is paved with PaveDrain, which is a water-friendly permeable surface. This permeable material was developed by a local company that now rents space in the business park. A special pipe system also helps pump recycled water to buildings to be used in non-potable functions like landscaping.

The city’s gamble on helping create this district seems to be paying off already: they recently attracted the global headquarters of a manufacturer of plumbing products focused on sustainability.

The Water Council’s headquarters is also in the business park, which houses university departments, startups, and other organizations. The space is 100% occupied and there are already concrete plans to open a second office.

Furthermore, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee now has the first graduate program in the country solely for freshwater research in their School of Freshwater Sciences; and they have since established a campus in the business park as well.

Extending beyond only water innovation and technology, the development around this sector has revitalized the local Walker’s Point neighborhood. Formerly highlighted by abandoned warehouses, the neighborhood has seen an increase in businesses and apartments.

Cincinnati, long-defined by the Ohio River, is an obvious candidate for similar development.

In March 2014, Cincinnati hosted the EPA’s Water Technology Innovation Cluster Meeting, the first gathering of its kind for national water-related groups and companies. Confluence, a local water-focused group representing Cincinnati, Dayton, Northern Kentucky, and Southeast Indiana, was present at the meeting.

And on November 12, the Woman’s City Club of Greater Cincinnati hosted an event to discuss how the region’s water technology resources can be better leveraged for innovation throughout the region. The meeting, called Liquid Gold: the Cincinnati ‘Water’ Technology Story, aimed to bring together the several clusters already focusing on this local asset; and featured local nonprofits, businesses, and other groups.

While these conferences show an interest in the topic, the region has thus far lacked a concerted effort on the part of local government, academia, and the private sector in advancing water innovation. Milwaukee has proven that this level of cooperation is needed to jump-start an industry that will continue to grow in importance (and employment) in the coming decades.

Will Expanded Clout For Port Authority Strengthen Its Economic Development Capabilities?

Early this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designated the entire 226-mile stretch of the Ohio River between Huntington, WV and Louisville, KY as the “Ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky,” greatly expanding it from its previous 26 miles. This expansion mirrors other large-scale capacity and access expansions across America’s inland ports.

In Duluth, MN work began in May on a project to enhance rail connections and the intermodal abilities of the port. The Duluth Seaway Authority, the western edge of the St. Lawrence Seaway, states that it is the largest project they have undertaken since their creation in the 1950s.

Further south, America’s Central Port, the port authority for the St. Louis region, began a new $50 million project to provide rail access to six Class I carriers and increase intermodal capabilities. And ports along the Great Lakes are seeing increased shipments of steel, grain, and salt, and are also upgrading rail infrastructure to keep up with demand.

The growth of these ports coincides with several different events. As the nation continues to recover economically from the Great Recession, traffic is increasing along most of America’s transportation corridors; and rail-river/lake intermodal traffic is becoming increasingly popular.

This trend is evidenced in the US Department of Transportation’s recent designation of the Mississippi River as a “container-on-vessel route,” which will provide a vast corridor for container shipping by barge along the entire Mississippi River system. Founded in 1999 to stimulate economic development in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, the Mid-America Port Commission plans to create even more port authorities in the near future along the Mississippi River.

The congestion in Chicago’s rail yards and limited real estate along Lake Michigan is also contributing to growth in other Midwestern ports. Also looming in the background of these expansion decisions is the soon-to-be-opened Panama Canal expansion, which is expected to increase traffic within all of America’s ports and transportation corridors.

This recent expansion of Cincinnati’s port authority makes it the second largest inland port in the United States, and is expected to enable the region to take better advantage of these trends and help serve as a catalyst for economic development.

The problem for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, however, is a continued lack of dedicated funding stream. This limits the organization’s ability to pursue economic development projects that have come to define its core mission.

REDI CEO Johnna Reeder spoke to this at an August meeting for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, for which she serves as a board member. At that time Reeder said that the region must do a better job at attracting manufacturing jobs and wants the Port Authority to play a larger role in doing just that.

A proposal to lease the bulk of Cincinnati’s parking assets was approved in June 2013 and would have provided such a revenue stream for the Port Authority. This deal, however, was later cancelled upon the arrival of newly elected Mayor John Cranley (D) and affirmed by a majority of City Council in December 2013.

Relax at Smale Riverfront Park Between Beers at Oktoberfest This Weekend

Construction activities at Smale Riverfront Park will remain at a minimum for the foreseeable future as additional funding is lined up for the remaining phases of the 45-acre park along the central riverfront.

The $120 million project has, along with private real estate development at The Banks, completely transformed the look and feel of the northern banks of the Ohio River. Of course, this has come at a time when the city overall has undergone a dramatic transformation many would not have considered possible a decade ago.

For the hundreds of thousands of people expected to visit the center city this weekend for Oktoberfest and the home opener for the Bengals, now would be a good time to check out Smale Riverfront Park and its surroundings. In fact, the Überdrome at Moerlein Lager House is actually situated within the park and gives you a great overview of the rest of its features.

The following video offers a good overview of what all is there and what you should see and do while at the park. Prost!

Project Officials To Move Forward With Phase III of The Banks Ahead of Schedule

Business leaders and public officials from the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will gather tomorrow morning to celebrate the groundbreaking of the next phase of work at The Banks.

As has been done in the past at the massive central riverfront development, the first work to be done will be the construction of a public parking garage that will lift the project out of the Ohio River’s flood plain. From there, the existing public streets surrounding the project site will be extended to frame the block.

While the event is being touted as a groundbreaking ceremony, workers from Prus Construction and Beaty Construction began mobilizing on the site to perform preparation work. The news is a bit of a departure from previous announcements that said construction work would hold off until the close of the Bengals season in order to preserve parking for tailgaters at Paul Brown Stadium.

In this particular phase of work, project officials say that 690 parking spaces will be built on two levels that will be connected with the rest of the underground parking deck at The Banks, which has been casually described as one of the largest underground parking structures in North America.

This $29.3 million effort is being jointly funded by the City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, and the State of Ohio’s Jobs Ohio program. Representatives from the various public agencies funding the project say that it will create an estimated 200 jobs, with at least 30% of the contract totals spent with Small Business Enterprises.

Such a claim for small business inclusion is on-target for what the project has been delivering thus far. As of June 2015, the latest reporting date, The Banks has had an average of 36% small business participation and approximately 17.5% minority and female workforce participation.

Nearby work continues on the private sector vertical construction of Radius, a 291-unit apartment midrise with 19,000 square feet of street-level retail, and the 340,000-square-foot General Electric Global Operations Center.

Once these two phases of work are complete, it will allow for the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park to move forward, and will set the stage for private real estate development south of Freedom Way and in between Race and Vine Streets.

So far, Carter USA and the Dawson Company have yet to reveal what will ultimately be built on top of this latest garage extension, but most suspect it will be some combination of apartments and condominiums.

While The Banks has received much positive praise as of late, it has not come without its struggles. The retail in the first phase of the project continues to find its footing, and the area continues to struggle with a brand identity and architectural designs that people feel are worthy for the prominent piece real estate that this development occupies.

PHOTOS: The Impressive Impact of Smale Riverfront Park

There are dozens of development projects underway at any given time, but few have the opportunity to make a truly transformative impact. Smale Riverfront Park is one of those rare exceptions.

As UrbanCincy has chronicled in the past, the changes that have taken place along Cincinnati’s central riverfront over the past two decades have been truly remarkable. The consolidation and burial of Fort Washington Way. The construction of two behemoth stadiums, a world class museum and an entire new neighborhood. And now the opening up of the Ohio River through the redesigned riverbank and park.

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What was once an asphalt riverfront separated from the rest of the city by an inhospitable highway now the region’s central gathering place for tourists and a destination for everyone in the region looking to the river that gave the city its birth. The changes are breathtakingly wonderful.

Of course, there is nothing better than images to help visual such changes. Instead of posting photos of what the area was once like, as we have in the past, this collection of photos are from that past few weeks at Smale Riverfront Park’s latest addition, and its immediate surroundings.

Projects like this and Washington Park, which is currently hosting thousands of thrilled Cincinnatians as part of this year’s Lumenocity event, are the types of investments and projects that change a city. What’s even better is that they’re accessible to everyone.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 20 photographs were taken by Eric Anspach in July 2015.