Christmas Came Early for Southwest Ohio Developers, Historic Preservationists

The Ohio Development Services Agency provided developers and historic preservationists around the state with an early Christmas present when they announced 18 projects that would receive Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits.

In total, the tax credits are worth $22.8 million and are expected to spur $225.6 million in private investment.

“A community’s historic buildings make it unique,” said David Goodman, director of the ODSA. “Giving a building new life honors the history of the building, while creating construction jobs in the short-term and opportunity for economic activity in the future.”

In recent years southwest Ohio had fared extremely well in the competitive bid process for the funds, and this round proved to be much of the same. This group of winning applicants includes five from Cincinnati, one from Hamilton, and two from the Dayton area.

One of the Dayton projects was the winner of one of the state’s two prestigious $5 million awards. That money will go toward the $46 million United Brethren Building project in downtown Dayton, which will transform the long-vacant, 112-year-old building into 164 apartments.

While the Cincinnati-region had the most number of awarded projects, most of the tax credits were small in size. Four projects, three located in Over-the-Rhine and one in Hamilton, received amounts ranging from $150,000 to $250,000. While small in scope, the projects will save numerous historic structures from demolition, while also creating dozens of residential units and commercial space.

The long-debated Freeport Row project, located at Liberty and Elm Streets, received a sizable $1,358,772 tax credit to help restore five historic structures as part of the overall $25 million development. Once complete, the project is expected to yield 110 apartments, 17,000 square feet of retail, and a total of 100,000 square feet of new construction on the vacant lots surrounding the historic structures.

Just blocks north of Freeport Row, along the Cincinnati Bell Connector, is another project that took home the largest tax credit in Cincinnati. Market Square III was awarded with $1,690,000 in tax credits and push forward the latest phase of Model Group’s massive redevelopment efforts surrounding Findlay Market.

Market Square III will renovate eight historic structures, most of which are currently vacant, to include street-level commercial space with 38 apartments in the upper floors.

Region’s Demographics More Closely Resemble 1950s America Than Today’s

You often hear American politicians speak about “Normal America” in a reference to the country’s historical small town narrative – one that is also defined by a largely white, European-derived population. FiveThirtyEight actually dug into the data and found that Normal America is most often found in racially diverse metropolitan regions between 1-2 million people in size.

One of the outliers in their assessment, however, was Cincinnati, which ranked as one of the top ten places in America that are most similar with 1950s America. Indianapolis joined Cincinnati as one of two large regions in this status. What’s more is that Kentucky (#1), Indiana (#3) and Ohio (#7) all ranked within the top ten states that most resemble 1950s America, not the one of today. More from FiveThirtyEight:

We all, of course, have our own notions of what real America looks like. Those notions might be based on our own nostalgia or our hopes for the future. If your image of the real America is a small town, you might be thinking of an America that no longer exists. I used the same method to measure which places in America today are most similar demographically to America in 1950, when the country was much whiter, younger and less-educated than today.

OKI Survey Results Show Cincinnati Region Wants More Transportation Choices

The OKI Regional Council of Governments recently released survey results affirming the region’s desire for more public transportation and other carless commuting alternatives.

The survey was part of the organization’s public involvement in their 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, which will ultimately set the priorities for the metropolitan planning organization as it looks to distribute federal funding for transportation.

OKI has conducted several surveys to gather feedback on the plan, each one confirming similar desires for more non-automobile transportation options.

The vast majority of the respondents stated that their most frequent mode of transportation is driving their vehicle alone, with only 2% taking the bus and the same amount walking.

In the only open-ended question of the survey, OKI asked what part of their commute to work or school or some other frequent route could be improved. While a common theme was complaints on the massive reconstruction of the Mill Creek Expressway on I-75, respondents also called for a light rail system connecting the region’s suburbs and airport.

Those surveyed complained about a lack of coverage and frequency of Metro bus routes. A universal fare card for TANK and Metro, which is something area transit leaders have been developing. Altogether, 15% of respondents wanted more public transportation options and 11% wanted to improve the transit options that already exists.

While the survey results reinforce the notion that the car reigns supreme in Cincinnati, it also shows that area residents have few, if any, alternatives. As such, more than 56% of respondents said that they would keep their car, but drive much less if non-vehicle modes of transportation were available.

Officials at OKI have recently taken criticism for the planning assumptions they have been using to develop their regional plans, which often include VMT increases that have not been realized in many years.

Survey respondents said they were most concerned about traffic congestion and the lack of public transportation over the next 25 years. Should regional leaders decide to focus transportation investments on building transit, they could seemingly address both concerns at the same time.

Another them that came out of the survey results was that public officials should focus spending resources on maintaining and fixing outdated infrastructure, rather than building new capacity. The idea of institutionalizing “fix-it-first” policies is one that has garnered bi-partisan support across the country, including Ohio.

OKI has conducted several surveys of similar nature over recent years as the work to update and develop their regional plans. Despite the frequency of such surveys, the results have been consistent along the way, with many people asking for more transportation choices and better maintained infrastructure.

“This feedback is providing valuable insight into the transportation needs and issues most important to the public,” officials explained. “It is helping us identify projects that should be recommended for inclusion in the plan.”

The 2016 update to the OKI 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, which includes a recommended project list, is scheduled to be reviewed by OKI’s Board of Directors in June.

Metro, Uber Ink Deal Aimed at Addressing First and Last Mile Connections for Transit Riders

Business leaders from Uber and transit officials with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority gathered yesterday to announce a new partnership between the region’s largest transit provider and the increasingly omnipresent ridesharing service.

As part of the partnership, Metro will place interior transit cards on buses advertising a unique code that will offer a free ride to first-time Uber users. While the deal is similar to Uber’s many other marketing relationships, it may be the first step toward greater collaboration between the two organizations.

“Many of our customers have expressed their interest in using rideshare services like Uber in conjunction with their Metro trip to bridge the gap between service hours and locations,” Metro CEO & General Manager Dwight A. Ferrell said in a prepared release.

In other cities, like Dallas and Atlanta, Uber has partnered with regional transit agencies to integrate their mobile app with the route planning offered within the transit agency’s app. However, these relationships have been critiqued for what being a lopsided arrangement favoring the fast-growing tech company.

Other partnerships looking to address the first mile, last mile challenge have so far struggled to amount to much, but this has not stopped transit officials in Minneapolis and Los Angeles from inking deals to cover trip costs on Uber as part of their respective guaranteed ride home programs.

Such issues, however, are not deterring Metro officials from looking at the potential upsides that might come out of the partnership.

“We’ve seen the significant success Uber has had with other major public transit providers,” Ferrell stated. “We believe Uber is an ideal partner to help us meet the needs of our customers, ultimately making their experience as convenient and enjoyable as possible.”

If the partnership is successful, it could create significant value for Metro riders and help tackle one of the most difficult challenges facing transit agencies throughout North America – how to get riders to and from transit stations without the use of a personal automobile. Eliminating such a problem would allow many people to significantly reduce their reliance on a personal automobile, or eliminate it altogether.

Uber and Public Transit Pairing [FiveThirtyEight]

“Cincinnatians are already combining Uber and Metro to reach their destinations and we are excited to partner to spread the word further that Uber is an option to take Metro riders that ‘Last Mile,’” said Casey Verkamp, general manager of Uber Cincinnati.

Verkamp and Ferrell are right in being optimistic about the potential. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight found that people the combined cost of public transit and Uber becomes more cost effective than owning a personal automobile when the person uses public transit for approximately 85% of their trips and Uber for the rest.

With the average household making 2,000 trips annually, that equates to roughly 300 Uber trips per year. Of course, the average Cincinnatian takes far fewer than 1,700 trips per year on public transit, so a fully functioning arrangement of this kind would be hugely beneficial for both Uber and Metro. The main problem in Cincinnati is that the vast majority of people living in the region are not well-served by transit, and are essentially unable to take 85% of their annual trips by public transit.

Nevertheless, this is the first partnership of its kind in Ohio. While its limited scope leaves much unanswered about how it will benefit area transit riders over the long-term, it does illustrate that Metro officials are thinking about the future of how to move people effectively and efficiently throughout the region.

“This partnership exemplifies how cities like Cincinnati are embracing innovation and creative solutions to meet the needs of their residents,” Verkamp concluded.

Despite Progress, Cincinnati Not Viewed for Policy Leadership Across America

After surveying 89 mayors from around the United States, Boston University’s Initiative on Cities found that the chief concern amongst those surveyed was an increasing worry about maintaining and funding new infrastructure.

The analysis surveyed mayors from cities of varying sizes, including Cincinnati, and attempted to find the most pressing issues facing American cities.

With roads, mass transportation, and stormwater and wastewater management were the biggest concerns, the mayors specifically alluded to their historic reliance on the federal government as a partner in tackling these big-ticket issues. But more and more mayors around America have lost faith in both federal and state leaders in being reliable partners on large infrastructure projects.

In fact, a recent report authored by Aaron Renn at the Manhattan Institute looks at the issue many cities are facing when it comes to fixing combined sewer overflow problems. In the past, these infrastructure fixes were largely funded by the federal government, but have since become unfunded federal mandates that have led to enormous rate increases across the country, particularly in older cities.

Not all of the infrastructure issues were big ticket items. One such example was the support for bicycle infrastructure. Increasingly popular among America’s mayors, some 70% of those surveyed expressed their support for bike-friendly initiatives.

“Everyone understands that if you want to attract Millennials, you have to have biking infrastructure,” noted one of the surveyed mayors, who are allowed to remain anonymous, in the report. “And if you have bike infrastructure, you are going to upset people.”

Aside from infrastructure, major national news stories from 2015 seemed to factor into other concerns expressed throughout the country.

Those surveyed shared overwhelming support for reforms in policing, regardless of political party. Workforce development programs, initiatives to control rising housing costs, and policies focused on addressing poverty and inequality were all major issues of concern.

While housing prices were an area of major concern for those surveyed, there are large differences in opinion on how to tackle the issue. Some mayors expressed a willingness to emphasize affordable housing mandates even if it stymies development, while mayors of less prosperous cities were less likely to focus on affordable housing.

An area of potential concern for Cincinnati is that while it has gained national attention in recent years for its positive gains, many other mayors from around the country are not looking to the Queen City for policy guidance. Of those surveyed, Cincinnati was mentioned by less than 5% of them as a place they have looked at for inspiration.