John Yung to Become Lead Project Executive at Urban Fast Forward

John Yung, UrbanCincy’s Associate Editor of Public Policy, will take on a new role with Urban Fast Forward as the firm’s Lead Project Executive.

John will maintain his position at UrbanCincy, where he has contributed for nearly five years. Over this time he also worked for the Bellevue, KY, and led the effort there to implement one of the region’s first form-based codes. He then obtained his American Institute of Certified Planners certification in 2014, and took on a leading planning role at the Village of Yellow Springs this past winter.

John says that he is excited to be back in Cincinnati full-time and is looking forward to the possibility of living car-free with his new office within walking distance of his Over-the-Rhine apartment. Kathleen Norris, Managing Principal at Urban Fast Forward, is also excited about the addition to her team.

“John is an urban rock star. His insight into the ebb and flow of cities and their neighborhoods is going to add real value for our clients,” Norris said.

In the new role, Norris says that John will be taking the place of Matt Shad, who is moving on to become Cincinnati’s Deputy Director of Zoning Administration. While at Urban Fast Forward, Shad assisted Norris with strategic planning consulting that complimented the firm’s retail leasing and development consultancy.

“The City of Cincinnati is lucky to be getting Matt,” said Norris. “He knows the intricacies of planning and zoning, in both theory and practical application, and I think he is going to make the whole development process lighter, quicker and faster.”

Since its founding in 2012, Urban Fast Forward has established itself as a firm that specializes in urban real estate and development, with a particular focus on retail district revitalization.

Urban Fast Forward has been particularly involved with the retail strategy in Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton and along Short Vine in Corryville. More recently the firm has been taking on bigger roles in Walnut Hills and Northside, and is also overseeing the strategic development of a Race Street retail corridor downtown.

Community Input Sessions Showcase Plans for $5M Ziegler Park Overhaul

The public will have another opportunity to weigh in on the proposed renovation of Ziegler Park on July 23. This will be the third in a series of meetings focusing on the renovation and potential expansion of the park, which is located at the northwest corner of Thirteenth and Sycamore streets.

The community input session will be held at the Woodward Theater, located at 1404 Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, at 5pm on Thursday.

The 1.4-acre park currently contains a pool, playground area, and shelter with picnic tables. To its east sits Cutter Playground and the former School for the Creative and Performing Arts building, which is being converted into a 142-apartment development called Alumni Lofts. Then, to the north, is a large parking lot, with a basketball court located just across Thirteenth Street to the south.

The latest proposal for the park was presented in late June at the launch of the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks levy campaign. The plan, said to cost $5 million, depicted the current Ziegler Park site renovated into a large, open lawn space, with the removal of the existing pool; and the parking lot to the north being removed and converted to an aquatics and play area.

A parking garage would be built under Cutter Playground, serving both the residents of Alumni Lofts and visitors to the park and surrounding area. Several enhancements along Sycamore Street would make it easier for pedestrians to cross between Ziegler Park and Cutter Playground.

According to the project team, which consists of the Cincinnati Park Board, Cincinnati Recreation Commission, City of Cincinnati, and 3CDC, the latest site plan will “maintain and expand park amenities while meeting the parking demands of the neighborhood.”

After gathering feedback, organizers say they will prepare a preliminary master plan that will be presented at a fourth community input session. From that, the final master plan will then be developed.

Proposed Tax Would Provide Dedicated Parks Funding Stream, $85M in Improvements

A campaign to improve Cincinnati’s parks by raising the City’s property tax by 1 mill will “change the city for the better,” according to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D).

Cranley made his remarks during the official launch of the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks levy campaign on Saturday morning at New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn.

The charter amendment would raise the City’s property tax rate to 13.1 mills and would bring in approximately $5.3 million a year. The move would require City Council to fund the Parks Department’s capital budget at its 2016 budget level, and approve bonds for capital improvements using levy revenue.

Proponents say that 75% of the levy revenue will be available for the City to borrow against in order to fund 13 designated capital projects selected by the mayor and city manager. The remaining 25% will go to system-wide maintenance and operating costs.

“We’re asking to voters to pass a very small property tax that we believe, for that small amount of money – $35 a year per $100,000 value – will increase property values and increase the quality of life for all Cincinnatians as we take the wonderful park system and we bring it to the neighborhoods,” Cranley said.

The group needs to collect approximately 6,000 signatures by August 15 to make it on to the November 3 ballot. Cincinnati Parks has not placed a levy on the ballot since 1927.

“We have decided that the only fair way to do this, if we’re going to be asking the taxpayers to pay more money, is to ask the citizens first to even let us put it on the ballot,” Cranley said. “At the end of the day, we’re putting this decision in the hands of the voters, and we believe the value proposition is there. We believe that this will build a better city.”

Vision needs funding
Board of Park Commissioners President Otto M. Budig, Jr. said that his organization has been charged with creating the best parks system in the country, but despite generous City funding and donor contributions, it continually finds itself short on money for major initiatives.

“We have had some difficulty in developing major projects that have long been needed,” he said. “I went to the mayor and I said, ‘We need these funds to bring about a new vision. You give us a vision, we’ll take care of the details.’ The mayor has given us the vision.”

While many of the projects are only in the conceptual stage at current time, the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks website says that they were chosen due to being the most shovel-ready, with the ability to be completed quickly.

Multipurpose recreational trails are a major component of the plan, including the Oasis River Trail ($8 million), Wasson Way ($12 million), Mill Creek Greenway Trail ($5 million), and the Ohio River West Trail ($6 million). The City also plans to work with the Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance to develop more than 20 miles of off-road trails in Mount Airy Forest ($11 million).

“The bike system that will be created as a result of this levy, off-road, which is a big thing for me – I think off-road is a much safer, dedicated path that doesn’t have as many accidents – the most extensive, bicycle urban path in America,” Cranley said.

The plan would also raise $10 million for a joint venture between the City, the University of Cincinnati, and Clifton Town Meeting to create a new master plan for Burnet Woods.

“As I often say, Burnet Woods – even more so that Washington Park – could be the Central Park of Cincinnati,” Cranley said. “If you think about Corryville, CUF, Clifton, Avondale…all surround this park. It’s the densest part of the city and it’s right across the street from 30,000 students. We can have the same impact with that park as we did with Washington Park.”

Other projects include:

  • Developing part of the 20-acre New Prospect Baptist Church grounds into a communal programming center, athletic fields, and an urban camp site that would cost $8 million;
  • A public-private partnership with Western & Southern Financial Group that would provide $5 million to renovate and reprogram Lytle Park;
  • $5 million for the redevelopment of a portion of the former Mercy Hospital complex in Westwood into athletic fields and green space for an expanded Oskamp Park;
  • A $5 million redesign of Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine/Pendleton, in conjunction with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC);
  • $4 million for streetscape and roadway improvements surrounding Christ Hospital and improvements to Inwood Park in Mount Auburn;
  • $2 million for the preservation of the historic King Studios site and development of a small café/museum in Evanston;
  • $2 million for upgrades around Westwood Town Hall and Epworth Avenue; and
  • $1.8 million for a new boat dock/marina at Smale Riverfront Park.

“Now we have this new vision,” said Parks Director Willie Carden, who already has overseen the amazing transformations at Smale Riverfront Park and Washington Park, among others. “The vision brings ‘parkonomics’, partnerships to the neighborhoods. We can do this. We can make this a safer, healthier community, but we need your help.”

Pendleton Offers Support For $24M Alumni Lofts, Pending Green Space Protection

On Monday evening, the Pendleton Neighborhood Council voted unanimously to support Core Redevelopment’s $24 million Alumni Lofts project, provided the green space north of the former Woodward School/School for Creative and Performing Arts building remain undeveloped and available for public use.

The council’s letter of support asks that any development agreement between the City and the Indianapolis-based developer, or any future owners or assigns, include provisions that the Cutter Playground property be donated to a nonprofit or governmental entity and that development restrictions, such as a conservation easement, be included in the contract.

The developer’s current plans call for a two-level parking structure on part of the nearly three-acre site, leaving between 80-85% of the original green space intact.

Developer Michael Cox with Core said that he’s unsure whether the green space will be managed by his company or donated, but said that his company is committed to the community’s goals.

“We don’t know which one yet, simply because we haven’t worked through all of the deal structure and the timing of all of that,” he said. “It’s a pretty complicated project that we’re doing, but we are committing to the City in our project agreement with the City that we will do one of those things with the green space and it will be a green space in perpetuity.”

Alumni Lofts will consist of 142 market-rate apartments, ranging from 480 to 2,000 square feet and leasing for between $699 and $1,400 a month.

Still undergoing demolition and prep work, construction on the new units has been bid and is ready for permitting pending Council approval. A leasing office is planned to open in January or February, and Core expects to welcome its first tenants by July 1, 2016, Cox said.

The development agreement will be presented to City Council’s Budget & Finance Committee on June 8.

Under terms of the agreement, the project would receive indirect City assistance through a 30-year tax increment financing (TIF) rebate program, which Senior Community Development Analyst Adam Sickmiller said is “completely unique” for the region.

“From the developer’s perspective, it’s effectively a net 67.5% tax rebate,” he said.  “So the developer will pay their taxes. Twenty-five percent will go to the schools, and 7.5% will go to the streetcar operating fund.”

The remainder would be returned to the developer, which will allow Core to receive a bigger bank loan to construct the parking structure, Sickmiller said.

“If the project performs better than expected, there will be a sharing of that revenue between the developer and the City,” he said. “Where specifically this money is going – and one of the reasons that we’re pretty excited about this – is that it’s going into an account that will specifically be used for public improvements, urban redevelopment, and public infrastructure, parks and the like.”

Opened in 1910 as the second Woodward High School, the 225,000-square-foot building has been vacant since 2010, when SCPA moved to its new $72 million building on Central Parkway.

Core bought the school for $1.3 million in late 2012 at an auction of vacant Cincinnati Public Schools properties.

PHOTOS: A Recent Sampling of Cincinnati’s Explosive Center City Growth

So much construction has been taking place in the center city that it has prompted city officials to launch a website specifically dedicated to tracking all of it for those living, working and visiting the area. As with any development there are growing pains, but City Hall is working to keep them at a minimum without squashing the growth.

While it would be impossible to capture all of the recently completed and ongoing projects in one posting, the following cross-section includes the $125 million dunnhumby Centre, the 115-room Holiday Inn in the Eighth Street Design District, the recently completed Seven at Broadway luxury apartment tower, the Pendleton Street Townhomes infill project, and a handful of other small infill and renovation projects throughout Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 15 photographs in this gallery were taken by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy in April 2015.