Final Designs Coming Into Clarity for $23M SCPA Redevelopment

Core Redevelopment purchased the former School for Creative & Performing Arts (SCPA) in December 2012 for $1.3 million. The 107-year-old building was originally built as Woodward High School, and Core has been planning redevelop the property since their purchase.

Plans for the $23 million redevelopment have fluctuated since Core became involved. At first the concept was to develop apartments, but then the Indianapolis-based developer looked at transforming the building into a boutique hotel. The hotel concept moved so far along that Core was in final negotiations with AC Hotels in June 2013. At the time, it would have been one of the first in North America, but the deal later fell through and AC Hotels announced that they would enter the Cincinnati market at a lifestyle center in Liberty Township.

Located in Pendleton, SCPA has a rich history that dates back to the early 19th century when the original two-story Woodward High School was established there. At the time, it was heralded as the first public school west of the Alleghenies. SCPA started to take control of parts of the building in 1976, and eventually expanded into the entire structure in 1977.

“We will continue to honor William Woodward and Abigail Cutter by working with the William Woodward Museum to enhance the memorial located on the east side of the site,” stated Core.

The 4.6-acre site is bordered by Thirteenth Street to the south, Sycamore Street to the west, Fourteenth Street to the north and Broadway Street to the east. The historic school is situated on the south edge of the parcel and is currently surrounded by parking on three sides. The northern side of the block contains Cutter Playground, which in recent years has fallen into disuse and is viewed by many neighbors as an under-performing asset.

The park has served as the focal point of discussions regarding the redevelopment of the property. The developers have proposed a variety of concepts that would build varying amounts of parking on parts of the park. The most recent proposal, which is supported by many community members, includes a condensed parking footprint and a partially submerged two-level parking deck.

In addition to developing 148 new apartments and 196 parking spaces, Core plans to remove most all of the existing pavement currently in front of the building’s main entrance along Thirteenth Street. Small access lots would remain on the building’s east and west sides, and the two-level parking deck would be constructed on the rear of the existing five-story structure.

Rents for the apartments, which will run from 500 to 2,000 square feet, are expected to range from $700 to $1,500 per month.

“Maintaining as much of the open space as possible to the north of the building while enhancing the remaining open space through the use of landscaping is also one of our goals.”

The most recent revisions are currently making their way through the approval process at City Hall, but this rendition appears to have the best shot at getting approved. If all goes according to plan, Core intends to begin construction within the next two months and welcome the first residents in Spring 2016.

Megabus, Greyhound Open to Idea of Relocating Into Riverfront Transit Center

Following UrbanCincy’s story on the ongoing struggles between the City of Cincinnati and Megabus, the two largest intercity bus operators have come forward and expressed a willingness to discuss relocating to the Riverfront Transit Center.

The conversations started after Megabus was forced to move its downtown Cincinnati stop this past autumn – marking latest in a series of moves forced by City officials following complaints from surrounding property and business owners.

“Local businesses, through City Hall, requested megabus.com move from 1213 W. Central Parkway to our new present location at 691 Gest Street,” Sean Hughes, Associate Director of Corporate Affairs at Coach USA North America, explained to UrbanCincy. “Megabus.com would love to be in the Riverfront Transit Center, but that was not a viable option because of Riverfront Transit Center operational concerns.”

The issue extends beyond the various intercity bus operators and City Hall. Since the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) operates the facility for the City, and collects annual revenues from it. In October, SORTA officials told UrbanCincy that expanding operations within the Riverfront Transit Center is possible, due to its large excess capacity, but would bring additional costs.

“It’s our understanding that Megabus pays a fee to share transit facilities in other cities,” Sallie Hilvers, Metro’s Executive Director of Communications, said at the time. “As a tax-supported public service, Metro would need to recover the increased costs related to maintenance, utilities, security, etc. from Megabus, which is a for-profit company.”

At the same time, there appears to be growing pressures for Greyhound, which has been operating in Cincinnati since 1976, to potentially find a new location as it is crowded out by new development surrounding the Horseshoe Casino.

While Greyhound and SORTA have engaged in conversations in the past about relocating Greyhound’s operations to the Riverfront Transit Center, little progress has been made; and the two sides still appear to be at a standstill, albeit a softening one.

“No decisions on that front have been made that this time,” Lanesha Gipson, Senior Communications Specialist with Greyhound, commented with regard to relocating to the Riverfront Transit Center. “All potential relocations have to be analyzed and be in the best interest of everyone – the customers, the company and the community – before a decision is made as to whether or not we should relocate our operations.”

With both Greyhound and Megabus thriving as an increasing number of people ditch their cars and plane travel for short trips – less than 500 miles – these conversations appear to only be in the early stages.

While all parties agree that some legal, regulatory and logistical issues would need to be resolved prior to establishing the Riverfront Transit Center as Cincinnati’s intercity bus terminal, it sounds like the primary issue is the financial arrangement. Until then, intercity bus passengers will continue to be plagued by continuously moving and inconvenient stations for the region’s two largest operators; and an underutilized transit facility sitting beneath Second Street.

“Megabus.com continues to work with SORTA to find a permanent location for our stop in Cincinnati,” Hughes noted. “Megabus.com has an annual passenger spend of $8.2 million in Cincinnati and we look forward to serving the city by giving passengers a safe, environmentally friendly way to travel.”

Can Metro, Megabus Come to Terms on Moving the Intercity Bus Operator Into the Riverfront Transit Center?

Following the announcement last week that Megabus would relocate its downtown Cincinnati stop to a parking lot at 691 Gest Street in Queensgate, there has been a new round of public calls for the intercity bus operator to move its stop into the underutilized Riverfront Transit Center.

The move is just the latest in a series of moves after Megabus was forced out of its original stop at Fourth and Race due to construction taking place at Mabley Place, and complaints from neighbors about noise and loitering. Those complaints have since plagued Megabus as it has tried to find a new stop somewhere in the center city.

Perhaps the most troublesome complaint has been allegations of public urination at Megabus stops by their riders. As a result, city leaders have been looking for a more permanent stop location that includes public restrooms. This has led to a number of people to suggest Findlay Market and the Horseshoe Casino, near the existing Greyhound station, as possible locations.

But through all of this there appears to be a growing sentiment that the Riverfront Transit Center be used not only to accommodate Megabus, but all intercity bus operators serving Cincinnati.

“There is, of course, plenty of parking available, and riders can wait in a safe and secure enclosed area, out of the elements and with restrooms available,” stated Derek Bauman, urban development consultant and chairman of Cincinnatians for Progress. “Megabus will benefit by finally having a permanent home that was built for just this purpose.”

In addition to there being plenty of parking nearby, the Riverfront Transit Center, designed to accommodate up to 500 buses and 20,000 passengers per hour, also has plenty of capacity.

Beyond Megabus, there may be an even greater upside for other operators, like Greyhound and Barons Bus, to relocate into the Riverfront Transit Center.

“Greyhound could benefit by moving from and selling its current location near the casino, which would then be ripe for development as a hotel or other higher use. This would also save the company millions in capital dollars to fund needed upgrades and rehab of the current facility.”

As has been noted by Vice Mayor David Mann (D), someone who has served as a leader on trying to find a solution to this problem, there are difficulties with getting Megabus and others into the transit center neatly tucked beneath Second Street.

The Riverfront Transit Center is technically owned by the City of Cincinnati and operated by Metro, which uses the facility Metro*Plus layover, special events and leases some of its east and west aprons for parking. According to transit agency officials, these operations generate approximately $480,000 in annual revenue and net roughly $170,000 in annual profit for Metro.

Therefore, any new operators or changes to this structure would not only present logistical issues, but also potentially negatively affect Metro’s finances unless new revenues are collected – something Megabus has not been particularly keen of thus far.

“It’s our understanding that Megabus pays a fee to share transit facilities in other cities,” Sallie Hilvers, Metro’s Executive Director of Communications, told UrbanCincy. “As a tax-supported public service, Metro would need to recover the increased costs related to maintenance, utilities, security, etc. from Megabus, which is a for-profit company.”

Hilvers also stated that while Metro is open to the idea, that there would also be some legal and regulatory issues that would also need to be addressed.

Nevertheless, the Riverfront Transit Center seems to be the logical place to consolidate intercity bus operators. The facility is enclosed, includes bathrooms, waiting areas, is centrally located and within close proximity to other transportation services such as Government Square, Cincinnati Streetcar and Cincy Red Bike.

“Welcoming visitors to Cincinnati at the RTC at The Banks showcases our city and is much more welcoming than a random street corner in Queensgate outside of downtown,” Bauman emphasized. “This just makes sense, it’s as simple as that. Everyone involved should continue do whatever is necessary to come to an agreement and make it happen.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann (D) did not respond to UrbanCincy‘s request for comment on this story.

New High-End Townhomes Add to Pendleton’s Ongoing Revitalization

A relatively small development called Pendleton Street Townhomes will bring 10 new single-family residences to the center city in two phases over the next two years.

One of the interesting components about the project is that it is blending in mostly new infill on vacant lots with a renovation of an existing historic structure that dates back to the 1870s. The work also comes at the same time as a flurry of other investments nearby that are poised to transform the historic neighborhood.

Often considered a sub-neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton is actually one of the smallest of the city’s 52 official neighborhoods. Its building stock and urban form are essentially identical to that of its more well-known neighbor to the west.

The neighborhood has long had a slightly unique sub-culture of its own, perhaps driven by the Pendleton Arts Center, which boasts the world’s largest collection of artists under one roof. While this claim may be more hyperbole than reality, the Pendleton Arts Center is located in an impressively large warehouse building that has more than 500 studios and 200 resident artists.

Over the past two decades the Pendleton Arts Center has served as an anchor for the neighborhood, and the new townhomes being developed are fittingly located in its proud shadow.

Developers broke ground in late August on what will be four newly constructed townhomes, and one renovated property. Each home, developers say, is approximately 3,100 square feet and ranges in price from $390,000 to $449,000.

The second phase will include five more newly constructed townhomes and is anticipated to break ground next fall. While it is still preliminary, developers expect those homes to be slightly smaller and to go for around $400,000.

Evidence of the area’s hot real estate market is the fact that developers sold five of the units before even breaking ground just over a month ago.

One of the key marketing points, and a policy point of pride for those promoting sustainable development practices, is that each of the properties will be LEED certified and thus qualify for the City of Cincinnati’s tax abatement program for such properties.

The townhomes within the first phase of work under construction are expected to be complete in spring 2015.

EDITORIAL: Cincinnati Should Embrace John Cranley’s Residential Parking Permit Idea

We subsidize parking for automobiles in almost all situations in our society, but it is especially true when it comes to public parking. This can be seen quite clearly throughout the city where public parking garages, lots and on-street spaces are regularly priced below market rates.

A recent proposal by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) to charge $300 annually for a residential parking permit in Over-the-Rhine was met with immediate criticism. Perhaps the criticism was fair given that such a rate would be the highest in the country by a long shot. And yes, that includes far higher than what’s charged in San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New York.

UrbanCincy, however, believes this says more about the sad state of subsidizing parking than anything else. In fact, we believe that the $300 annual parking permit is reasonable.

To better understand how this proposed permit fee stacks up, let’s consider that it averages out to approximately $25 per month. According to the most recent State of Downtown report, the average monthly parking rate in the Central Business District, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton is $89. This average accounts for approximately 36,400 monthly parking spaces available in 2013.

While this average monthly parking rate is skewed by much higher rates in the Central Business District, many lots and garages reserved for residential parking in Over-the-Rhine charge between $40 and $110 per month. This means that Mayor Cranley’s proposal would put the city’s on-street parking spaces nearly in-line with their private counterparts.

This is a smart move. We should stop subsidizing parking as much as possible. Therefore, such a proposal should not only be examined in greater depth for Over-the-Rhine, but all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods.

According to parking management policy expert and UCLA professor Donald Shoup, charging market rate prices is particularly important for a variety of reasons. One of the primary reasons, however, is the fact that the higher prices will cause higher turnover and thus positively influence a number of other factors such as reduced congestion from cars circling the block and reduced pollution from those cars’ exhaust.

UrbanCincy recommends identifying what the market rate for parking is throughout the city and establish districts where on-street residential parking permits can be purchased. The proceeds from those permits could then be reinvested back into those neighborhoods for improvements of selected by those neighborhoods.

In Over-the-Rhine it has been suggested that the money could go toward offsetting the operating costs of the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar, but in other neighborhoods it could support public art, cleanup activities, public art or whatever it is that neighborhood desires.

This may not have been what the mayor had in mind when first proposing the residential parking permits for Over-the-Rhine, but if it was then Mayor Cranley deserves serious kudos.