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.

Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Leaders Hoping to Build on Current Momentum

Last month UrbanCincy broke the news that a new brewpub would be opening in the heart of the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood business district. The announcement was much bigger news that we had anticipated, but during the research for that story we found that even that was only the tip of the iceberg.

Neighborhood leaders in Pleasant Ridge say the community has been meticulously studying and developing ideas for how to improve the business district for more than a decade. Research on demographics, assessments of existing conditions, and visioning sessions have all been conducted over the years. This work has resulted in numerous planning documents that neighborhood activists today believe create a strong foundation for future success.

The Pleasant Ridge Development Corporation (PRDC) has been the driving force behind much of this work. The organization has seven board members, and has been led for the past several years by Jason Chamlee.

A neighborhood resident for the better part of the past seven years, Chamlee is also part of the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority’s real estate team and is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s Masters of Community Planning program. Almost by definition, he would appear to be just the kind of person you would want to have steering a community development corporation like PRDC.

“We’re trying to stimulate development in the neighborhood as we can,” Chamlee explained to UrbanCincy. “Pleasant Ridge is kind of an untapped market in terms of clusters of neighborhoods since it is geographically near so much.”

One of the problems, he notes, is that I-71 and the big box developments to the south often serve as a physical or, even worse, mental barrier for people not familiar with the neighborhood. Unlike Oakley Station and Center of Cincinnati, the Pleasant Ridge business district, primarily organized along Montgomery Road, has a distinctive historic character to it that is only moderately marred by late 20th century planning failures.

Therefore, one of the primary goals of Pleasant Ridge is to rebuild and reinforce that character. Sixty99 is the first project that will help PRDC move in that direction, but Chamlee is quick to explain how it is only the beginning.

“We believe that there is a lot of demand for this kind of business district,” said Chamlee. “There is a good opportunity to appeal to those suburbanites that want an urban experience, but might not want to head all the way to Over-the-Rhine or Mainstrasse.”

The hope is that Pleasant Ridge can become an in-town neighborhood with a walkable neighborhood business district that boasts appealing restaurants and shopping. It is not that the community wants to be a regional draw, but rather start drawing from a slightly larger zone than it does now. Based on the community’s demographic analysis, significant opportunities lie within nearby neighborhoods like Amberely Village, Kennedy Heights, Norwood and Silverton.

In order to get to that point PRDC hopes to redevelop ‘non-contributing’ properties in the heart of the business district, from Lester Road on the west to Grand Vista Avenue on the east, with infill that brings new density to help bolster business on weekdays.

One of the sites the neighborhood has its sights set on is the triangle-shaped block bounded by Ridge, Montgomery and Woodford. The site sits right in the heart of the district and is currently occupied by two one-story buildings, a gas station, and several parking lots. Sitting directly across the street from Sixty99 and Nine Giant Brewing, the hope is that the site could be redeveloped with three to five story buildings that include new street-level commercial spaces.

But Chamlee says that before they get started on pumping new commercial space into the business district, they are working to fill out and improve what is already there. To that end, he mentioned two new businesses that will be opening in the coming months. The first is a cocktail-type restaurant and bar that will feature smaller plates and be located in the former VFW Hall. The second is a coffee shop and lunch restaurant geared toward families that is called Red Balloon Play Café + Play.

It is anticipated that both new establishments will utilize some of the remaining liquor licenses made available from the Pleasant Ridge Community Entertainment District designation.

Beyond that, Chamlee says PRDC is working with building owners to help fill the three remaining spaces at Sixty99 and reimagine what they consider to be underutilized properties.

“We have found that the people that are really interested [in opening businesses] are the people that are already here and have been here,” Chamlee explained. “A lot of what is happening is from people already here who really believe in the neighborhood and are doubling down. We’re only just starting to get the attention of some outsiders.”

While Pleasant Ridge boasts a relatively stable residential base, there may be a significant opportunity should the neighboring Losantiville Country Club ever be sold off and redeveloped. The neighborhood’s 2007 vision study looked at exactly that possibility and found that the site would be ideal for walkable residential infill.

According to Chamlee, the focus on walkability is critical; and implementing a form-based code for the neighborhood would be an effective tool to help make that a reality.

“We know what we want and we know what we need,” Chamlee said in reference to the past planning exercises. “We just need to get some more momentum and find the right partners to help execute it.

Nine Giant Brewing to Open in Heart of Pleasant Ridge Business District

Nine Giant Brewing has signed a lease at the corner of Montgomery Road and Ridge Avenue in the heart of the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood business district. The announcement comes years after community leaders celebrated the formal establishment of a Community Entertainment District for the area.

According to Urban Fast Forward, the agency in charge of leasing at the site, the signing is part of a larger redevelopment effort called Sixty99, which is being spearheaded by Gene Levental, and will eventually include more than $350,000 worth of upgrades to the 87-year-old building.

According to Blake Bartley, Urban Fast Forward’s leasing agent for the project, Sixty99 includes several yet-to-be-leased commercial spaces. In addition to Nine Giant Brewing, however, A Salon Named Desire is currently located on the building’s second floor.

The Nine Giant Brewing micro-brewpub, Bartley says, will take up 3,413 square feet of space along Montgomery Road and is being spearheaded by Brandon Hughes and Michael Albarella.

Perhaps surprisingly, the announcement comes years after the CED was announced for Pleasant Ridge; but with increasing investment throughout a variety of Cincinnati’s neighborhood business districts, this deal appears to be capitalizing on growing momentum in the city. As a result, community leaders in Pleasant Ridge believe this might spark more business openings in the future – something that would be buoyed by the fact that several liquor licenses remain as part of the Pleasant Ridge CED.

“Nine Giant is a great addition to Pleasant Ridge and the Sixty99 development and provides the neighborhood with a true entertainment destination,” Bartley told UrbanCincy. “This is a huge first step for what is going to be a thriving entertainment district at Sixty99.”

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.

Gentrification Occurring in More Than Cincinnati’s Center City Neighborhoods

Like many cities across the United States, the City of Cincinnati is gentrifying, but it is doing so at a faster rate than most of its Midwestern peers – ranking fourth only behind Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Louis. When compared with the primary city in each of the nation’s 55 most populated metropolitan areas, Cincinnati is in the middle of the pack. Those cities that are gentrifying most quickly are located in the Northeast and along the West Coast.

The information comes from a new report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, which also dove into the financial implications of what is often generally considered a bad thing.

Gentrification is generally understood as the rise of home prices or rents in a particular neighborhood. In Cincinnati this has most vigorously been discussed as it relates to the transformation in Over-the-Rhine from what was one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, to now being one of its trendiest.

Clifton Heights
The Clifton Heights neighborhood, which continues to see a surge of private real estate investment, was found to be one of several Cincinnati neighborhoods that gentrified between 2000 and 2007. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

“Gentrification is sometimes viewed as a bad thing. People claim that it is detrimental to the original residents of the gentrifying neighborhood,” stated Daniel Hartley, a research economist focusing on urban and regional economics and labor economics for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. “However, a look at the data suggests that gentrification is actually beneficial to the financial health of the original residents.”

What Hartley’s research found is that credit scores for those living in a neighborhood that gentrified between 2000 and 2007 were about eight points higher than those people living in a low-price neighborhood that did not gentrify. He also discovered that delinquency rates, as represented by a share of people with an account 90 or more days past due, fell by two points in gentrifying neighborhoods relative to other low-price neighborhoods during the same period.

Some, however, caution against drawing conclusions about the data presented in Hartley’s report.

“I don’t see any reason why gentrification would affect the credit scores of existing residents – those who lived in the neighborhood prior to gentrification occurring,” commented Dr. David Varady, a professor specializing in housing policy at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Planning. “It was my impression that banks and other financial institutions were not supposed to take the neighborhood into account but rely on the family’s financial characteristics.”

The practice Dr. Varady describes of banks and financial institutions taking neighborhoods into account is called redlining. It is a practice that was rebuffed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, but some believe the practice persists in more abstract forms today.

One of the biggest concerns shared by those worried about the gentrification of neighborhoods is that it is particularly those that rent, rather than own, who are affected most. This too, however, is challenged by Hartley’s research.

“Mortgage-holding residents are associated with about the same increase in credit scores in gentrifying neighborhoods as non-mortgage-holding residents,” Hartley explained. “This result suggests that renters in gentrifying neighborhoods benefit by about the same degree as homeowners.”

Cincinnati Gentrification (2000-2007)
The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland noted gentrification in a wide variety of Cincinnati neighborhoods between 2000 and 2007. Map produced by Nate Wessel for UrbanCincy.

What is even more intriguing about the report’s findings is that original residents who moved from the gentrifying neighborhood, who many would consider displaced residents, experienced a 1.5 point higher credit score improvement than those who did not move.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland provided UrbanCincy with the data broken out by Census tract for Cincinnati. Approximately 72% of the city’s 104 Census tracts are defined as low-price, and of those 75 Census tracts with home valuation data, nine were found to have gentrified between 2000 and 2007.

When examined more closely it becomes clear that the neighborhoods experiencing the biggest gains in home value and income in Cincinnati are those that are in the center city. Specifically, and perhaps not surprisingly, five of the nine are located in the neighborhoods of Clifton Heights, East Walnut Hills, Fairview, University Heights and the East End. Outside of the center city, Pleasant Ridge, Oakley, Columbia Tusculum and Mt. Airy also experienced gentrification over the past decade.

Community council leaders for these neighborhoods did not respond to multiple requests for comments from UrbanCincy.

Unfortunately, the two neighborhoods where many expect gentrification has occurred most – Downtown and Over-the-Rhine – did not have median home value data available for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland to study.

While the report has generally positive findings about the impacts of gentrification, Cincinnati is at a disadvantage when it comes to improving the financial health of its neighborhoods.

According to the report, the percentage of low-price Census tracts in Cincinnati beneath the median home value of the metropolitan area is 14 percentage points higher than the national average, and the rate at which Census tracts are gentrifying in the Great Lakes region is approximately 4.5 points lower than the national average.

“I don’t have a clue what Hartley meant by the phrase ‘neighborhoods with a potential for gentrification’ but the assertion that 95% do in Baltimore is rather ludicrous given the high rate of abandonment,” Dr. Varady scoffed. “Baltimore certainly can use more gentrification but how the city can promote this is an open question.”

With the nine identified neighborhoods in Cincinnati spread throughout a mix of expected and unexpected locations, it is probably safe to say that the Census tracts in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine also gentrified during this period, or have since 2007.

Change in cities is inevitable, but whether these changes sweeping Cincinnati are good, bad or indifferent is probably still open for spirited discussion among those most interested.

“In general I think that gentrification presents benefits and costs,” Dr. Varady concluded. “Anyone who says it is all bad or all good is not contributing to the debate.”

This story originally appeared in the December 20, 2013 print edition of the Cincinnati Business Courier. You can view that story online for additional comments and discussion. UrbanCincy readers can take advantage of an exclusive premium digital Business Courier subscription that includes access via the web, smart phone or tablet applications for just $49 per year.