Episode #66: Winter Update

On the 66th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, TravisJake, and John discuss the demolition of the Pogue’s Garage and the construction of the Fourth & Race and Eighth & Sycamore towers. We also discuss the effects of the Hamilton County Auditor’s property revaluations, various Uptown developments, and more.

Paragon Salon & Day Spa’s Relocation Paves Way For Pogue’s Garage Demolition

Paragon Salon & Day Spa celebrated the opening of their new location along Fifth Street in the Carew Tower yesterday. While smaller in size than their previous location, the move serves as a potentially monumental moment for the center city since it paves the way for the demolition of the decaying Pogue’s Garage.

While the location of Pogue’s Garage is one of downtown’s most prominent, it is also one of the ugliest and most inhospitable blocks in the city. In 2013 a plan was crafted to fix that by tearing down the decrepit garage and replacing it with a new parking structure, street-level grocery store and 300-unit residential high-rise. Due to politics, finances and other logistics, that plan stalled and was eventually amended in December 2014.

Under that revised plan, Indianapolis-based developers Flaherty & Collins agreed to build an eight-story residential structure, with 208 units, while 3CDC would build a 925-space parking structure that would serve as the tower’s platform. The project would also include 25,000 square feet of street-level retail space.

In addition to serving the project’s needs and providing a platform for the tower to rise, the new parking structure would also provide parking capacity for the many historic high-rises along Fourth Street that currently lack any parking options at all. City officials point to public garages such as this as an opportunity to better utilize those other properties.

But before any of that can happen, the massive Pogue’s Garage must be demolished. That, in and of itself, would serve as a major benefit for downtown as it would remove one of its biggest eyesores and improve safety for people walking and biking along Fourth, Race and Elm Streets.

That demolition effort is not expected to be easy. Due to its immediate surroundings, the structure will not be able to be imploded, and will thus need to be deconstructed using traditional methods over a much longer period of time. Further complicating the matter was Paragon’s ongoing presence in the structure, which was obviously relieved yesterday.

There is no word yet on when demolition work will begin, but it now appears likely that work will finally advance on one of the center city’s highest profile projects. The coming weeks should reveal what its revised design will look like and when residents will be moving in.

Revised Agreement for Redevelopment of Pogue’s Garage Poised to Advance This Week

More than a year after an initial deal was proposed to redevelop the aging Pogue’s Garage site into a sleek residential tower, a new deal may actually move forward that will allow for construction to finally move forward.

In November 2013, the City of Cincinnati had entered into a Development Agreement with Flaherty & Collins to build a 15,000-square-foot grocery store, 950-space parking garage and a soaring 30-story residential tower with 300 units costing $94 million. As part of this deal, the City had committed to providing a $12 million forgivable loan to the project. This came after an initial deal to fund the project through the proceeds generated by the then proposed Parking Modernization & Lease program.

The Parking Modernization & Lease program, however, was almost immediately cancelled upon the arrival of Mayor John Cranley (D); who then subsequently stated that the $12 million forgivable loan for the project was “too rich”, and that the entire project should be rethought.

This led to the engagement of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), and the new deal that will go before City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee, chaired by Vice Mayor David Mann (D), at 2pm today.

According to a leaked memo from City Manager Harry Black’s office, the new deal is substantially different from the previous Development Agreement. Instead it calls for a $5.5 million grant to Flaherty & Collins to construct an eight-floor residential tower including 208 units, and a $4 million loan to 3CDC to construct a 925-space parking garage and 25,000 square feet of street-level retail space.

The Cranley Administration is touting the deal as a savings for taxpayers, while also not sacrificing too much.

“We inherited an overly rich deal,” Jay Kincaid, Mayor Cranley’s Chief of Staff, told UrbanCincy. “This new deal saves taxpayers $6.5 million, and gives the City control over the garage.”

Much of the savings is realized through the changes to the parking agreement. The previous deal provided the developer a grant to build and operate the parking structure, while the new deal utilizes a $4 million performing loan to be repaid later by 3CDC. Once the loan is paid off, the revenue stream from the parking structure would be shared by the three parties.

The emergency ordinance that will be put before the Neighborhoods Committee today, and then most likely be voted on by the full City Council on Wednesday, also includes a 30-year property tax abatement for the apartment component.

As of now, property tax abatements in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine filter 25% to Cincinnati Public Schools, with the remaining 75% being the actual realized abatement. Starting on January 1, 2015, however, that latter number would be reduced to 67.5% with the 7.5% difference being put into a fund to help cover the costs of operating and maintaining the Cincinnati Streetcar.

With the development losing approximately two-thirds of its height, but only one-third of its number of residential units, it signals that the new development will look quite different than the initial renderings released to the public. The final result may mean smaller residential unit sizes or a wider tower that utilizes more of the site’s footprint.

Yet unanswered is what will happen with Paragon Salon, which has remained in operation at the site despite being served eviction notices from the City. Since the original Development Agreement was signed more than a year ago, the owners of Paragon have claimed the City is violating their lease agreement, and has requested assistance in finding a new location. The City, meanwhile, has rebuffed Paragon and said they will not submit to paying for the costs of its relocation.

One item previously holding up construction on this still unnamed project was the redevelopment of Tower Place Mall into Mabley Place. Now that the parking garage is complete and open for business, City leaders say they feel more confident in closing down Pogue’s Garage to allow for construction to commence.

Redesigned Streetscapes Could Turn Fourth and Race Streets Into Vibrant Public Spaces

Fourth Street offers one of the more impressive urban street canyons in all of America. Its pre-war high-rises dominate the streetscape and offer a glimpse into the proud history of Cincinnati.

Once the very center of business activity, Fourth Street was historically known as the region’s financial district – a place where all the power players lingered and conducted business. Since its heyday in the early 20th century, that center of financial clout has shifted. Some say it has shifted to Third Street, while others say it has moved east along Fourth or even north to Fifth Street.

In any case, many of those power players are now in other nearby districts, while the impressive structures they built are left behind.

City leaders had believed, with good reason, that Fourth Street would become the region’s premier shopping destination. However, with the demise of downtown malls and department stores, that vision never fully came to be.

All has not been lost though. Virtually all of the impressive, historic urban fabric remains and has since been largely converted into residential space. There is also a movement afoot from some business and civic leaders to breathe new life into not only Fourth Street’s retail scene, but Race Street’s as well.

Part of the ongoing transformation includes Mabley Place, which converted the former Tower Place Mall into a parking garage with street-level retail, the proposed 30-story residential tower that would replace the aging Pogue’s Garage, and the nearby and soon-to-open dunnhumbyUSA headquarters tower.

There is even the possibility of Fourth Street being converted back to two-way traffic following the activation of the now unused ramp to I-75 from Third Street.

As all of these projects start to become reality, they offer a unique opportunity to redo the public space in the area. One particular area that has long needed a redo, and has been the subject of many studio projects at DAAP, is Fourth Street’s dated streetscaping. Not only does the design of the sidewalks, benches and street trees leave much to be desired, they also do not follow standard good design practices.

The renovation of Fountain Square realized this and implemented good urban design practices in its final product. Things like softscaping and movable furniture are powerful elements to a good public space. The same could be done along Fourth Street’s, and for that matter much of Race Street’s, wide sidewalk widths.

Being in the midst of the digital age, it would also make sense to make the area more welcoming to tech users by implementing Internet hot spots and including solar-powered charging stations at benches and tables set up along the street.

Specifically, the areas best suited for such a transformation would be the north side of Fourth Street between Vine and Elm, and the east side of Race Street between Fifth and Seventh.

With more and more hotels opening up downtown in general, and specifically on or very near Fourth Street, this public space could also serve as a convenient and desirable ‘third place’ for travelers that are looking to spend some time out in the city, without feeling obligated to purchase endless cups of coffee or beer, but not also be trapped inside their hotel room.

Such a design could also activate the largely lifeless corridor with people from all backgrounds, and provide more passing customers for existing and potential businesses looking to setup shop there.

With all the construction taking place and about to get started, it would make most sense to leverage these private investments to improve this public space at the same time. Heck, it might even be the perfect opportunity to connect the new Central Parkway Cycle Track with the Ohio River Trail.