‘Place from Space’ Launches Placemaking Design Competition

Placemaking is a word that is often tossed around by designers, planners, architects and others in the industry of building and construction. From monolithic towers in the park, to the traditional neighborhood business corridors, people react to the nature and condition of the buildings and other elements in their surroundings. But the question remains, what are great places and how are they made?

Elizabeth Schmidt and Brad Cooper saw opportunity in converting vacant and underutilized spaces throughout the Cincinnati region into places.

“There are places all over the city waiting to be activated and there are many successful ways to activate a space,” organizer Schmidt told UrbanCincy.

So they decided to work together and create Place from Space, a design competition that seeks to construct a winning design that converts an underutilized space into a great place next year. Place from Space is part of  this year’s ArchiNati Festival which runs from October 4th to 13th.

IMG_1104-1024x768The former Church of the Assumption will host the event. Image provided.

“The competition gives individuals the chance to propose and implement positive physical changes to their community that should be fun, imaginative, and vibrant.” Cooper told UrbanCincy. 

Seven neighborhoods are participating in the contest including East Walnut Hills, Walnut Hills; East, West and Lower Price Hill, Covington and Over-the-Rhine. The first round of submissions for applications to be accepted into the contest will end on November 4. From there applicants go on to a second round of judging where one project will be selected for construction.

The first opportunity to see the group’s efforts will be on display tomorrow where they will be showcasing the submissions they have received so far. The event will be held at the former Church of the Assumption along Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills. The church, built in 1884 has been vacant for years until artist Justin Poole began using the space as his art studio. His art will also be on display Friday evening. There will also be a special performance by the band the Kentucky Struts.

Admission to the event is free. Parking is on-street and the venue is easily accessible from the #4 and #11 Metro bus routes.

Report: Cincinnati’s five-year outlook for building demolitions may approach 8,000

Home demolition photograph provided by Price Hill Will.

In September, city officials stood in Price Hill alongside state officials to announce plans to demolish up to 700 vacant and blighted buildings in Cincinnati. The funding for the ongoing effort comes from a state-wide program called Move Ohio Forward, which gives demolition funding to cities from money the state won in a settlement with large banks last year over the home foreclosure process and lack of property upkeep by the banks.

City officials estimate that there are currently 1,300 vacant and blighted properties awaiting demolition. The $5.84 million grant, when matched with $5.34 million from the Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corporation and $3.49 million from the City, will provide enough funding to cover just over half of the total amount of demolitions mandated its own ordinances. The final amount of demolitions, officials say, will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.

“The Moving Ohio Forward Grant Program provides unprecedented blight abatement opportunity for the City to clear dangerous, obsolete buildings from neighborhoods, make way for redevelopment, and eventually raise property values,” Edward Cunningham, Property Maintenance & Code Enforcement Division Manager, told UrbanCincy.

In an effort to further control what happens with the cleared sites, the City of Cincinnati will work with Hamilton County’s new Land Reutilization Program in order to acquire tax delinquent properties. Once the buildings are demolished, the City will determine if the land can be used as parks, community gardens or rehabilitated into new housing. So far, however, only enough funding for lot restoration on 200 parcels has been identified.

In cases where the lots are private properties, and are not able to be acquired, it will be up to the property owners of the vacant lots to decide the future of their property. According to Cunningham, property owners will be allowed to maintain the lots, create parks, parking or new infill construction.

More Comprehensive Plan for Demolitions Needed
Property demolition has been used by many cities including Cincinnati as a method of addressing problem vacant buildings that have been condemned because they are hazards to human health and unsafe to occupy. While the debate on the impacts of foreclosure and vacant property is far from over, some of these buildings are “too far gone” in the eyes of building inspectors that they legitimately need to come down. And according to Cunningham, the buildings being demolished under this program are buildings that are beyond repair.

Once the demolitions are completed, one-by-one, it will create more land between occupied houses thus negatively impacting the completeness of the neighborhood’s form. Without a strategic plan, vacant and unmaintained lots could end up degrading neighborhoods in the same manner as blighted homes; however, vacant lots tend to be easier to maintain and do not pose as much of a risk as a standing structure.

Furthermore, demolitions made through this program on private land will place the cost burden on the property. Should the property owner not pay the assessment for the work, then the property could be foreclosed by Hamilton County, which would then open the land up to redevelopment. This process, however, does take a considerable amount of time and offers no guarantee of redevelopment.

Projected Housing Units in Five Year Demolition Pool by City for Ohio’s “Big Eight” Cities. Source U.S. Census Bureau.

The challenge of increasing amounts of abandoned and blighted housing is not symptomatic of Cincinnati alone, as many older industrial cities are facing the similar problems. A recent report from the Brookings Institute found that Cincinnati might have close to 8,000 buildings eligible for demolition in the next five years. The report also stated that while the demolitions have the potential to stabilize neighborhoods, excessive regulations and costs prevent cities from demolishing the amount of housing that should be demolished on an annual basis.

To overcome these hurdles the report makes a series of recommendations for cities to devise their own strategic demolitions plan.

“Planners, urban designers, and residents must together evaluate how demolishing a particular building will affect the texture of its block or area,” the Brookings Institute stated in Laying the Groundwork for Change: Demolition, urban strategy, and policy reform (2012).

Cities such as Cincinnati need to have a level of transparency in place that allows for neighborhood input on the reuse of the newly created vacant lots. It is not merely enough to encourage neighborhoods to help identify future uses for vacant lots as the city is doing now, it should be required.

As previously profiled on UrbanCincy, Cincinnati’s population decline is systemic and although vacant building demolition is more a testament to the large supply of housing versus demand, absent a strategic demolitions plan, the city should be mindful that stabilizing neighborhoods relies heavily on preserving existing housing or building new housing capacity and offering incentives or neighborhood upgrades that would attract new residents.

Port Authority to focus new land banking powers on demolition

The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority is moving forward with its new land bank program. Instead of focusing on existing undeveloped land, however, the Port Authority has decided to partner with Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine (R) to launch a $11.1 million demolition and redevelopment program which will focus those efforts in 14 communities throughout Cincinnati. More from the Cincinnati Enquirer:

The Port Authority-managed land bank, officially known as the Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corp., is overseeing distribution and use of the funds. The Port Authority is finalizing its demolition contract this week, and had hoped to start demolition in July, but needed more time to work with city, county and neighborhood councils and development groups to develop a strategy.

The selected neighborhoods were based on the number foreclosures, abandoned and blighted properties – there are 2,394 vacated residential properties in the city alone – and whether an individual community pledged funds to be matched through the state’s demolition grant program.

City’s third Community Entertainment District designated in Price Hill

City and neighborhood leaders gathered in Price Hill yesterday to celebrate the designation of Cincinnati’s third Community Entertainment District (CED). The new CED will cover the Incline District and is expected to facilitate redevelopment efforts ongoing in the neighborhood.

Price Hill was required to go through an application process in order to receive the CED designation which requires that an area include entertainment, retail, sporting, cultural, and/or arts establishments.

Once the designation is in place it allows new restaurants to open with a liquor license thus reducing startup costs by an estimated $30,000. Nine additional liquor licenses will be up for grabs in the new Price Hill CED.


City and neighborhood leaders gather in Price Hill to celebrate the CED designation. Image provided.

“We decided to pursue the CED designation after seeing its potential to free up capital for smaller restaurateurs,” Diana Vakharia, director of operations at Price Hill Will, told UrbanCincy. “The costs of installing a commercial kitchen and other upgrades are burdensome enough.”

Vakharia said that the tools and resources provided with the designation will help Price Hill better compete in the initial years of economic revitalization taking place there.

In addition to the $50 million Incline Square development, a new residential development called The Flats reached 100 percent occupancy in 60 days, and the area is also soon house the region’s second Bayou Fish House location. Price Hill Will officials also say that property owners are in negotiations with another potential restaurant.

In total, the 48-acre Price Hill Community Entertainment District includes more than 70,000 square feet of commercial space available within existing and potential new structures.

In addition to Price Hill, Pleasant Ridge received the CED designation with the help of Cincinnati City Councilmember Laure Quinlivan (D) last December. Two other CED designations exist in downtown Cincinnati along the central riverfront for The Banks.

City officials say that neighborhood leaders in Over-the-Rhine, Northside and Madisonville are also working on applications to receive the coveted designation.

“Helping neighborhoods thrive and grow is my goal,” Councilmember Quinlivan said. “It’s going to be exciting to see what happens in the Incline District now.”

ArtWorks looking to secure sponsors for final nine Queen City Art Racks

After installing the first Queen City Art Rack in May 2010, ArtWorks is in the process of securing sponsors for the remaining 14 artist-designed bike racks they hope to have installed around Cincinnati by May 2011 to coincide with National Bike Month and ArtWorks’ 15th Anniversary.

ArtWorks executive director Tamara Harkavy said that the non-profit organization has now secured enough sponsors to fund six of those remaining bike racks which cost approximately $7,500 each. The additional money came through sponsorships by Kroger, the Duke Energy Convention Center, Truepoint Financial, Pantene, and Clairol.

The organization plans to install these recently funded bike racks in Northside, Price Hill and Hyde Park Kroger stores, and two locations in downtown Cincinnati. All of the rack locations are being determined based on the needs identified in the city-wide Bicycle Master Plan.

“We are excited about the early support of the Queen City Art Racks program,” said Harkavy. “We have at least nine more funding opportunities along with a number of creative proposals from artists, and we are now looking to close the funding phase and move to the creation phase of the project.”

Project officials at ArtWorks say that the designs for these bike racks will not be developed until December 2010 when they have finalized all fund raising efforts with potential sponsors.

In May, the first Queen City Art Rack was celebrated outside of Coffee Emporium in Over-the-Rhine where it was installed. Named Tours de Cincy, the first rack was designed by Pam Kravetz, Carla Lamb, and Karen Sanders. It was fabricated by Cincinnati-based Vulkane Industrial Arts, and sponsored by the NLT Foundation.

Those interested in sponsoring one of the additional nine racks needing funding can contact Michael Stout at ArtWorks by phone at (513) 333-0388 or email at Michael@ArtWorksCincinnati.org. All sponsorships must be submitted by Thursday, September 30.

Neighborhood-wide home tour to showcase Price Hill’s comeback story

West side residents and community leaders are gearing up for the fall Price Hill Showcase of Homes that will take place on Saturday, September 18 from 11am to 3pm. The neighborhood-wide open house will include close to four dozen homes that highlight what the historic neighborhood has to offer.

Matt Strauss, director of Marketing and Neighborhood Promotion at Price Hill Will, says that this will be the neighborhood’s first showcase of homes since the end of the first-time home buyer tax credit. At the same time, Strauss is excited to show off what Price Hill has to offer in the new real estate landscape that is emerging nationwide.

One of the homes on this year’s tour is located at 918 Elberon Avenue, and homeowner Lorain Mendleson says that she and her husband will look back on their eight years living there fondly.

“The neighborhood has a variety of architectural styles, including some beautiful churches, and it is great to have such a close proximity to downtown and several bus lines,” Mendleson explained. “We’ve been able to walk to the library, grocery store, convenience store, and the Corner BLOC coffee shop.”

The Mendlesons say that as their family has matured that they no longer need the space their 105-year-old house currently provides. They believe that whoever ends up buying their home could take advantage of its space by potentially renting out the first floor while still keeping a three-bedroom house for themselves upstairs. The couple also believes that the next owners will be able to take advantage of the positive momentum the neighborhood is experiencing.

“In the eight years we’ve lived here, this street has greatly improved. When we moved in there were several abandoned houses, and now most have been renovated and occupied,” Mendleson stated. “People wave and say hello to each other, and it’s easy to get involved and invested in this community. It is going to be difficult to move away.”

Much of that progress the couple attributes to the hard work of organizations like Price Hill Will and the East Price Hill Improvement Association, saying that they do not know where the neighborhood would be today without their tireless work.

Those attending the Price Hill Showcase of Homes are encouraged to stop by the Price Hill Housing Resource Center at 3724 St. Lawrence Avenue to pick up a map of participating homes. Organizers state that refreshments will also be available at the office. For more information, please contact Matt Strauss at (513) 251-3800 or Matt@PriceHillWill.org.