Area Organizations Teaming Up to Encourage Active Transportation This Spring Season

Tri-State Trails is aiming to encourage the public to get outdoors with the Opening Day on the Trails Challenge – a seven week series of hikes, group bike rides, and other events on trails and in parks throughout the Cincinnati region.

The challenge starts with an event at Sawyer Point from 12pm to 5pm on Saturday, April 16, which is also Earth Day.

The Opening Day on the Trails Challenge is part of a national kickoff by the Rails-to-Trail Conservancy to promote the spring outdoor season. Running from mid-April to early June, the challenge overlaps with National Bike Month in May.

Information on the challenge can be found online at MeetMeOutdoors.com. Participants can register on the website, and sign up to receive email newsletters and social media alerts. A Trails Challenge Passport is also available for download. To participate, individuals and families attend group events, which are listed on a schedule included with the passport. Attendance at activities is logged on the passport, and those who attend at least one event are eligible to win a prize.

Organizers say that the challenge will conclude with an award ceremony on National Trails Day on June 4 at the Purple People Bridge. Participants who complete the challenge will receive a Nalgene water bottle and other items. A raffle will also be held to award prizes, donated by local businesses and Cincy Red Bike, to registered participants.

Tri-State Trails, a program of Green Umbrella, is the local host of the challenge, and is hoping it will encourage more people to get out and explore the region’s network of bike paths and trails.

Wade Johnston, Regional Trails Coordinator for Tri-State Trails, sees the event as an opportunity to showcase not only the many multimodal trails in the Cincinnati region, but also the hiking and mountain biking trails. Tri-State Trails has been told by the Rails to Trails Conservancy that the Challenge in the Cincinnati region is the largest and longest program of any opening day trail event in the United States.

Johnston told UrbanCincy that public support and usage of the region’s trail system is increasing, citing the Cincinnati Connects plan, and efforts to expand the Mill Creek Greenway, Ohio River Trail, and Wasson Way.

The Opening Day on the Trails event is supported by a $25,000 grant from Interact for Health. While this is the first year for this event in Cincinnati, it is intended to be an annual event in the future.

Green Umbrella’s Outdoor Event Series will continue through the summer with the Kids Outdoor Adventure Expo on July 22 at Winton Woods Harbor, and the Great Outdoor Weekend on September 24 and 25 at a variety of locations around the Cincinnati area.

PHOTOS: Aqua on the Levee Rising Along Newport’s Waterfront

Last November developers broke ground on the $80 million second phase of Newport on the Levee, called Aqua on the Levee, some 15 years after the first phase opened. Since that time, a significant amount of work has progressed on the project that will yield 239 apartments, a hotel, and 8,300 square feet of retail.

The project is being built atop what long sat as a three-acre surface parking lot at the foot of the Purple People Bridge.

The residential component is expected to bolster business for retailers at the complex that have struggled to draw crowds on non-weekend days. It will also bring the first Aloft Hotel to the region, which will also be the trendy hotel’s first in Kentucky and feature 144 rooms, a bar and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

The project is being developed by Capital Investment Group and Musselman Hotels, and is expected to be completed in fall 2016.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All six photographs were taken by Travis Estell on September 27, 2015.

The Death of Newport’s 1,100′ Millennium Freedom Tower Proposal

The progress being made at the $80 million second phase of Newport on the Levee is encouraging, but just around the block another highly touted project from the late 1990s stands next to a parking lot that has lingered for far too long.

For nearly 16 years, the $2 million World Peace Bell has sat less than proudly at Fourth and York Streets. The monument itself is fine, but has had to deal with being, “wedged between a parking lot and a White Castle.”

This was not how it was suppose to go. Instead, the 66,000-pound World Peace Bell was meant to be joined by the ostentatious Millennium Freedom Tower. Of course, the approximately $100 million structure was never built, but many may forget the original development vision.

The super-tall structure would have served primarily as a monument, but would have also included a restaurant and bar approximately midway up the tower, and office space closer to the top. It would have also boasted the world’s largest carillon, gardens, event space and a several-hundred-foot free-fall ride. The proposal came amid a flurry of proposals to more or less turn Newport’s riverfront into a theme park type destination.

Much like Newport on the Levee’s second phase, something will eventually be built on this site, but it will assuredly be more modest than what was originally proposed. But unlike what is rising a couple of blocks away at the foot of the Purple People Bridge, whatever eventually rises at this site will almost certainly be better than what was originally proposed.

Second Phase of Newport on the Levee to Come More Than 15 Years After First

Newport on the Levee was the talk of the town in the late 1990s. It was to be one of the most prominent development projects in the urban core for some time, and transform Newport’s riverfront into a place that would attract tourists year-round.

There were also lofty visions that the development of Newport on the Levee would spark a wholesale redevelopment of the Northern Kentucky river city, including virtually every neighboring property and the development of the 1,000-foot-tall Millennium Tower.

These ambitions, however, were never fully realized. Newport on the Levee experienced a number a setbacks and never fully embraced the mixed-use nature that would ensure its success, Millennium Tower was cancelled almost as quickly as it was proposed, and while surrounding development has taken place, it has come at a much slower pace than envisioned.

Earlier this month developers took the next step forward with a plan to build on the long vacant Lot B next to the Purple People Bridge that would aim to address those issues.

According to Capital Investment Group (CIG), the investment would total $80 million and add 238 residential units, 8,000 square feet of street-level retail space, a 150-room hotel and an 800-space parking garage.

Newport city officials and CIG representatives say they intend to start construction in July 2015 and wrap-up a year later.

While this is good news for Newport on the Levee, it is certainly not when or how developers and city officials had originally envisioned the riverfront development taking shape.

In 2000, the plan was for Newport on the Levee to include a mall with a movie theater complex, an aquarium, a state-of-the-art 3-D IMAX theater, and a second phase of development that would begin just two years later and be anchored by a 200-room hotel.

Problems arose almost immediately when the 3-D IMAX shut down just two years after it opened in 2001. The retail portions of the mall also never seemed to live up to expectations, perhaps following in Tower Place Mall’s footsteps and illustrating that enclosed shopping malls tend to not work in urban settings.

As a result, the mall portion of the development has seen a constant cycle of tenants in and out, and more recently the replacement of most retail inside the mall structure by office tenants. Several restaurant operations have even relocated across the river to The Banks development. The former 456-seat IMAX theater has since been filled by the successful Newport Aquarium.

Shortly after the opening of the first phase of work at Newport on the Levee, city officials also pursued the USS Cincinnati submarine in an effort to dock it along the shore of the Ohio River next to Newport on the Levee. Those plans never materialized and now only a portion of the submarine vessel will be returning to the region – at a location in a future phase of Smale Riverfront Park along Cincinnati’s riverfront.

During all of this Newport Aquarium has been a particularly bright spot for the development. It is consistently named one of the nation’s best aquariums and is a constant draw for tourists and locals alike – attracting more than 11 million visitors since it opened 15 years ago.

With the Great Recession now in the past and new competition from The Banks, Newport officials and developers are looking to jump start things once more. The second phase of Newport on the Levee may be more than a decade behind schedule, but it will add a critical component that was sorely missing from the original development.

Full-time residents and a hotel at the site will help drive more business to shops and restaurants operating outside of the typical weekend hours popular for tourists. The revived talk of extending the streetcar system across the river also shows a new sense of collaboration and possibility that did not exist in the lead up to the new millennium.