Construction Pace Picking Up on $120M Smale Riverfront Park Project

As is often the case in construction, warmer weather brings greater progress on the site. This holds true for the $120 million, 45-acre Smale Riverfront Park.

According to project manager Dave Prather, work has picked up in recent months and significant elements of the ongoing phase of work are now becoming visible.

One of the elements that is very quickly nearing completion is the Heekin/PNC Grow Up Great Adventure Playground that sits immediately beside the Roebling Suspension Bridge, and is on schedule to open in spring 2015. Significant progress is also now noticeable on the Vine Street Fountains & Steps, which are almost identical to their existing Walnut Street counterpart, and the Anderson Pavilion.

In the latest video update from Cincinnati Parks, Prather walks viewers through all the progress and mentions that a great deal of additional work will be completed in the near future.

“It’s really starting to come into focus,” Prather said in the 15-minute video update. “The next time we film, which will be in late summer, you’ll see the slides and pick-up sticks in place, all the stone climbing walls will be there, and you’re really be able to get a feel on what we’ll have to offer in this next extension.”

One of the things significantly different about the portion of Smale Riverfront Park west of the Roebling Suspension Bridge is the Anderson Pavilion and Carol Ann’s Carousel. These two features will create the most significant building structure at the central riverfront park to-date, and serve as potential sources of revenue to maintain the sprawling park going forward.

The implementation of the full vision for the park will not come for several years, and is still seeking additional capital funding. Some capital funding help, however, has been found this year in the form of a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The ongoing work is also being aided by $4 million from the City of Cincinnati that was approved last year following a one-time allocation of resources from a property tax supported bond increase in 2013. The recent budget quickly passed 6-3 by City Council, however, included no additional capital support for Smale Riverfront Park.

Project officials estimate that an additional $30 million will be needed to complete the park.

In April, the American Planning Association presented its National Planning Excellence Award for Implementation to Cincinnati for its execution of the Cincinnati Central Riverfront Plan, which included the reconfiguration of Fort Washington Way, and the development of The Banks and Smale Riverfront Park.

PHOTOS: Cincinnati’s Dramatic, Decade-Long Transformation Visualized

The changes that have been taking place in Cincinnati over the past decade have been felt and noticed by many. There is a palpable buzz surrounding the Queen City these days.

The city’s central riverfront has almost entirely been transformed following billions of dollars worth of public and private investment, Over-the-Rhine’s renaissance continues to be touted nation-wide as one to be admired, and thousands of more residential units are being developed in the center city as we speak.

For those who live outside the city and may not have been back recently, or for those out-of-towners who have not yet been able to make a visit, it could be difficult to even recognize some places now.

Thanks to a new feature from Google Street View, we can now go back in time and compare Google’s most current Street View images with those they have taken since 2007 when they started the service.

Here’s a look at some of Cincinnati’s more visually impressive transformations, but it is certainly not all encompassing. Simply drag the arrow bar back-and-forth to compare the old and new images.

Clifton Heights at W. McMillan Avenue and Ohio Avenue:

Clifton Heights in September 2007
Clifton Heights in September 2012

 

Evanston at Dana Avenue and St. Francis Way (formerly Woodburn Avenue):

Xavier University September 2007
Xavier University August 2012

 

Over-the-Rhine looking south on Vine Street near Fifteenth Street:

Vine Street September 2007
Vine Street June 2012

 

Over-the-Rhine looking north on Vine Street near Fourteenth Street:

Vine St September 2007
Vine St June 2012

 

The Banks at Freedom Way and Walnut Street:

The Banks July 2007
The Banks September 2012

 

Smale Riverfront Park along Mehring Way at Main Street:

Smale Riverfront Park July 2007
Smale Riverfront Park August 2012

 

Avondale on Burnet Avenue near Northern Avenue:

Mt. Auburn September 2007
Mt. Auburn June 2012

 

Columbia Tusculum at Delta Avenue and Columbia Parkway:

Columbia Tusculum August 2007
Columbia Tusculum June 2012

 

College Hill on Hamilton Avenue near Elkton Place:

College Hill August 2007
College Hill September 2013

If you are having difficultly viewing both the before and after images, try to just drag the arrow bar back-and-forth instead of clicking on the images in an attempt to reveal the after.

And for what it’s worth, we totally stole the idea for this post from The Washington Post. What other areas did we miss? Let us know in the comment section.

Townhomes Removed from Development Plan for The Banks

Hamilton County leaders announced last Thursday that they had struck a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals regarding a number of issues pertaining to the county’s stadium contract with the team.

The biggest component of that new agreement is that the Bengals will waive their veto right over the heights of buildings at The Banks. This clause in the stadium deal, signed in 1997, delayed the start of construction of Phase IIA work at The Banks by more than a year, and posed a significant risk to the City of Cincinnati in its efforts to lure General Electric and its new Global Operations Center to the central riverfront.

Now that the agreement is signed, developers of The Banks have announced that they will immediately begin construction on Phase IIA project that will include 291 apartments and 19,000 square feet of retail space.

Should the city succeed in its efforts to land General Electric’s facility at The Banks, it is expected that its new office tower would either be located at the office pad within the Phase I footprint, or more likely on top of the street-level retail adjacent to the apartment midrise at Phase IIA.

The development team believes both sites could accommodate the approximately 400,000 square feet of office space desired by General Electric.

The announcement also brought with it renewed questions about the status of the hotel at Phase I, located immediately across the street from Great American Ball Park. On that note, the developers said that they are still working to sign a hotel operator for the space, and that it is unlikely it will be completed ahead of the 2015 MLB All-Star Game.

That leaves only one element of Phase I of The Banks still in question – the oft-forgotten townhomes lining the Schmidlapp Event Lawn.

When asked about the status of the townhomes, and if their delay in moving forward was related to constructability issues with the adjacent and unbuilt hotel site, Libby Korosec, spokeswoman for The Banks development team, said that there are no longer plans for townhomes at that location.

Korosec went on to say that the future of that particular site has yet to be determined, but that it is possible it could be used as part of the hotel, but that no decisions have been made.

“That site was originally planned to have six to eight townhomes, which is not really an efficient number to go in and build,” Korosec explained. “Not only was it not efficient, but it also wasn’t going to be a very good environment for townhomes with all the in and out traffic nearby.”

Korosec noted that the elimination of townhomes from the Phase I footprint does not mean that townhomes will not be built elsewhere. In fact, she said that the development team believes there are other sites at The Banks that would be better suited for such housing.

Part of the change can also be explained by the housing bubble that burst around the time construction started at the site.

“The market on condos and townhomes turned south just when we signed the MDA,” Korosec said. “However, homeownership via condos is still a strong possibility at The Banks for future phases should the market demand it.”

The development team opted to forgo building condos at $91 million Phase IA of The Banks, and instead built apartments due to the housing downturn. The decision has proved successful as apartments at The Banks fetch some of the highest prices per square foot in the region and have a waiting list of approximately 60 people.

Since that time the MDA was signed, however, the owner-occupied housing market has shown signs of life throughout the center city where there is currently little supply available. Recent developments, led by 3CDC in Over-the-Rhine, have sold quickly and, in some cases, for more than $300 per square foot.

The Banks development has drawn a significant amount of publicity since its first phase opened in 2011, but work is far from over at the massive riverfront project site. As of now, The Banks is only approximately one-third of the way built out.

Mingle with Aaron Renn at This Month’s URBANexchange on 4/10

Aaron Renn in Cincinnati

Aaron Renn in Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in 2010. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

The weather has finally warmed up so we had decided to return the Moerlein Lager House to take in the view of the ever growing Smale Riverfront Park. As to avoid a conflict with a Reds home game, and also accommodate our special guest, this month’s URBANexchange will take place on Thursday, April 10 from 5:30pm to 8:30pm.

Our monthly URBANexchange will come one night after Aaron Renn, author of The Urbanophile, speaks at University of Cincinnati about the region’s sustainability and comparative advantages.

“It’s a great opportunity to share some of my observations on the city,” said Renn who told UrbanCincy he was contacted by the university in the wake of his commentary on Cincinnati’s streetcar debate last November.

“I plan to talk about the unique environments and assets of Cincinnati, the financial unsustainability of sprawl, how Cincinnati’s sprawl isn’t even close to the best anyway, and the barriers to execution in the deep community divisions.”

Renn’s guest lecture will take place at 5pm on Wednesday, April 9 at the Main Street Cinema inside the Tangeman University Center. Like our URBANexchange the following evening, the guest lecture is free and open to the public.

If you cannot make it to Renn’s lecture, or just want to get to spend more informal time chatting with him, you will have that chance at URBANexchange where he will be our special guest this month. The event will be a casual setting where you can meet others interested in what is happening in the city.

We will gather in the biergarten so that each person can choose how much or little they buy in terms of food or drink. Although we do encourage our attendees to generously support our kind hosts at the Moerlein Lager House.

We will be situated in the northwest corner of the biergarten (near the Moer To Go window), but you can also ask the host where the UrbanCincy group is located and they will be happy to assist.

The Moerlein Lager House is located on Cincinnati’s central riverfront and is located just one block from a future streetcar stop. If you choose to bike, there is free and ample bike parking is available near our location in the biergarten outside by the Schmidlapp Event Lawn.

Smale Riverfront Park Awarded $12.5M in Additional Public Funding

Dave Prather and the Cincinnati Park Board have released a new video update on Smale Riverfront Park. This latest update covers a lot of information due to the infusion of millions of new public dollars into the project.

In early March the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced that they had awarded $4.5 million to Smale Riverfront Park to pay for erosion and flooding control along that portion of the Ohio River.

What it also means is that the Cincinnati Park Board can use other private funding it has received for other components that had been planned for the Heekin/PNC Grow Up Great Adventure Playground but put on hold until additional funding was secured. Those items include a shade canopy, sandbox, enhanced lighting and landscaping, shade trees, granite seat walls, and shade pergola.

Since this additional work can now proceed, project officials have adjusted the overall project schedule so that it can proceed immediately and be completed at the same time as ongoing work, which is slated to open in spring 2015 ahead of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game to be held at Great American Ball Park.

The City of Cincinnati also approved $8 million in additional funding for the park at the end of last month. That money, officials say, will fund the rest of the next phase of work. City leaders also note that an additional $5 million in city funds will be needed for the project in 2017 to fully complete the park.

The new funding from USACE is the first federal investment in the project in years following a ban on earmark spending that had jeopardized the schedule for completion for the 45-acre central riverfront park.