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.

VIDEO: New Playground to Open at Smale Riverfront Park in May

Despite all the recent bad weather, work has been progressing on the 45-acre Smale Riverfront Park. The latest phase of construction activity has moved to the west side toward Paul Brown Stadium, and is now becoming visually identifiable.

The next part of the park that will open to the public is the Heekin/PNC Grow Up Great Adventure Playground, which is scheduled to be completed this May.

“The newest feature to be completed is a serpentine wall that’s along the east edge of the playground,” Smale Riverfront Park project manager Dave Prather explained the eight-minute video update. “The way its sculpted entices challenges and encourages folks to do a balance beam walking and being challenged by the narrowness and the way it serpentines its way south toward a toddler-sized slide that is en route and will be installed in the coming months.”

Meanwhile, a series of columns, approximately 75% complete, are now jutting up from the ground at Carol Ann’s Carousel and the Anderson Pavilion.

The glass-enclosed carousel will sit on the upper level of the site that will be flanked by the historic Roebling Suspension Bridge and the Vine Street Fountain & Steps. Cincinnati Park Board officials say that the Vine Street design will mirror that of the currently completed Walnut Street Fountain & Steps.

The Anderson Pavilion will include an event and conference center fronting onto the rebuilt Mehring Way and will sit directly beneath the carousel. Both the carousel and pavilion space are scheduled to open in spring 2015.

Prather goes on in great detail about the various construction activities, taking place now, and lays out what construction work will be taking place in the months ahead.

“There’s going to be a lot happening in the next six weeks or so.”

Episode #13: 2012 in Review

On the thirteenth episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, the UrbanCincy team discusses Cincinnati’s major accomplishments in 2012 and looks forward to what’s coming in 2013.

Travis Estell, Randy Simes, Jake Mecklenborg, and John Yung are joined by Chris Cousins of UrbanOhio to talk about a number of downtown developments, including the Smale Riverfront Park, Washington Park, new businesses at The Banks and in Over-the-Rhine, the Fort Washington Way caps, and the Brent Spence Bridge. We also discuss USquare in Clifton Heights, Short Vine in Corryville, and developments in Walnut Hills. We discuss why projects like Oakley Station and Rookwood Exchange are missed opportunities.

Finally, we reflect on how UrbanCincy has changed in 2012, with new events like URBANexchange, and look back on our first year of The UrbanCincy Podcast.

Smale Riverfront Park photo by Thadd Fiala.