Episode #42: Bob and Erin Marie Schwartz

NW 10th Avenue, PortlandOn the 42nd episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, John and Travis are joined by downtown residents Bob and Erin Marie Schwartz. We discuss some of our recent travels — Bob and Erin Marie recently returned from visiting Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, and Travis joined them in Portland — and talk about what Cincinnati can learn from these cities.

We talk about the role of The Banks, the possibility of a Northern Kentucky streetcar route, and the need for transit to build up the urban core rather than just providing a way for people to get in and out of downtown. We also talk about the proposed OTR parking plan, and Bob tells us about how the UC*Metro program helped turned him into a fan of transit. Finally, we discuss whether Cincinnati has a self-esteem issue and if we’re too concerned about getting outside validation.

 

Popular St. Louis-Based Pi Pizzeria to Open Cincinnati Location in AT580 Building

Pi Pizzeria is set to open its seventh location, and only its second outside of St. Louis. The Cincinnati location will be in the AT580 building at 6th and Main Streets, one block from the Contemporary Arts Center, 21c Museum Hotel, and Aronoff Center, near several major corporate headquarters, including Procter & Gamble, and within walking distance of the riverfront and sports stadiums. The restaurant will seat approximately 125 and is being designed by SPACE Architecture of St. Louis.

Pi at AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OH

“We’ve been admiring the Cincinnati market for a few years now, but just started our search about a year ago,” Pi Co-owner Chris Sommers told nextSTL. “We are amazed at the resurgence of Downtown and OTR, and had to be a part of it.” Sommers has had his eye on Cincinnati for some time before finally signing a lease. Chris’s wife Anne Schuermann Sommers is from Cincinnati and the couple visits frequently.

AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OHGoogle Streetview of 6th and Main in Cincinnati.

In addition to serving award-winning thin crust and deep dish pizzas with a signature corn meal crust, the restaurant focuses on local brews and plans to serve only St. Louis and Cincinnati beers. “We are also very excited to partner with our hometown St. Louis’ largest local brewer Schlafly, featuring their beers for the first time ever in Ohio,” Sommers shared. The St. Louis Brewery, maker of Schlafly beers, is the largest craft brewer in St. Louis at 60,000 barrels per year. Schlafly produces Pi Common, a take on the Anchor Steam beer that started the craft brewing revolution.

A variety of beers from the burgeoning brewery scene in Cincinnati will be featured. “The brewing scene has exploded in Cincinnati and we can’t wait to pour as many local craft beers as possible,” stated Sommers. Pi Partners with local breweries in St. Louis and Washington D.C., hosting events, tap takeovers and offering custom brews, available exclusively at Pi. They plan to do the same in Cincinnati. Sommers also envisions a streetcar beer crawl once the line is running. The Cincinnati Streetcar will run on Main street past Pi.

Although created for internal design purposes, Pi agreed to share this video exclusively with nextSTL and UrbanCincy:

Sommers waited out the streetcar debate before committing to a Cincinnati location. “We choose our locations based on major transit lines, and feel the streetcar will be game-changing for Cincinnati,” Sommers told nextSTL. Pi’s original St. Louis location is located in the transit-rich Delmar Loop, the downtown St. Louis Pi sits atop a MetroLink station, and the D.C. restaurant is near both Metro Center and Chinatown Stations.

Pi at the MX - St. Louis, MOThe Downtown St. Louis Pi location.

Pi at the MX - St. Louis, MOThe Downtown St. Louis and Cincinnati Pi restaurant locations share many similarities (via Google Streetview).

The original Pi location opened in the City of Louis on Delmar Boulevard in 2008. Later that year, then Senator Obama visited St. Louis, speaking to an estimated 100,000 people at the Arch. An aide from Obama’s campaign was sent to get pizza and chose his favorite new pizzeria, Pi. The President became a fan and Sommers and Co-owner Frank Uible personally delivered Pi pizza to the White House for a 2009 dinner.

Capitalizing on the publicity, Pi opened a location in D.C.’s Penn Quarter in 2011. There are now four locations in the St. Louis area, including the Delmar Loop, Downtown St. Louis, Kirkwood, and Chesterfield. A Pi Truck also roams the roads and was used extensively to test the market in both downtown St. Louis and D.C. before opening brick and mortar locations. Sommers and Uible recently opened Gringo, a Mexican restaurant, in St. Louis’ Central West End, and have explored other restaurant concepts.

Pi was recently back in the Presidential spotlight, as it was recognized during the President’s weekly radio address for increasing employee minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The Pi mention is at 1:31 in the video below. The current minimum wage in Missouri is $7.50 an hour, and $7.95 in Ohio. Pi employees in Ohio will make a minimum wage of $10.10.

Pi at AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OHA screen grab from above video shows street level design.

The AT580 building has been largely vacant since 2011 when Great American Insurance Company moved a couple blocks to Queen City Square, a building that happens to have been designed by Gyo Obata of the St. Louis architecture firm HOK. The 17-story tower was designed by RTKL Associates and Harry Hake & Partners for Southern Ohio Bank. Construction was completed in 1974.

The building sold in 2012 for $16M, the minimum bid allowed as a sheriff’s sale, after the owner had defaulted on its loan. The tower was again sold in early 2013 to Anderson Birkla Investment Partners of Indianapolis for $13.7 million. The new owner has proposed 179 apartments, 48,000 sf of retail space on two levels and 181,000 sf of office space, expected to be anchored by Fifth Third Bank. Last year, the Cincinnati city council approved of a 12-year property tax exemption valued at $4.8M.

If all goes according to plan, build out will begin in the coming weeks and a grand opening could be held in August.

This article is cross-posted at nextSTL.com

Episode #29: Looking Back at 2013 (Part 1)

"Line the Line" Event

On the 29th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, the team takes a look back at what happened in Cincinnati in 2013. Our conversation was so long that we’ve split it into two episodes. The first half was dominated by talk of the Cincinnati Streetcar project, which had been saved by a council supermajority just a week before the recording took place. The second half of the conversation will be coming your way on the next episode of the podcast.

“Line the Line” rally photo by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy.

Cincinnati’s Streetcar Victory a Decade in the Making

The final, final, final vote for the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar took place today. Perhaps by now you all know the outcome. A six-person veto-proof super-majority voted to continue construction. Cincinnati, as Mayor John Cranley (D) said today, will have a streetcar.

What is important in this moment is to realize that everyone involved lived up to their campaign promises. Wendell Young (D), Chris Seelbach (D) and Yvette Simpson (D) stood strong in their support of the project – even in the face of uncertain outcomes.

At the same time, Christopher Smitherman (I), Amy Murray (R) and Charlie Winburn (R) held true to their promises to oppose the streetcar no matter what. They were the three lone votes against restarting construction.

Construction work will soon resume on Cincinnati’s $133M streetcar project. Photographs by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy.

Then there are the three council members who campaigned on taking a serious look at the numbers and making a prompt decision about whether to cancel the project or proceed. P.G. Sittenfeld (D), David Mann (D) and Kevin Flynn (C) all did that once they saw the numbers in detail. Cancelling a project this far along would have been fiscally irresponsible, and they voted true to their campaign promises to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars.

UrbanCincy has been covering this project since we started the website back in 2007. Our original coverage focused on redevelopment efforts in Downtown and then Over-the-Rhine, but the streetcar quickly became a big part of that redevelopment narrative. It is no secret that we are strong supporters of the project and believe it will improve mobility in the center city and set the city on a path toward building the regional rail system everyone seems to now desire.

There are many people responsible for getting Cincinnati to this stage, but the biggest credit must absolutely be given to John Schneider. If it were not for his unrelenting leadership on this issue over the past decade, we would not be anywhere close to where we are now.

The emergence of Mayor Mark Mallory (D) then gave the city a prominent leader to push the project forward, and Mallory leaned on the expertise and leadership of former City Manager Milton Dohoney and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D) to get it all done.

It is important to keep in mind that the person who first pushed for the Uptown extension to be included in phase one was in fact Roxanne Qualls. The Uptown Connector was never part of the original phase one plan, but was added in later as “Phase 1b” at the urging of Qualls, who then worked with Mallory and then Governor Ted Strickland (D) to secure state funding to make that happen.

Hard fought victories in 2009 and 2011 helped keep the project alive, but also delayed it and ran up the project’s costs. Those delays also allowed enough time for Governor John Kasich (R) to assume office and pull the $52 million in state funding Ohio had originally pledged.

So while Qualls’ leadership and vision to have the first phase include the Uptown Connector is not being realized at this exact moment, our attention must now turn to extending the streetcar line to neighborhoods in Uptown as quickly as possible.

Cincinnati Regional Rail Plan
The first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar system is a small part of a much larger regional rail plan envisioned by leaders. Map provided by OKI Regional Council of Governments.

A new wave of leaders and organizers has emerged in Cincinnati as a result of this most recent battle over the streetcar project. This includes the heroic efforts of Eric Avner and the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation for drumming up private support to contribute $9 million toward the project’s ongoing operations.

Their hard work and courage should certainly be commended, but let’s also not forget the people who have been pounding the pavement on behalf of the streetcar since the beginning. Most Cincinnatians in 2007 did not know what a streetcar was, much less a modern one and the benefits it would bring. The hard work put in by those people early on was necessary.

This movement was not built overnight and these supporters are not fair-weather fans of the city. The movement has grown in size and grown more sophisticated over the past decade and is now stronger than ever.

You too can join this urbanist movement in Cincinnati.

We gather at the Moerlein Lager House around the first Thursday of every month to host URBANexchange – an urbanist networking and social event. We also partner with the Niehoff Urban Studio at the University of Cincinnati to study complex issues facing our city and engage the public in that dialog. Please join us at our next URBANexchange and pay us a visit in Corryville for our next event with the Niehoff Urban Studio.

Now is a time to celebrate and reflect. But it is not the time to get complacent. There are more issues to address and this energy that saved the streetcar needs to be redirected there. Congratulations, Cincinnati! Let’s get to work.

Streetcar opponents don’t just oppose streetcars, they oppose all transit investments

We have heard it all before here in Cincinnati. In 2002 the problem COAST and others had with MetroMoves was that it was too big and too expensive. That county-wide transit tax lost at the polls and put regional rail and bus transit on the backburner. So what to do next? Well if that was too big, then let’s start smaller. So the City of Cincinnati decided to pursue a small component of that regional plan that could be implemented without raising taxes.

The problem opponents now cite is that the Cincinnati Streetcar is a “toy choo-choo train” that “doesn’t go anywhere.” Their alternative is to invest in Metro’s bus system and perhaps operate a center city, rubber tire trolley. While the regional bus improvements should be done regardless, the problem is that these opponents are not willing to commit to any funding for these improvements. They’re empty offers, and like Cincinnati, San Antonio is dealing with the same nonsense. More from The Atlantic:

The precise difference between streetcars and light rail may not be important to those opposing VIA’s plans. State Senator Campbell’s recent complaint to the attorney general reportedly stated that ATD funds should only be used “to improve San Antonio’s roads,” even though the law that created the ATD sales tax doesn’t impose that restriction. What’s being truly opposed here may just be rail projects in general, whatever their form. “For some folks, if it’s on a rail, it’s rail,” says Gonzalez.

Attorney General Abbott rejected VIA’s bond sales — a move that caught the agency by surprise, since Abbott had issued preliminary approval for them. The streetcar lawsuit was immediately dropped, with the opponents saying they got what they wanted.

Gonzalez says VIA is considering whether to use an alternative avenue through the court system to get approval for the bond sales. For now, he sees a situation rife with irony. For one thing, the streetcar opponents who claim to be fighting for taxpayers are actually costing the city money to deal with the lawsuits and the bond delay. Beyond that, the real losers at the moment are not streetcar advocates at all but the bus riders who use the transit centers.