Join UrbanCincy in Showing Your Love for Mahogany’s This Week

The restaurant and bar industry is a tough one. The vast majority of them fail, and many come and go in Cincinnati’s center city every year. One of those businesses that has been struggling, as has been well publicized by the local media, is Mahogany’s.

Mahogany’s got its start in Hamilton in 2010, but relocated its southern-style cuisine restaurant to The Banks in 2012. One of the things that makes Mahogany’s unique is that it is one of the few locally owned and operated establishments in the massive riverfront development’s first phase. Mahogany’s is also the only African American-owned business at The Banks.

Mahogany's

After receiving financial aid from the City of Cincinnati to build out their space, owners have struggled to make payments on their rent and repayment of those loans. They have until Tuesday, April 1 to make a $25,000 payment or be evicted.

The owners have publicly discussed their struggles and, according to their landlord, have been making good faith efforts to repay their debts. Mahogany’s is a terrific establishment and it is worthy of our business, and worthy of rallying together to save.

As a result, we would like to encourage our readers to patronize Mahogany’s this week in order to help boost sales and support the owners in their effort to make the $25,000 payment. If you would like to meet with some of our team members, and others from Cincinnati’s urbanist community, then please join us on Thursday, March 27. We’ll be there for dinner and drinks.

But the most important thing is not us. It’s about supporting a great local business that many out-of-towners are exposed to during baseball and football season. So if you cannot join us on Thursday, please go another day or evening this week.

After a brutal winter that has been tough on everyone, and right before the start of the baseball season, it would be a real tragedy to see Mahogany’s evicted. So please show your #MahoganysLove this week.

We recommend trying the ribs or the chicken wing dinner. Or if you are vegetarian, they also have a very good vegetarian plate that you can build yourself. Mahogany’s also has a full bar and offers happy hour specials daily from 4pm to 7pm. So be sure to come both hungry and thirsty. See you Thursday!

URBANexchange Hosts Vice Mayor at Short Vine Taste of Beligum

Snow may still be on the ground but we will have warm waffles at this month’s URBANexchange event! That’s right, we are pleased to announce that for this month’s event we have moved to Taste of Begium’s Short Vine location. Come down for some waffles and chicken or some Belgian beers this Thursday from 5:30pm to 8:00pm. This is a great opportunity to check out the new development that has opened in Uptown.

As always, the event will be a casual setting where you can meet others interested in what is happening in the city. We will gather in a space near the bar 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 Taste of Belgium.

We are pleased to announce that Vice-Mayor David Mann (D) has indicated he will be attending the event. Mr. Mann has a distinguished career in the city as a former Mayor and Councilman. He returned to City Council last November.

Short Vine Taste of Belgium

As always URBANexchange is free and open to the public. This month we are giving away two $25 gift cards  to Taste of Belgium as door prizes so be sure to drop your name into the raffle.

We will be situated near the bar in the center of the restaurant but you can also ask the host where the UrbanCincy group is located and they will be happy to assist.

Taste of Belgium is located on Vine Street in Correville between the University of Cincinnati’s east and west campuses and is located just two blocks from a future uptown streetcar stop. If you choose to bike there is free and ample bike parking is available outside the building. The venue is also served by Metro’s Metro+ bus , as well as routes  #19, #78 and #46 buses.

Photo by Jake Mecklenborg

EDITORIAL: Eight-Point Plan for Fixing Cincinnati’s Broken Parking System

Cincinnati Parking Meter

Broken and malfunctioning meters plague Cincinnati’s parking system. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

We are continuing to look at opportunities inside City Hall that could help alleviate Cincinnati’s budget and pension liabilities, while also maintaining and improving service delivery.

In addition to the waste collection reforms that include a shift to a Pay As You Throw system, we will be making other specific policy recommendations that we feel will improve the quality of service delivery while also improving the City’s finances – ultimately working toward a long-term, structurally balanced budget.

Back in June 2010, UrbanCincy examined the finances of the city’s parking system. In this analysis, and comparison with cities from around the country, we discovered a broken system that was not performing the functions it needed to perform, and was not financially solvent.

As a result, we recommended a seven-year lease of all 5,700 of the city’s on-street parking meters. We estimated that such a deal could yield just over $3 million in annual payments, while also ridding the city of the associated financial liabilities. We did not estimate what an upfront payment could be due to the infinite number of variables that could affect that.

While much has changed politically since that time, the facts remain the same. Cincinnati’s parking system is broken, and is in need of immediate upgrades and reforms.

One of the first actions by the newly elected Mayor John Cranley (D), however, was to halt the signed Parking Lease & Modernization agreement, executed by former City Manager Milton Dohoney, which was structured to solve these exact problems. Under that deal the City would have leased four parking garages, one parking lot and all of the City’s on-street parking meters to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority.

The Port then agreed to work with Xerox to manage the system and implement comprehensive upgrades to the deteriorating and outdated system. This would have included electronic parking meters that accept credit cards, real-time parking availability data systems and the rehabilitation of existing lots and garages.

The deal would have also provided the City of Cincinnati with an upfront payment of $85 million, generated approximately $3 million in annual installment payments over the life of the agreement, and guaranteed approximately $98 million in capital investments into the system. For better or worse, that agreement has been jeopardized and we are essentially back at square one.

So where and what exactly is square one?

The City has been experiencing declining revenues from its parking assets for several years now. Revenue collections peaked years ago, but have been declining recently due to inadequate enforcement and the parking system’s poor state of repair. These assets require constant and expensive maintenance and upgrades, so virtually all of the money generated by the Parking System is spent maintaining the Parking System.

This is important. The Parking System does not generate any excess revenue for the city to use on other basic services.

In most years the Parking System is revenue neutral, meaning that the revenues it generates cover its expenses. This is acceptable, unless you are deferring maintenance costs in order to make the numbers match. This has been the case in Cincinnati for years, and has left the Parking System in terrible condition.

The situation has gotten worse in recent years as council has worked to balance the budget without laying off employees. In both 2010 and 2011, the city spent considerably more on the Parking System than it collected in an effort to keep it up to snuff. We are talking $3.6 million more in 2010 and $1.1 million more in 2011. This stopped in 2012 when the city cut its annual investments in the Parking System by several million dollars.

Cincinnati's Broken Parking System

For reference, investments in the Parking System today are approximately 38% lower than they were when the City invested $13.3 million into the Parking System in 2010. Over that same period, the parking fund balance has dropped from $12.5 million to $7.8 million.

Simply put: revenues are down, maintenance is being deferred and the parking fund is being depleted. This is not sustainable.

The recent proposal from the Cranley Administration, which was immediately and thoroughly rejected by just about everyone except five council members, does not address what the problems are, and therefore does not propose appropriate solutions for those problems.

The situation and trajectory is dire and UrbanCincy recommends that the City of Cincinnati move forward with upgrades to its Parking System immediately. Absent the previously agreed upon Parking Lease & Modernization deal or some other public-private partnership; here is how we suggest doing so:

  1. Issue bonds to upgrade all parking meters in the city to use the latest electronic payment collection and occupancy tracking technology. This would include pay-by-phone capabilities.
  2. Utilize the new technology to implement variable pricing structures that reflect real-time market demand. If there is a Bengals game downtown and meters near the stadium are packed, then the rates on those meters would increase, while meters further away would maintain lower rates. In neighborhood business districts the same would be true. When demand is high so should be prices. When demand is low, prices should drop accordingly to make it a more attractive option for those visiting our neighborhood business districts.
  3. Release a new application, website and text alert system that notifies drivers of parking space availability and informs them of the associated rates.
  4. Sell the city-owned parking lot at Third Street and Central Avenue so that it can be repurposed into a tax-producing property.
  5. Create a special lease agreement for city-owned parking garages and lots, so that the separate authority could manage advertising at these locations. The Ohio Revised Code currently does not grant cities authority to sell advertising in such a manner, but not allowing for advertisements is unnecessarily cutting off much-needed revenue. Let’s get creative so that we can maximize revenues without burdening our residents, businesses or visitors.
  6. Tear down the Garfield Garage, which is in greatest need of repair, and market the site to developers interested in building on it. Such a development agreement could include the provision of the same or greater number of parking spaces to be replaced – similar to the deal signed for the new residential tower to be built at Fourth and Race Streets in the place of the Pogue’s Garage. This will free the city from a major capital expense that would further deplete the parking fund in the near future.
  7. Tear down the Seventh & Sycamore Garage, which is the only thing blocking the construction of a $14.2 million, 115-room hotel and 725-space garage from being built in its place. The existing 450-space garage is also in poor condition and its removal would be another major liability coming off the City’s books.
  8. Conduct a citywide study to determine appropriate adjustments to the hours of operation for on-street parking meters on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood level.

Following through on these eight recommendations will allow the city to maintain ownership and control of its Parking System while also allowing it to make the necessary upgrades and improve the balance sheets for this portion of the budget. These changes will make the Parking System a revenue generating asset not just in rhetoric, but in reality.

The increased revenues will allow for the City to replenish the parking fund, make its upgrades and take additional revenue and use it to support other essential but non-revenue generating public services.

February URBANexchange is Tonight

URBANexchange

Sick of winter? So are we, so come join us in keeping warm at the Moerlein Lager House for the February URBANexchange tonight! This month’s event is dedicated to sneckdowns, the snow filled islands in roads where cars do not travel but where pedestrians could one day roam.

As always, 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.

URBANexchange is free and open to the public. This month we are giving away two $25 gift cards from Findlay Market as door prizes so be sure to drop your name into the raffle.

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.

Retooling Cincinnati’s Industrial Neighborhoods for the 21st Century

In the last few years, evidence has shown the possibility for a revival of manufacturing within the United States. Recent trends have seen the “reshoring” of factories – with polls showing more and more companies considering the move – and the expansion and opening of new factories as well.

Much of this reindustrialization has occurred in the South and, for the most part, outside major urban areas. For far too long cities, especially northern cities in the Rust Belt, have written off an economy based on manufacturing as something from a bygone era, never to come back.

Spring Grove Village
Once viable industrial neighborhoods like Spring Grove Village have made way for the proliferation of car dealerships and fast food restaurants. Could their future be something greater? Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

Cities from Cleveland to Flint have tried to reinvent themselves as a something like a Rust Belt version of Portland, Oregon, thus turning their back on any sort of industrial and economic policy in the hopes that gentrification and arts will revive their city.

While these sorts of developments have a place in economic policy for American cities, it is an unwise move for industrial cities such as Cincinnati to turn their backs on the opportunity to attract industry into the city once again.

Cincinnati is well-positioned to capitalize on a manufacturing renaissance in the nation. With incredible industrial infrastructure, an already heavy industrial sector in the region, and an incredible amount of vacant space, the city can create an economy where the bustling coffee shops and boutiques of Over-the-Rhine are only a short walk from the buzz of manufacturing (advanced and traditional alike) in Queensgate and the West End.

The days of entire cities being built upon industrial production have passed, that is without a doubt. But when urbanists discuss cities with mixed-use, diverse economies, manufacturing must be included.

These higher-than-average paying jobs could attract residents and revitalize neighborhoods. Through aggressive economic and industrial planning in the city, zoning that doesn’t ignore manufacturing, labor cooperation, and innovative education initiatives, Cincinnati could become a nationwide example of a city building a solid, diversified economic foundation on which to reclaim its storied past and prepare for a healthy future.

Editor’s Note: Jacob D. Fessler is a new member of the UrbanCincy team. He grew up in Northern Kentucky’s Erlanger community and went on to study International Relations and Latin American Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, and is currently studying International Affairs at the University of Cincinnati.

Jake will focus on urban economics and specifically examine policies that impact our region’s industrial – and thus economic – competitiveness. How and what can Cincinnati do to inject new life and jobs into the Mill Creek Valley? How should our community leaders be looking to improve earnings and the financial health and stability of our residents? These are the kinds of questions he will be exploring. Please join us in welcoming Jake to our team!

EDITORIAL: Cincinnati Leaders Should Implement a PAYT Waste Management System

As the new mayor and city council continue to get settled in to their new offices, we would like to suggest a policy reform that should be enacted immediately to help improve the city’s environment, balance its budget and give residents and businesses greater flexibility in terms of their trash collection.

Since the city debuted its new system of trash collection, it has been riddled with complaints from upset citizens and business owners unhappy about not being able to throw away the amount of trash that they generate. This is a problem since reports of illegal dumping have picked up in various neighborhoods.

At the same time, the new system represents an improvement over the old in terms of its efficiency. The city is now able to reduce staff levels on each garage truck, avoid safety risks associated with employees lifting and maneuvering heavy trash cans, and boost recycling rates. All of these reforms save the city money and help the city protect its workers from injury on the job.

In order to resolve the ongoing issues, while also preserving the advances that have been made, UrbanCincy urges the new mayor and city council to immediately implement a Pay As You Throw (PAYT) system.

Such a system is supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for its environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and its equity. What the USEPA has noticed is that communities using such a system have realized increased recycling rates, balanced and consistent revenue streams for municipalities looking to offset the costs of their waste collection, and improved equity in terms of how payments are made by the diverse range of users in the system.

As of 2006, USEPA data showed that 243 communities throughout Ohio were utilizing a PAYT system. Cincinnati should be the next.

When implementing a PAYT system, communities are able to choose from charging users a specific fee per bag or can of waste they generate. In communities where the capabilities are available, like Cincinnati, officials can be more precise and charge residents based on the weight of trash they generate.

Due to the potential complexities and higher administrative costs of managing such a variable-rate system, we recommend that city officials set a base rate for each 64-gallon can, with fixed prices for each additional can after that.

This is both a fair and effective means of managing waste collection. It allows users to generate as much or as little trash as they desire without any fear of exceeding the size constraints of their trash can. Those who recycle more, and discard less, are rewarded with lower fees.

If the new mayor and city council would like to pursue a version of this approach that could benefit low-income communities, then we would recommend developing a partnership with a local company or organization, or pursue grant money, that could cover the costs of any user within the city’s established empowerment zones. This would allow the city to continue to improve its financial standing and service delivery, while also working to aid residents and businesses within the neighborhoods that need it most.

In the last full year of budget data, the City of Cincinnati spent $11,320,530 on its Waste Collections Program. This was a $758,740 reduction from the previous year’s expenditures due largely to the elimination of 12 full-time equivalent staff positions. Meanwhile, there is no direct revenue source to pay for this program.

Of course, COAST and its allies successfully pushed through a broadly written Charter amendment in 2011 (Issue 47), which was opposed by the Cincinnati Regional Chamber of Commerce, that prohibits the City from assessing, levying, or collecting taxes or general assessment on real properties, or against the owners or occupants thereof, for the collection of trash, garbage, waste, rubbish or refuse.

What this means is that the City is permanently stuck with an $11-12 million hole in its budget every year. Most communities around the nation and throughout the region already charge their residents and businesses directly for waste collection. Cincinnati has been unique in being able to not directly charge for this service, but times have changed, and so must its policies. Waste collection should collect as much in revenue as is reasonable to help offset the costs to administer the program.

If the new mayor and city council want to get real about passing a structurally balanced budget while not severely degrading the services it provides its residents and businesses, then there should be no question about whether or not to implement a PAYT system as quickly as possible. We cannot afford to let allow an $11.3 million hole sit in our budget.

Implementing a Pay As You Throw system will help structurally balance the city’s budget. It will help improve our environment and the health of our communities. And it will improve the lives for Cincinnati residents and businesses who demand high quality public services with the flexibility they desire in their day-to-day lives. And most importantly, it has the ability to do all of this in an equitable manner for all Cincinnatians.