PHOTOS: The Changing Face of Downtown Cincinnati

It’s not just housing that’s booming in the center city, there is also a slew of office, retail, hotel and infrastructure projects underway that are transforming Cincinnati’s skyline and its streetscapes.

All of the construction activity makes it feel as if there is work taking place in just about every corner of the central business district and its immediate surroundings. And for the most part, that feeling is valid.

In addition to the thousands of residential units under construction, work is also currently underway on the second phase of The Banks, which will include not only 300 additional apartments, but also General Electric’s new North American Global Operations Center, 313-room Renaissance Hotel, dunnhumbyUSA Centre, Mabley Place, reconstruction of Second Street, and work is about to get underway for the new 115-room Holiday Inn hotel at Seventh and Broadway Streets.

In addition to all of the construction work taking place, the weather earlier this month was terrific and made for a perfect time to take pictures of some of the center city’s beauty.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 22 photos were taken by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy between July 2 and July 9, 2014.

EDITORIAL: It’s Time for Cincinnati to Build a New First-Class Arena

The Cincinnati region has an arena problem that is two-fold. The first part of the problem is that there is no stand-out venue that offers both the capacity and modern amenities to attract large-scale events. The second is that the region has far too many venues competing with one another.

Within a one-hour drive from Fountain Square there are eight arenas with a capacity of more than 9,000 people for their primary tenants. Of these, only three have been built or undergone major renovations since the year 2000. The lone major project currently on the books is the $310 million renovation and rebuild of Rupp Arena in Lexington, which also happens to be the furthest away of the eight venues mentioned.

  1. Rupp Arena (23,500): Built in 1975 with minor renovations in 2001. Primary tenant is University of Kentucky athletics. Major renovation and rebuild planned for completion in 2017.
  2. U.S. Bank Arena (17,566): Built in 1975 with a major renovation in 1997 and subsequent minor renovations. Primary tenant is the minor league hockey Cincinnati Cyclones team.
  3. UD Arena (13,409): Built in 1969 with major renovations in 2002 and minor renovations again in 2010. Primary tenant is University of Dayton athletics.
  4. Fifth Third Arena (13,176): Built in 1989 with several minor renovations since. Primary tenant is University of Cincinnati athletics.
  5. Cintas Center (10,250): Built in 2000. Primary tenant is Xavier University athletics.
  6. Cincinnati Gardens (10,208): Built in 1949 with no major renovations since its opening. Primary tenant is the amateur women’s roller derby Cincinnati Rollergirls team.
  7. Bank of Kentucky Center (9,400): Built in 2008. Primary tenant is Northern Kentucky University athletics.
  8. Millett Hall (9,200): Built in 1968 with no major renovations since its opening. Primary tenant is Miami University athletics (sans hockey).

Recent talks closer to the core of our region have revolved around either embarking on a major renovation of Fifth Third Arena, or building a new one altogether; and performing major renovations on U.S. Bank Arena. The problem with these two approaches, however, fails to address the two core problems with the region’s plethora of arenas.

Any discussion on this topic should be focused on creating a stand-out venue that is both large enough and offers the modern amenities needed to attract major events, while also decluttering the regional arena landscape.

To that end, UrbanCincy recommends building a brand new arena adjacent to the Horseshoe Casino at Broadway Commons that would become the new home for the Cincinnati Cyclones, Cincinnati Rollergirls and University of Cincinnati Men’s Basketball. This venue would also accommodate the existing events held at U.S. Bank Arena and should be built in a way that is conducive for casino operators to program additional events, such as boxing, at the venue.

As part of this plan, U.S. Bank Arena and the Cincinnati Gardens should be torn down, and Fifth Third Arena used as the multipurpose facility it was originally intended to be.

This location makes perfect sense with immediate access to the center city’s hotels and convention facilities, casino, streetcar system, highways and abundant parking. Such a plan would also allow for the current U.S. Bank Arena site to be redeveloped with additional housing and shops akin to what is being developed at The Banks.

The land left over at the Cincinnati Gardens site in Bond Hill could then be repackaged, with surrounding land, to be developed as part of community-driven master plan.

As is often the case, funding is one of the primary hurdles preventing any of this from getting done. In this particular plan, each of the partners (University of Cincinnati, City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Horseshoe Casino) could contribute to the capital costs. Furthermore, value capture tools could be used for the U.S. Bank Arena and Cincinnati Gardens properties to help offset costs even more.

The last thing our region needs is another tax to pay for a sports or entertainment complex. Those scarce public resources should be reserved for more pressing things like improving our region’s transit network.

Our region’s political and business leaders need to think holistically when it comes to this challenge. Moving forward in a panicked and rushed fashion will get us an end result that does not solve the problems before us, and ultimately squanders public dollars.

Let’s build ourselves a modern arena venue that can attract top-level events, but do so without placing the burden on the taxpayers. Let’s also do so in a way that rids the region of some of its excess number of existing arenas, and frees up land to be redeveloped in a more productive manner for our neighborhoods.

There is a wealth of talent and C-Level executives in this region. Let’s get creative and start thinking beyond the sales tax. Let’s get this done.

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.

URBANexchange Returns to Taste of Belgium in Corryville This Thursday

URBANexchange at Taste of BelgiumIt’s been a busy month for news, so what else could be better than a gathering with fellow urbanists to talk about it all?

General Electric will most likely either locate their new Global Operations Center at The Banks or in Oakley, Cincy Bike Share is rapidly advancing, the Central Parkway Cycle Track had all sorts of controversy, Toyota will relocate its North American headquarters to Plano, Texas, the Republicans in town are now all agush for the Cincinnati Streetcar, ground was finally broken on the second major phase of work at The Banks, and new tenants will soon open at Findlay Market.

Plus, on top of all that, we’ve had Jocelyn and John in Atlanta for the APA 2014 National Planning Conference, and Jacob running all around Colombia to check out their transport systems.

But nevertheless, URBANexchange will go on and we’ll be having this month’s event at Taste of Belgium on Short Vine in Corryville again. The last time we gathered here we were joined by Vice Mayor David Mann and a large group filled the room. And for this month, Councilmember Chris Seelbach and State Representative candidate Dale Mallory have confirmed their attendance on Facebook.

Due to all this recent news, we figure there will be lots to debate and gossip about, so try to make some time in your schedule to join us sometime between 5:30pm and 8:30pm at Taste of Belgium in Corryville.

This month we will be giving away two prepaid transit passes for Metro, who, by the way, recently updated their system maps to include other regional transit operators and show the route of the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar.

Those interested in attending can come and go at any time during the event, which is free and open to anyone who would like to participate. We do, however, ask that you kindly support our generous host by drinking and eating like a Belgian.