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.

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!

Small Businesses Have Been Biting the Dust Early in 2014

Small Business ClosuresA staggering number of small businesses in Greater Cincinnati have resolved to shut their doors at the start of 2014. Already more than a dozen establishments have been effected since late last year in a downturn that has not been as drastic since 2008.

Cord Camera was the first to announce it would close. Once prosperous with over 30 stores in Ohio and Indiana, its remaining eight retailers struggled to meet expectations during the holiday shopping season. Chief Financial Officer, John Crotty, said the company’s demise was due to the increasing popularity of digital photography with smartphones and less demand for printing pictures.

The next was the shocking departure of It’s Just Crepes, with a vague note on their website that read “Thanks for a great five years!” The eatery had expanded to three locations, two downtown and another in Crescent Springs, and appeared to be constantly bustling during lunchtime. Both of the restaurant’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were shut down without notice, and the owners have not been able to be reached for comment.

Decorative retailer, Joseph Williams Home, began sounding the alarm in the fourth quarter, discounting items up to 60% off through the end of December. Owner Fred Arrowood explained that his five year lease was ending for his space at the corner of Thirteenth and Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. Upon renegotiating, he was unable to come to an agreement for another five-year lease with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), who wanted to increase rent despite the store’s marginal sales.

“3CDC has become focused on restaurants and bars rather than retail and meeting the needs of residents,” said Arrowood. In an interview with the Cincinnati Business Courier, Anastatia Mileham, Vice President of Communications for 3CDC, attributed the increase in rent to high demand for prime real estate in Over-the-Rhine, like Arrowood’s corner store location.

Further complicating the matter locally was a combination of aging owners and slow sales, such as was the case with Chez Nora in Covington. Just shy of its 20th Anniversary, the three-floor restaurant and jazz bar never recovered from the economic decline and lost too many customers to competition across the river.

“We got culinarily passed by,” said owner Jimmy Gillece of the new eateries that developed as part of The Banks and revitalization of Over-the-Rhine.

Down the street, Behle Street Café succumbed to a similar fate. After 19 years in operation, the loss of two major companies in Covington and new competition at The Banks and in Over-the-Rhine, prompted owner Shawn Thomas to close the restaurant. “We just couldn’t keep up. Although great for Cincinnati, it’s not so good for Covington,” he stated in a release.

The litany of other lost businesses continues to grow, including: Enzo’s (Over-the-Rhine), Bayou Fish House (Newport), Spare Time Grill (Alexandria), Take The Cake (Northside), Fabulous Finds For Less (Bellevue), Mayberry (Over-the-Rhine), Smartfish Studio (Over-the-Rhine), and Past & Presents (Bellevue).

Not all the news is grim, however, as many of these locations have either already been filled by another local business, or will be soon.

Five years is traditionally the make or break point for small businesses – businesses that exist to generate a customer. It will be increasingly important going forward that entrepreneurs are creating shops that meet the demand of a community and allow for the businesses to be sustainable.

But as businesses continue to reach the end of their tenure and evaluate progress, consumers should brace themselves for the trend of closings to continue.

Next up on the chopping block will be vintage clothing shop Atomic Number Ten, which closes its doors on Saturday, January 18. Located at Thirteenth and Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, owner Katie Garber simply stated that it was time to move on to bigger and better things. “We really hope you can make it in to say goodbye,” Garber wrote to her customers in a blog post. “It’s been a great ride!”

Mayoral Election Will Impact Cincinnati’s Planning Future

Cincinnati is in the midst of revitalization. There have been several significant accomplishments achieved since 2007 when the city’s Planning Department was reconstituted. Initiatives such as Plan Cincinnati and the development of Form-based code have united regional leaders and communities to help build a shared vision of the city’s future.

These efforts could be affected drastically with the election of a new mayor on November 5th.

Qualls: Focus on vision and and consensus building:
In her time as Mayor in the 1990’s and when she returned to City Council in 2007 Roxanne Qualls (C) has been the leader in implementing a bold vision for Cincinnati through planning policies. In the 1990’s, Qualls lead the effort to narrow Fort Washington Way which allowed for the expansion of downtown and the conversion of the riverfront into a showcase for the city.

The award winning Banks Master Plan owes its existence and implementation to Qualls’s dedicated leadership in establishing the Riverfront Steering Committee which developed the plan. By the time Qualls returned to council the plan had advanced through Mayor Mark Mallory (D) who formed The Banks Working Group and began implementing the plan in 2008.

Qualls has also been active in developing Plan Cincinnati, the city’s recently adopted comprehensive plan. But since her return on council she has been more closely associated with bringing form-based codes to Cincinnati.

Since 2007 she has led several groups on tours to Nashville, TN and Columbus, OH to learn more about form-based codes and how they benefit cities. Last month, that vision became reality when Madisonville became the first city neighborhood to adopt the form-based code regulating plan.

The Cincinnati form-based code is a comprehensive land use regulation that was developed by the city through years of community participation. It is a code that emphasizes that new development be constructed in a form that integrates into the traditional character of the neighborhood.

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Cranley: Focus on removing barriers for developers:
Running against Qualls is former council-member John Cranley (D) who served on council from 2001 to 2009. He resigned from council in 2009 to pursue building a private development in East Price Hill.

The Incline Square project, located next to the Queens Tower apartment building, was envisioned to have a 22,500 square-foot office building be constructed along with a 58-unit four-story apartment building and restaurant space. Only the residential and restaurant portions of that development were built.

A review of Cranley’s track record on council had shown that early in his council career, he had been an advocate for making the city more “developer friendly.” In 2002, he was instrumental as chairman on the Budget & Finance Committee in dissolving the city’s long standing Planning Department, the oldest continuously running planning division in the country at the time.

The dissolution came over disagreements between the Planning Department and a developer in Oakley for the Center City of Cincinnati development. The unprecedented move generated a good amount of public outcry.

In 2002 Cranley told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “”The Planning Department was almost given the mission of causing problems, because it was completely divorced from economic incentives and any kind of market reality.”

However; Cranley did not oppose Mallory’s effort in 2007 to reestablish the department. He also signed a motion with Qualls on advancing form-based codes in 2008, but at a recent mayoral debate sponsored by the Urban Land Institute, Cranley strongly opposed them. He has also stated his opposition to planning and zoning, stating that the solution to neighborhood problems is money.

The outcome of this election will determine the future vision and progress of Cincinnati. That vision of progress is either one forged on grand visions and community outreach or one that favors minimizing regulations and oversight to increase development in the city.

Free Sunday Parking viewed as somewhat problematic with renegotiated Chicago parking deal

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel today announced that he and the city’s finance and legal has settled a legal dispute with Chicago Parking Meters (CPM) that will provide for free parking in Chicago neighborhoods on Sundays and the introduction of a pay-by-cell option. The legal dispute originated over closed, added parking spaces or changes to periods of stay, hours of operation or parking rates and an estimated $1 billion in future charges over the life of the contract that would no longer be owed. Free Sunday parking is an issue many downtown Cincinnati businesses outside of The Banks have been arguing against, especially during Sundays with sporting events as they claim they can’t open their doors due to the lack of available metered parking. More from Streetsblog:

The proposed changes seem to be a good thing for the city overall, but the introduction of free Sunday parking is somewhat problematic. While I don’t have a problem with churchgoing seniors getting a break at the expense of people out on the town at night, free daytime parking in neighborhood retail districts could have unintended negative consequences.

On-street parking works best when its cost reflects the demand for spaces. When meter prices are steep in high-demand areas, it discourages people from parking in the same spot for long periods, which increases the chance that there will be open spots for short-term parking. When parking is free, it encourages visitors to park for longer periods, and it tempts employees to drive instead of walking, biking or taking transit to work. Their cars might occupy spaces all day, eliminating spots for potential customers.