Banks Concert Venue Still Up in the Air

“The CSO vote has been unanimously taken care of, in case that’s all you were here for,” were city councilman P.G. Sittenfeld’s words of dismissal on Wednesday, June 20th at the city council meeting in regards to the concert venue that is in action to be developed at the Banks. Several people got up to leave after his swift comment, but the questions for city and county leaders were far from being answered.

Music and Event Management Inc., a subsidiary of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, won the vote over the Columbus based PromoWest for who would develop the venue. But we still don’t know which lot the venue will be built in, or if the City will agree to pay for the parking garage pad that will elevate the venue out of the floodplain.

The lots in question are lot 27, a space adjacent to the Paul Brown Stadium which has been a popular location for Bengals fans to tailgate prior to the games, or lot 24, a much larger space across the street just south of Radius at the Banks and General Electric’s Global Operations Center.

The Bengals, which claim to have veto rights over development over three stories in height adjacent to the stadium, are partial to the venue being located at lot 24 claiming the usage of the lot for tailgating before Bengals home games. On average the Bengals play eight games at home per season.

Lot 24, however, has already received a submission from a joint venture formed by Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate Inc., Pennrose Development and Greiwe Development Group for an $85 million mixed-use project.

A mixed-use development would be in better compliance with the Banks Master Plan, which has been the guiding planning document for the entire development since 2000. The plan identified that lot for mixed-use residential development. Additionally, county leaders have valued property at The Banks at $4 million an acre, so building on a more compact location would leave room available for future developers.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune has commented on the matter, emphasizing that the Bengals do not have veto rights, but the possibility is open for the development to go somewhere besides lot 27.

Counter to that statement, City Councilman David Mann said that the Bengals do have veto rights over the property. Mayor John Cranley’s response to Mann was that direct negotiations should be made with the Bengals in order to come to an agreement on the location. Cranley said that he, too, is open to lot 24 being used as a music venue. The site already has the parking garage podium built.

Tom Gabelman, the attorney advising the county on The Banks has mentioned that the symphony’s proposal incorporates developing in Lot 27 adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium and keeping Lot 23 as park space for more than 90 percent of the time when it is not being used for outdoor concert space. Portune has said that the city and the county need to come to a decision about the music venue by the end of June.

Yet to be addressed is the status of the parking garage. Presently, Hamilton County commissioners expect the city to contribute up to $10 million for the garage, with all revenue going towards the county. The theory behind having the city contribute is that they would receive financial benefits from the income taxes of the people who lived and worked there.

Cranley has said that the council needs to re-evaluate the city’s relationship with the county when it comes to the dispersion of the revenue. “With GE, we gave 85 percent of income tax back, so it has not worked out how the city believed,” Cranley stated at a joint City Council and Hamilton County Commission meeting in early June. “I’m not aware we have $10 million sitting around somewhere.”

Will the plans for lot 24 to be primarily residential be ignored in order to comply with the disputed veto power of the Bengals? And if so, what does that mean for the rest of the Banks development?

An 18-acre venue where there otherwise would have been residential housing could steer the Banks away from its original vision as a new downtown neighborhood teaming with residents, office workers and visitors to yet another entertainment district. While already bookended by two stadiums, the challenges are great but not insurmountable. Realizing the original vision adds more vibrancy to downtown and further helps grow the city and county tax base.

Ideally, even if the venue is built where MEMI proposed there will be enough land left at the riverfront to develop a complete neighborhood with a retail scene and community gathering spaces the way it was planned.

ODOT Looking For Public Feedback on Reworked Eastern Corridor Program

The Ohio Department of Transportation is looking for additional feedback related to transportation improvements for Cincinnati’s eastern neighborhoods and far reaching suburbs.

The survey comes after ODOT has said that they are backing away from original plans for the hotly debated Eastern Corridor project, which came under public scrutiny for its scope and potentially negative impact to established neighborhoods on the city’s east side.

While the project will most certainly not be moving forward as originally envisioned, public officials are still looking to get a grasp on what kinds of investments could be made to improve traffic congestion and mobility options.

So far, ODOT has held public meetings in Newtown and Mariemont, and will hold meetings in Anderson Township, Mt. Lookout, Fairfax and Mt. Washington in the coming weeks – the next of which will occur this evening, from 6pm to 8pm, in Mt. Lookout at Christ The King Parish Center at 927 Ellison Avenue.

Those unable to attend that or the other upcoming meetings, are being encouraged to complete an interactive web-based survey. Taking approximately five to 10 minutes to complete, the survey asks respondents to rank the importance of the types of transportation improvements needed for the corridor, while also asking for specific location-based improvement suggestions.

The survey and public feedback for this effort is focused on what ODOT calls Segments II and III of the project, and is not limited to those who live or work in the study area, but rather open to anyone who finds themselves passing through the area.

Early results from the survey show that respondents want ODOT to focus investments on improving public transit, biking and walking options, and travel time through the corridor. While the travel time option could mean many different things, it may be connected to the other two top rankings for multi-modal transportation enhancements.

Projects not specifically mentioned in the survey include the Oasis Corridor commuter rail line, which also has been on the ropes lately, and the Wasson Corridor, which is still unclear how it will proceed with respects to a trail only, or a light rail and trail combination.

As UrbanCincy wrote in June 2015, a new local access bridge crossing the Ohio River, from Columbia Tusculum to Dayton, KY, could also greatly help solve access and congestion issues on the east side of the region.

ODOT officials say that the online survey will remain open until Wednesday, June 15. After this evening’s open house in Mt. Lookout, the next meetings to take place in Fairfax and Mt. Washington will occur on May 4 and May 5, respectively.

East Side Commuter Rail Project in Doubt Following Vote to Develop Oasis Line as Trail

The fate of a long-planned commuter rail line along the eastern riverfront took an abrupt turn over the past month. With the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) Board voting 12-1 in favor of a plan to use it for the Ohio River Trail, it puts a severe damper on one day using it as commuter rail to the city’s eastern suburbs.

The commuter rail, commonly referred to as the Oasis Line, had been pursued by Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune (D) for many years. Over time the Oasis Line had become a component of the much larger Eastern Corridor project, which is also now facing a very unclear future of its own.

SORTA purchased the right-of-way in 1994 for $4 million, after which it sold the more southern of the parallel-running tracks and easement to Genesee & Wyoming – the parent company of the Indiana & Ohio Railway Company – which also has the rights to utilize the northern tracks that would be paved over as part of this plan.

As a result, SORTA officials still need to work out details with G&W in order to allow the bike trail to move forward.

“After a comprehensive three-month review of all aspects of the issue, the SORTA Board has overwhelmingly endorsed the concept of a temporary bike trail on the Oasis Line,” said Jason Dunn, Chair of the SORTA Board. “We will do all in our power to work collaboratively with our partners to support the development of the trail.”

The 4.75-mile section of trail will complete the Ohio River Trail on the city’s east side. This segment is estimated to cost $4 million, of which $1 million has already been raised by Ohio River Way. Other portions of the Ohio River Trail, which connects to the Little Miami Scenic Trail, have been completed in a piecemeal fashion over the years.

Project supporters say that if everything goes smoothly, the multipurpose trail could open as early as 2017.

“The trail is an asset that the community clearly wants and it will be an enhancement to multimodal transportation in the region,” Dunn stated in a prepared media release.

SORTA officials say the next steps call for working out regulatory issues with federal agencies, and coming up with a design for the trail that is both safe and amenable to G&W.

While this move may hamper future efforts of developing commuter rail along this corridor, SORTA officials structured the agreement to allow for future flexibility. This includes the design of what the transit agency is calling a “temporary trail” that does not preclude from future passenger rail service along the Oasis Line.

To some passenger rail advocates, however, the prospect of the Oasis Line going away is a good one.

“The riverfront is a perfect place for a recreational trail, while light rail transit would be better-suited serving our neighborhoods,” Derek Bauman, Chair of Cincinnatians for Progress and SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio, told UrbanCincy. “We should move forward with this plan to complete the Ohio River Trail, and then shift our attention to developing a recreational trail and light rail line along the Wasson Corridor.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: In August 2010, UrbanCincy provided an in-depth look at the plans for the Oasis Line. Then in February 2012, UrbanCincy published a controversial editorial that called for a new vision with the Oasis Line being utilized as a trail, and the Wasson Line as a combined trail and light rail corridor.

Support Continues to Grow for Daily Train Service Between Cincinnati and Chicago

Midwest Regional Rail ServiceOhio is surprisingly one of the nation’s least-served states by intercity passenger rail service, but All Aboard Ohio is working to change that.

Perhaps best well known for their fruitless advocacy for the 3C Corridor – an intercity passenger rail line that would have linked Ohio’s largest cities – All Aboard Ohio has regained relevancy as of late. While continually advocating for improvements on existing Amtrak service across the northern reaches of the state, the non-profit organization has also become increasingly involved with efforts to establish rail service between Columbus and Chicago, and Cincinnati and Chicago.

Columbus currently has no connections to the capital of the economically robust Great Lakes region, but Cincinnati does, albeit ever so slightly. As of now, Cincinnatians can get to Chicago via the scrappy three-day-a-week train service offered on Amtrak’s Cardinal Route. In addition to not being daily service, trains infamously arrive and depart in the middle of the night.

This is something, however, that area leaders and All Aboard Ohio officials are working to change. One potential example, they say, is to extend existing service offered on Amtrak’s Hoosier Route. The combination of Amtrak’s Cardinal and Hoosier routes offers Indianapolis daily service to Chicago. From there, the hope is to make gradual improvements to bring the service up to 110mph speeds.

“There is a buzz and excitement in southwest Ohio about connecting to Indy and Chicago that is palpable,” explained Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio. “Even those that have not necessarily been fans of previous rail projects see the necessity of connecting to Chicago – the business and commerce epicenter of the U.S. between the coasts.”

The energy Bauman speaks of was recently seen at an area meeting held by All Aboard Ohio at the Christian Moerlein Tap Room in Over-the-Rhine. According to Ken Prendergast, Executive Director of All Aboard Ohio, such meetings are typically pretty dull, but this was not the case in Cincinnati.

“Our free local meetings are usually less extravagant than our statewide meetings, and are more akin to briefing or coordination gatherings,” Prendergast told UrbanCincy. “They generally only draw a dozen or two dozen people, so this meeting’s attendance was pretty good.”

All Aboard Ohio welcomed Cincinnati City Councilwoman Amy Murray (R) as their special guest. Over the past few months Murray has taken on a bit of a leadership role in the discussion about establishing daily rail service to Indianapolis and onward to Chicago. Her leadership has also come at a time when Hamilton County Commissioners, in a surprising fashion, voted unanimously in favor of studying the establishment of such service.

Bauman says that All Aboard Ohio has been working with the OKI Regional Council of Governments on a potential scope and funding plan for a feasibility study on the manner, following the unanimous vote from Greg Hartmann (R), Todd Portune (D) and Chris Monzel (R). He says that the group has also been meeting with local jurisdictions and business leaders to grow support even further.

“A big part of this is educating stakeholders on what our competitor regions throughout the Midwest are doing,” said Bauman. “For example, Detroit has three Amtrak roundtrips a day, Milwaukee has seven, St. Louis has five, and even Carbondale, IL has three. Simply put, we are being left behind.”

Some of that recent outreach has included both Hamilton and Oxford – communities that sit along the existing Cardinal Route and would be prime candidates for stops in a case where service is enhanced. To that extent, both communities, in addition to Miami University, have expressed their support for the effort. Now, according to Bauman, the next steps are to reach out to Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati.

“As we continue to work with business and government leaders toward establishing at least daily service to Cincinnati, coordinating with our regional institutions of higher learning will be a growing and vital piece of our advocacy partnership focus,” Bauman explained. “Bringing back proper inter-city rail services will be transformative for our region and positively impact the lives of people.”

Episode #43: Fall Update (Part 1)

Hamilton County Board of ElectionsOn the 43rd episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Randy, Jake, John and Travis discuss the results of the 2014 election. We also speculate on what county issues might end up on the ballot in 2015, including a potential sales tax increase / property tax rollback to fund the county’s new digs in Mt. Airy.

We also discuss Kevin Flynn’s plan to fund streetcar operations using a combination of sources, including parking meter revenues.