VIDEO: $86M Nippert Stadium Renovation On-Schedule for August Opening

With the college football season behind us, the $86 million renovation and expansion of Nippert Stadium is now in its home stretch. At this point, the majority of structure work is now complete and interior work is now advancing during the cold weather.

The project is more of a renovation than it is an expansion. As part of the upgrades just a few thousand more seats will be added, along with the luxury boxes, overhauled concessions and restrooms, lounges and new technology that define the project.

A challenge from the beginning, however, was adding the new amenities in an environment severely constrained by existing buildings that at some points already help frame the stadium’s exterior. In order to accomplish that, Cincinnati-based FRCH Design Worldwide built upward along structure’s east side that sits adjacent to Tangeman University Center. The final results are interesting and unpredictable in a manner that should only add to the venue’s notoriety as the Wrigley Field of college football.

As part of the effort to upgrade the 114-year-old stadium, the University of Cincinnati has been issuing video updates about every three weeks. The latest includes Tom Gelehrter, Senior Director of New Media and Broadcasting at Bearcats Athletics, talking with project manager Bob Marton about recent progress that has been made and looking ahead to what is next.

One of the more notable changes in this update was the start of drilling work on the east concourse, which will eventually allow for construction of the two-story restroom and concession facility, stairways and light poles.

“A year ago we were drilling in this building, and now we’re drilling on the other side,” Marton explained in the the 5:29 video update. “We’ve got two levels of drilling going on…and that’s about a week’s worth of work.”

Due to the careful scheduling of construction activities, project officials do not anticipate ongoing cold temperatures to cause much of an issue since they had gone through it once before when drilling on the west side of the stadium last year.

If the project stays on schedule, it is expected to be complete by August 2015 – just ahead of this year’s September home opener for the Bearcats.

Zipcar Holding Tight in Cincinnati While Making Changes Elsewhere

The car sharing economy came to Cincinnati in October 2011 when Zipcar launched their services at the University of Cincinnati, and expanded to Downtown and Over-the-Rhine in December 2012.

Since that time, however, peer-to-peer driving services, like Uber and Lyft, have emerged and begun challenging the more established business model of companies like Zipcar, which was acquired by Avis in January 2013 and boasts a global membership of more than 900,000.

In the case of Zipcar, the user is the driver, and must return the car to its starting point – a requirement limiting potential growth of Zipcar and other car sharing services. In order to stay competitive, Zipcar has recently launched new one-way services in its hometown of Boston.

“We are currently beta testing the service in Boston with our Boston members,” Jennifer Mathews, Public Relations Manager at Zipcar, told UrbanCincy. “Our plan is to roll out the service to additional markets once it’s ready.”

While one-way car sharing travel may soon be a reality in Boston, it appears to be further off for smaller markets like Cincinnati, as does the availability of cargo vans, which are presently available in a limited number of markets, but not Cincinnati. The desire for such vans, industry experts say, is so that they can be used for more utilitarian purposes like moving. For now, those participating in Cincinnati’s car sharing economy will continue to need to either use a traditional rental company, or borrow a friend’s truck for such purposes.

Since its debut in 2011, however, Zipcar officials say that they have made changes to their operations and 11-car fleet in Cincinnati in order to stay relevant.

“While the number of cars has remained somewhat consistent over the years, we have moved locations and updated our vehicles throughout the program,” Mathews explained. “Zipcar strives to place cars where our members want them. As we see pockets of members pop up in certain areas or neighborhoods we will move cars around to make sure that they are convenient as possible.”

Of course, Cincinnati’s Zipcar network is substantially smaller than other cities, thus reducing its usefulness to more than a small collection of users.

While there are no immediate plans for expansion, Mathews does say that the company will continue to monitor their two programs – University of Cincinnati and City of Cincinnati – over the course of 2015 to determine whether additional changes or expanded offerings are needed.

Those with memberships are able to use those in any of the hundreds of markets where Zipcar operates worldwide. Cincinnati’s 11 vehicles can be found at the northwest corner of Race Street and Garfield Place, Court Street in between Vine and Walnut, the southeast corner of Twelfth and Vine Streets; and on the University of Cincinnati’s main campus on McMicken Circle and just north of Daniels Residence Tower.

New Payment Technology Allows Metro, TANK to Partner on Regional Fare Card

Regular commuters who cross the Ohio River, either into Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky, are well aware of bringing the required amount of change to transfer between Metro and TANK buses. Other non-seasoned riders, however, were stuck with navigating a complex combination of transfer fees and payment options.

The region’s two largest transit agencies announced that technology afforded to them in 2011 will support the introduction of a long-anticipated regional fare payment card. Metro unveiled the shared stored-value card earlier this month at The Westin’s Presidential Ballroom during the annual State of Metro address.

Transit officials say that the card works with both TANK and Metro buses, thus eliminating the need for carrying change on either system. The card deducts the correct fare amount for each agency so if a rider boards a Metro bus it will deduct $1.75 for Zone 1 or $1.50 for a TANK bus fare.

“We are trying to make this a more seamless and integrated approach to transit.” Metro spokesperson Sallie Hilvers told UrbanCincy.

While there already is a monthly pass that can be used for both systems, the pass is limited to rides on TANK and Metro buses within Cincinnati city limits. As a result, officials from Metro and TANK believe the new shared stored-value card provides better accessibility and flexibility to people who use both systems on both sides of the river.

Behind the scenes, Metro handles the accounting for the stored-value cards so if the card is used on a TANK bus, the agency reports that usage to Metro, which then reimburses TANK for the fare.

“We’ve seen more people buying day passes and stored value passes since we introduced them.” Hilvers said.

The pass is available for purchase online, and at the 24-hour ticketing kiosks Metro began installing earlier this year. TANK’s Covington Transit Center is not yet selling the new stored-value cards, but transit officials there anticipate it becoming available in the near future.

This kind of collaboration is not what has traditionally defined the relationship between Metro and TANK, but Hilvers said that this has been years in the making and hopes that it will lead to even more collaboration in the future.

According to Hilvers, the next goal is to work with local universities to develop a standard student and faculty card that would cover access to area institutions served by both transit agencies. Currently Metro has separate agreements with the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati State, while TANK has an agreement with Northern Kentucky University.

Such changes would seem to bode well for both Metro and TANK. In 2013, Metro reported surging ridership due to the implementation of new collaborative programs and improved fare payment technology.

While the new technology and services are a step toward a broader overhaul of the way area residents and visitors pay for and use the region’s transit networks, it is still a ways from what is considered industry best practices.

Leadership at the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which oversees Metro bus and streetcar operations, says that they are working on ways for riders to get real-time arrival information system-wide.

The challenge, they say, is to make sure it is a benefit available to all users. Therefore, transit officials are working to implement real-time arrival information that utilizes smartphone, adaptive website and phone service technologies. Metro representatives are tentatively saying that they are hopeful such services could be in place by spring 2015.

Streetcar Supporters to Announce Expanded Coalition Urging for System’s Expansion Uptown

AcDowntown to Uptown Cincinnati Streetcar Routecording to officials at the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which governs Metro, more than 1,000 of the 1,500 Founders’ Club cards were sold within the first three days of going on sale.

The rate of sales is exceeding expectations, and many believe the remaining allotment will be sold within the next few days. In fact, $25 cards have already been taken off of Metro’s website, with a very limited number remaining at City Hall and Metro’s sales office.

The remaining $50 and $100 cards can still be purchased online, but it is not clear for how much longer due to their dwindling supply.

Streetcar supporters are pointing to this as clear evidence of the excitement surrounding the project, especially given that those buying the cards will not be able to use them until the system goes into operation in September 2016.

“Selling $72,000 worth of fare cards for a starter line that’s nearly two years from being operational shows the level of support and enthusiasm for the Cincinnati Streetcar to finally be up and running,” Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio, told UrbanCincy. “This is the definition of pent up demand.”

Of course, there is also the financial benefit. Selling all 1,500 of the cards will net Metro $72,000 in fare revenue nearly two years before the Cincinnati Streetcar goes into operation.

The news comes as Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots coalition that formed a year ago to save the project from cancellation, has organized a press conference to announce a broad new coalition of organizations and community leaders urging for the expansion of the streetcar system to Uptown.

“While we must celebrate the success we have had over the past year with construction of tracks in the OTR loop nearing completion and the downtown loop well underway, we must also be looking forward,” explained Ryan Messer, Founder of Believe in Cincinnati.

The path forward, evidently, goes uptown, and not to Northern Kentucky even as leaders there are calling for an expansion of the system south across the Ohio River.

“As of today, we still do not have an official plan in place for our uptown expansion that will link downtown and OTR to the University of Cincinnati and the uptown neighborhoods,” Messer wrote in an email. “We are ready to ignite these conversations and be prepared to implement these plans into action.”

The growing support for an uptown expansion comes at a time of large investment occurring along the initial starter line – investment that many streetcar supporters are crediting for the $18 million budget surplus at City Hall in 2014, and the rosy tax receipt estimates for 2015.

“Imagine what the impact will be when we connect Cincinnati’s core, with its 40,000 jobs and growing residential population, to the 30,000 jobs and 40,000 students in the uptown neighborhoods,” Bauman exclaimed. “This vision is as exciting as it will be transformative for the City of Cincinnati.”

The Believe in Cincinnati press conference will be held at the corner of Race and Elder Streets, near Findlay Market, and where track stub has been constructed for the accommodation of a future uptown extension. Organizers say the event will take place at 10am and will show off the new, expanded coalition of streetcar supporters urging for its expansion.

 

UC’s Niehoff Urban Studio Takes Bold New Look at the Future of Burnet Woods

On December 4, the University of Cincinnati Niehoff Urban Studio hosted an end of the semester open house to showcase the final work of students in graduate planning, civil engineering capstone, and a multi-disciplinary freshman UC Forward seminar.

There were three classes offered at the Studio, located in Corryville, during the Fall Semester that focused on understanding and improving Burnet Woods. The aim, course leaders say, was to begin to produce a future vision for the 89-acre park.

City officials first began discussing an overhaul of Burnet Woods in 2007, but a lack of funding at the time doomed the project. However, Mayor John Cranley (D) made the project a priority in his inaugural State of the City Address, saying that the park, located immediately north of the University of Cincinnati’s main campus, could help make the uptown area an even greater destination.

“Burnet Woods is an underutilized gem in our parks system,” Cranley said in a statement. “It’s nice now, but it could be great.”

That caught the attention of UC President Santa Ono, along with the Uptown Consortium who requested that the studio work on the subject in consultation with community representatives and other stakeholders uptown. In addition, staff of the Cincinnati Park Board, who have sole control over what will happen with the park, have been engaged with the studio throughout the semester.

A large crowd showed up at the open house, held two weeks ago, to take a look at the visuals and learn about the observations and initial recommendations produced by the students for the roughly 142-year-old park.

After identifying various issues with Burnet Woods, as it stands today, the students proceeded to “rethink” the space and its uses. Nine teams of graduate Planning students organized their work around distinct thematic approaches to remaking the park. These themes included integrated Art Programming, a Health/Wellness destination, a food production system, a center for “fun” programming, and others.

Some of the many specific recommendations included creating seasonal programming, creating a soundscape as a placemaking tool, inserting a winding promenade to connect UC Main Street with the Ludlow Business District, elevating Martin Luther King Drive to allow for Burnet Woods to flow through underneath it into UC’s main campus, among others.

Some of the student teams extended the scope beyond the park by suggesting a cohesive streetscape experience extending from Burnet Woods and re-imagining the park as the center of an Uptown “eco-district” to create a broader ecological and social system.

One of the benefits of the studio course offerings came from engaging both planning and engineering students. As part of the course’s focus on building healthy and resilient places, civil engineering students proposed a number of green infrastructure ideas to help with stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows, and other technical projects.

Additionally, according to Frank Russell, Director of the Niehoff Studio and Community Design Center, the multi-disciplinary UC Forward freshman seminar was able to survey the student body to determine its interest in the park and ended up proposing a student organization dedicated to providing advocacy and service to the park.

Russell says that this is only the beginning, with additional courses in Planning, Architectural Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Horticulture to come in the Spring Semester that will build on the ideas and research completed thus far. The hope, he says, is to create a well-grounded set of ideas that will make up the contents of an ‘idea book’ for use by the community in considering the future of Burnet Woods.

Other faculty involved in the Fall Semester included Vikas Mehta and Danilo Palazzo from the School of Planning; Richard Miller and Elizabeth Devendorf from the Civil Engineering Program; and Cory Christopher from UC Forward. Those interested in viewing the student work in detail may do so by appointment at the UC Niehoff Urban Studio, located at 2728 Vine Street, by emailing design.center@uc.edu.