Community Blend Brings Co-op Coffee Shop to Evanston’s Revitalizing Neighborhood Business District

Community Blend served its first cup of Equal Exchange organic fair-trade coffee, purchased by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D), just over a month ago and then officially opened its doors for business Monday, May 19, 2014.

Located in Evanston at 3546 Montgomery Road they are part of a neighborhood revitalization taking place that includes the new multi-million dollar King Studios – a pioneer studio from the 1940s to 1960s that brought R&B and Country musicians into the same place and featured artists anywhere from James Brown to the Delmore Brothers.

“We chose to rehab an existing building with local history as part of the revitalization of Evanston,” co-owner Trish Breedlove told UrbanCincy. “The building, at one time, housed a pharmacy. It was vacant for quite some time but has a new lease (literally!) to be a functioning business space.”

Community Blend was an idea originally had by a half-dozen people who wanted to open the city’s first co-op coffee shop. Even though it seems like a modest project, Interfaith Business Builders, a group of Cincinnatians from different faiths and social backgrounds, has been working on this project for four years.

While coming from different backgrounds, the people driving this vision all share a passion for justice and the empowerment of people, and place a strong value on community, cooperation and solidarity. Along with this they have had many different businesses churches, civic organizations, institutions and individuals that have invested time and funding into the cooperative midtown coffee shop.

It is worth noting that the University of Cincinnati’s Community Design Center and Xavier University’s Williams College of Business and Community Building Institute were also important partners on this project.

The element that really makes this not your average coffee shop is the fact that everyone working there also has an equal share in ownership. Breedlove says that each person has one share in the business, which equates to one vote within the company, and is voluntarily run by democratic process – everyone has a voice in the direction and day-to-day operations of Community Blend.

“We collaboratively, as equals, decide on all policy issues pertaining to the café,” said Breedlove. “We believe the cooperative business is a more compassionate business as we all share the burden in difficult economic times and equally share the benefits when the business is thriving.”

Apart from the democracy-laden business model, Community Blend offers above minimum wage pay to help keep the money earned there in the local economy since about half of their workers are from the neighborhood in Evanston. They also provide education and training for all of their employees.

Community Blend offers Equal Exchange fair trade coffees, teas, chocolates, and olive oils. According to Equal Exchange, they like to source their coffee from small-scale farmers who work as a community and share the risks and rewards of growing a crop that has been in their family for generations.

“They [Community Blend] focus on the betterment of the community, not just the individual. By drinking their coffee, you are supporting, youth empowerment, funding microfinance projects, protecting fragile biospheres and keeping hope alive.”

Like the workers at Community Blend, fair trade farmers and producers are also paid above market price in what is considered more fair compensation for their work.

Alongside the coffee, Breedlove says they are focusing locally-sourced foods as much as possible. They make sandwiches to order, use fresh fruit in their smoothies and freshly squeezed lemons to make their lemonade.

Community Blend is currently open Monday through Friday from 6:30am to 3pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays from 8am to 3pm. Breedlove says that they will also be open this Saturday from 6pm to 8pm when they host an evening of poetry reading and jazz by Marian Muhammad, backed by The Last Boppers. She says that those who attend can also expect some tap dancing.

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 Work on $30M Corryville Apartment Project On-Pace for Fall 2015 Completion

Uptown Rental Properties is making progress on their latest development in Corryville. This one, called VP3, is located on Euclid Avenue between Corry and Charlton Streets, and will add 147 units with 300 beds to the neighborhood. If all goes according to plan, the $30 million project will open in the fall of 2015.

The site previously included seven homes and a suburban-style Fifth Third Bank retail branch, and is located across the street from the planned site for a new Kroger grocery store.

Corryville has seen a wave of private investment recently that has added hotel rooms, apartments, and retail and office spaces. Much of that investment has come from Uptown Rental Properties, which has constructed hundreds of new residential units and injected thousands of new residents into Corryville over the past several years.

According to Dan Schimberg, president of Uptown Rental Properties, the demand for additional housing units in Corryville is so strong that they have revised their original plans over the years to try to serve the market.

“There is such an incredible demand for housing on the east side of campus,” Schimberg told UrbanCincy. “Originally our plan was to build housing for 1,200 people on Short Vine, but now we’ve increased that total to 1,600 by 2016.”

For better or worse, all of this development is changing the face of Corryville.

But unlike many of the company’s other developments surrounding the University of Cincinnati, it is not just students occupying the residential units being built in this area. According to Schimberg, more than 30% of the total residents are non-undergraduate students, compared with just 3% on the south side of campus – something he attributes to the growing demand for urban living.

“Three of the top five largest employers are in Uptown, and then have been adding thousands of jobs over recent years,” Schimberg explained. “What we’re seeing is a demand for workforce housing on the east side of campus from a desire for people to live in a more urban environment.”

In addition to the increased demand for urban living and the rapid job growth nearby, Schimberg believes the improvement of Uptown neighborhoods is also keeping and attracting residents in a way he has not seen since starting Uptown Rental Properties nearly 30 years ago.

It is expected that work will wrap up on the four-story VP3 development in the fall of 2015. At that time, a new 550-space parking garage, being built in coordination with this project, will open and provide some 225 public parking spaces for the Short Vine business district.

“The addition of these new residents is providing the core demand for the retail, and the residents get to benefit from those nearby services,” Schimberg continued.

Due to the philosophy of wanting the retail and residential to benefit one another, Schimberg said that the public portion of the parking garage is being built solely to help bolster the business on Short Vine. As a result, Uptown Rental Properties and the City of Cincinnati are sharing the costs for the garage.

Since developers are pursuing LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the project will be eligible for the City of Cincinnati’s LEED Tax Abatement.

VIDEO: 63rd Annual DAAP Fashion Show Highlights Emerging Designers

The 63rd annual DAAP Fashion Show took place on April 25. The event is one of the region’s most anticipated fashion events each year, and is a celebration of the final work produced by fashion design students at the University of Cincinnati’s flagship College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

This year’s event was no different, as thousands packed UC’s Campus Recreation Center in the heart of Uptown.

While DAAP is most commonly known for its internationally acclaimed architecture and industrial design programs, its fashion design program was ranked by Fashionista.com as the nation’s 12th best. The program, in particular, is known for graduating a large number of designers that end up working for retailers almost immediately.

The 2014 DAAP Fashion Show was sponsored by Macy’s and the following video was produced by Ashley Kempher with UC’s Creative Services division. A complete set of photos from the show can be viewed here, here and here.

New, Expanded Services from 321-RIDE to Heat Up Already Hot Ridesharing Market

While Uber and Lyft have been getting a lot of attention lately, following the launch of their services in Cincinnati, they are not the only non-traditional ride sharing services operating locally. The other, of course, is 321-RIDE and has been operating since 2007 primarily as a chauffeur service.

The locally owned and operated company has around 1,100 members presently, but new features, membership options and services are expected to grow that number and make 321-RIDE more competitive in the increasingly congested market.

According to Jon Amster, owner of 321-RIDE, the company’s existing client base is about half corporate and half individuals, and says that they are more of a higher-end service when compared to taxis, Uber and Lyft. He also says that they help those people who are not totally car-free.

“We’re a business that’s set up for a community like Cincinnati and other mid-sized Midwestern cities,” Amster explained. “We don’t have a strong taxi culture here…we have a drive your car to the bar culture, and we understand that.”

The way it works is two workers show up on behalf of 321-RIDE. One of those workers drives the customer home in their car, while the second worker follows them in order to bring both back after dropping off the user.

There are similar such businesses in other markets across North America, including numerous that include only one worker who gets to the customer on a collapsible bike that is stored in the truck until drop-off.

In order to keep up with the changing landscape, 321-RIDE launched a new website, mobile platform and membership options on May 1. Amster says that they are also working with a local developer and database firm to launch a mobile application this fall that will allow for users to geolocate the service and make a reservation in a one- to two-step process.

While the new changes are meant to help continue growth at the company, the University of Cincinnati real estate graduate says that it has not always been smooth sailing.

“We lost $100,000 in the first six months, but eventually paid all of that money back after two years of operation,” Amster said. “We learned from organizations like SCORE and through trial-by-fire, and we’re now a growing business.”

The new model for 321-RIDE allows for customers to sign-up for membership accounts at $8.95 per month, which differs from the previous $200 per year membership option offered. From there, the member’s credit card information is stored so that all ride purchases can be done without an in-car transaction. The average ride fee is around $64, with a minimum charge of $55.

Since 321-RIDE is now a cashless business, it means that gratuity is automatically calculated into the rates.

Amster says that he realizes the more premium service is probably not for everyone, but believes there is a market for ride sharing in Cincinnati at both ends of the spectrum, just as there is a market for steak at both Outback Steakhouse and Morton’s.

As for the new competition from Uber and Lyft, Amster says he welcomes their arrival and believes that they serve different markets.

“I don’t see us as competition,” said Amster. “There are some nights where you’d rather take a cab, but there are some nights where you’d rather have your car home with you.”

There are about 16 to 18 drivers, who operate as contractors, working at any given time for 321-RIDE. Those interested in using the service are able to do so seven nights a week between 9pm and 3am. Daytime and early evening hours are not currently offered, but are being considered as part of expanded operations in the future.