PHOTOS: An Inside Look At The Brand New Nippert Stadium

Since launching the Signature Architecture Program nearly 20 years ago, the University of Cincinnati has become a campus brimming with notable projects by talented firms such as Morphosis, Moore Ruble Yudell, Gwathmey Seigel Kaufman, and STUDIOS Architecture. Rather than merely creating an architectural petting zoo of disparate buildings designed by celebrity architects, though, the university has sought to use architecture to create a cohesive sense of place that outweighs the sum of its individual buildings.

The latest addition to this effort is the new West Pavilion at Nippert Stadium, designed by New York-based Architecture Research Office in close collaboration with Heery International. ARO served as the design architect, while Heery served as the sports consultant and executive architect. Cincinnati-based THP Limited provided structural engineering services.

In a recent article in Architect magazine, the journal for the American Institute of Architects, ARO described the project as follows:

The new West Pavilion at Nippert Stadium enhances the visitor experience and strengthens the quality of the campus as a whole. The facility provides outstanding spectator facilities in a 450-foot-long dramatic and structurally expressive building. With space for premium seating and press facilities, the new building provides a strong counterpoint to the Thom Mayne–designed recreation center that also rings the stadium. The West Pavilion is entered through a new footbridge that passes through the campus student center (Tangeman University Center) from McMicken Commons, one of the main public spaces of the University. Food service, catering, and kitchen facilities are located on every floor. All of these goals were achieved within a very constrained site that included maintaining an active fire-lane and loading dock, avoiding major campus utilities that run beneath the building, challenging construction logistics, and accelerated schedule.

The West Pavilion sits less than 10 feet from the Gwathmey building on campus, 30 feet from the Morphosis building and very close to buildings by Harry Cobb and Michael Graves.“Given the tradition of great architecture at the University of Cincinnati,” says Stephen Cassell, principal of Architecture Research Office, “having the chance to work on that campus is, in itself, an enormous honor and responsibility. This is a university that greatly values the role of design in their students’ educational experience.”

A couple hours before the Bearcats season opener on September 5, UrbanCincy was treated to an exclusive tour of the newly expanded and renovated Nippert Stadium, led by Stephen Cassell, Adam Yarinsky, and Kim Yao of ARO.

At the beginning of the tour, Stephen Cassell joked that after years of working in the confined spaces of New York City, they were looking forward to designing something for a wide-open Midwestern college campus. However, as they got involved with the project, they quickly discovered that the site was as constricted and challenging as anything in Manhattan.

In addition to the fire lane and loading dock noted above, underground vaults and utilities limited where foundations could be built; the bridge from Tangeman University Center to the West Pavilion is supported by a single, elegant V-shaped steel assembly that rests on a single footing. The footing is located where it is because there was literally nowhere else it could go.

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As anybody who has ever gotten an obstructed-view seat at Wrigley Field can attest, adequate sightlines to the playing field are a critical part of any sports facility, and Nippert Stadium is no exception. However, Nippert presented the additional challenge of maintaining views into the stadium from the campus itself.

Once described as the Wrigley Field of college football because of its history and intimacy, Nippert Stadium forms a massive Roman-style amphitheater at the center of the campus, and is tightly woven into the fabric of the campus like no other college football stadium.

ARO sited the West Pavilion and raised it above the ground plane in order to preserve views into the stadium from MainStreet — the central pedestrian corridor on campus — on the north end of the site and the plaza adjacent to the College – Conservatory of Music at the south end. The dramatic cantilevers are made possible by a system of diagonal steel columns, which form a visual motif that appears throughout the facility. Ancillary functions such as restrooms and concession stands were tucked partially underground, taking advantage of the campus topography to maintain Nippert’s famed sense of openness. Visibility from the West Pavilion onto the playing field was also meticulously studied: the shape and depth of the window mullions were carefully considered and the front edges of the press box counters were notched to achieve the required sightlines.

Another distinguishing characteristic of Nippert Stadium is its flexibility of uses. When not being used for a game or other event, the stands and playing field are open to students for frisbee, informal pickup football games, jogging, studying, and other uses. Unlike most football venues, it doesn’t sit empty for 350-plus days a year, and ARO worked to ensure the West Pavilion would also have the flexibility to be used for year-round events such as receptions, meetings, and social gatherings. In this sense, the West Pavilion becomes an extension of the adjacent Tangeman University Center rather than a mere press box for a football stadium.

The West Pavilion’s material palette is tastefully restrained and relates to the other adjacent buildings, each with its own impressive architectural pedigree. The pattern of the cast concrete evokes the Campus Recreation Center by Morphosis, and the gray steel structural members relate to the zinc cladding of the Tangeman University Center by Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman, and the Steger Student Life Center by Moore Ruble Yudell.

A few finishing touches were still in the works at the time of this writing, including caps on the window mullions and a series of diagonal fins on the west facade that will provide visual depth to the cladding and cast shadows that change throughout the day.

In addition to the West Pavilion itself, ARO also designed enhancements throughout the rest of the stadium. Visitors to the stands on the east side of the stadium will enjoy improved access to the stands via a new second-level walkway cantilevered from the existing structure, as well as improved restrooms and concession facilities.

ARO has had a close relationship with the University of Cincinnati over the years; Stephen Cassell and Adam Yarinsky are frequent guest jurors at the university’s renown College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, and a number of DAAP students have received co-op placements at ARO in New York.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 34 photographs were taken by John Yung on September 5, 2015.

LOT Expo Looking to Tackle Problem of Vacant Properties Throughout City

Just think if a vacant lot near you could be turned into a solar-powered wi-fi hub and electric car charging station, a home for egg-laying chickens, or any number of other creative and productive uses. That is what a group of thought leaders are trying to accomplish with a new program they hope will gain traction at City Hall.

In an effort to promote vacant properties as entrepreneurial and sustainable turnaround opportunities, Lots of Tiny Exposition will be held this week in Over-the-Rhine.

The brainchild of local U. S. Green Building Council activists, LOT Expo is an upcoming free two-day open air exhibit in OTR to draw attention to the “sub-prime” real estate plaguing many neighborhoods.

Specifically tied to the tiny house movement, LOT presents exhibitors that showcase inventive, small scale installations for big, immediate vacant lot impact. Exhibitors will include a tiny house on wheels, vertical garden systems, solar and wind power operations, mobile mini-chicken coops, a 1950’s Airstream retrofit, and pervious parking pads.

Organizers say that they hope visitors bring property addresses for vacant lots that they believe have potential. At that moment, they say an on-the-spot professional laptop “green diagnosis” rating report will be produced. Designers who want to stimulate new ventures for abandoned property blight will be on the lookout for those projects brought to attention.

While the idea seems easy enough, vacant lot redevelopment can actually be a complicated, multi-faceted subject requiring professional knowledge.

As a result, the LOT Forum Panels at the Expo are meant to offer public and private sector professionals to bring expertise, experience, and skills to the vacant lot syndrome – the knowhow for sustainable success. Four different panels are convening under roof at a three-minute walk from the LOT Expo venue; and panel discussions will turn attention to vacant lot gridlocks and reinvestments that lessen public subsidy supports.

Individual Lots on Massive Scale
According to Vacant Lots: Occupied – a guide produced by a group of University of Cincinnati students with the help of Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, the City of Cincinnati Department of Community Development and Building Value – there are approximately 22,000 vacant properties in the City of Cincinnati. These properties are classified as land with or without a structure that have been abandoned by its owners. It is estimated that 8,000 of these are without any structures.

Though not as dismal as some other American cities, vacant properties account for about 10% of Cincinnati’s parcels.

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful has successfully ‘cleaned and greened’ vacant lots throughout the city. This typically means cleaning up the lot before planting grass that then requires continued maintenance. Not satisfied with that approach, KCB collaborated with the University of Cincinnati Horticulture Program to develop Vacant Lots: Occupied. This award-winning manual established an analytical guide to select and transform abandoned lots.

While many individuals and families are already helping to stabilize lots in their community, 8,000 is a big number. Ryan Geismar, one of the professors that led the UC students, says the guide was originally intended for KCB and other organizations, but that it became clear that collective effort is needed to address the blight problem.

From a large-scale planning perspective, Geismar says the best approach is to “Identify assets within neighborhoods and use strategic investment catalysts that inspire others to take action.”

Return on Investments
Neighborhood developers are drawn to prime property, usually clear, open lots with existing infrastructure. There is a dire need to address the marginal, by-passed lots that are an economic drain on our city and region. Though numbers aren’t available in Cincinnati, the city of Philadelphia highlights the imperative of critical action. In 2010, their approximately 40,000 vacant parcels consumed about $20 million in city services (fire, police, maintenance, pest control, etc.) and represented $2 million in uncollected property tax revenue.

Vacant properties have always been around; their numbers surged after the recent recession and spike in housing foreclosures. Many large financial institutions faced lawsuits over fraudulent foreclosures or mortgages; and Ohio’s Attorney General settled a suit against five of the nation’s largest mortgage servicers over foreclosure abuses, fraud, and unfair and deceptive mortgage practices.

A portion of that money was disbursed to Ohio counties for home demolitions. The result in Cincinnati was to tear down hundreds of buildings over the last few years, creating even more vacant lots.

Blight or Bonanza
One of the few cities with data and a comprehensive approach to the problem is Philadelphia where a study concluded that blighting effect from vacant parcels reduced values by 6.5% citywide and by up to 20% in some neighborhoods. In order to counter this epidemic, Philadelphia officials responded by offering landowners adjacent to vacant properties the land for little to no cost.

Since not every lot is the same, solutions require resourceful, frugal and innovative investments. With depreciated property values and dwindling public dollars spread thin, small business opportunists may see vacant lots as overlooked economic potential or reframe the problem as an engaging community asset.

Place from Space, a design competition to transform vacant underutilized spaces into vibrant places, awarded Renaissance Covington with a $1,000 prize to transform a parking lot into a performance space after business hours. This was achieved with financial and infrastructure support from the City of Covington, and a large amount of volunteer hours from committed citizens and professional designers. The performance space, now known as MadLot, has since hosted live music, movies, and other programming since opening.

Individual efforts should not go unnoticed. Whether guerilla gardening or picking up trash, these small steps help improve appearance and reverse the effects of the broken window theory. While the sheer number of vacant lots is large, the challenge is not insurmountable. It will take economies of thrift, practical knowhow and strategic thinking to execute solutions.

A tiny house on wheels, bocce ball court, performance stage or another enhancement might find a way to a lot near you. It might not be long before you find a goat chomping down honeysuckle next door.

LOT Expo will take place from September 19-20 from 10am to 4pm each day at the New Findlay Market Playground at 1814-1822 Elm Street. The Saturday forum panel will focus on tiny living and the Sunday forum will focus on vacant lots. Both will take place between 11am and 2pm at Rookwood Pottery Company around the corner at 1920 Race Street.

The event is free and open to the public, but organizers are asking for those interested in attending to register in advance online.

New Corryville Store Design Reveals That Kroger Continues to Struggle With Urban Format

Located next to the University of Cincinnati and surrounded by some of the region’s largest employers, University Plaza has long sat as one of the most underutilized pieces of commercial real estate in the city.

With demolition work well underway, a new University Plaza will soon be realized, but will it be any better than what was has occupied the site since the early 1980s?

The public got the first idea of what that answer will be when the Business Courier published designs of what the new 92,000-square-foot Corryville Kroger will look like.

While no site plan has been released, the drawings show a two-level store that will face west toward Jefferson Avenue. The front façade will include numerous windows, while the other three sides would not. A drive-thru pharmacy will be located along Corry Street, and a surface parking lot will sit in front of the building, separating it from the street.

The front façade treatments and two-level store design are departures from Kroger’s previous urban store designs elsewhere in Cincinnati. The large surface parking lot, however, stays true to their typical development model and represents a departure from the earlier visions for the site that included a rooftop or structured parking facility.

In fact, the final arrangement for the redeveloped University Plaza site will most likely appear nothing like the original concepts first produced a decade ago. Over that time, dozens of concept plans have been developed for the site from the Niehoff Studio and three different professional design firms.

The Niehoff Studio has actually be researching the topic of urban grocery stores since 2002, and has published its findings on everything from the economic performance to the social impact and design of such stores.

“I applaud the initiative and risk taking involved to make this a two story format,” said Frank Russell, Director of the Niehoff Studio and Community Design Center. “This is a sensible solution to putting a sprawling large scale program on a valuable site in a dense urban setting. It relates better to the surrounding context which is multi-story, but it is very difficult to do from a functionality point of view.”

While the two-story structure is in line with the original recommendations, Russell says that the large surface parking lot is not ideal.

“That undoes some of the progressive intent of the two-story building design, especially at the important gateway corner of Jefferson and Taft,” Russell told UrbanCincy. “The best thing that I could say about that is that it is a land-bank for future structured parking and mixed-use development, notwithstanding a landscaped corner.”

While notably different than the original design concepts developed in the early aughts, the designs released yesterday appear to have not changed much from what was developed by CR Architects in 2008.

Kroger representatives say that the store will also feature an outdoor seating area, similar to what the company recently developed in Lexington. They also say that while the store will have two levels, customers will not actually use the second floor since it will be used for food preparation functions only.

Project officials say that the current store will close on September 12 so that it can be demolished. It is estimated that construction of the new store will take 12 to 14 months and open at the end of 2016.

VIDEO: Bearcats Prepare For Season Opener at Renovated Nippert Stadium

The University of Cincinnati is less than one month away from welcoming college football fans back to one of the nation’s most historic stadiums.

After a year away from the friendly confines of Nippert Stadium, the Cincinnati Bearcats will host Alabama A&M on Sunday, September 6. School officials say that the game is not yet sold out, but that ticket sales have been brisk. There are big hopes for this season as the team comes back to a renovated and expanded stadium. It also comes at a time when the University of Cincinnati is trying to position itself for a potential spot in the ACC or Big 12 Conference.

The $86 million renovation and expansion of Nippert Stadium, which was designed by Heery International and paid for entirely with private funds, is expected to help bolster those chances of landing in one of the nation’s top athletic conferences.

With less than a month before the first game of the season, construction workers and cleaners are busy preparing the facility.

In a unique situation for the University of Cincinnati, the readying of the stadium is also significant for the return of students to campus at the end of this month. This is due to the fact that the stadium, unlike almost all other major college football venues, is open at all times and used by students for recreational purposes, and as a pathway to navigate the densely built campus.

Bob Marton, project manager for the Nippert Stadium reconstruction project, says that while much work remains it is fully expected that the facility will open on-time, and within the targeted budget.

Those who are interested in attending the home opener at the newly reopened Nippert Stadium can still purchase tickets online for the game.

Stars Aligning for Cincinnati to Chicago High-Speed Rail

4123288130_f7b778d9d5_bLocal and national developments show positive signs for America’s oft-criticized national passenger railroad company, Amtrak. A railroad reform bill introduced in the Senate contains many positive changes for Amtrak and local support continues to grow for increased service on Cincinnati’s tri-weekly train to Indianapolis and Chicago.

The Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act of 2015 (RREEA, S.1626) was introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to improve Amtrak service across the nation. The bill addresses several different issues for the railroad, including expansion, funding, and leadership. It also provides an increase in funding levels for the railroad through 2019.

In terms of leadership, the legislation would reorganize the board of directors for the railroad, with two representatives for the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor, two for long-distance routes (the Cardinal), and two for state-supported lines. There would also be one “floating” member.

The RREEA also includes several sections that fuel possible future expansion of the national rail network by establishing a committee to facilitate communication and cooperation between states and Amtrak on state-supported routes. In addition, it would require Amtrak to work with an independent agency to evaluate all routes and review possible elimination of routes, expansion or extension of current routes, or the establishment of new ones.

While calling this clause problematic, the National Association of Railroad Passengers acknowledges that this text includes a “comprehensive framework for analyzing a route that recognize the unique benefits rail service provides.”

Section 301 of the act explicitly requires that the Department of Transportation set up a program to assist the operating costs of launching or restoring passenger rail transportation. The section seems to be a nod towards the amount of routes cut from the system over Amtrak’s 40-plus years of operation.

Additional clauses provide mechanisms for cooperation between states and the federal government, when it comes to addressing the backlog of capital projects within the system, Amtrak’s money-losing food service, and the restoration of service along the Gulf Coast, a line that has been out of commission since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

After the deadly derailment in Philadelphia in May, safety across the network is a major component of this legislation.

Both sponsoring senators touted the bipartisan nature of the bill and Senator Wicker’s office released a statement identifying the national passenger rail system as an “integral part of our overall transportation structure and our economy,” and thanking Senator Booker for his support and help in creating the bill.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation voted on July 13 to include the RREEA Act into the broader transportation bill, the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015 (S.1732).

In the Cincinnati metropolitan area, support continues to grow for the expansion of rail service in the area, especially to Chicago.

The City of Hamilton recently applied to Amtrak for a stop and has passed a resolution of support for increased service. Nearby in Oxford, home of Miami University, initial approvals have been set to create a station for Amtrak, and efforts are currently underway to identify the exact location for that facility.

The effort has also gained support from the University of Cincinnati Student Senate, when they passed a resolution 31-1 in support of increased rail service to Chicago, citing Chicago as “an important transportation hub for students’ co-op travels, as well as an economic destination for students, staff, and faculty alike.”

According to All Aboard Ohio’s Southwest regional director, Derek Bauman, the UC student government president is also coordinating with other local university student governments to obtain resolutions of support; and in addition to Hamilton, both Norwood, where Amtrak employs local workers, and Wyoming, where the Cardinal line runs through, have also passed resolutions of support for increased passenger rail service.

Hamilton County commissioners also unanimously approved a resolution pursuing a feasibility study.

Going forward, Bauman says that there will be a need for increased cooperation and support from local Metropolitan Planning Organizations along the route. In Columbus, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) has actively supported the implementation of a Columbus-Ft. Wayne-Chicago rail line; and in Northeast Ohio, a consortium of local MPOs have banded together and formed a sub-group to support increased rail service to the region.

From here, leadership at All Aboard Ohio says that they hope the OKI Regional Council of Governments will take a similar approach on behalf of the Cincinnati region.