Crossroads To Undertake $12M Restoration of Old Saint George in Clifton Heights

Old Saint George has sat vacant in Clifton Heights for many years, but will soon come back to life when Crossroads opens its newest church there.

The announcement was made earlier this year, but follows a string of news signaling that the urban regeneration of Cincinnati is more than skin deep. In addition to tens of millions of dollars in private investment flowing into the city, both jobs and population are growing. This has resulted in budget surpluses, growing enrollment at Cincinnati Public Schools, and a need for a new permitting center.

Crossroads will fill a space long occupied, and originally built, for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1874. It stayed there until St. George parish was merged with St. Monica parish down the street in 1989, and continues to carry on there to this day.

Since that time the building has sat vacant with a variety of proposals coming forward that would have restored the church for alternative uses.

Crossroads leadership say that their $12 million plan, which is celebrated by the Archdiocese, will not only restore the historic place of worship, but also bring it up to modern standards so that it boasts wifi and the audio and video displays that have become synonymous with Crossroads’ services.

“We’ll hold weekend services in this space, which will become the permanent location for our Crossroads Uptown site that currently meets at Bogart’s,” Jennifer Sperry, Crossroads Client Services Manager, told UrbanCincy.

“In addition, we hope for people to use our building as a community center, as it’ll be open throughout the week. We envision it as a space where students and locals can hold meetings, meet with project groups, pray, read, etc.”

The multitude of uses and variety of technology are all attempts to make inroads with younger individuals that have largely strayed away from religion throughout the United States.

At the University of Cincinnati, for example, Crossroads says that some 99% of students are not part of a church on campus. While they may attend churches elsewhere, such a huge gap also presents an opportunity for Crossroads.

Once complete, the restored Old Saint George will feature an 800-seat auditorium, a worship and community center, lecture venues, a coworking space with free coffee and wifi, and will see the structure’s grand steeples restored to their former glory before being burned down following a freak lightning strike.

Sperry says that they expect some 2,000 people to visit the facility on a weekly basis, which will be open seven days each week.

Unlike Crossroads massive facility in Oakley, Old Saint George is in a dense urban environment and is not surrounded by a sea of parking. As a result, church officials are expecting many of its visitors to arrive by walking, biking – a Red Bike station is located one-block away – or public transportation. But they also say that they are working with owners of nearby parking garages to determine if those spaces can be used during services.

The project is being funded mostly through private donations, but also through New Market Tax Credits. Project leaders say that several million more dollars need to be raised in order to complete financing, but also say that they are moving forward full speed ahead.

“The fundraising effort will be completed as part of a campaign that we’re launching this fall,” Sperry said. “We will use some of the initial money given in the campaign to finish the Crossroads Uptown project.”

Sperry says that the goal is to move into the restored structure by August 2016. Until then, she encourages those interested in learning more about Crossroads to attend their services currently being held at Bogart’s on Short Vine every Sunday at 7pm.

Episode #57: Cincinnati Parks Levy Community Forum

12108104_10207951084322137_3395139175612878665_nOn the 57th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we bring you our recording of the Cincinnati Parks Levy Community Forum held earlier this week at the Niehoff Urban Studio.

The forum featured Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Save Our Parks member Don Mooney, making their case for and against Issue 22, respectively.

During the forum, Mayor Cranley also discussed how Cincinnati and Hamilton County considered collaborating on a joint parks tax but that these talks were broken off by the city.

We’d like to remind our readers and listeners that Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2015. Cincinnati residents can visit the Hamilton County Board of Elections website to find their polling place or learn more about early voting.

UrbanCincy To Host Definitive Debate On Proposed Parks Tax at Niehoff Urban Studio

Cincinnati Parks Levy Community ForumWhile the presidential election happens next year, there is plenty of excitement on this November’s ballot for Cincinnatians. In addition to the much publicized ballot item that would legalize marijuana in Ohio, there is also an item, Issue 22, that would raise property taxes in the City of Cincinnati in order to provide capital funding for park land and facilities.

The proposed 1-mill tax would be written into the City Charter, and become what is essentially a permanent tax.

Early on the proposal gained wide-spread support, but has since been riddled with controversies. As such, it has become one of the hottest news items of late.

For those not familiar, the proposal was rolled out and explained as providing a dedicated funding source to cover capital expenditures for a number of projects at Cincinnati Parks, including helping address an estimated $55 million in deferred maintenance.

Since that time, however, opponents have charged that the way the proposal is structured gives too much power to the mayor and that it would become a slush-fund with little to no checks and balances. Further adding to the controversy has been the heavy involvement of existing and former politicians that have come under scrutiny lately for potentially improper use of public funds to bankroll the pro-tax campaign.

On Tuesday, October 20, UrbanCincy will host a debate on the topic with Green Umbrella, Tri-State Trails and Queen City Bike at the Niehoff Urban Studio in Corryville. While other debates have taken place on the issue so far, this is the first and only debate that will feature Mayor John Cranley (D) – the initiatives most prominent proponent – live and in person.

Mayor Cranley will be joined at the event by Don Mooney from Save Our Parks. The due represent the leading voice on both sides of the equation. The idea is to gather the public for a community forum to learn more about both sides of the issue, regardless of where you may or may not stand on the matter.

I will be joined by Tom Neyer Jr. of Mainstream Strategy and University of Cincinnati history professor David Stradling to moderate the discussion.

The Cincinnati Parks Levy Community Forum is free and open to the public. It will take place from 6pm to 7:30pm at the Niehoff Urban Studio in Corryville. The location is well-served by Metro bus service and is within a block of a Red Bike station. Those interested in attending are kindly asked to register in advance online so that proper arrangements can be made at the venue.

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.