Will Uptown Transit District increase ridership for Metro?

Uptown Transit DistrictThe UC*Metro program, which allows University of Cincinnati students, faculty, and staff to purchase discounted transit passes, has seen many changes since it was introduced in 2007. With the latest extension to the agreement, the cost is unchanged; students will be able to purchase passes for $53 per semester for the next three academic years. The cost for employees is also unchanged at $160 per semester.

What riders will notice, however, is that several of the Metro facilities they’ll use have been significantly upgraded. Work is now complete on the Uptown Transit District, Metro’s name for a number of improvements at four locations near campus. In addition to wayfinding signage and improved lighting, all of the new stops feature real-time arrival information, which was first introduced by Metro in 2012, and two of the stops also feature ticket vending machines, like the ones Metro installed at the Government Square bus hub earlier this year.

The Uptown Transit District upgrades are an example of how the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) is continuing to improve service and increase ridership in spite of its limited budget. In February, we reported that SORTA is one of the best stewards of limited financial resources, compared to 11 peer agencies across the country.

In 2012, SORTA built the Glenway Crossing Transit Center park and ride location, which seves several routes, including the 32, 38X, and 41. Earlier this year, SORTA reported that ridership was up by as much around 20% on these routes compared to the previous year.

While SORTA isn’t anticipating a specific increase in ridership due to the Uptown Transit District upgrades, the goal of those improvements was to “make it easier for current and new riders,” Jill Dunne, Public Affairs Manager for SORTA, told UrbanCincy.

Episode #38: Seoul

CheonggyecheonOn the 38th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, our guest Yoon-Sun Chang joins Randy in Seoul to talks with John and Travis back in Cincinnati. We discuss some of the experiences of Randy, an American now residing in Korea, and Yoon-Sun, a Korean who studied at DAAP in Cincinnati.

We talk about the large scale of growth that Seoul is experiencing, the urban form of new developments, the approach to historic preservation, and the transportation systems that enable the city to function. This includes projects such as the Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park, the reclaimed CheonggyecheonGwanghwamun Square Project, and Hangang Renaissance Project.

Finally, we talk about Korean and Asian culture in Cincinnati, and how it differs from the authentic experience.

Photo of Cheonggyecheon provided by Flickr user fukagawa.

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.