Neighborhood Development Strategies Focus of Niehoff Urban Studio Event

Cincinnati is a city known for its unique and dynamic neighborhoods; and over the past few years many of these neighborhoods have transitioned through the work and dedication of community development groups, active and engaged stakeholders and residents, and the assistance of leading experts in the field.

Successes like new developments, restoration of historic buildings, and implementation of placemaking strategies, however, have not come without challenges and lessons learned. Building healthy and resilient places, such as in some of the neighborhoods of Cincinnati, is the focus of this semester’s Neihoff Studio open house.

The Niehoff Urban Studio and UrbanCincy have invited several community development experts to gather for an in-depth discussion on creating success in several of Cincinnati’s great neighborhoods on Thursday, April 21.

Building on the second year of the Building Healthy and Resilient Places theme, the open house is the culmination of a semester-long effort by DAAP students working with six neighborhoods in Cincinnati and Covington to identify potential redevelopment opportunities in neighborhoods such as Roselawn, College Hill, Walnut Hills, East Walnut Hills, North Avondale, Price Hill, and downtown Covington.

Kathy Schwab, of LISC, will present awards to the winning student group.

“Our theme is Building Healthy and Resilient Places, and students are encouraged to make places that promote health in a number of categories,” Frank Russell, Director of the UC Niehoff Studio told UrbanCincy. “Above all students were challenged with how to make form and program that would make these NBDs ‘centers of activity’ in accordance with Plan Cincinnati.”

The event will culminate with a panel of experts moderated by UrbanCincy. Panelists include Phil Denning from the City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Development; Kathleen Norris, who is the Principal and founder of Urban Fast Forward, a real-estate consulting firm; and Seth Walsh with the Community Development Corporation Association of the Greater Cincinnati.

The event will kick off at the Niehoff Urban Studio Community Design Center on Short Vine at 5pm this Thursday, with the panel discussion starting at 6pm. The event is easily accessible by Red Bike with a station conveniently located across the street. It is also accessible via Metro Bus Routes #24, #19 and Metro Plus.

John Yung to Become Lead Project Executive at Urban Fast Forward

John Yung, UrbanCincy’s Associate Editor of Public Policy, will take on a new role with Urban Fast Forward as the firm’s Lead Project Executive.

John will maintain his position at UrbanCincy, where he has contributed for nearly five years. Over this time he also worked for the Bellevue, KY, and led the effort there to implement one of the region’s first form-based codes. He then obtained his American Institute of Certified Planners certification in 2014, and took on a leading planning role at the Village of Yellow Springs this past winter.

John says that he is excited to be back in Cincinnati full-time and is looking forward to the possibility of living car-free with his new office within walking distance of his Over-the-Rhine apartment. Kathleen Norris, Managing Principal at Urban Fast Forward, is also excited about the addition to her team.

“John is an urban rock star. His insight into the ebb and flow of cities and their neighborhoods is going to add real value for our clients,” Norris said.

In the new role, Norris says that John will be taking the place of Matt Shad, who is moving on to become Cincinnati’s Deputy Director of Zoning Administration. While at Urban Fast Forward, Shad assisted Norris with strategic planning consulting that complimented the firm’s retail leasing and development consultancy.

“The City of Cincinnati is lucky to be getting Matt,” said Norris. “He knows the intricacies of planning and zoning, in both theory and practical application, and I think he is going to make the whole development process lighter, quicker and faster.”

Since its founding in 2012, Urban Fast Forward has established itself as a firm that specializes in urban real estate and development, with a particular focus on retail district revitalization.

Urban Fast Forward has been particularly involved with the retail strategy in Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton and along Short Vine in Corryville. More recently the firm has been taking on bigger roles in Walnut Hills and Northside, and is also overseeing the strategic development of a Race Street retail corridor downtown.

What Does Anthem’s Relocation to Oakley Mean for East Walnut Hills?

After having been located in East Walnut Hills along William Howard Taft Road for many years, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield recently announced that they would move to Oakley into a new $13 million, 80,000-square-foot office building at Oakley Station.

Shortly after the announcement, Mayor John Cranley (D) said that the insurer was prepared to move its 400 jobs outside of the city, should the economic incentive deal not have been struck.

“We’ve got to keep these jobs in the city,” Cranley told the Business Courier on June 25. “The infrastructure that we’re building – the public garage – is not going to just support Anthem but the entire Oakley Station development.”

There is a lot of truth to what Mayor Cranley said, considering the City of Cincinnati generates the majority of its revenues from income tax collections. This means the preservation and growth of jobs – particularly high-paying ones like these – is of the utmost importance for leadership at City Hall.

But this move does a lot more than maintain 400 high-paying jobs; it also will open up a key piece of property in one of the city’s up-and-coming neighborhoods.

Walnut Hills is booming so much that it will create a really exciting development pad,” Cranley continued. “I’ve heard people think they can reuse it as office. People say that they want to tear it down and use it for market-rate housing. In concert with the neighborhood, either one of those can make a lot of sense. It will see new life quickly.”

While the loss of that many jobs is rarely welcome news for a neighborhood, leadership at the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation says that they have been prepared for it.

“We have known about Anthem for a few months and have been brainstorming,” Kevin Wright, Executive Director of the WHRF, told UrbanCincy. “We haven’t been involved in anything specific, but there is a great opportunity to do something with this site that further connects the McMillan and Woodburn commercial corridors.”

Wright went on to say that the neighborhood is focused on enhancing the walkability of the area. One such effort to do that is the conversion of surrounding streets from one-way to two-way traffic.

Located on the eastern end of the McMillan business corridor, the Anthem site occupies 6.3 acres of land, with nearly 70% used as surface parking lots. A redevelopment of the site, which is one of the largest of its kind in this part of the city, could free up enough land to develop hundreds of housing units, along with thousands of square feet of commercial space.

“There’s momentum in Walnut Hills, both east and west of Gilbert, as well as in East Walnut Hills,” said Blake Bartley, a commercial real estate agent with Urban Fast Forward who is working on several projects in the neighborhood. “This site could be the catalyst for bridging the gap between development in both neighborhoods. Plus, you don’t often find a redevelopment site of that caliber located so close to the urban core.”

While neighborhood and city leaders see great potential for the site, it is not yet known what will happen to the site when it is sold. The hope is that Anthem, through its subsidiary Community Insurance Co., will do something in coordination with neighborhood leaders to ensure that it is redeveloped in a manner that fits with the community’s vision for it.

Preliminary construction work has already taken place at the sprawling, 74-acre Oakley Station site, and it is expected that Anthem will be able to move into the new office building as early as summer 2016.

Nine Giant Brewing to Open in Heart of Pleasant Ridge Business District

Nine Giant Brewing has signed a lease at the corner of Montgomery Road and Ridge Avenue in the heart of the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood business district. The announcement comes years after community leaders celebrated the formal establishment of a Community Entertainment District for the area.

According to Urban Fast Forward, the agency in charge of leasing at the site, the signing is part of a larger redevelopment effort called Sixty99, which is being spearheaded by Gene Levental, and will eventually include more than $350,000 worth of upgrades to the 87-year-old building.

According to Blake Bartley, Urban Fast Forward’s leasing agent for the project, Sixty99 includes several yet-to-be-leased commercial spaces. In addition to Nine Giant Brewing, however, A Salon Named Desire is currently located on the building’s second floor.

The Nine Giant Brewing micro-brewpub, Bartley says, will take up 3,413 square feet of space along Montgomery Road and is being spearheaded by Brandon Hughes and Michael Albarella.

Perhaps surprisingly, the announcement comes years after the CED was announced for Pleasant Ridge; but with increasing investment throughout a variety of Cincinnati’s neighborhood business districts, this deal appears to be capitalizing on growing momentum in the city. As a result, community leaders in Pleasant Ridge believe this might spark more business openings in the future – something that would be buoyed by the fact that several liquor licenses remain as part of the Pleasant Ridge CED.

“Nine Giant is a great addition to Pleasant Ridge and the Sixty99 development and provides the neighborhood with a true entertainment destination,” Bartley told UrbanCincy. “This is a huge first step for what is going to be a thriving entertainment district at Sixty99.”

Mt. Airy Looking to Transform Part of Colerain Avenue Into Walkable Business District

On October 30, Klosterman’s Dry Cleaners, in the heart of the Mt. Airy neighborhood business district, was torn down. Long seen as an eyesore, the demolition was heralded by community leaders hopeful that it would spark a revitalization movement along the quarter-mile stretch of Colerain Avenue.

The demolition project came as part of the City of Cincinnati’s most recent award-winning Neighborhood Enhancement Program where various departments work together to improve neighborhoods through blight removal and code enforcement. It was funded through a $55,000 grant from the Department of Trade & Development and acquired through the Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corporation.

This is the first phase of a more comprehensive plan to redevelop the district that was put together by the Mt. Airy Community Urban Redevelopment Enterprise (C.U.R.E.), CR Architects, Urban Fast Forward thanks to a $30,000 grant from the City of Cincinnati. The Mt. Airy Revitalization Strategy was completed in March 2013 and provides a four-phase vision to enhance the business district.

The 20-page report concludes that buildings separated from the street by parking on the western side of Colerain Avenue have diminished the quality of the business district. The authors of the report also point to the prospects of implementing a form-based code for the area.

“Ideally new construction in Mt. Airy would apply the principles of a form-based code, at least in such matters as relationship of the building to the sidewalk and the placement of parking,” the report stated. “This will protect and build upon the existing good of the business district and help to give Mt. Airy a unique character as a neighborhood.”

Leadership at Mt. Airy C.U.R.E. says that the demolished dry cleaner will allow for the creation of a new centrally located parking lot in the business district that will also function as a gathering space for community events. The second phase of work, which community leaders hope can be completed by the end of 2015, will make streetscaping improvements and look to address existing storefronts.

“The existing conditions of the facades and storefronts are not that good,” Gerald Fortson, Senior Development Officer at Cincinnati’s Department of Trade & Development, told UrbanCincy. “Upgrading them will allow property owners to attract the caliber of tenants the district desires.”

Phases three and four of the plan call for more aggressive action through the development of new structures along the western side of the street currently dominated by auto-oriented buildings.

As part of phase three work, a vacant lot and an existing 3,200-square-foot structure would be torn down and replaced by a new street-fronting 3,500-square foot retail building and a 24-space parking lot. Then, in phase four, two structures totaling 9,400 square feet of retail space would be razed to make way for a new 7,500-square-foot retail building that would also front onto Colerain Avenue. This part of the plan also calls for the creation of a new mid-block crossing for pedestrians.

“We hope to make this area a place that could encourage people to slow down and to see the business here,” explained Corless Roper, President of Mt. Airy C.U.R.E.

Over time neighborhood officials also hope to develop a wayfinding system and branding for one of the west side’s rare neighborhood business districts. If all goes according to plan, the whole revitalization program could be complete within five years.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Mt. Airy to rebrand and market itself in a new light, focusing on a safe and clean community that will draw our diverse neighborhood together, and eventually attract new businesses as we achieve the phases in our plan,” Roper stated. “Moving forward, we will creatively launch a campaign to raise funds in order to make our dream a reality, knowing that Mt. Airy is on the move!”