New Market Tax Credits Key to City’s Revival

Cincinnati’s development coffers got a little fatter last week, as $125 million in federal tax subsidies flooded into the city. These subsidies, called New Market Tax Credits (NMTCs), incentivize local investors to funnel capital into low-income communities and have essentially bankrolled Over-the-Rhine’s entire revitalization.

For example, Washington Park — perhaps the most emblematic example of OTR’s rebirth — received nearly $14 million in New Market Tax Credits (NMTC) from the Local Initiatives Support Coalition (LISC) to help support its reconstruction. Several ongoing developments have also received some or all of their funding through NMTCs, including the Market Square and Ziegler Park projects.

Ziegler Park Aerial

New Market Tax Credits helped transform parts of Over-the-Rhine like the reconstruction of Ziegler Park (Photo by Travis Estell)

Developers often balk at the prospect of developing low-income communities because they fear their investment will be wasted. NMTC are the federal government’s attempts to allay these concerns. Congress first authorized the subsidies through the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000. Over the past fifteen years, the bill’s success has earned it bipartisan support. According to the program’s 2016 report, the tax credits have created 750,000 jobs and invested over $75 billion to businesses and revitalization projects in communities with high rates of poverty and unemployment.

Less than 25 percent of the applications submitted each year are awarded, but three major Cincinnati developers beat the odds this year: Cincinnati Development Fund ($65 million), Uptown Consortium (45 million), and the Kroger Community Development Entity ($15 million).

To win an NMTC grant, a corporation — in federal parlance, Community Development Entities (CDE) — must lobby the U.S. Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Fund on behalf of private investors like the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). If the CDFI approves the application, then the investors who pledged money to the CDE will receive a seven-year tax abatement to support development.

3CDC, in particular, has secured a eye-popping $238 million since the program’s inception. Without this capital, it’s unlikely that OTR would have changed as drastically as it has. The community was a no-brainer for NMTC-driven development due to its extreme poverty. The neighborhood’s median household income during the 2010 census was a paltry $14,517. Six years and billions of dollars have certainly improved its lot, but its average income still pales in comparison to the city’s 2015 median income, $56,826.

While OTR will likely continue to receive the majority of NMTC-driven development, other distressed neighborhoods are receiving attention. According to Director of Development Thea Munchel, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation expects approximately $6.5 million in NMTC Equity for its expected revitalization of Paramount Square. “It is too early to know who all will participate in the deal,” she said. “But Cincinnati Development Fund received a huge award and has indicated that they will contribute some into the project.”

Is Cincy RedBike America’s Most Financially Successful Bike-Share System?

RedBike Monthly Ridership Totals

RedBike Monthly Ridership Totals

Since launching nearly two years ago, RedBike has been embraced by the region in a way even the bike-share system’s early proponents had not imagined.

When RedBike opened to the public on September 15, 2014 it included 29 stations, but has since swelled to 57 stations spanning two states, four cities and more than a dozen neighborhoods. The ability to expand and integrate the system across state and city lines is particularly notable as it is a feat most other bike-share systems in North America have not yet achieved.

This relatively rapid expansion has been fueled by higher than expected ridership. As of early July, RedBike had hosted 116,739 rides – or about 5,300 per month. Bolstered by more than 1,500 annual members, these ridership totals translate into some 17,683 different people who have ridden a RedBike.

“Red Bike has gotten off to a dream start. Our community has embraced this new form of transportation,” Leslie Maloney, President of the Red Bike Board of Directors and Senior Vice President of the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, said in a prepared release. “We will work to continue providing the highest quality and most fun transportation option in Cincinnati.”

Following the trends of bike-share systems elsewhere throughout the world, approximately 74% of its riders have either never ridden a bike before or at least not within the month before RedBike opened. This data makes many bike advocates in the region looking for ways to improve road safety for the surge of new cyclists out on the streets.

The biggest news in RedBike’s recently released annual report, however, pertains to its finances.

While many bike-share systems around the country have struggled financially, RedBike has been able to operate in the black since its inception, and has grown its cash reserves year-over-year.

In 2014 RedBike had a total of $234,251 in expenses and $1,144,911 in revenues. That net income grew in 2015 when the bike-share system had $484,389, but $1,740,792 in revenues. This net income, RedBike officials say, is used to purchase capital equipment necessary to keep the system fully functional.

While it is difficult to find bad news in the financial details released by RedBike, one might look at the fact that direct program income (user fees) cover only 65% of program expenses. When factoring in sponsorships, a fairly reliable and steady stream of income, it covers nearly 118% of program expenses.

All of the other income sources help to further stabilize the system, keep it operating at reliable and optimal levels, and are helping build a reserve fund that could be used to offset unexpected capital expenses or lower than anticipated operational performance.

UC Health is thrilled to be the presenting sponsor of the RedBike program,” said Dr. Richard P. Lofgren, President and CEO of UC Health. “As someone who lives downtown, all I have to do is look outside to see how successful this program is, and how bike share has been embraced by the citizens of Cincinnati.”

Findlay Market Opens Third Neighborhood Farm Stand To Combat Food Deserts

Access to fresh, healthy foods has become an increasingly hot topic for discussion over recent years due to a rise in consumer interest.

The topic has become even more important for inner-city neighborhoods around the country, including in Cincinnati, that have been largely abandoned by traditional grocers and now lack easy access to these food options – even sparking official government programs meant to tackle such problems.

In line with this trend and in an effort to help address the situation, Findlay Market has been working to grow their reach and spread their product throughout the city over the past three years through the opening of seasonal farm stands in Walnut Hills, open every Wednesday from 4pm to 7pm, and East Price Hill, open every Tuesday from 3pm to 6pm.

And earlier this month, Findlay Market, in partnership with Dirt: A Modern Market, opened their third Farmstand in Evanston at 1614 Hewitt Avenue.

Kelly Lanser, Communications Manager for Findlay Market, says that the stand and will be open every Thursday, from 3pm to 6pm, until the end of October; and will be stocked with products from Dirt, Taste of Belgium, Mama Made It, and Em’s Sourdough Bread.

“We have been working closely with the Evanston Community Council, Xavier University, the Port Authority, and the City of Cincinnati to find the best location in the appropriate neighborhood,” Lanser told UrbanCincy.

The Farmstands are essentially miniature farmer’s markets that serve as an extension of Findlay Market by bringing products from the vendors at the historic market in Over-the-Rhine to other locations throughout the city.

Organizers of the Farmstand program see it as being a critical component for providing access to fresh, healthy foods to neighborhoods that might otherwise not have such options. An added benefit is that fact that the program also supports buying locally produced goods that ensures the consumer’s money will stay within the community.

To help make sure the fruits, vegetables and other products being sold at the farm stand are available for all members of the community, each location accepts the Ohio Direction Card/Electronic Benefits Transfer card; and to make it more affordable, Findlay Market is offering 2-for-1 incentive tokens to customers who use an Ohio Direction Card to purchase food.

“We are always open to launching Farmstands in new communities,” Lanser explained. “While we don’t have any definite new locations at this moment, we are always happy to speak with any neighborhood that is interested in opening one up.”

Cincy Stories Returns to MOTR, Launches New ‘Story Gallery’ In Walnut Hills

Cincy Stories began as a bimonthly event series with members of the community coming together to share stories from their lives. Now, the organizers are expanding into new territory with more neighborhood-specific storytelling events and a “story gallery” in Walnut Hills.

The new Cincy Stories Story Gallery is located in the Trevarren Flats development in Walnut Hills, in a retail space provided by the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. In the space, visitors will be able to watch videos of previous storytellers and even step into the “story booth” and record one of their own. Although the space opened last week, an official opening party is being held this Friday from 6-10 p.m. Food and refreshments from Fireside Pizza and Woodburn Brewery will be provided.

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Cincy Stories’ main event also will return to MOTR Pub this evening. Starting at 7 p.m., visitors will hear stories from Nina Wells, Brandon Black, Megan Trischler, Joi M. Sears, Kathy Holwadel, and Reginald Harris, as well as music from Asylum.

You can also hear several of the speakers from past Cincy Stories events on The UrbanCincy Podcast and on Cincy Stories’ own podcast.

Metro Brings Late Night Bus Back This Saturday

Metro and CincyYP are once again teaming up to encourage young people in Cincinnati to try out the city’s bus service beyond typical commuting uses. This is the third year of this successful  program.

Last year’s entertainment bus event saw more than 400 passenger trips taken. Participants will once again have the opportunity to learn tips to plan their trip including how to read a schedule, catch a bus and use Metro’s real-time apps. There will be special promotions at popular establishments along the event route in downtown, OTR, Oakley, Hyde Park, O’Bryonville, Clifton and East Walnut Hills.

“Cincinnati’s YP leaders truly get how important public transit is to our community, and their commitment to encouraging their peers to use Metro is inspiring,”Metro’s Outreach and Sustainability Manager Kim Lahman stated in a prepared release, “The ‘Late Night Test Ride’ provides us with a safe, fun and adventurous way of introducing young professionals to Metro’s service, while allowing them to get to know our community and one another better.”

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Metro Late Night Test Ride Route Map [Provided]

LNTRschedule

Metro Late Night Test Ride Schedule [Provided]

The mobile event will take place this Saturday, April 23 between 8Pm-2AM. Three buses will operate on 30 minute intervals on a route that will take riders around to some 18 bars in seven different neighborhoods.

Many people view transit as a means to get to and from work, but the reality is that nearly three-fourths of all trips made each day have nothing to do with work commutes. As Metro works to grow ridership and expand its customer base, choice riders – those who choose to take transit instead of other alternatives – are becoming an increasingly targeted demographic. Additionally, as the Late Night Test rides are proving, there is a solid demand for late night routes that could be instituted on a more permanent basis.

Unlimited trip passes for the late night shuttle can be purchased online for $8 per person, or $25 for groups of four. The public can also simply purchase single trips at Metro’s normal $1.75 fare anywhere along the route. Those who may not have the cash, or just want to get a bit more involved, are being encouraged to volunteer for two hours and receive a complimentary pass in return.

As Lahman suggests, the hope is to get young people more familiar with using the city’s bus service, and will learn tips about how to plan their trip, read a schedule, catch a bus and use Metro’s real-time arrival services.