Proposed Tax Would Provide Dedicated Parks Funding Stream, $85M in Improvements

A campaign to improve Cincinnati’s parks by raising the City’s property tax by 1 mill will “change the city for the better,” according to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D).

Cranley made his remarks during the official launch of the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks levy campaign on Saturday morning at New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn.

The charter amendment would raise the City’s property tax rate to 13.1 mills and would bring in approximately $5.3 million a year. The move would require City Council to fund the Parks Department’s capital budget at its 2016 budget level, and approve bonds for capital improvements using levy revenue.

Proponents say that 75% of the levy revenue will be available for the City to borrow against in order to fund 13 designated capital projects selected by the mayor and city manager. The remaining 25% will go to system-wide maintenance and operating costs.

“We’re asking to voters to pass a very small property tax that we believe, for that small amount of money – $35 a year per $100,000 value – will increase property values and increase the quality of life for all Cincinnatians as we take the wonderful park system and we bring it to the neighborhoods,” Cranley said.

The group needs to collect approximately 6,000 signatures by August 15 to make it on to the November 3 ballot. Cincinnati Parks has not placed a levy on the ballot since 1927.

“We have decided that the only fair way to do this, if we’re going to be asking the taxpayers to pay more money, is to ask the citizens first to even let us put it on the ballot,” Cranley said. “At the end of the day, we’re putting this decision in the hands of the voters, and we believe the value proposition is there. We believe that this will build a better city.”

Vision needs funding
Board of Park Commissioners President Otto M. Budig, Jr. said that his organization has been charged with creating the best parks system in the country, but despite generous City funding and donor contributions, it continually finds itself short on money for major initiatives.

“We have had some difficulty in developing major projects that have long been needed,” he said. “I went to the mayor and I said, ‘We need these funds to bring about a new vision. You give us a vision, we’ll take care of the details.’ The mayor has given us the vision.”

While many of the projects are only in the conceptual stage at current time, the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks website says that they were chosen due to being the most shovel-ready, with the ability to be completed quickly.

Multipurpose recreational trails are a major component of the plan, including the Oasis River Trail ($8 million), Wasson Way ($12 million), Mill Creek Greenway Trail ($5 million), and the Ohio River West Trail ($6 million). The City also plans to work with the Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance to develop more than 20 miles of off-road trails in Mount Airy Forest ($11 million).

“The bike system that will be created as a result of this levy, off-road, which is a big thing for me – I think off-road is a much safer, dedicated path that doesn’t have as many accidents – the most extensive, bicycle urban path in America,” Cranley said.

The plan would also raise $10 million for a joint venture between the City, the University of Cincinnati, and Clifton Town Meeting to create a new master plan for Burnet Woods.

“As I often say, Burnet Woods – even more so that Washington Park – could be the Central Park of Cincinnati,” Cranley said. “If you think about Corryville, CUF, Clifton, Avondale…all surround this park. It’s the densest part of the city and it’s right across the street from 30,000 students. We can have the same impact with that park as we did with Washington Park.”

Other projects include:

  • Developing part of the 20-acre New Prospect Baptist Church grounds into a communal programming center, athletic fields, and an urban camp site that would cost $8 million;
  • A public-private partnership with Western & Southern Financial Group that would provide $5 million to renovate and reprogram Lytle Park;
  • $5 million for the redevelopment of a portion of the former Mercy Hospital complex in Westwood into athletic fields and green space for an expanded Oskamp Park;
  • A $5 million redesign of Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine/Pendleton, in conjunction with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC);
  • $4 million for streetscape and roadway improvements surrounding Christ Hospital and improvements to Inwood Park in Mount Auburn;
  • $2 million for the preservation of the historic King Studios site and development of a small café/museum in Evanston;
  • $2 million for upgrades around Westwood Town Hall and Epworth Avenue; and
  • $1.8 million for a new boat dock/marina at Smale Riverfront Park.

“Now we have this new vision,” said Parks Director Willie Carden, who already has overseen the amazing transformations at Smale Riverfront Park and Washington Park, among others. “The vision brings ‘parkonomics’, partnerships to the neighborhoods. We can do this. We can make this a safer, healthier community, but we need your help.”

Long-Planned $30M Lytle Tunnel Rehabilitation to Begin Next Week

Ohio Department of Transportation officials have announced that work will begin next week on the $30 million rehabilitation of Lytle Tunnel.

Construction crews will begin work on Tuesday, May 26 to add ITS cameras, a fire detection system, upgrade tunnel lighting, repair existing concrete and tiling, upgrade mechanical and ventilation systems, install a new power supply and replace existing underground vaults under the Fourth Street sidewalk.

In addition to this, ODOT crews will move the tunnel’s ventilation system and add new access hatches to several locations so as to not interfere with future plans for Lytle Park.

The work will require Lytle Park itself, and portions of Lytle Street to be closed while construction takes place. Gary Middleton, ODOT District 8 Acting Deputy Director, says that the effort will take approximately two years, with completion coming near the end of 2017.

Over that period of time, the work is expected to cause some headaches for those driving in the immediate area. In particular, project officials are saying that they will go to great lengths to avoid impacts during major events like the All-Star Game, Riverfest and Oktoberfest.

While numerous small disruptions will occur, project officials have noted that the work will force an entire weekend closure of southbound I-71 and the southbound I-71 ramp to Third Street. The southbound I-71 ramp to Third Street will be closed at a later period for 20 consecutive calendar days. The longest closure off all, however, will be when the Second Street ramp to northbound I-71 is closed for 60 consecutive calendar days.

While some scheduling details have yet to be ironed out, Middleton says that a detailed road closure schedule will be released in mid-June.

The road closures will add to those already found all over the center city due to the huge volume of construction taking place that is adding hundreds of residences, hotel rooms, offices and introducing new public transportation and park amenities.

While officials at the City of Cincinnati have not made a specific statement on the matter, the road closures, once finalized, are expected to be posted and updated on RoadmapCincy.com.

The work may also require the closure of the eastern portions of the 2.3-acre park to be closed for up to 10 months.

“This essential project will complete a major rehabilitation of the tunnel and its mechanical and electrical systems, improve safety for drivers and first responders, and ensure future maintenance activities minimize impacts to traveling public and users of the park,” Middleton said.

While the work on Lytle Tunnel, which was originally built in 1970, will be largely unseen, the updates will bring the tunnel into compliance with current fire codes and design standards. It is also presenting a unique opportunity to make improvements to Lytle Park at the same time – an effort that Western & Southern Financial Group has been strongly advocating.

According to ODOT documents, the project is currently on-schedule, but is now estimated to cost approximately $8 million more than what was originally planned.

Autograph Collection Hotel Planned for Former Anna Louise Inn Building

Shortly after breaking the news that The Banks development team is in negotiations with AC Hotels to bring the trendy European hotel brand to the central riverfront, UrbanCincy confirmed that the real estate development arm of Western & Southern is close to finalizing an agreement that would bring a boutique hotel to Lytle Park as well.

Multiple sources have confirmed that a deal is being worked out that would bring an Autograph Collection hotel to the former Anna Louise Inn. When reached for comment, Mario San Marco, President of Eagle Realty Group, acknowledged that the company is working diligently to bring an Autograph Collection hotel to the site, but that details had not yet been finalized or presented to City Hall.

Western & Southern executives had previously stated that they wanted to bring a boutique hotel to the site that would have somewhere around 106 rooms. The plan would fit the company’s larger plans for the historic district that call for creating a high-end enclave surrounding Lytle Park, which Western & Southern helped save from demolition in the 1960s by pushing for the creation of Lytle Tunnel.

Autograph Collection is a unique brand owned by Marriott International. Instead of the rest of their brands which maintain their names, Autograph Collection makes a unique name and concept for each of their sites. The closest such hotel is Cleveland’s 156-room Metropolitan at The 9.

Sources have also confirmed that, like the AC Hotel at The Banks, this boutique concept by Autograph Collection would be managed by Cincinnati-based Winegardner & Hammons.

The two recent hotel announcements appear to be the end of the center city’s recent hotel boom that has included a new 122-room SpringHill Suites, 134-room Residence Inn by Marriott, 160-room 21c Museum Hotel, 323-room Renaissance Hotel, 105-unit Homewood Suites, 144-room Hampton Inn & Suites, and a 144-room Aloft Hotel.

The boom has also included major, multi-million dollar renovations of the Hyatt Regency and Westin Hotel in the heart of the central business district. The remaining unanswered question continues to be what will happen with the deteriorating Millennium Hotel, which, at 872 rooms, is the center city’s largest, and serves as the region’s primary convention hotel.

Despite the addition of more than 1,100 new hotel rooms over the past several years, occupancy rates have held relatively constant. More critically, room rates and RevPAR – the hotel industry’s calculation of revenue per hotel room – have been steadily increasing over the same period and are now well above regional and national averages.

Project leaders at Eagle Realty Group declined to provide any specific timeline or budget for the project, but previously stated that they hope to get an operator under contract by mid-2015, with construction commencing shortly thereafter.

Will AC Hotels by Marriott Open Second Regional Location at The Banks?

The Banks development team is close to finally securing a hotel at the multi-billion dollar development, according to multiple sources close to the project. After years of failed starts and negotiations, UrbanCincy has learned that AC Hotels by Marriott is the hotel now being eyed for the prominent central riverfront location.

The news is yet to be officially announced or confirmed by The Banks development team, but UrbanCincy has confirmed the information over the last week with individuals who have requested to remain anonymous due to the ongoing negotiations taking place.

The understanding is that construction could begin prior to the All-Star Game in July.

The news comes after AC Hotels backed out of a deal at the former School for Creative and Performing Arts in Pendleton. Had that deal moved forward, it would have put it on track to be one of the boutique hotel’s first locations in North America, after establishing itself as a household name in Europe.

According to those sources close to the project, the AC Hotel at The Banks would be a seven-story structure with a rooftop bar named AC Lounge. Once open the hotel, which is expected to have between 150 to 200 rooms, would be managed by Cincinnati-based Winegardner & Hammons, which has close relationships with Marriott and Western & Southern, and has overseen the development of numerous hotels in the region.

According to Winegardner & Hammons’ most recent company report, they also recently signed a contract to manage an AC Hotel in Louisville that is scheduled to break ground in August of this year.

AC Hotels announced their aggressive North American expansion plans in 2013, and opened their first hotel in New Orleans in December 2014. After plans were scuttled for the SCPA project, developers at the $350 million Liberty Center announced that a 130-room AC Hotel would open there in late 2015.

Senior management at Marriott International says that AC Hotels is one of their select-service brands and targets a young clientele seeking a “design-led sensibility.” Overall, Marriott’s president and CEO, Arne Sorenson, says that AC Hotels has some 50 development deals signed nationwide, with dozens more in the works.

In an interview with Hotel News Now, Sorenson specifically identified North Carolina and the Midwest as opportunity markets.

In perhaps a view into one of the reasons behind the failed deal at the former SCPA in Pendleton, Sorenson also told Hotel News Now that the vast majority of the deals AC Hotels has in the pipeline are new construction. In fact, aside from the New Orleans project, he said that only one other project was a conversion.

AC Hotels include more European design influences and place a focus on sleek, tech-focused accommodations that appeal to Millennials. In addition to the rooftop AC Lounge, the new location at The Banks would likely include a communal working space, two to three meeting spaces, and a mixture of one- and two-bed guest rooms.

One of the company’s standard approaches is to locate in vibrant urban areas where significant activity already exists. Hotel management says this is to encourage guests to go outside of the hotel and patronize area businesses. To help further encourage that, most AC Hotels do not include an in-house restaurant, and instead allocate more area for public spaces where guests can mingle and interact with their surroundings.

It is not yet known where exactly the hotel will be located at The Banks, but it is assumed to be targeted for the long-vacant placeholder site along Main Street across from Great American Ball Park, which also happens to be located directly on the Cincinnati Streetcar‘s starter line.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Representatives with The Banks development team did not respond to UrbanCincy’s request for comment; however, sources say an official announcement is expected within the coming weeks. We will update this story with more information as it becomes available.

Month in Review – May 2014

Three of UrbanCincy‘s top stories in May revolved around a few dramatic transformations taking place in the urban core. We took you on a Street View tour of some of the biggest transformations in the city, showed you photos of the Cincinnati Streetcar’s construction, and shared news about changes to the city’s oldest historic district. In case you missed them, enjoy UrbanCincy‘s most popular stories from May 2014:

    1. PHOTOS: Cincinnati’s Dramatic, Decade-Long Transformation Visualized
      While many of us can feel that a transformation has taken place in Cincinnati over the past decade, it can be difficult to visualize it. Thanks to new Google Street View capabilities we have done just that.
    2. EDITORIAL: What Cranley’s Clever Budget Means for Urbanists
      The rookie Mayor John Cranley has proposed his first budget. At first glance, it doesn’t look so bad. But after further review what most feared is in fact the sad reality.
    3. The Littlefield to Bring Craft Bourbon Bar to Northside This June
      A craft bourbon bar called The Littlefield will open in Northside next month. The approximately 400SF establishment, which will also include a large outdoor terrace, has been years in the making.
    4. Western & Southern Aiming to Alter Lytle Park Historic District Boundaries
      Western & Southern has long been rumored to be eyeing a location for a new high-rise office tower to consolidate their headquarters; and proposed changes to the Lytle Park Historic District may be setting up for exactly that.
    5. PHOTOS: Construction Activities for $133M Streetcar Project Move Southward
      Significant visual progress continues to be made on the $133M first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar. Take a look at the progress and learn about a string of good news that may push forward the opening date.