Candidates’ Forum to Focus on Historic Presevation, Urban Planning Topics

The candidates for Cincinnati City Council and Mayor have faced off in a number of debates and forums over the past several months. However, one forum being held tomorrow will be of particular interest to readers of UrbanCincy.

The Candidates’ Forum on Preservation will focus on historic preservation and related subjects, including policies on new development in historic neighborhoods. Fourteen city council candidates and both mayoral candidates will be in attendance and answering questions on these topics.

“The forum will discuss the role historic preservation plays in other important city issues, such as planning, neighborhood revitalization and economic development,” said Rob Nayor, Program Manager for Preservation Action.

Courtis Fuller of WLWT will serve as the host of the forum, which is being presented by Cincinnati Preservation Association, Cincinnati Preservation Collective, Over-the-Rhine Foundation, and Preservation Action. Candidates will not be ranked or endorsed based on their views. The event is meant to be informational and to allow the public to understand the candidates’ views on these issues.

The event will be held on Tuesday, September 19 at Memorial Hall, and will start promptly at 6:30 p.m. The venue is accessible via Metro routes 21 and 64 on Elm Street; routes 1, 6, and 20 on Central Parkway; the Cincinnati Bell Connector stop at 14th & Elm; and the Red Bike station at 14th & Elm. Parking is also available in the Washington Park Garage.

PHOTOS: Cincinnati Bell Connector Gives 50,000 Rides Opening Weekend

The much-awaited Cincinnati Bell Connector opened to the public on Friday, September 9, and gave over 50,000 rides during its grand opening three-day weekend.

Councilwoman Amy Murray, who serves as Chair of the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee, hosted the grand opening ceremony at Washington Park. In addition to Murray, there were 12 speakers including current and former politicians, transit officials, and business leaders. Many of the speakers thanked the streetcar supporters who kept the project going over the years as it faced obstacle after obstacle. Several used the opportunity to call for an expansion of the system, with former mayor Mark Mallory saying that it’s not a question of “if,” but “when” and “where” the streetcar goes next.

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After the first five ceremonial rides, the Connector opened to the public around noon. It was free to ride all weekend thanks to donations from Believe in Cincinnati, streetcar manufacturer CAF, Cincinnati Bell, Fred Craig, the Haile Foundation, and Joseph Automotive Group. Each station was staffed with volunteers who helped inform riders about the how the system works, where it goes, and how to pay your fare after the start of revenue service. Additionally, a number of special events and activities took place place near each of the streetcar stations, ranging from DJs to ballet dancers to sidewalk chalk artists. Many businesses along the route offered special streetcar-themed food, drinks, and merchandise.

The system initially opened with four out of the five streetcars in service, but the fifth was put into service around 4 p.m. on Friday and all five continued to operate for the remainder of the weekend. The system operated at nearly maximum capacity all weekend, with lines of people waiting to board at each station.

Unfortunately, the system was forced to close on Saturday afternoon due to a bomb threat. The threat, which appears to be connected to similar threats made over the weekend at the Cincinnati Zoo and two local high school football games, was not believed to be credible, but the system was closed down as a precautionary measure. After a bomb-sniffing dog searched all five streetcars and found nothing, they were put back in to service.

Despite this setback, the system transported passengers on 18,141 trips on Friday, 17,160 on Saturday, and 15,345 on Sunday, for a grand total of 50,646 trips during the grand opening.

After the free weekend, revenue service began Monday morning on the Cincinnati Bell Connector. The fare is $1 for a two-hour pass, or $2 for an all-day pass. No streetcar-specific monthly pass is available, but a monthly Metro pass includes rides on the streetcar as well as Metro buses. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks at each station, or using the Cincy EZRide app which is now available in the iOS App Store and Google Play.

Clifton Working With City Hall to Complete Funding for Co-Op Grocery

Cliftonites who have raised more than $1 million to establish an “uptrend” neighborhood grocery store got a big boost of support from the City last Monday.

Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee considered a motion by Vice Mayor David Mann (D), who also resides in Clifton, to include a $550,000 loan to the Clifton Market co-op in the fiscal year 2015-2016 budget. While this idea received general support at the time, it was put on hold for further vetting.

City Manager Harry Black’s proposed budget, which was released on Wednesday, included no line item for this project.

To date, 991 people have paid $200 for a share of the $5.6 million market, which would occupy the 21,972-square-foot space, at 319 Ludlow Avenue, that formerly held Keller’s IGA.

Keller’s IGA closed in 2011, and the community has been unsuccessful in several attempts since then to reestablish a neighborhood grocery store there, including local grocer Steve Goessling who sold the building to the Clifton Market group last month.

No grocery store exists within 1.7 miles, and some of the investors live in nearby neighborhoods.

“They all look to getting Clifton Market up and running as a kind of beacon of hope for getting groceries in their neighborhood,” said Charles Marxen, a field director for Clifton Market who often spends time in the newly-bought building to answer residents’ questions. “Having a grocery in this central location is pertinent to the success and well-being of all of the communities around Clifton.”

Adam Hyland, chair of the Clifton Market board, said that the project would restore the economic engine of the business district. He also said that the closure of Keller’s resulted in a 40% drop in business for Ludlow Avenue establishments.

“It was a social space for the community,” he said. “It was an important place for neighbors to see each other and come together.”

Hyland estimates that the new grocery would create between 60 and 70 jobs, and market studies show that it could attract about 15,000 shoppers per week. Financial estimates show that the group could see $13 million in revenue within the first year.

Brian Frank, co-chair of the Food Action Team of local sustainability network Green Umbrella, added that food co-ops have nearly three times as many local food producers contributing as the average major grocer. They also get more than three times of their inventory from local companies, have higher wages, and provide more healthcare benefits.

“Co-ops may be new to Cincinnati, but this sort of an organization has a national presence in our country,” he said. “There are [grocery co-ops in] 38 states that represent $1.7 billion of economic development across this country.”

Councilmember Chris Seelbach (D) was skeptical at first, but changed his mind when he heard that the co-op had a bank on board to support the project.

“They took it upon themselves, after the City tried unsuccessfully to find another person to operate the grocery store, to find a solution,” Seelbach clarified. “They’ve gotten a bank, whose sole purpose is to make money. Banks are not in the business of helping people open grocery stores. They may say that, but they’re not going to take a risk unless the risk is a good one.”

Both Charlie Winburn (R) and Wendell Young (D) also voiced their support for the specific plan, and the actions being taken by the Clifton community.

“What’s really good that’s going on here is that people in Clifton have made it clear, in no uncertain terms, they want this grocery store,” Young said. “They’re not going to go away; they’re going to get that store. I think it would be a shame if we ignore all the hard work that has gone into making this happen by not doing our part to make sure that they’re successful in this effort.”

Several members of the committee, including Winburn, suggested that the funding package could be a grant, loan, forgivable loan, or a combination of several types. While Councilmember Yvette Simpson (D) was also on-board, she expressed a preference for a grant or forgivable loan due to tight profit margins for grocery stores.

Meanwhile, Winburn managed to cast both his doubts and support for the effort to bring a neighborhood grocery store back to Clifton.

“Be cool,” Winburn cautioned. “Be cool now, because you’re talking about the taxpayers’ money and loaning money, and we have to be fair in the process. I think it’s important that our excitement don’t get in the way of having this group having what we call proper vetting and due diligence.”

In lieu of a line item in the City’s budget, he also suggested that there may be grant money available through the Ohio Department of Development.

Deadline Given for Community, Developer to Work Out Compromise on $25M Madisonville Project

Developers of The Red, a 246-unit apartment and restaurant development in Madisonville, will have to wait another two weeks to find out if they’ll get the city’s approval.

Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee on Monday tabled a proposal by Hyde Park Circle, LLC developer Ray Schneider to eliminate a planned 120,000 square feet of office space in favor of the residential development on 10 acres just south of its Madison Circle at Babson Place development, which is located on the southwest corner of Madison Road and Red Bank Expressway.

The project, estimated to cost more than $25 million, would include three residential buildings four to five stories in height – including 12 townhomes along Babson Place – and three restaurants of between 2,500 and 6,900 square feet. Garage parking would be spread between all three residential buildings and would provide 427 sheltered spaces, with an additional 51 surface parking spaces.

The City Planning Commission approved the change on March 6, although the commission did not examine how the change meshed with neighborhood plans such as the Red Bank corridor industrial plan and GO Cincinnati, which considered office and industrial uses as the “highest and best uses” of those properties.

That left some on the Neighborhoods Committee wondering what compelled the developer to make the change.

“I’m just curious about creating another residential corridor in an area where I believe, because of the traffic that comes there, because of Medpace, because of some of the other additional retail that’s going down Red Bank Expressway, the highest and best use of that site would be actually supporting office and and/or commercial,” said Councilmember Yvette Simpson.

John Bishop, construction manager for development team, said that recent proposals by Medpace to add additional office, retail, and hotel development in the area caused Schneider to reevaluate the original plans, which were approved by City Council in December 2006.

“We feel like this is the best proposed use of the property that we have currently because of the changes that have taken place in Madisonville and surrounding the property in the nine years from the time we initially submitted the plan,” he said. “That, in conjunction with the success that the [Madison Circle] development has had with the senior housing, has helped guide us in this to be wanting to go down the multi-family path as opposed to competing with the commercial aspect of business development with what Medpace is proposing across the road.”

For several months, the development team has been unable to secure the endorsement of either the Madisonville Community Council or Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (MCURC).

“In my opinion, it’s a shame to utilize 10 developable acres for residential development,” said MCURC Executive Director Sara Sheets. “We would prefer that employees live in the neighborhood – in the heart of the neighborhood – and become involved in the fabric of the neighborhood.”

She added that Madisonville also needs jobs, and that neighborhood plans are right in calling for office and industrial uses.

“At MCURC we consistently receive calls from brokers looking for 15,000 to 30,000 square feet of office space,” Sheets said. “We’ll most likely never have that anywhere else than Red Bank.” Simpson agreed.

“One of the major challenges if you develop residential at this site and then you want to attract jobs, there is no other – you can’t go into the neighborhood and then make that commercial,” she said. “Once we develop this as a residential site, there’s nowhere else to go commercial, industrial, or office within the community of Madisonville.”

The next two weeks will give the development team additional time to work with the neighborhood on a possible compromise. City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee meets next on May 4 at 2pm at City Hall.

Cincinnati’s Streetcar Victory a Decade in the Making

The final, final, final vote for the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar took place today. Perhaps by now you all know the outcome. A six-person veto-proof super-majority voted to continue construction. Cincinnati, as Mayor John Cranley (D) said today, will have a streetcar.

What is important in this moment is to realize that everyone involved lived up to their campaign promises. Wendell Young (D), Chris Seelbach (D) and Yvette Simpson (D) stood strong in their support of the project – even in the face of uncertain outcomes.

At the same time, Christopher Smitherman (I), Amy Murray (R) and Charlie Winburn (R) held true to their promises to oppose the streetcar no matter what. They were the three lone votes against restarting construction.

Construction work will soon resume on Cincinnati’s $133M streetcar project. Photographs by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy.

Then there are the three council members who campaigned on taking a serious look at the numbers and making a prompt decision about whether to cancel the project or proceed. P.G. Sittenfeld (D), David Mann (D) and Kevin Flynn (C) all did that once they saw the numbers in detail. Cancelling a project this far along would have been fiscally irresponsible, and they voted true to their campaign promises to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars.

UrbanCincy has been covering this project since we started the website back in 2007. Our original coverage focused on redevelopment efforts in Downtown and then Over-the-Rhine, but the streetcar quickly became a big part of that redevelopment narrative. It is no secret that we are strong supporters of the project and believe it will improve mobility in the center city and set the city on a path toward building the regional rail system everyone seems to now desire.

There are many people responsible for getting Cincinnati to this stage, but the biggest credit must absolutely be given to John Schneider. If it were not for his unrelenting leadership on this issue over the past decade, we would not be anywhere close to where we are now.

The emergence of Mayor Mark Mallory (D) then gave the city a prominent leader to push the project forward, and Mallory leaned on the expertise and leadership of former City Manager Milton Dohoney and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D) to get it all done.

It is important to keep in mind that the person who first pushed for the Uptown extension to be included in phase one was in fact Roxanne Qualls. The Uptown Connector was never part of the original phase one plan, but was added in later as “Phase 1b” at the urging of Qualls, who then worked with Mallory and then Governor Ted Strickland (D) to secure state funding to make that happen.

Hard fought victories in 2009 and 2011 helped keep the project alive, but also delayed it and ran up the project’s costs. Those delays also allowed enough time for Governor John Kasich (R) to assume office and pull the $52 million in state funding Ohio had originally pledged.

So while Qualls’ leadership and vision to have the first phase include the Uptown Connector is not being realized at this exact moment, our attention must now turn to extending the streetcar line to neighborhoods in Uptown as quickly as possible.

Cincinnati Regional Rail Plan
The first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar system is a small part of a much larger regional rail plan envisioned by leaders. Map provided by OKI Regional Council of Governments.

A new wave of leaders and organizers has emerged in Cincinnati as a result of this most recent battle over the streetcar project. This includes the heroic efforts of Eric Avner and the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation for drumming up private support to contribute $9 million toward the project’s ongoing operations.

Their hard work and courage should certainly be commended, but let’s also not forget the people who have been pounding the pavement on behalf of the streetcar since the beginning. Most Cincinnatians in 2007 did not know what a streetcar was, much less a modern one and the benefits it would bring. The hard work put in by those people early on was necessary.

This movement was not built overnight and these supporters are not fair-weather fans of the city. The movement has grown in size and grown more sophisticated over the past decade and is now stronger than ever.

You too can join this urbanist movement in Cincinnati.

We gather at the Moerlein Lager House around the first Thursday of every month to host URBANexchange – an urbanist networking and social event. We also partner with the Niehoff Urban Studio at the University of Cincinnati to study complex issues facing our city and engage the public in that dialog. Please join us at our next URBANexchange and pay us a visit in Corryville for our next event with the Niehoff Urban Studio.

Now is a time to celebrate and reflect. But it is not the time to get complacent. There are more issues to address and this energy that saved the streetcar needs to be redirected there. Congratulations, Cincinnati! Let’s get to work.