News Politics Transportation

OKI seeking public input on 2040 regional transportation plan

The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) has been working to adapt and produce a transportation plan that would affect the Cincinnati area for the next 30 years.

The regional council released a presentation in August outlining the goals and plans meant to address Greater Cincinnati’s current and projected transportation needs. Citing objectives like mobility, environment, economic vitality and efficiency, the presentation describes OKI’s projections for both population and job growth in the future, and hints at how the council plans to address the region’s transit needs.

According to OKI’s projections, the regional population is expected to grow from 1.9 million (in 2005) to nearly 2.4 million people in 2040. Every county is expected to grow in population and job creation. With these numbers in mind, the council has planned, or is carrying out, a total of 33 highway projects and six transit projects, which include bus purchases, park and ride facilities, transit centers and the Cincinnati Streetcar project.

According to OKI, transit currently accounts for approximately two percent of trips taken throughout the region. Whether lack of ridership is due to an inadequate and struggling system remains to be seen, but for whatever reason, OKI appears to be putting the majority of their focus for the future into highway maintenance and construction, with multi-modal transportation options as an afterthought.

While the August presentation only mentioned freight rail, Robyn Bancroft with OKI had this to say about the future of commuter rail in Cincinnati:

“The current plan includes rail transit (Eastern Corridor and Cincinnati Streetcar) and right-of-way preservation for regional rail transit corridors,” Bancroft stated. “How the public feels about these issues is important to us and we hope the meetings may provide some feedback. It is our goal to produce a multi-modal yet fiscally constrained plan, so we have some limitations.”

OKI leadership expressed concern, to UrbanCincy, about the potentially harmful effects of Issue 48 (the anti-rail amendment on the ballot this election) could have on future systems.

Brian Cunningham of OKI said, “[passage of Issue 48] will absolutely have an effect on the streetcar project, but it’s very possible that projects like the Eastern Corridor, Oasis Line, and securing future right-of-way for multi-city rail is also in jeopardy.”

Cunningham emphasized the importance of public input to help shape the future of the region’s transportation system. “If regional commuter rail is a priority for Cincinnatians, they need to let us know. We very much value community input, and every form of communication – whether at public meetings or through email and mail – helps us to understand where the priorities are for our constituents.”

If an effective, regional commuter rail and transit system is something you would like to see in Cincinnati by 2040, please speak up and let the OKI Regional Council of Governments know. There are three community open houses coming up – one of them is today, September 15, at the Crestview Hills City Building (map) from 4pm to 7pm. The other two meetings will take place September 27 at Xavier University’s Cintas Center (map), and September 28 at Butler County’s Government Services Building (map).

Today also marks the official kickoff of the No on Issue 48 Campaign. Cincinnatians for Progress is looking for volunteers to help get the word out about this damaging amendment to the City’s Charter. Sign up here.

Your voice makes a difference. Speak up for Cincinnati and let it be heard.

Business Development News

Taste of Belgium expands with Gateway Quarter bistro

In 2007, Jean-Francois Flechet was making his dense, sugary waffles in Jean Robert de Cavel’s kitchen. Four years later he is preparing to take over one of the largest retail spaces in the Gateway Quarter of Over-the-Rhine, with a flagship store that marks the first Belgian bistro in the Cincinnati area for quite some time.

The Taste of Belgium Bistro will, fingers crossed, be open for business by then end of this month. Located at the corner of 12th and Vine Streets in the former Gateway Quarter leasing office, Flechet has been very busy preparing the space, leased for 5 years, for his customers.

Initially, the bistro will be open Monday through Friday, 7am to 4pm, serving up breakfast and lunch. The brand is already well known for their pastries, macarons, buckwheat crepes, and of course their waffles. All of these and more will be available for purchase.

The goal is to be open seven days a week into the evenings, and serve up authentic Belgian fare and beer for a laid back, comfortable, dinner and drinking experience. “Belgian food is similar to French food,” explains Jean-Francois. “except we cook with beer instead of wine – appropriate for Cincinnati!” General manager and chef Mark Gould has been running operations at Findlay Market for over two years, and was the natural choice for head chef at the new bistro.

Expect traditional Belgian treats like mussels and a variety of frites – both vegan and regular- for the new dinner menu, as well as special dishes like carbonnades flamandes – a version of beef burgundy, made with Belgian ale instead of French wine. There will also be appetizer, entree and dessert variations on the famous waffle – Chicken and waffles? A la mode? We’ll have to wait and find out. There will be several varieties of Belgian brews to try, with an array of glasses complementing each one.

Flechet and his staff have taken the shell of the 2600 square foot space and utilized it to its full potential. There will be seating for around 60, inside and out, and the kitchen and prep space is spacious for their needs. A ten foot by fifteen foot baker’s table with an exquisite antique chandelier commands the majority of the kitchen area, and will be the chef’s table for special dining events later on. Walnut and brushed aluminum make up the counter tops, and the original flooring and tin ceiling in the space have been preserved.

Most of all, Jean-Francois hopes to establish his commissary at the new location. Space adjacent to the new bistro has been rented as the official Taste of Belgium headquarters and office, and a majority of baking and prep for catering and the Findlay Market location will occur in the new space.

“We’re excited to be opening in such a noticeable location,” says Flechet. “With our Findlay Market roots, we wanted to stay in Over-the-Rhine. The neighborhood is growing, and it has more personality than other places.”

Check out the exclusive pictures of the new Taste of Belgium Bistro!

Pictures by Jenny Kessler for UrbanCincy

Business Development News

Park+Vine adds new vegan lunch offerings

Starting today, earth-friendly corner store Park+Vine will begin offering a variety of lunch time fare during the week as an expansion to their grocery selection and coffee bar. Melissa Cox-Howard, a former chef at Melt, helms the new menu and makes every dish from scratch.

Cox-Howard, or Missy, has a fascinating culinary history that has paved the way to her newest adventure. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Missy became a vegetarian in 1978. A year later, she started cooking.

Vegetarian-friendly fare was something of an anomaly in the restaurant world at the time, so Missy did most of her cooking at home. She made her way down the Mississippi and worked aboard the Mississippi Queen, cooking and serving in restaurants in the South for 5 years.

By 2001 she was cooking and feeding rock bands that came into town to play Southgate House “yummy, energizing food. The kind that gives you energy and hutzpah to get you through the day.” Her band mate Chris Schadler, now of MOTR Pub, loved what she created and encouraged her to share her skills with others.

After working at Melt and meeting Dan Korman, proprietor of Park+Vine, expanding into Over-the-Rhine seemed a natural choice. “I’ll be doing a number of things in one little lunch hour,” explains Missy. “It’s about flavor, supporting local, practicing what you preach, and a good time. The food should do all of those things for you when you eat. Of course it will be vegan (it IS Park+Vine), but it will be so delicious you’ll want to order it again.”

The initial lunch offerings will be available Monday through Friday, 11am to 2pm. The menu for today focuses on the season and weather – light, cold, raw. Barbeque tofu sliders, smoky potato salad, sesame noodles, and cold cucumber salad will be some of the offerings on the new lunch menu. Sampler platters will be available for eight dollars.

“I want to make food like my Grandma Mertie did,” says Missy. “She made it the old-fashioned way, and it tasted delicious. I do that too, but with a vegan, healthier, not so full of fat twist. Good for you does not have to mean tasting terrible!”

Photo by Jenny Kessler for UrbanCincy

News Politics Transportation

Potential ballot proposal a serious roadblock to Cincinnati’s future

Advocates for job growth, economic development, alternative transportation and Cincinnati’s future have stepped up to the plate once again. What seemed like a grand-slam finish to beginning the first steps to rail transit in the city is now contested and seemingly up for debate. Again.

Despite clear indication from the voters, the city, and (at one time) the state and federal level that the Cincinnati Streetcar project was a positive contribution to changing Cincinnati for the better, there are those who would rewrite the rule books. The first vote was not enough. It is time for another.

A small but persistent group is at it again, collecting signatures to put yet another proposal on the ballot for the fall election.

This petition, however, would prevent ANY rail transportation systems to be funded or built until 2020. A ten-year ban would force Cincinnati to miss out on an entire generation of building infrastructure, in a time when gas prices are certainly not getting any cheaper, and Cincinnatians will be desperate for options to get around.

“Nothing even remotely like this has ever been proposed in any American city. In a era of rising energy prices, Cincinnati would be handcuffing its flexibility to develop alternative means of getting citizens to work and doing the everyday things of life,” says local transit authority and activist John Schneider. “And since regional rail lines wouldn’t be able to connect within the city limits, this has serious regional implications too.”

Cincinnatians for Progress has broken down the exact language of the ballot proposal, to demonstrate how much is at stake:

What it says:
: “The City shall not spend or appropriate any money on the design, engineering, construction or operation of a Streetcar System, or any portion thereof.”
What it means: This phrase prevents the city from spending any money on anything related to preparing any kind of passenger rail transit in Cincinnati.

What it says: “Further, the City shall not incur any indebtedness or contractual obligations for the purpose of financing, designing, engineering, construction or operating of a Streetcar System, or any portion thereof.”
What it means: This language would make it impossible to accept federal grants, to issue bonds, to enter into public-private partnerships for passenger rail. Even private investment in a rail system in the city limits would be illegal.

What it says: “This Amendment applies from the date it is certified to the Charter, and will continue in effect until December 31, 2020.”
What it means: The arbitrary 10-year ban on preparation is designed to force new transit planning to start from square one in 2021. Because permanent infrastructure requires many years to develop, this language would guarantee Cincinnati sees no rail-based transit for a generation.

What it says: “For purposes of this Amendment, the term ‘Streetcar System’ means a system of passenger vehicles operated on rails constructed primarily in existing public rights of way …”
What it means: The term “streetcar system” in this amendment would ban all rail that runs in on Cincinnati streets or rights-of-way. That would prevent commuter rail and streetcars alike; even restoring the city’s historic inclines would be outlawed.

What it says: “…The term ‘City’ includes without limitation the City, the Manager, the Mayor, the Council, and the City’s various boards, commissions, agencies and departments …”
What it means: Under this language, even Cincinnati’s Metro system could not consider taking advantage of future national and regional funding programs.

What it says: “…The term ‘money’ means any money from any source whatsoever….”
What it means: This language would not only lock out local, state and federal funds, but make it illegal for corporations, non-profits and individuals to pay for rail-based transit.


Says CFP co-chair Mark Schmidt: “[The ballot proposal is] the laziest piece of legislation ever written and an insult to the people of Cincinnati… especially those public servants who play by the rules and commit themselves to the slow and steady process of making this a more perfect union through the hard work of collaboration and compromise.”

The deadline to file a ballot with enough signatures is August 10th. If the measure succeeds, there is a tough road ahead to ensure that this debilitating piece of legislation does not get past.

Readers, please don’t give up. Not everyone supports the streetcar plan in its current form- this is not about the streetcar. We are tired and frustrated at the ways the realities of the situation have unfolded. It’s not fair. It’s not right.

It’s not over.

If you’ve been waiting to get involved, to help out with a cause you believe in, Cincinnatians for Progress could use your support. Sign up to volunteer, donate (time or money) to ensure our great city a chance at the future.

At the very least, continue to educate yourself and help inform others. We will see a day in Cincinnati where the economy is improved, jobs have been created, tax and population base in the city is up, and citizens are not chained to their cars in order to get where they need to go.

Comatose comic by Nick Sweeney.

Development News

Date to offer intimate dining experience on Main Street

[This story was originally published in the Cincinnati Business Courier print edition on July 8, 2011. Visit the original story for more comments, thoughts and opinions on Over-the-Rhine’s newest homegrown restaurant – Jenny.]

Shayla Miles and Steven Shockley are inviting Main Street on a date. Their new restaurant, slated to open in September, is seeking to create a welcoming atmosphere for diners to more fully understand and appreciate good food at a good price in the quickly developing neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine.

The two envision a “transparent chef’s-table experience” with 25 seats at eye level with the open kitchen and a rotating, playful menu that capitalizes on pocketbook friendly, healthful food.

“I’m never again going to cook in a restaurant that my friends can’t afford to try,” says head chef Shockley, who has worked in kitchens in upscale restaurants in Chicago, locally was the sous chef at Chalk Food and Wine, and most recently head chef at Maribelle’s Tavern. This is his first restaurant ownership experience.

With 750 square feet, 25 seats and four employees, Date promises to connect customers to their food, their servers, and to each other.

“We’re striving for a pan-cultural, pan-economic experience, where you can get a great meal for under twenty dollars,” says Shayla. “It will be like the dinner version of Tucker’s [diner], where the owners are cooking your food and serving it to you themselves, and everything is open. Anybody can feel comfortable and have a positive, guilt-free dining experience.”

Shockley and Miles brought a “First Date” sample menu for patrons at Neon’s Unplugged to try over July 4th weekend, which was well received. The day’s food included a cannelloni bean dip with sumac and Bourbon Barrel maple syrup, dirty rice with Kroeger and Sons duck sausage, and a curried couscous, crab and cucumber pilaf. The Date Nights will continue until the restaurant is ready to open its doors.

The restaurant itself will feature a nine item, weekly rotating menu with a limited selection of high quality craft beers, wines and upscale non-alcoholic drinks that will pair well with the food offerings. Hours will be Tuesday through Saturday, from 11am to 2:30pm for lunch, 5pm to 11pm for dinner. The owners say that there will also be late night offerings Thursday through Saturday until 2:30am, and a Sunday brunch menu.

“With a small business, you have to be passionate enough to put in the long hours and make it work. I’ve been around Steven a long time – this guy gets passionate about Brussels sprouts. If he can get that way about Brussels sprouts, think of what he can do with the all the other ingredients out there in his own restaurant,” explains Michael Maxwell, owner of Market Wines at Findlay Market. Both Miles and Shockley work at Market Wines, and Maxwell has been a friend and mentor as they have embarked on this endeavor.

While the two have chosen a location in the 1300-1500 block of Main Street, the exact address is still undisclosed, due to the challenges they are facing with negotiating a building lease that will fit to their needs.

“There are historic preservation guidelines that are a challenge when restoring an old space,” says head chef Shockley. “We want to be around for a while, and we want to make sure we do the space right. These [historic spaces] can be cost prohibitive for small business owners – between the countless inspections, preservation guidelines, and even tension between building owners, we have to pick and choose our battles in order to not blow our budget.”

The duo is excited to create a place that they and others have been longing for in Over-the-Rhine. “Main Street is this haven for all sorts of new energy and entrepreneurial spirit” says Miles. “It’s a community anchored and supported by its small businesses. Businesses are thriving, having fun, creating community – it thrives off itself. Something is going on in Over-the-Rhine that is very different, and we’re trying to do that with food.”

Photograph of Shayla Miles and Steven Shockley by Brent Schwass for UrbanCincy