Avondale’s desire to capitalize on the upcoming $106 million MLK Interchange with more dense, walkable development took a big step forward on Monday with the approval of the rezoning of several properties by City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee.
If approved by the full City Council on Wednesday, the move would rezone approximately 16.76 acres along Reading Road from commercial community-auto to commercial community-pedestrian.
“We really looked at the areas that they felt maybe were at the most risk for auto-oriented development,” said supervising city planner, Katherine Keough-Jurs. “Obviously they want to make this the gateway to their community, and they felt that these were the areas they really wanted to focus on.”
Under commercial community-pedestrian (CC-P) zoning, new construction must be built to the front lot line. Existing buildings can remain as they are, unless altered.
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.”
After several years of trying to attract a hotel to The Banks, the project has landed a brand that is sure to attract the fastest growing customer segment in the industry – millennials.
In a special meeting before the Joint Banks Steering Committee, Eagle Realty Group development affiliate Main Hospitality Holdings and Blue Ash-based hotel operator Winegardner & Hammons announced plans to build a seven-story, 165-room AC Hotels by Marriott on the southwest corner of Freedom Way and Joe Nuxhall Way, directly across from Great American Ball Park.
Known for its upscale, contemporary European influences, the brand began as a joint venture between Marriott International and leading European hotel developer Antonio Catalán in 2011. The brand officially launched in the North American market in 2013 and now boasts locations in Chicago, Kansas City, Miami Beach, New Orleans, and Washington, DC, making it the fastest launch of a Marriott brand in history.
“We’ve wanted this brand for over five years,” explained Mike Conway, president and CEO of Winegardner & Hammons, with regard to why the third largest hotelier in the world wants to grow in the Cincinnati marketplace. “We think it’s a…absolutely home run in Cincinnati. The reason why we say that is people are moving back to the urban core; and our city, like all major cities across the country, is experiencing a revitalization of downtown.”
Adding to Conway’s enthusiasm was Cincinnati Reds president and CEO, and committee chairman, Bob Castellini.
“The Banks offers up perhaps the best location for a hotel in the city,” Castellini noted. “It took us a while to find and secure the best possible flag and developer for the hotel at The Banks, and I really believe that we have the best possible flag and developer.”
The designs show an L-shaped structure, with the main building height fronting on Joe Nuxhall Way and a smaller, one- to two-story portion to the building’s south.
Along Joe Nuxhall Way, the building will include the front desk and guest rooms – expected to have a $180 per night average rate – and will be capped with a rooftop terrace bar and deck overlooking the Ohio River. It will also include a water feature and a four-story animated LED video board.
The shorter southern portion, made necessary due to height restrictions, will include a lounge, library, fitness facility, conference rooms, and a courtyard overlooking Smale Riverfront Park.
The project team will present the plans to the Urban Design Review Board on Thursday. If all goes according to plan, construction could begin in August and be completed by spring 2017.
The development is expected to cost approximately $35 million, with the equity and debt financing already in place. But the best part, steering committee member Tom Gabelman said, was that it will require no city or county subsidies.
“That’s rather phenomenal in this environment,” he said. “And it’s rather phenomenal, too, that we basically have the quality of hotel that the city and county desired for this premier location.”
Meanwhile, construction continues on Phase 2 of The Banks, most notably on a 339,000-square-foot office building for General Electric that is expected to employ between 1,800 and 2,000 workers when completed in late 2016. Next door, a building featuring 291 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space is slated for completion next spring.
Project officials provided some additional details on the infrastructure buildout for Phase 3, which will be paid for with revenues produced by prior phases. This infrastructure work is critical to lift the development out of the Ohio River floodplain, and must be completed before any private real estate development can begin.
Leadership also said that there is a desire to diversify the retail environment along the central riverfront, and further add to the “live, work, play” mantra driving the development.
“I want to add another word there pretty soon, because we hope to have there not just a hotel, but a grocery store and some other retail opportunities so it will be a great place to live, work, shop and play,” said Castellini, who also explained how he used to have to walk down to the river at 4am to make sure it was below 52 feet so that he could open his produce business.
Much has changed along the northern banks of the Ohio River since the days of Castellini’s produce business, and much more will change over the coming years. Project officials say that they will bring a detailed plan for the next round of work to City Council within the next one to two months.
The language we use when discussing transit is fundamentally flawed, according to Jarrett Walker, an international consultant on public transit design and policy and author of the book Human Transit.
Walker’s remarks were delivered at the CNU23 conference, which was held last week at Hotel Adolphus in downtown Dallas.
“The North American transit conversation is mostly using false binarisms,” Walker said.
Examples of this kind of “either this or that” thinking can be seen in debates over profit vs. subsidy, infrastructure vs. service, rail vs. bus, aesthetics vs. abundance, and choice riders vs. dependent riders, he said.
He also believes that too much of the conversation has been about technology and engineering, political wrangling, or how the system will be financed.
In doing so, we’re ignoring what should be transit’s goal: providing abundant access and expanding opportunities for all to enjoy the city’s riches. In other words, he said, we should be designing the transit network to maximize peoples’ liberty and opportunity.
Mariia Zimmerman, principal and founder of public policy consulting group MZ Strategies, agreed with Walker that too much of the discussion and advocacy surrounding transit is about the infrastructure itself.
She noted that such thinking has had the effect of the trickle of funding transit gets through the Federal Transit Administration being used almost entirely for buses, tracks, train cars and shelters, with precious little available for actual operation.
“Transit, at best, is the poor stepchild,” Zimmerman said. “In many cases, it’s the bastard. When we’re investing in the infrastructure instead of the operating, it’s tough. How can we sell and persuade people to support transit – outside of the infrastructure?”
Without access, there is no transit service, only symbolism, Walker said.
“One thing to know is that access leads overwhelmingly to ridership,” he said. “The idea that transit infrastructure has outcomes just by itself is a false analogy imported from buildings and highways.”
Walker quoted Alan Watts, the British-born philosopher, writer and speaker, who said that “Western cultures are prone to eat the wrapper and throw away the food.”
“This existing view of transit is all the wrapper,” he said. “The freedom and opportunity of people to access their city is the food.”
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.”
“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.