Business Development News

Future looks bright for 152 residents at Cincinnati’s historic Anna Louise Inn

Cincinnati Union Bethel recently announced an award of tax credits for a $12.4 million renovation of the Anna Louise Inn (map) in downtown Cincinnati. The Inn, whose role is to provide affordable housing for women, secured the top ranking in a competitive Permanent Supportive Housing category from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

Since 1994, the Inn has provided traditional housing for homeless families and children, and since 2006 they have provided housing and services for women in recovery from prostitution. Half of those living in the Inn have resided there for over a year, some for up to 30 years.

After the renovation is complete, the residential capacity will be lower; however, the new units will be larger and equipped with private bathrooms and kitchens. Officials emphasize that the general mission of the Inn will not change, although there will be an increased focus on permanent supportive housing.

“There will be a slight decrease in the number of units due to the upgrades, but our goal is to preserve the safe and affordable housing needed for women today,” project manager Mary Carol Melton explained to UrbanCincy in August 2010.  “We’re going to work with residents during the renovation to make this as least disruptive as possible, and we are currently looking at a phased renovation process to be able to do just that.”

Staff says that it is the hope that the creation of a more permanent and supportive environment will help the residents become more stable long-term.

“These more stable and long-term residents will have an opportunity to live in housing that will provide them with the dignity they deserve,” said Steve MacConnel, CEO of Cincinnati Union Bethel. “Additionally, this fits in with the city’s Homeless to Homes plan…it is just one more piece of a city-wide plan to provide more supportive housing.”

Construction for the renovation is scheduled to last from summer 2011 to fall 2012, and the development team will consist of Over-the-Rhine Community Housing along with Cincinnati Union Bethel. When completed, the historic Inn will have a 152-person capacity.

Business Development News

Avondale celebrates the completion of Cincinnati’s first LEED certified affordable housing development

The completion of Cincinnati’s first-ever LEED certified affordable housing complex was celebrated with a ribbon cutting in Avondale last week.

Created for seniors, Forest Square Apartments was developed by The Model Group and designed by City Studios Architecture. The new structure is hard to miss at 3511 Harvey Avenue, as its modern design and colorful exterior stands out amidst the numerous historic homes in the inner-city neighborhood.

The $4.3 million dollar development includes 21 two-bedroom handicap accessible units that offer high efficiency heating, air conditioning, and plumbing. Developers also tout the project’s LEED Silver accreditation, its community garden, kitchenettes, community room, on-site parking, and two outdoor patios.

The project was assisted by a $1 million award from HUD Recovery Act Tax Credit Assistance Program funds that were part of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. Local leaders and supporters attended the ribbon cutting, applauding the creative financing of such a unique project during these turbulent economic times.

Speakers also pointed out how important projects like these are during an economic recession, highlighting the fact that this project put people back to work, and produced decent, safe, and affordable housing.

“This project is a key indicator that Avondale is on its way back from being an under-served community,” reiterated Councilman Wendell Young. “This project will provide a safe and healthy environment for our seniors to live in the coming years.”

The project was developed with the Avondale Vision Plan and Burnet Avenue Revitalization Plan in mind as well. Both of which outline ways in which to re-establish Avondale as a safe and affordable neighborhood of choice.

Other agencies involved in the development include the Ohio Housing Financing Agency, HUD, PNC Bank, Avondale Community Council, Uptown Consortium, Key Bank, LISC, Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing, and the City of Cincinnati.

Business Development News Transportation

Kenton County Planning Commission votes to adopt Roebling Point Plan

Last week, the Kenton County Planning Commission voted 11-5 in favor of adopting Covington’s Roebling Point Plan into the county’s comprehensive plan. Roebling Point, located at the foot of the historic Roebling Suspension Bridge, is home to such local favorites as Molly Malone’s and Keystone Bar & Grill.

Given that most view the comprehensive plan as a guide for the region, the vote was seen as a big step forward for the City of Covington as it hopes to redevelop one of its most important gateways into a more pedestrian friendly and generally more livable bar/restaurant district.

“Incorporating the plan will allow for a smoother zoning transition when new commercial moves in, streamlining zoning decisions to quicken the process for developers,” explained Covington Assistant City Manager Larisa Sims.

If the land use recommendations in the plan are followed, the new commercial development will consist of mixed-use design that complements, but does not copy the existing historic infrastructure. Sims points out that Roebling Point’s geography is unique in that it has the possibility of bringing together a variety of aesthetics.

“The area is on the verge of success,” Sims says. “It’s located between high density office use to the west and the historic Licking Riverside District to the east. The area highlights the importance of, and creates a balance between, new mixed-use development and historic preservation.”

Last week planners also outlined the specific elements of the Roebling Point Plan for four key areas:

  1. West side of Scott Street between 3rd and 4th (Gateway Building): No significant change is proposed for the Gateway Building. The plan states that the structure is an appropriate size and it incorporates well designed features for pedestrian scale. Uses encouraged in this building are retail or office on the ground floor, with office above.
  2. Southwest corner of Scott and 4th Street: This block is part of the Times Star Commons Public Space Plan. The plan focuses on the preservation of the existing historic buildings, specifically the Times Star Building. The plan also calls for the redevelopment of the J&R auto repair that is on the corner of E. 4th Street and Electric Alley.
  3. 4th Street, Tobacco Alley, and Scott to Greenup Street: The plan calls for general reinvestment and rehabilitation in this section of the study area.
  4. East side of Greenup Street, from 3rd to Tobacco Alley: The plan indicates that the mix and scale of the development here is generally appropriate.

Land Use, growth, and redevelopment
While there are many land use recommendations within the district plan, the possible reuse or demolition of the county offices and county jail at 303 Court Street is one of the most intriguing. Currently, the County is discussing whether this building will be needed once the new jail is fully functional. If the offices are also eventually moved out of this building, the plan would recommend two alternatives.

First, if the building is not demolished, the plan would prefer changes be made to the facade of the building, and that the addition on the west side of the building be removed to create more pedestrian friendly space. The recommended use of this building would be residential or office.

Second, if the building were to be razed, the design of the building should be creative, and incorporate opportunities for open spaces and pedestrian amenities mid-block. The recommended use of this building is residential, or office, with retail opportunities on the first floor.

Transportation & Urban Design
One of the main transportation recommendations in the plan involves an area called ‘The Yoke’ which is a small green space with a police memorial located next to The Ascent. Currently there are two traffic ramps that separate two small islands of green space from the police memorial. The plan recommends the elimination of these ramps in order to provide safer access to this underutilized public amenity.

The plan also recommends, among other things, to identify locations and preferred methods for streetscape enhancements and pedestrian amenities. It specifically suggests making use of the local alleys in the surrounding neighborhoods for walking, biking, and safe vehicular traffic. The plan also outlines identifying areas for new public spaces and utilizing urban design methods for enhancing safety and cleanliness.

The plan’s architectural design objectives include protecting the community’s historic architecture, while allowing flexibility for appropriate new development. In order to accomplish this, the plan lists two main specific recommendations.

  1. Keep the Historic Preservation Overlay zone in place in order to facilitate historically appropriate and compatible design.
  2. Update and amend the Historic Covington Design Guidelines to codify flexibility and consistent interpretation.

The first implementation committee meeting for the plan will be held November 15th at 6pm, the public is welcome. The meeting will outline and give a more detailed prioritization of the action items within the plan. Initial plans are already underway to meet with the owner of the Keystone Bar & Grill to discuss sidewalk expansion along Park and Greenup. These sidewalk improvements are scheduled to begin in the spring.

Additionally, funds are currently being raised for the improvements to the Yoke/Police Memorial and changes to the Yoke parking lot have already been made to try to increase usage. Additional recommendations in the plan will continue to be evaluated.

“Long term implementation will largely depend on the interest and activity from property owners and developers specifically related to land use and redevelopment of each block,” Sims stated. “The City will continue to promote its incentives and work as a facilitator to make this vision a reality.”

Business Development News Politics

Hamilton County leaders eye land banking as potential cure for area’s housing woes

Our nation’s housing crisis and subsequent economic recession has led to an enormous increase in housing vacancy, abandonment, and foreclosures across the country. Hamilton County is no exception; the crisis has left many in the region homeless and has put a fiscal burden on local governments across the region, leaving them with the multifaceted challenges associated with widespread vacancy.

In many cases, property vacancy creates a domino effect that leads to further desertion and vacant properties within a neighborhood. This not only results in less tax revenue for cities; vacant property can also lead to increased rates of crimes such as drug dealing, prostitution, and arson. Because vacant property damages are so extensive, it is becoming more and more important for a metropolitan area to have a mechanism in place to transfer vacant property to owners who can/will pay taxes and redevelop the property.

A land bank is a tool that is growing in popularity, and on Tuesday morning local governmental and nonprofit leaders met to discuss how a Hamilton County land bank should be formed, funded and operated.

In April, Ohio Sub House Bill 313 was passed, enabling Ohio counties to create a Land Bank/County Land Reutilization Corporation (CLRC). The purpose of the CLRC is to facilitate the acquisition, reclamation, rehabilitation, and reutilization of vacant, abandoned, tax-foreclosed, and other real property. While there are still many steps that need to be taken before the CLRC is fully functional, county officials are hoping to have the land bank chartered by the end of the year.

Although no specific funding decisions were made at the meeting, there are multiple ways the CLRC can be supported fiscally. For example, the treasurer could recapture penalties and interest on delinquent taxes and assessments on behalf of the CLRC, the group could generate revenue from the resale of rehabbed property, and/or the CLRC could be authorized to issue bonds, accept gifts, and apply for grants. The recently announced NSP3 dollars can also be used to acquire homes for the CLRC.

Not only will the land bank help to address vacancy problems regionally, it will also give local CDCs and nonprofits a chance to obtain blighted property before private out-of-town investors. With a broad jurisdiction, the CLRC will be able to acquire both mortgage foreclosed and tax foreclosed properties. Moreover, the legislation allows land banks to waive delinquent taxes owed in order to clear the title on the property. This tax abatement component is crucial because often the taxes owed on abandoned property are more than the property’s actual market value.

At Tuesday’s meeting, there was a clear consensus that the land bank not just be a pilot program, but instead be a comprehensive and wide-ranging tool that helps to alleviate one of our region’s most pressing problems.

“The Board of County Commissioners want to ensure that the way this is set up is consistent with the community’s vision,” Assistant Hamilton County Administrator Jeffery Aluotto stated on Tuesday. “Land banking holds a great deal of promise as a means of addressing the increase in vacant housing stock we have seen since the recession, and the direct impacts that those vacancies have on the quality of life and economic vitality of our communities.”

With successes in Cuyahoga County and Gennessee County, Michigan, local leaders have high hopes for the potential impact that the CLRC can have on our region.

UrbanCincy will continue to follow this story as it progresses in the coming months.

Business News Politics

Historic urban churches beginning to face new set of problems

Reverend Clarence Wallace has been with Carmel Presbyterian Church (map) in Avondale for 32 years. As an African-American growing up in the south during the civil rights movement, he experienced both segregation and integration first-hand. These life experiences helped to mold the high level of social consciousness that is still with him today.

“I’ve worked as a drug and alcohol counselor, witnessed Klan rallies, and was working in Harlem when Martin Luther King was stabbed. I could tell you many stories.”

Today, however, it is the story of the modern day ‘urban church’ that keeps him occupied. An unfinished story filled with both hope and adversity.

In Avondale, it is virtually impossible to miss the diverse collection of historic churches that line the streets of the neighborhood. However, while their stunning architecture is viewed as an asset, there are also challenges that these places of worship face including competition from mega churches, declining parish sizes, tight economic conditions, high maintenance and utility costs, and growing social needs from their members.

Built in 1890, Carmel Presbyterian brings along with it a unique set of financial challenges. Upkeep of the historic building is extremely expensive, and high utility costs are placing a burden on the church which is already devoting most of its resources to social and community development. These challenges, together with an economic recession that has hit neighborhoods like Avondale particularly hard, have created a difficult financial situation for ministers like Reverend Wallace.

“The poor continue to come in with more social needs than spiritual needs, and the costs keep rising. The urban church is being challenged as never before with this economic recession,” explained Wallace. “What would be viewed as a cold in a suburban church can be viewed as pneumonia here in the urban core.”

The church’s situation is complicated further by the fact that 75 percent of the congregation comes in from outside of the neighborhood. The group, most of which are originally from Avondale, has stayed loyal to the church over the years. The church has been seen as one of the few constants in the neighborhood during otherwise troubling times, and Wallace views the emigrating parishioners as part of the solution to helping bridge both the economic and social divide.

“We serve different people with different needs and sometimes it becomes difficult to meet these needs, but whether affluent, working class, or poor, they all worship one god and this is the common factor that brings them together…and with time this can help to benefit the entire community.”

Wallace emphasizes that while it is extremely challenging during these economic times, giving up is not an option.

“Is it easy? Certainly it’s not easy, but leaving would never cross my mind.”