Development News Politics

Smart Growth May Offer Cincinnati a Way Out of Its Structurally Imbalanced Budget

Land Use Budget ImpactsThe City of Cincinnati passed yet another structurally imbalanced budget late last week. At the meeting Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (C) and other council members admitted that the approved budget once again relied on a one-time fix to get the city through another budget cycle without significant layoffs and major funding cuts.

Despite having its hands tied in coming up with creative ways to find revenues, Cincinnati is not alone in dealing with this dilemma. Hundreds of cities across the nation are struggling with budget deficits with some much larger than ours.

Smart Growth America recently completed a national report, titled Building Better Budgets, with findings that could help many municipalities find long-term solutions to their budget crisis. The report makes three main arguments that smart growth development, described as compact, walkable and mixed-use overall save municipalities on upfront infrastructure costs, service costs and serve to increase the city’s tax base better than suburban style developments.

After reviewing a diverse collection of cities across America, such as Raleigh, NC,  Nashville, TN and Champagne, IL, the study found that smart growth development costs an average of 38% less for upfront infrastructure, saves municipalities an average of 10% on ongoing delivery of services, and generates approximately 10 times more tax revenue per acre when compared to conventional suburban development.

“These figures are conservative, and many communities could save even more,” authors of the report stated. “Smart growth development’s potential for lower costs and higher revenues means that many municipalities can operate smart growth development at a surplus rather than a deficit.”

How local projects stack up
Several projects on the horizon are poised to add to the tax base in Cincinnati’s urban core. Phase two of The Banks, dunhumbyUSA Centre, the 580 Building apartment conversion, hotels at the Bartlett Building and Enquirer Building, and proposed apartment buildings above Fountain Place and the parking garage at Seventh and Sycamore all offer the upfront infrastructure cost savings and long-term revenue advantages discussed in Smart Growth America’s report.

The redevelopment of the Pogue’s Garage into a 30-story apartment tower with a grocery store, and an 11-store Holiday Inn at Broadway and Eighth Street are two other projects that offer similar benefits, but are currently on hold due to the ongoing legal dispute surrounding the City of Cincinnati’s Parking Modernization & Lease Plan. Additionally, a slew of projects in Over-the-Rhine, Walnut Hills and Northside also appear poised to help stabilize the city’s finances thanks to their smart growth advantages.

Property Tax Yield

Not all is well, however, as many recent real estate investments throughout the city have taken the conventional suburban development approach. The Incline District in East Price Hill, Villages of Day Break in Bond Hill, Oakley Station in Oakley, MetroWest in Lower Price Hill, and developments along Red Bank Road in Madisonville all seem to be missing the bigger picture about the financial advantages of smart growth.

In addition to the actual footprint of the development, the report discusses the importance of a project’s site location.

“The per-acre measurement of tax revenue is extremely important because land is a precious commodity for every jurisdiction,” the report concluded. “It is true that in some cases the total dollar amount of tax revenue in conventional suburban settings can be very large, but those conventional suburban developments consume large amounts of land. Many cities in the United States have a constrained land supply and must husband their land resources carefully in order to protect their solvency.”

While many of the real estate investments throughout Cincinnati are being done in a smart manner, others seem to be squandering valuable urban land with suburban-style developments. The City of Cincinnati, and other cities around the region, might be able to make a long and sustained positive impact on their budgets by refusing to go forward with projects that offer an easy, short-term score, and instead demanding more sustainable development practices in their community.

Development News Transportation

Metro Seeking Public Feedback on Proposed City-Wide Bus Enhancements

Following a year of ridership growth, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) will roll out a series of improvements to its Metro bus service this year. Agency officials say that the improvements will be rolled out in two phases.

The first round will go into effect this August and will include significant service enhancements at the new Glenway Crossing Transit Center on the west side.

A new Route 32 will provide all-day service between Price Hill and Downtown, a modified Route 64 will connect Westwood with retail on Ferguson Road and the transit center, and new connections will be offered to Route 38X to Uptown and Route 77X to Delhi. Additional service will also be added to Route 19 along Colerain Avenue and Route 33 along Glenway Avenue.

Metro Plus Bus
New Metro*Plus buses were revealed to the public this week, and will be in operation by August. Image provided.

New direct crosstown services, from the Glenway Crossing Transit Center, will take riders to Oakley via the new Mercy Health West Hospital on Route 41, and to the new Uptown Transit District and onto Hyde Park via Route 51.

The transit agency will also begin operating the new pre-bus rapid transit (BRT) service, called Metro*Plus, between Kenwood and the Uptown Transit District this August.

Officials envision Metro*Plus as offering faster service through fewer stops and enhanced visibility through uniquely designed buses and more robust bus stops. The service will initially connect Uptown with the Kenwood area via Montgomery Road, but will be judged for consideration along another six corridors throughout the region.

Attend our free event this Friday from 5pm to 7:30pm at the Niehoff Studio in Corryville on bus rapid transit and bikeway planning that will include an expert panel discussion and open house.

The improvements are a result of SORTA’s 2012 planning efforts, and will be reviewed to determine whether or not the changes should stay in effect.

“Last year, we listened to the community’s suggestions and, as a result, are proposing a number of service changes to better meet our customers’ needs and attract new riders,” Terry Garcia Crews, Metro CEO, stated in a prepared release. “We’re ready to go forward with improvements that will make Metro more efficient, more convenient, and easier to ride.”

Potential Cincinnati BRT Corridors

Officials say that the second round of enhancements will be rolled out this December and will include added service to Route 20 along Winton Road, Route 78 along Vine Street, Route 31 crosstown service, Route 43 along Reading Road, and faster service on Route 1 between the Museum Center and Eden Park.

It is also expected that the four transit boarding areas, that form the $6.9 million Uptown Transit District, will also be complete by the end of the year, and taking on the additional service to the region’s second largest employment center, and one of the city’s fastest growing population centers.

SORTA officials emphasize that the changes are all short-term in nature, and that they would like public feedback on the adjustments. Officials also state that the improvements are being made within Metro’s 2013 operating budget, and will not require fare increases.

Metro will host a public meeting on Wednesday, May 1 from 8am to 5:30pm at the Duke Energy Convention Center (South Meeting Room 232). Officials say that visitors can come anytime during those hours, and that presentations will be offered every hour on the hour.

Comments can also be submitted online, by email at, fax at (513) 632-9202, or mail to 602 Main Street, Suite 1100, Cincinnati, OH 45202. The deadline for public comments is May 1, 2013.

Business Development News Politics

Inner-City Neighborhoods Center of Population, Economic Power in Cincinnati Region

The Cincinnati region has been one of the nation’s best economic performers over the past several years, and that has resulted in a 6.4% unemployment rate that is more than a point better the national average.

According to the U.S. Census, more than 968,000 jobs are scattered all over the region, but it is the City of Cincinnati that stands out as the dominant force for the 2.1 million person region.

As the numbers in the City of Cincinnati’s 2013/2014 Biennial Budget Report show, the financial standing of the central business district is critically important to the overall financial health of the entire city and county. According to the report, income taxes brought in $234 million last year – nearly 71% of the City’s total revenue in 2012.

Cincinnati Employment Density Cincinnati Employment/Population Share
While outlying suburban communities have seen an influx of jobs over the past 30 years, Downtown and Uptown remain the region’s preeminent job centers. Employment Density Map and Employment/Population Share Map by Nate Wessel for UrbanCincy.

In the Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), center city neighborhoods account for the highest concentration of jobs, with more than 22,000 jobs per square mile in Downtown’s 45202 zip code, and anywhere from 3,000 to 9,000 jobs per square mile in Uptown neighborhoods.

“Downtown and Uptown are the City’s largest employment centers and therefore they are very important to the City’s financial health,” said Lea Ericksen, Cincinnati’s Budget Director. “We want all our neighborhoods to improve tax earnings by increasing residents, jobs and overall economic vitality, but we are focused on the six GO Cincinnati strategy areas for redevelopment.”

Cincinnati’s 2.1% income tax largely goes to support the General Fund which pays for operating expenses like police officers and fire fighters. Smaller percentages also go to pay for public transit operated by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and capital investments in City buildings and infrastructure.

Ericksen projects that while income taxes will remain the same, they will grow in value by approximately 2.6% annually over the next six years.

Income & Property Tax Earnings (2004-2016)
The City of Cincinnati has experienced steady growth in income tax revenues since 2004, but it has struggled to recover from the previous decade’s housing crash. Chart produced by UrbanCincy.

Property taxes are the next largest revenue generator for City Hall – accounting for $23.9 million in 2012. City officials expect this number remain stable over the next four years following an initial $7.8 million annual bump should the current property tax rollback be eliminated and set at 6.1 mils.

Like the clustering of jobs in the city’s urban core, the most heavily populated neighborhoods are also located within the center of the region.

“People are very interested in center cities, and we have an exceptionally attractive center city,” David Ginsburg, President/CEO of Downtown Cincinnati Inc. told UrbanCincy. “The architecture here and the geography that we have being in the valley. We just have a compact, spectacular downtown, and I think we have barely touched the surface of what the market can bear.”

Some of the most valuable residences are located along the central riverfront and eastside neighborhoods, with recent growth in northern communities in Butler and Warren Counties.

Cincinnati Population Density
Several neighborhoods boast densities of 7,000 or more people per square mile, and those neighborhoods are all centrally located. Population Density Map by Nate Wessel for UrbanCincy.

Uptown neighborhoods surrounding the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University, Downtown/Over-the-Rhine, and close-in neighborhoods on the westside and along the Northern Kentucky riverfront are the most densely populated in the region.

“We’ve seen quite a bit of where we rehab a home, the neighbor decides to rehab their home,” Ken Smith, Executive Director of Price Hill Will, said about the development corporation’s Buy-Improve-Sell program which has rehabilitated 52 thus far in 30,000-person neighborhood, on episode 14 of The UrbanCincy Podcast. “People are very impressed with the housing stock in the neighborhood, and they are often quite impressed.”

Not all is well, though, for city leaders as they attempt to recover from the housing crash that took place between 2006 and 2010. Neighborhoods like East and West Price Hill are aggressively working to improve their residential housing stock by getting rid of vacant units even by taking advantage of hundreds of demolitions planned throughout the city.

“We are working with the Hamilton County Land Bank to get these empty lots into hands of those next door, but there are going to be a few houses that I wish we could save, and in better times maybe we would have the money to save it, but in better times they may not have gotten to that point,” explained Price Hill Will’s Matt Strauss, Director of Marketing & Neighborhood Promotion at Price Hill Will. “The goal is not only to bolster owner occupancy, but to increase property values in the neighborhood.”

Listen to episode 14 of The UrbanCincy Podcast with the leaders at Price Hill Will to hear more about the work being done on the westside to recover from the housing crash, and episode 15 with David Ginsburg to get the latest insight on the region’s economic engine. You can stream our podcasts online or subscribe to our bi-weekly podcast on iTunes for free.

The UrbanCincy Podcast

Episode #14: Price Hill Will

380093280924On the fourteenth episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we’re joined by Ken Smith and Matt Strauss of Price Hill Will.

We discuss Price Hill Will’s approach of using the neighborhood’s existing assets as the foundation for improvement. The organization’s efforts range from community action teams–which focus on the arts, the environment, and other community issues–to economic development and housing redevelopment initiatives.

We also discuss how the built environment of Cincinnati’s west side has changed over the years, and why former Price Hill residents often remain involved in the neighborhood.

Photo: View from Price Hill’s Mt. Echo Park, by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy.

Business Development News Politics

Cincinnati spreads neighborhood investment in 2013 budget

Last week Cincinnati City Council approved its yearly budget for the coming fiscal year. The approved budget lays out several city priorities for funding redevelopment efforts in many of the city’s 52 neighborhoods.

“This budget prioritizes our neighborhoods and will improve our economic competitiveness, make the city safer and healthier, protect our citizens who are most in need, and support our world class parks and arts,” Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (C) stated in a prepared release.

City officials say the increased funding will go towards two programs that are designed to maximize impacts on neighborhoods throughout the city.

Cincinnati’s new budget directs funding towards the city’s 52 neighborhoods and invests in walkable neighborhood districts like Calhoun/McMillan in Clifton Heights (above). Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

The first program creates a new fund called Focus 52, which will create a pool of $54 million designed to focus on neighborhood projects by utilizing strategies developed from the city’s successes in the urban core.

“This budget will take the lessons we’ve learned from our success in downtown and Over-the-Rhine redevelopment and give our neighborhoods the support to take that momentum into their communities,” Qualls continued.

The second program endorses 13 neighborhood enhancement projects in neighborhoods such as Avondale, Walnut Hills, Mt. Adams and Price Hill. The annual funding for these projects comes from the Neighborhood Business District Improvement Program (NBDIP), which was created in partnership between the City’s Economic Development Division and the Cincinnati Neighborhood Business Districts United.

“Thriving neighborhood business districts will not only provide a high quality of life for current residents – they’re also key to attracting new residents,” said Odis Jones, Cincinnati’s Economic Development Director. “The NBDIP process reaffirms our commitment to strategically investing in neighborhoods to grow the city and the local economy.”

This commitment to city neighborhoods was recently outlined in the city’s recently adopted comprehensive plan, Plan Cincinnati. Several of the goals outlined in the new plan focus heavily on the continued development of the city’s traditional walkable neighborhood centers. The plan outlines over 40 different centers outside of downtown and calls for the assessment of neighborhood needs and the rehabilitation of neighborhood centers by utilizing tools such as the city’s new form-based code.

Working to begin the implementation of this new plan Vice Mayor Qualls has directed staff to identify sources of capital funding to begin accomplishing some of the plans goals.

Plan Cincinnati includes strategies that for the first time put the focus on economic development in the city’s neighborhoods,” Qualls stated. “This budget will ensure that spending supports those strategies and translates into results in our neighborhoods.”