Well hello there! It’s been a year, what did we miss?
All kidding aside much has happened over the past year. While our team was alive and well, doing what we do, the site crashed. We can discuss how much effort we had to put into restoring the site from the archive but the long and short of it is that the back end server and hosting needed to be rebuilt almost entirely.
Thank you, Travis, for all your hard work!
In lieu of a broader update, we have decided to focus on catching up on some of the major developments in Cincinnati over the past year. Here’s a brief review of news from 2019 and early 2020:
Of course, we would be remiss to not mention the current COVID-19 crisis. We will continue to track its impacts on urbanism in Cincinnati and beyond. This Friday, the city will close 15 street sections in downtown and Over-the-Rhine to allow for expanded outdoor dining. Other areas may follow.
With the site back, we hope to become a public platform for urban thought in Cincinnati. With most of us now working full-time, we have less time to devote to the site. With that in mind, if you, our reader have an article you would like to submit or an opinion piece, please feel free to contact us at email@example.com.
Nearly three-and-a-half years have passed since that time, but it is now becoming clear that 3CDC has largely lived up to the promises they made at the time.
When first criticized by UrbanCincy, 3CDC noted that the spaces at the Mercer Commons Garage were meant not only for the $50 million Mercer Commons development, but also the office space at the Paint Building, Cintrifuse, and former Boss Cox building. In total, 3CDC’s former Vice President of Development, Adam Gelter, estimated that those projects alone would need 90 to 100 spaces.
In addition to that, 3CDC’s previous plans for the former Smitty’s site called for 30 to 40 residential units, which would also have their parking provided for at the Mercer Commons Garage. Since that time, those plans have evolved, and 3CDC is now proposing a 55,000-square-foot office and retail building, which, by law, would require 155 parking spaces – much more than would have been required under the previous residential scheme.
City officials say that a potential 77-space reduction may be permitted due to the existence of the nearby Mercer Commons Garage and Washington Park Garage, which have an availability of 141 and 14 spaces, respectively.
Should 3CDC pursue to utilize those two garages to their fullest extent, then it would be feasible for the non-profit development organization to avoid providing any parking at all in the $16 million project slated for the southwest corner of Fifteenth and Vine Streets.
In addition to being located to two nearby parking garages, this site is directly across the street from a Kroger grocery store, located a block away from the Cincinnati Streetcar’s first phase, and within blocks of several Red Bike stations.
With a Walk Score of 96 out of 100 points, the proposed unnamed development at Fifteenth and Vine Streets boasts one of the most walkable locations in the region.
If all goes according to plan, and 3CDC is granted their zoning variances by City Hall, then project officials say they hope to begin construction as soon as possible, with a project completion scheduled for mid-2017.
Located next to the University of Cincinnati and surrounded by some of the region’s largest employers, University Plaza has long sat as one of the most underutilized pieces of commercial real estate in the city.
With demolition work well underway, a new University Plaza will soon be realized, but will it be any better than what was has occupied the site since the early 1980s?
While no site plan has been released, the drawings show a two-level store that will face west toward Jefferson Avenue. The front façade will include numerous windows, while the other three sides would not. A drive-thru pharmacy will be located along Corry Street, and a surface parking lot will sit in front of the building, separating it from the street.
The front façade treatments and two-level store design are departures from Kroger’s previous urban store designs elsewhere in Cincinnati. The large surface parking lot, however, stays true to their typical development model and represents a departure from the earlier visions for the site that included a rooftop or structured parking facility.
In fact, the final arrangement for the redeveloped University Plaza site will most likely appear nothing like the original concepts first produced a decade ago. Over that time, dozens of concept plans have been developed for the site from the Niehoff Studio and three different professional design firms.
The Niehoff Studio has actually be researching the topic of urban grocery stores since 2002, and has published its findings on everything from the economic performance to the social impact and design of such stores.
“I applaud the initiative and risk taking involved to make this a two story format,” said Frank Russell, Director of the Niehoff Studio and Community Design Center. “This is a sensible solution to putting a sprawling large scale program on a valuable site in a dense urban setting. It relates better to the surrounding context which is multi-story, but it is very difficult to do from a functionality point of view.”
While the two-story structure is in line with the original recommendations, Russell says that the large surface parking lot is not ideal.
“That undoes some of the progressive intent of the two-story building design, especially at the important gateway corner of Jefferson and Taft,” Russell told UrbanCincy. “The best thing that I could say about that is that it is a land-bank for future structured parking and mixed-use development, notwithstanding a landscaped corner.”
While notably different than the original design concepts developed in the early aughts, the designs released yesterday appear to have not changed much from what was developed by CR Architects in 2008.
Kroger representatives say that the store will also feature an outdoor seating area, similar to what the company recently developed in Lexington. They also say that while the store will have two levels, customers will not actually use the second floor since it will be used for food preparation functions only.
Project officials say that the current store will close on September 12 so that it can be demolished. It is estimated that construction of the new store will take 12 to 14 months and open at the end of 2016.
Kroger is one of the Queen City’s prized Fortune 500 gems. The company was founded here in 1883 and has grown into the nation’s largest grocer, and one of the nation’s largest retailers overall. While the company has done much good for the city, the question is now being asked if they are now content with their hometown market.
While public officials work to rid the city of its food deserts, Kroger has been largely absent from the conversation. Furthermore, the grocer’s remaining stores throughout the city are seemingly in a constant state of fear of closure. Cincinnati still has Kroger stores in about a half-dozen neighborhoods, but many have either fallen into disrepair or are showcases of urban design failures.
In 2008, Kroger rebuilt its East Price Hill store to the pleasure of city and neighborhood leaders. The possibility of losing the neighborhood’s only full-service grocery store was a real concern. While shiny and new, the rebuilt store now sits more than 100 feet off of Warsaw Avenue, with a sea of parking and a Kroger Fueling Station in front.
Mt. Washington had their neighborhood Kroger built in 1999. In this case, the parking for the store is off to the side of the building, and it sits right along Beechmont Avenue. However, the building includes virtually no windows, and instead of serving as an anchor for the business district is more of an eyesore. While its site plan differs from Kroger’s East Price Hill store, both are still oriented to cars, not the pedestrians or cyclists that make the respective neighborhood business districts attractive.
As UrbanCincy reported yesterday, Kroger is now working with transit officials to improve bus facilities in and around their Walnut Hills store in Peeble’s Corner. But aside from that, the store is essentially defined by the same story as its Mt. Washington counterpart.
In Corryville a different story is unfolding. First developed in the 1960s as part of what is now seen as an awful urban renewal project, Kroger’s uptown store is one of its worst. Fortunately the store will soon be torn down, but after years of discussions with neighborhood leaders and developers, it sounds as if the new store will be not much different from the existing one in terms of its form or function.
Of course, all of this goes without discussing the poor state of Kroger’s Over-the-Rhine store, which practically sits in the shadow of the company’s global headquarters, or the fact that Kroger has yet to actively pursue a store for the city’s exploding residential population downtown.
Meanwhile, approximately 80 miles south along I-75, Kroger has worked with community leaders in Lexington on a new store near the University of Kentucky. The newly opened 86,000-square-foot store is two stories tall with parking situated on the building’s rooftop. The structure is built to the street, includes facades with windows, café seating both inside and out, local food offerings, and has been designed with the surrounding community in mind.
In short, Lexington’s brand new Kroger shines as an example for what the Cincinnati-based company could and should build in its hometown.
Cincinnati is fortunate to have Kroger headquartered here; and the half-dozen or so neighborhoods that have a store are surely thankful to not be left stranded, but at some point Cincinnati should demand better from its hometown company. It is not too late for Kroger to get it right in Corryville, Walnut Hills, Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, or any of the city’s existing neighborhoods without any access to a full-service grocer.
As part of Metro’s system-wide upgrades, transit officials have announced a new project to upgrade stations and services in Walnut Hills.
The first part of these enhancements includes the availability of Metro’s monthly passes and regional stored-value cards, which were available as of last week, at the customer service counter at the Walnut Hills Kroger on E. McMillan Avenue.
“At Kroger, we are always seeking ways to offer conveniences to our customers,” explained Sarah Raney, Walnut Hills Kroger Store Manager. “The Walnut Hills Kroger is happy to partner with Metro to sell bus passes to our customers who regularly use them.”
In addition to many of the store’s customers, management also says that many of the store’s employees use Metro bus service to get to and from work on a daily basis.
According to Brandy Jones, Public Relations Manager at Metro, this is the first such partnership for the region’s largest transit operator, but could be the first of more to come. Jones says that this is a test to see how it works, and that additional partnerships with Kroger and other retailers may be explored.
Metro officials tout the Walnut Hills Transit Enhancement Project as enhancing service for one of their busiest neighborhoods. According to ridership data, approximately 208,000 rides were provided to the historic neighborhood in 2014. Once complete in 2016, the enhancement project will introduce new sheltered boarding areas, improved lighting, sidewalk and landscape improvements, electronic real-time arrival screens and some other more modest improvements at a total of seven stations in the Peeble’s Corner area.
“Metro is invested in the Walnut Hills community,” Dwight Ferrell, Metro CEO & General Manager, stated in a prepared release. “We’re excited that the Walnut Hills Kroger has become the first major retailer in the region to sell Metro bus passes. This new partnership will help us better serve our mutual customers.”
The commitment from Metro is just the latest in a string of positive announcements from the surrounding neighborhoods, but community leaders are hoping to provide even more transportation choices, such as Cincy Red Bike, in the future as well. But as for now, neighborhood leaders are particularly bullish on the impacts the Walnut Hills Transit Enhancement Project will have on the E. McMillan Corridor.
“We think this is going to be a game changer,” Kevin Wright, Executive Director of Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, explained to UrbanCincy. “Peeble’s Corner has always been one of the largest transfer points in the city and we think ridership will only grow as we add more density to the corridor.”
EDITORIAL NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Metro provides approximately 2.8 million rides to the Walnut Hills area, while the number of rides is actually 208,000.