Business News

Apple Street Market Cooperative Hoping to Fill One of Cincinnati’s Food Deserts

For the first time there are no grocery stores in College Hill, Northside or Clifton. At one time each neighborhood had their own store including a Kroger in College Hill, IGA in Clifton and Save-A-Lot in Northside.

When Save-A-Lot closed its Northside store in November 2013, however, it got the attention of the Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative (CUCI) and sparked an effort to open a community-owned grocery store in its place called Apple Street Market.

There is only one full-service grocery store within a three-mile driving distance from Northside – a Kroger on Mitchel Avenue. That Kroger, however, is not served by Metro’s #17 bus route, thus leaving carless households with only Metro’s #16 route as their option. The problem is that the #16 bus route does not run on Sundays and only runs every half-hour after 4pm.

“This makes a grocery trip an arduous and time consuming journey if you do not have a car,” said Casey Whitten-Amadon, legal counsel for Apple Street Market. “The trip can take more than three hours, in all types of inclement weather.”

It was the closing of the Save-A-Lot, however, that really sparked the effort to open a new community-owned grocery store in Northside.

“I knew that CUCI had been starting worker owned ventures. So, I approached them about a grocery store within the first week of Save-A-Lot closing,” said Heather Sturgill, a Northside resident and community advocate.

CUCI did a lot of searching to find the best fit for the new store. They were not specifically tied to Northside, but after surveying about four different neighborhoods, along with conducting market studies and market analysis for grocery stores, they found Northside to be the perfect fit. One of the key reasons for this, they say, is that Northside had an existing space that was in great shape and needed little to no demolition or remodeling.

This was important, and stands in contrast to the ongoing difficulties Clifton is having in trying to open their own cooperative grocery store on Ludlow Avenue, because they did not have the capital nor did they have a large investor that would finance the project.

This is particularly complicated by the financial model of union co-op businesses, where a large investor cannot have a larger share of the profit or a larger share of the governance rights. Rather, each person or entity that invests in the store gets an equal share and one vote regardless of the investment.

In the case of Apple Street Market, CUCI is accepting $100 or $10 from lower-income investors.

While raising the capital for a union coop startup can prove to be extremely difficult, Northside’s effort has been aided by a large number of enthusiastic volunteers that also set the community apart from others in the city.

While this collection of neighborhoods represents a relatively new and small food desert in Cincinnati, it comes at a time when many policy makers are looking to fix such problems.

“This is another reason that we decided to go ahead with the project in Northside,” said Whitten-Amadon. “The main benefit to community ownership is the opening of a unique store that is owned by the workers and the community.”

He also says that success and profitability will be shared by the community, and that being able to make decisions collectively will help create a sense of pride in the neighborhood store.

While community leaders are excited about the potential benefits for the community investors and workers, they are also looking forward to the local specialty items that will be stocked at Apple Street Market. Organizers say that the plan is to provide a larger than average organic and produce section, and sourcing much of it from Our Harvest – another area worker-owned business started by CUCI.

But Sturgill says that they will also be including up-and-coming brands to give the store an affordability that most health food cooperatives do not have.

“We tried to get fresh foods in some of the other corner type shops but the owners didn’t seem interested enough to follow through,” Sturgill told UrbanCincy. “This is intended to be the first in a chain of worker/community owned groceries.

A future additional location for this type of store, she says, could be in College Hill at the new development planned for North Bend Road and Hamilton Avenue.

An official opening date has not yet been set for Apple Street Market, but Sturgill says the goal is to have it completed by spring 2015. Those who are interested in providing funding and making an investment in the store can do so by buying a share online.

Business Development News

EXCLUSIVE: 3CDC Commits to Shared Parking Plan for Over-the-Rhine

Just four days after publishing an exclusive story which uncovered that the amount of parking provided at the Mercer Commons development exceeded city mandates and added approximately $4.25 million to the project cost, officials from the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) contacted UrbanCincy to offer more information surrounding the Mercer Commons Garage.

Many commentors on our previous story defended 3CDC and claimed that such parking provisions at the Mercer Commons Garage would allow for less parking at future developments. Adam Gelter, 3CDC’s Vice President of Development, echoed these thoughts and stated that future developments would in fact utilize the parking garage, although only some of those projects have been financed, and even fewer approved for zoning variances by the City of Cincinnati.

Work at the Mercer Commons construction site in August 2012. Photograph by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy.

In particular, Gelter, stated that the 359-space Mercer Commons Garage allows for one parking space at every unit within that development, but that those living at Mercer Commons would not be required to purchase a space. This, 3CDC asserts, will allow for the parking garage to be utilized more efficiently.

The debate becomes even more nuanced when the status of Over-the-Rhine’s historic district designation and ongoing comeback as a desirable neighborhood are taken into account.

“In a place like OTR, which is coming back strong but still has a long way to go, I think we want the neighborhood to be as welcoming as possible to visitors and to satisfy any concerns they may have about safety,” responded Kaid Benfield, director of Sustainable Communities for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “The key for a historic district, I think, is to keep the parking from occupying so much space that it interferes with the historic character of the neighborhood.”

In addition to the Mercer Commons development, 3CDC officials say that they are planning a 30- to 40-unit residential development at the parking lot where Smitty’s once stood. Furthermore, 3CDC expects the office tenant at the Paint Building to require 25 spaces, another 15 to 20 spaces at the former Boss Cox building, and potentially 50 spaces for office users at Cintrifuse. Furthermore, project officials say surrounding restaurants could use additional parking for their customers.

“Of the seven upcoming developments, only one has its own parking, and the rest have spaces assigned at either the Mercer Garage or Washington Park Garage,” Gelter explained. “We give condo owners a right to buy a monthly space, and we refuse to assign spaces so that we can turn the spaces as much as possible.”

To that end, Gelter explained that only six parking spaces at the Fountain Square Garage are reserved at any given time for its 250 monthly pass holders.

Rendering of the $53.5 million Mercer Commons development in historic Over-the-Rhine. Image provided.

The goal would be to reduce the number of surface parking lots needed to serve new developments throughout historic Over-the-Rhine, but 3CDC officials say that what has already been put in place will probably be difficult to undo.

“We would love to get rid of and develop the Twelfth and Vine parking lot, and we would like to stop building surface parking lots to the extent that is possible,” Gelter told UrbanCincy. “However, parking lots for condo buildings only are going to be very difficult to get rid of, so we don’t want to do that anymore.”

Gelter went on to say that one potential option would be to keep the Gateway Garage open to the public. Just over one year ago Kroger purchased the 950-space parking garage from the City of Cincinnati for $4.5 million, and currently experiences low usage rates outside of workday hours.

When it comes down to it, however, it appears as though the status quo for providing parking within the urban core will continue regardless of what policies come out of City Hall.

“Some of our upcoming developments have been approved for no on-site parking, and some have not,” Gelter conceded. “The goal would be to build structured parking to minimize the extent we need to use surface and street parking, but we have to take it on a case-by-case, and block-by-block basis.”

The first phase of construction at Mercer Commons is currently underway, and is expected to be complete by March 2013. Two additional phases of work are planned to follow.