Cincinnati’s uptown neighborhoods are experiencing a bit of a boom. Hundreds of residential units are being developed, new transportation infrastructure and capacity is coming online, and smaller, historic buildings are controversially making way for new, taller ones. While significant changes are underway, one thing that remains the same, and seems poised to only get worse as new roadway projects are built, is the fact that most major thoroughfares uptown are inhospitable to people who wish to walk or bike to get around. In Buffalo they have developed a plan to address just that in the city’s historic downtown. A similar plan should be considered for Cincinnati’s second largest employment center. More from Buffalo News:
The new Downtown Infrastructure Master Plan lays out a series of enhancements to key streets, districts and public squares to bolster the appearance and feel of the city center for residents, employees and visitors, while making the downtown more vibrant. At the same time, it seeks to make the area more cohesive and pedestrian-friendly, by improving access and connections. And it calls for traffic calming, more accessible green space and public space, and a “softening” of barriers like highway overpasses.
The goal is to provide a framework for future public-sector investments and projects, using shared objectives in making decisions about where to target new initiatives. But it’s also flexible enough, officials said, so that it can be adapted to tie in new projects to downtown and neighborhoods.
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.
On December 4, the University of Cincinnati Niehoff Urban Studio hosted an end of the semester open house to showcase the final work of students in graduate planning, civil engineering capstone, and a multi-disciplinary freshman UC Forward seminar.
There were three classes offered at the Studio, located in Corryville, during the Fall Semester that focused on understanding and improving Burnet Woods. The aim, course leaders say, was to begin to produce a future vision for the 89-acre park.
City officials first began discussing an overhaul of Burnet Woods in 2007, but a lack of funding at the time doomed the project. However, Mayor John Cranley (D) made the project a priority in his inaugural State of the City Address, saying that the park, located immediately north of the University of Cincinnati’s main campus, could help make the uptown area an even greater destination.
“Burnet Woods is an underutilized gem in our parks system,” Cranley said in a statement. “It’s nice now, but it could be great.”
That caught the attention of UC President Santa Ono, along with the Uptown Consortium who requested that the studio work on the subject in consultation with community representatives and other stakeholders uptown. In addition, staff of the Cincinnati Park Board, who have sole control over what will happen with the park, have been engaged with the studio throughout the semester.
A large crowd showed up at the open house, held two weeks ago, to take a look at the visuals and learn about the observations and initial recommendations produced by the students for the roughly 142-year-old park.
After identifying various issues with Burnet Woods, as it stands today, the students proceeded to “rethink” the space and its uses. Nine teams of graduate Planning students organized their work around distinct thematic approaches to remaking the park. These themes included integrated Art Programming, a Health/Wellness destination, a food production system, a center for “fun” programming, and others.
Some of the many specific recommendations included creating seasonal programming, creating a soundscape as a placemaking tool, inserting a winding promenade to connect UC Main Street with the Ludlow Business District, elevating Martin Luther King Drive to allow for Burnet Woods to flow through underneath it into UC’s main campus, among others.
Some of the student teams extended the scope beyond the park by suggesting a cohesive streetscape experience extending from Burnet Woods and re-imagining the park as the center of an Uptown “eco-district” to create a broader ecological and social system.
One of the benefits of the studio course offerings came from engaging both planning and engineering students. As part of the course’s focus on building healthy and resilient places, civil engineering students proposed a number of green infrastructure ideas to help with stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows, and other technical projects.
Additionally, according to Frank Russell, Director of the Niehoff Studio and Community Design Center, the multi-disciplinary UC Forward freshman seminar was able to survey the student body to determine its interest in the park and ended up proposing a student organization dedicated to providing advocacy and service to the park.
Russell says that this is only the beginning, with additional courses in Planning, Architectural Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Horticulture to come in the Spring Semester that will build on the ideas and research completed thus far. The hope, he says, is to create a well-grounded set of ideas that will make up the contents of an ‘idea book’ for use by the community in considering the future of Burnet Woods.
Other faculty involved in the Fall Semester included Vikas Mehta and Danilo Palazzo from the School of Planning; Richard Miller and Elizabeth Devendorf from the Civil Engineering Program; and Cory Christopher from UC Forward. Those interested in viewing the student work in detail may do so by appointment at the UC Niehoff Urban Studio, located at 2728 Vine Street, by emailing email@example.com.
Much of this transformation has been spurred by the continued growth of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, which has added thousands of jobs since 2000. But that jobs growth, however, has not yet translated into an improved housing market in the impoverished neighborhood. Community leaders are hoping that Northern Townhomes will be the first of many more projects that will work toward improving just that.
Avondale currently has one of the lowest home ownership rates in the city at just 33%. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the City of Cincinnati and State of Ohio, respectively, have home ownership rates of 40.5% and 68%.
The realization of this development has taken years, following a community-developed master plan for the area years ago. Correspondingly, the funding for the $2.4 million project also came from a diverse coalition of neighborhood stakeholders including the University of Cincinnati, UC Health, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and TriHealth.
“The potential for the strong neighborhood revitalization like ours comes from good visioning, smart planning and patience, and this Northern Townhomes project proves that Avondale, Uptown Consortium and the Uptown institutional members have all three,” Davis emphasized.
Project officials say that each of the eight townhomes is approximately 1,400 square feet. Six are two-bedroom residences, while the remaining two have three bedrooms. Additionally, each home has a one-car garage and what the developers are calling tandem on-street parking.
As of now, the expected price point for each townhome is starting at $175,000, and may qualify for a 15-year LEED tax abatement should the developers successfully achieve LEED for Homes Silver certification.
If all goes according to plan, project construction is expected to be completed by fall 2015. After that project officials say that there is room for a second phase of another eight townhomes. The corner of Northern Avenue and Burnet Avenue, meanwhile, is being reserves for another commercial development.
“Avondale is key to the spirit of Uptown Cincinnati, and Avondale community leaders have been a great collaborator and convener as we have work together to revitalize the Burnet Avenue corridor,” concluded Beth Robinson, President and CEO of the Uptown Consortium. “Market rate housing is a fundamental anchor to a diverse residential neighborhood, and we are delighted to have this project be a significant milestone in the Burnet Avenue revitalization.”
Additional residential and mixed-use components remain to be realized as part of the Burnet Avenue corridor master plan, and no timeline has been identified for those elements as of yet.
Uptown Rental Properties is making progress on their latest development in Corryville. This one, called VP3, is located on Euclid Avenue between Corry and Charlton Streets, and will add 147 units with 300 beds to the neighborhood. If all goes according to plan, the $30 million project will open in the fall of 2015.
The site previously included seven homes and a suburban-style Fifth Third Bank retail branch, and is located across the street from the planned site for a new Kroger grocery store.
Corryville has seen a wave of private investment recently that has added hotel rooms, apartments, and retail and office spaces. Much of that investment has come from Uptown Rental Properties, which has constructed hundreds of new residential units and injected thousands of new residents into Corryville over the past several years.
According to Dan Schimberg, president of Uptown Rental Properties, the demand for additional housing units in Corryville is so strong that they have revised their original plans over the years to try to serve the market.
“There is such an incredible demand for housing on the east side of campus,” Schimberg told UrbanCincy. “Originally our plan was to build housing for 1,200 people on Short Vine, but now we’ve increased that total to 1,600 by 2016.”
For better or worse, all of this development is changing the face of Corryville.
But unlike many of the company’s other developments surrounding the University of Cincinnati, it is not just students occupying the residential units being built in this area. According to Schimberg, more than 30% of the total residents are non-undergraduate students, compared with just 3% on the south side of campus – something he attributes to the growing demand for urban living.
“Three of the top five largest employers are in Uptown, and then have been adding thousands of jobs over recent years,” Schimberg explained. “What we’re seeing is a demand for workforce housing on the east side of campus from a desire for people to live in a more urban environment.”
In addition to the increased demand for urban living and the rapid job growth nearby, Schimberg believes the improvement of Uptown neighborhoods is also keeping and attracting residents in a way he has not seen since starting Uptown Rental Properties nearly 30 years ago.
It is expected that work will wrap up on the four-story VP3 development in the fall of 2015. At that time, a new 550-space parking garage, being built in coordination with this project, will open and provide some 225 public parking spaces for the Short Vine business district.
“The addition of these new residents is providing the core demand for the retail, and the residents get to benefit from those nearby services,” Schimberg continued.
Due to the philosophy of wanting the retail and residential to benefit one another, Schimberg said that the public portion of the parking garage is being built solely to help bolster the business on Short Vine. As a result, Uptown Rental Properties and the City of Cincinnati are sharing the costs for the garage.