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Avenue Brew coffee shop opens in Bellevue, joins ongoing renaissance

Christine Brondhaver decided to transform the This n' That Shoppe into a coffee house named Avenue Brew after she saw an apparent need in the Bellevue business district.

"People would come in and ask where they could get some coffee nearby, so I thought I had to open up a coffee shop here," said Brondhaver, owner of Avenue Brew.  "Bellevue Bistro is right across the street and used to serve as more of a coffee shop until they became more of a restaurant lately, leaving a gap behind."

Avenue Brew (map) was delayed a week in opening due to electrical problems that had not been envisioned during the minor renovation work needed to install the new kitchen facilities, espresso operations and seating area.  With renovations now complete, Avenue Brew seats approximately 14 inside with room for eight more guests outside.

Patrons will be treated to drinks ranging from $1.43 for a small coffee, to $3.29 for a cafe mocha, to $3.50 for a small smoothie.  Avenue Brew also serves a variety light food and breakfast items including breakfast sandwiches that cost $2.65.  Brondhaver also expects to add some lunch offerings at a later time.

"All of our food is made fresh, and we use 100 percent all-natural ingredients whenever possible including our Monin syrups from Italy," Brondhaver emphasized.

For those concerned about the loss of the This n' That Shoppe, fear not, as the potpourri of products previously sold there can still be found at Avenue Brew.

"We have been saying that you can really think of the new place as Avenue Brew with a little bit of This n' That," jokes Brondhaver.  "This n' That was more of a hobby for me, whereas this I expect will be more of a retirement."

Avenue Brew is currently open Monday through Thursday from 6am to 7pm, Friday from 6am to 9pm, Saturday from 8am to 9pm, and Sunday from 8am to 4pm.  The shop will also be open for the monthly Shop Bellevue festivities on Friday, June 4th until 9pm with live acoustic music to entertain the pajama-themed customers.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Photography by Scott Beseler
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

Kennedy Connector project infused with $12M in funding from OKI

The OKI Regional Council of Governments approved two $6 million requests for phases one and two of the long-awaited Kennedy Connector project.  The $12 million total is by far the largest amount of any project receiving funds through the federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) or Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality program as allocated by OKI.

The Kennedy Connector requests were rated as two of the top requests among the 33 STP/CMAQ projects applying for more than $90 million in transportation funds.

Once complete, the project will connect the Kennedy Avenue/Duck Creek Road intersection to the current Madison Road/Camberwell intersection (map).  Cincinnati officials state that the new roadway will be called Kennedy Avenue and will improve access to nearby land and businesses.

"This is about better transportation access and connectivity, but probably more significant is the effect on economic development of improved business access for 5/3 Bank and Coca-Cola, and the additional opportunities for new economic development nearby," stated Brian Cunningham, OKI spokesperson.

The Kennedy Connector project is one of the recommendations to come out of the Eastern Corridor study which include a variety of multi-modal transportation improvements on Cincinnati's east side.  In addition to the new roadway, the project also includes the realignment of several existing roadways and intersections nearby to further improve traffic flow and access in the area.

The $12 million in STP funds covers 80 percent of the total $15 million project cost, with the remaining 20 percent coming in a required local match.  OKI officials state that the maximum award for STP funds is $6 million, and that the two-phases of the Kennedy Connector project act as two independent projects.

"The projects approved are critical to continuing our efforts to provide our citizens with a variety of commuting options that will save them time and money while alleviating stress that comes from traveling on congested roadways," exclaimed OKI Executive Director Mark Policinski.  "OKI continues to move multi-modal projects forward which benefit our commuting population, environment and economy."

Construction for Phase 1 is expected to begin in 2013, Phase 2 will start a year later in 2014, with both phases are expected to be completed by 2016.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

New Messer Construction leadership looking to grow, innovate in changing economy

Messer Construction was founded nearly 70 years ago in 1932 and has gone through major changes since that time, but maybe none as important as now when the company is restructuring its leadership and repositioning itself for a new economy.

"We needed to move leadership to younger people within our company, and that's what we did with this group of six new leaders," explained Tom Keckeis, President & CEO, Messer Construction.  "All of these leaders will elevate Messer as we move toward achieving our future goals, and it's their leadership that inspires others."

Keckeis takes over the company's highest position after working with Messer for 30 years, and believes that the future of the company lies with continued innovation and a focus on sustainability.

"Technology is having a big impact on how to reduce wasted effort in our business, and green building is a definite focus," Keckeis said.  "We're trying to stay on the leading edge, and the younger people seem to embrace these changes the most."

Specific innovation measures Keckeis described include a new Integrated Project Delivery model that works with contractors upfront to work out any issues prior to construction.  This new practice is currently being used on Xavier University's new Hoff Academic Quad project.  Messer Construction is also implementing new Building Information Modeling systems that allow for the entire project to be modeled prior to construction to help reduce or eliminate any potential wasted time or energy.

Keckeis also emphasized that the new leadership is looking to grow its footprint beyond its current eight cities to a ninth region sometime soon.  Even as the company expands its reach, Keickeis notes that roughly 40-45% of the company's total commercial construction, or $280-300 million, comes from the Cincinnati region in sectors like health care, senior living, higher education and the emerging life sciences market.

It was these industry sectors that Keckeis said helped keep Messer Construction stable during the recent economic recession.  To stay competitive in these markets he said that the company went as far to hire executives from those sectors to better understand the product they were producing.  Relationships like these are what Keckeis says Messer holds most dear, and is what has kept the company strong over its history in the city where they started it all.

"There aren't many cities that have the arts and culture we have, and Cincinnatians often do not realize how well off they are," said Keckeis.  "There is a great quality of life here for everyone and this is why we stay focused on Cincinnati, and why so many people decide to stay."

Other leadership changes at Messer Construction include Paul Hitter as Senior Vice President & CFO; Mark Gillming, Mark Luegering and Tim Steigerwald have been elected to the Board's executive team; while Dave Miller, Steve Bestard and Rick Hensely have been promoted to executive officers.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Photography by Scott Beseler
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

Kennedy Heights to get green light for new cultural center

The residents of Kennedy Heights are turning their business district into an arts community one vacant building at a time.

Three examples now flank the neighborhood's short stretch of Montgomery Road. A one hundred-year-old Victorian mansion vacated by a funeral home is now the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, a former bar is now a dance and music studio operated by Ballet Tech Cincinnati, and an old filling station hosts an art gallery and weekend "green market."

Now the most ambitious project - the proposed conversion of a 32,000 sq ft vacant Kroger store into the Kennedy Heights Cultural Center - is expected to get a very important legal green light.
Within the next two weeks, representatives from Cincinnati Public Schools, the City of Cincinnati and the Kennedy Heights Development Corporation (KHDC) are expected to sign an option agreement that will legally allow the KHDC to purchase the building from Cincinnati Public Schools, which currently uses it as a warehouse. Once the agreement is signed, the KHDC and the center's three resident organizations will have six months to raise the rest of the money needed to make an offer on the building, KHDC chair Ernie Barbeau said.

If the center is built it will be shared by three occupants. The Cincinnati Art Museum will display a collection there that is currently in storage in Columbus, the Kennedy Heights Montessori School will make the building its permanent home and the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, which has more demand for artist studio space than it can provide, will open studios and a theatre there.

"From my view the cultural center is going to change people's perceptions about Kennedy Heights and I think it's going to change many Kennedy Heights residents' perceptions about themselves," Barbeau said. "And it is really going to be changing not only the nature of our neighborhood but our business district, and I think we are really going to become a major force within the arts district."

The KHDC recently secured a $375,000 grant from the City of Cincinnati to purchase the property, and have been recommended to receive a $300,000 grant from the state for construction costs, Barbeau said. He also said an anonymous donor has pledged a donation that will bring the effort to about 40 percent of its $2.4 million goal, the estimated cost to purchase and renovate the building. If everything goes as planned then construction on the project could begin as early as this fall, Barbeau said.

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler

Righteous Room operators opening "neighborhood bar" in OTR

Cincinnati bar entrepreneurs - Four Entertainment Group (4EG) are spreading to the Gateway Quarter of Over-the-Rhine late this summer in the form of a 900 sq ft pub called The Lackman.

The eighth project on a list that has included The Righteous Room, The Stand and Mount Adams Pavilion, The Lackman is intended to be a "neighborhood bar" for the growing community in the Gateway Quarter, 4EG partner Bob Deck said.

While many of their other projects feature dance floors and bustling weekend crowds, The Lackman will be styled as a classic corner pub with wood trim, televisions for sporting events, a selection of craft beers and an "eclectic jukebox," Deck said.

"It's going to be a corner bar that we hope will anchor the progression of that neighborhood," Deck said. "The kind of place you can meet friends for happy hour or sample a couple of beers and watch the game."

Deck said he hopes the bar will provide a sense of place for those who live in the OTR gateway quarter and also play off the success of Senate, an eatery that opened there this spring, to attract more visitors to OTR.

"Hopefully the places that are going in down there will feed off of each other and encourage people to come to the area," Deck said. "It's set up to be a destination area."

The pub will be located in The Lackman Lofts Building, which was recently renovated and parceled into condominiums. It once housed a brewery and pub during the golden days of OTR, Deck said. The Lackman will be the second establishment, after Senate, to open in the Gateway Quarter with the financial and logistical support of 3CDC, the development group that is driving a massive redevelopment of that area, 3CDC development manager Adam Gelter said.

He said his group approached 4EG about the project after they worked together to open the Righteous Room in downtown Cincinnati last year. In both projects 3CDC provided a loan, assisted with planning issues and helped to secure necessary permits, Gelter said.

Gelter said 3CDC is in the early stages of playing the same role for other bar and eatery projects in the Gateway Quarter.

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler

$45M Mercer Commons development to transform large swath of Over-the-Rhine

In December 2009, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) landed $4.2 million in historic tax credits from the State of Ohio.  That money will cover almost 10 percent of the $45 million development project that will restore 19 historic buildings and build three new mixed-use buildings, and 14 townhomes.  The project will include approximately 15,000 square feet of first-floor commercial space, 155 residential units and a four-level, 275-space parking garage.

The 2.2 acre Mercer Commons site has long been a sticking point in Over-the-Rhine.  Negotiations to sell the land from Cincinnati Public Schools to 3CDC took some time, and the scale of the site has made it a difficult development prospect for a neighborhood still in the midst of a dramatic urban revitalization.

Officials at 3CDC are hoping that with the tax credit and recent momentum in the immediate area, that now is the time to move forward.  New designs have been released and the debate is shifting from whether the project will happen, to how its impact will be felt in the historic neighborhood.

"The Mercer Commons project has the ability to infuse dramatic change through Over-the-Rhine with its large footprint and modern aesthetic," described Greg Meckstroth, Urban Designer with RW Armstrong.  "Ironically, the projectís transformative nature has given way to the neighborhood's traditional urban forms, something that is reflected in the plan's urban design.  Ultimately, this is the project's greatest achievement."

The plan calls for a new structure along Vine Street with a modern appeal that will stand in stark contrast with the existing 19th Century building stock nearby.  The new above-ground parking garage will be hidden behind a mixed-use building constructed along Vine Street.  Meanwhile, historic structures will be restored throughout the site while new infill structures are mixed in to fill existing open lots.

"A great aspect of this urban design is its respect for the current traditional form while still infusing the neighborhood with a modern aesthetic," Meckstroth explained.  "There is little to complain about this design.  It's urban, compact, contextually sensitive, and handles the parking garage beautifully, tucking the structure behind the street wall and forcing it towards the center of the block."

3CDC President Steve Leeper has stated that the goal is to include both market-rate and affordable housing units in the completed project, while also leaving as many buildings intact on the site as possible.  But as far as design goes, the envelope seems like it will once again be pushed in Over-the-Rhine as new infill projects mingle with historic structures in one of America's greatest urban neighborhoods.

"This design, along with 14/v and Trinity Flats, is truly raising the bar for high quality urban design in Cincinnati," Meckstroth continued.  "As these condo and apartment units continue to fill up, solidifying this model of urbanism as a solid financial investment in the City, expect even better, higher quality urban designs in the future."

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Rendering Provided
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

Cincinnati casino could set bar for urban casino design

Cincinnati leaders expect Ohio's first casino to be developed on the Broadway Commons site located on the edge of downtown Cincinnati.  Developers hope to break ground on the $350-400 million project later this year, with a grand opening planned for sometime in 2012.  One issue in Cincinnati is the design of the casino and how it fits into the surrounding historic neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton.  Luckily for Cincinnati, Rock Ventures, developers of the casino, appear willing to design a casino that engages the neighborhood.

"Cincinnati could set the bar for what an urban casino could be," said Aaron Renn, Urban Policy Analyst from Chicago, during a panel discussion at the 2010 Commercial Developers Power Breakfast.  "The developers will have to make something that engages the community though."

During the discussion Renn emphasized that the plans sound great, and that if Rock Ventures follows through on their promises, Cincinnati will get something truly special and unique.

Matt Cullen, Principal of the Cincinnati Casino and self-described "city guy," highlighted the project and discussed how Rock Ventures wants to work with the community to deliver a great product.  Cullen also described their interest in developing an urban casino.

"Cincinnati is a city of outstanding neighborhoods, and we bought the ultimate fixer-upper and prepare to give it the ultimate makeover," said Cullen in describing the troubled Broadway Commons site.  "A successful region in this global economy must be built around a great urban core," Cullen explained.

Once complete, the Cincinnati Casino is estimated to generate close to $21 million for the City of Cincinnati, $12 million for Hamilton County and $14 million for public schools annually in tax revenue.  Neighborhood proponents are excited about thousands of new temporary and permanent jobs, an estimated 6 million visits annually and new investment spurring from the development that will be more than typically seen with an inward-facing casino design.

"We've been getting a lot of calls from people who own property in the area who are ready to do something with it," said Patrick Ewing, Interim Director of Cincinnati's Economic Development Division.

Cullen stopped short of promising a truly urban design, but did commit in writing to work closely with the City, County and State; engage in local and minority hiring practices; work with the local business community to increase economic impact; and to use existing local hotels.

"This will be the first great urban casino in the United States," exclaimed Cullen.  "We plan to fill 90 to 95 percent of the jobs with Cincinnati-area residents, and we want to be a part of downtown and drive business to local hotels, restaurants and bars.  We don't want to be an island...if we wanted that we would have been on another site."

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Rendering Provided
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

Bold design sought for Brent Spence Bridge replacement

In the coming weeks six design alternatives for the Brent Spence Bridge replacement will be narrowed to three.  From there Ohio and Kentucky's respective Departments of Transportation will decide on the final bridge design.

The new bridge will eventually cost somewhere between $2-3 billion and relieve traffic from the existing congested and unsafe river crossing.  The OKI Regional Council of Governments estimates that some $400 billion worth of commodities travel across the bridge every year presently, with an estimated $815 billion crossing annually by 2030.

As the project moves forward in the coming weeks and months, some project members are concerned about the lack of public engagement thus far given the large scope of the project and the long-standing impact the bridge's design will leave on the community.

"This bridge will leave a major impact on the region for decades to come," said Miguel Rosales, President, Rosales+Partners.  "I am glad the city leaders and residents will help guide the selection of the final bridge design in the months to come."

To date, the cable-stayed bridge designs have been the most popular in online voting along with an arched bridge design similar in appearance to the Daniel Carter Beard "Big Mac" Bridge that carries I-471 traffic across the Ohio River on downtown Cincinnati's eastern edge.

"This is the number one priority for our region because the Brent Spence Bridge is a safety hazard and a major choke point for two interstates," said Brian Cunningham, OKI spokesperson, in a previous interview with Soapbox Media.

Once engineering and environmental studies are completed, the construction and development of the new bridge will take several years and create the largest double-deck bridge in the world, and one of the highest capacity bridges anywhere.  The new bridge will carry six driving lanes on each of the two levels of the bridge for I-75 and I-71 traffic over the Ohio River.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Rendering Provided
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

Cincinnati City Council approves $64M in bonds to fund modern streetcar system

Cincinnati City Council's Budget & Finance Committee voted 6-2 to approve $64 million in bonds for the city's proposed streetcar system on Monday, May 10th.  The move is the first bold commitment from City Hall in terms of financing for the project to date, and is seen as a strong signal to the Federal government that there is local support for the project.

"This project can help us grow our tax base without growing our tax rate," described Brad Thomas, founder of CincyStreetcar.com.  "The approval of these bonds will send a clear message to Washington D.C. that Cincinnati is serious about this project, and will strongly position Cincinnati for the next two rounds of Federal funds."

Specifically, the vote approved three separate bonds that were made up of $11 million from the Blue Ash Airport sale proceeds, $28 million from General Capital sources and $25 million from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) sources.  The General Capital and TIF bonds were strengthened with proceeds from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport.  Beyond the technical proceedings, several young people spoke about the future benefits the project will have on the city and its citizen's quality of life.

"I'm really excited about what I'm seeing in this city, and I'm very excited about the prospect of urban living and more transportation options," said Xavier University student Adam Clark.  "It's very important that we provide these options, and I'm looking forward to riding the streetcar soon."

During Council's deliberations, Council member Jeff Berding asked Cincinnati Budget Director if the Blue Ash Airport sale proceeds could legally be used for cover the City's pension fund or close the City's Operation Budget deficit.  The City's Budget Director proceeded to give a direct and clear message that those funds could not be legally used for the City's pension.

The meeting heard 10 public comments that ranged from local entrepreneurs, students and residents in support of the Cincinnati Streetcar project.  Tim Mara, a lawyer representing Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending & Taxes (COAST) member Mark Miller, was the one public comment in opposition to the project and threatened a lawsuit against Council member Chris Bortz should he vote on the issue.  On April 19, 2010, City Council voted to approve $2.6 million in bonds for the project and had 29 public comments in favor of the Cincinnati Streetcar project with just three in opposition.

The meeting was once again defined by the participation of young people in the political process with several of the public comments coming from young professionals and students alike.

"This has been one of the single issues that has involved a diverse group of people, and has involved more young people in the decision making process in the future of Cincinnati," Council member Laketa Cole stated.  "People always ask me where the young people are, and I can say that young people have been up in the front on this issue from day one making their voices heard.  That is something I'm excited about."

Chris Bortz, Jeff Berding, Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Cecil Thomas and Laketa Cole voted in favor of approving $64 million in bonds while Chris Monzel and Charlie Winburn voted in opposition.  Leslie Ghiz was not present.  The vote will go to the full City Council meeting on Wednesday, May 5th for a final vote where it is expected to pass by a similar vote.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

XU MBA's have a plan for Main Street revitalization

Fresh eyes are bringing fresh ideas for how to make Main Street in Over-the-Rhine anything but Main Street USA.

A team of Xavier University MBA students is partnering with the OTR Chamber of Commerce to help develop a business plan that aims to revitalize Main Street north of Central Parkway, imagining a progressive and balanced district that is a hub of IT commercial opportunities, blended with retail and entertainment destinations.

Early in 2010, Brian Tiffany, President of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, reached out to students in a course called "New Venture Creation," an entrepreneurial-focused capstone in Xavier's MBA program, and described how students might assist the Chamber. Tiffany explains why the student-involvement was so attractive to him, saying "We need fresh ideas. If I say this is my idea, it can automatically put [Main Street stakeholders] on the defensive."

Eight weeks after Tiffany's presentation, a student team of Joel Willis, Jesse Martinez, Scott Armacost, and Madhukar Srivastava presented a 36-page proposal of ideas to Tiffany, covering issues of Vision, Organization, Marketing, and Best Practice Sharing.  The students were drawn to what they saw as a common cause. "Entrepreneurship and business-skills in general don't always have to focus specifically on financial profit," Willis says. "The same principles can be applied to increase the economic value in a region, translating into a higher quality of life."

Ongoing development success on Vine Street in OTR both demonstrates that increased economic value is attainable and provides inspiration for what Main Street can and could be. Martinez believes, "[Main Street] needs to differ from Vine, but it has the opportunity to be part of a bigger family."  While Vine and Main could each benefit from a potential symbiotic relationship, Main Street Revitalization efforts might be able to get off the ground even faster than the rapid growth that has occurred just blocks away. 

"It's going to be a lot closer to the [Broadway Commons] casino," Martinez says. "Cincinnati has an opportunity to take advantage of that exposure."  With millions of investment dollars tied to the casino, the team specifically recommends exploring partnerships with proven, well-known business that might want to piggyback on that exposure and development by expanding into an additional location on Main Street.

Indeed, stability and longevity are key goals for both the OTR Chamber and the students' proposal. While Main Street briefly exploded into Cincinnati's premier nightlife destination in the mid-2000's before shrinking back to a handful of still-successful nightspots, Tiffany and the student team imagine a new Main Street that grows steadily through balanced investment, with the food and entertainment options complementing the forthcoming casino, and retail options and office employment spurring daytime-vitality. 

Tiffany sees a Main Street with dual identities between business hours to after-hours, and says that the opportunity to achieve that is ripe, thanks to previous development efforts and the Chamber's current Business First grant program, which offers rent subsidies and matching grants for improvements and signage.  He states, "The infrastructure is there, and it's attractive financially."

Adopting elements of the proposed plan into a development strategy will come next, and Tiffany believes the source for the plan can help win over local stakeholders, thanks to the objectivity and creativity of the students.  "This plan comes from people not even from Over-the-Rhine," he points out. "With some brains behind it."

Writer: Jeremy Mosher
Photography by Scott Beseler

$10M Parvis Lofts project nearing completion in historic Over-the-Rhine

The first three phases of concentrated investment in historic Over-the-Rhine's Gateway Quarter are now complete.  Totalling close to 200 new housing units, of which 61% have been sold,  the Quarter also boasts 47,000 square feet of commercial space with 19 spaces leased out of a total 33.  That success is now rolling into the fourth phase with its first project, Parvis Lofts.

The $10 million development was funded through a combination of City grant funds, State and Federal historic tax credits, New Market tax credits and a loan from the Cincinnati Equity Fund.  Parvis Lofts is located in the 1400 block of Vine Street near recent infill projects like Trinity Flats and Fourteenth & Vine.  The block of historic structures extends along the majority of the block all the way to the buildings that house Smitty's which were recently ravaged by fire, but saved from the wrecking ball.

Joining Parvis Lofts in the Phase IV of Gateway Quarter development is Saengerhalle and Westfalen Lofts on Race Street and the large Mercer Commons project.  Altogether the projects represent $70 million in development costs and will create an additional 200 housing units, 63,000 square feet of commercial space and 300 parking spaces.  Parvis Lofts, being developed by NorthPointe Group, will be the first apartments developed to date in the Gateway Quarter.

"Up until now there has only been for-sale product developed in the Q, and we have received numerous requests for rental options," explained J.T. Barse with NorthPointe.  "Like the Gateway Quarter as a whole, the project is aimed at attracting people that want to live in and embrace Cincinnati's urban core."

The completed project will create 32 one- and two-bedroom apartments ranging from $600 to $1,800 a month.  Along Vine Street, 600-4,500 square-foot commercial spaces are being created that are also for lease.  Based on previous successes, Northpointe is excited about the Parvis Lofts project and their two other Phase IV projects - Saengerhalle and Westfalen Lofts.

"NorthPointe has been an integral part of the Gateway Quarter from the very beginning of the project," said Barse.  "Together with HGC construction we have developed Duncanson Lofts and Mottainai, both of which have sold out."

The first six units of Parvis Lofts will be complete by June 1, 2010 with the rest being completed by September 1, 2010.  According to NorthPointe officials, the project has been underway since October 2009 and has employed several hundred people along the way.

Units within the Parvis Lofts project include hardwood flooring, washers and dryers, Cincinnati Bell fiber-optic service, "dramatic" window openings, secure off-street parking and a landscaped outdoor area with a grill behind the structure.  Those interested in living opportunities can schedule a tour, or submit applications now by calling Karen Malone at (513) 835-2110.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Photography by Tiffani Fisher
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

Cincinnati celebrates new Green Learning Station in Avondale

The Civic Garden Center in Avondale was the gathering point to celebrate the groundbreaking for the Green Learning Station.  The $1.2 million project will eventually transform an old gas station into a learning station that will be a "state-of-the-art laboratory for sustainable practices to gardens and the systems that support them."

The facility - the first of its kind in the Cincinnati region - is striving for LEED-Gold certification.  As a result, the groundbreaking celebrations attracted local leaders like Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Brenda and Jim Tarbell, the Board of the Civic Garden Center and even Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland.

"I am thrilled to be here to support the development of the Green Learning Station," said First Lady Strickland at the groundbreaking ceremony on Friday.  "I applaud the Civic Garden Center for pursuing this initiative to provide a free, interactive green gardening and stormwater management learning opportunity for students and the community in southwest Ohio."

As part of the transformative project, the asphalt parking lot of the former SOHIO gas station will be replaced by pervious paving, bioswales and rainwater harvesting units that will capture most of the rainwater that falls onto the surrounding ground.  There will also be three types of green roof systems installed on the Green Learning Station in addition to the region's first sloped green roof on the neighboring Park District building.

The Green Learning Station (map) itself will be used to "educate and inspire school children and their families about sustainable practices" through its green systems in place and by demonstrating affordable technology solutions that can be implemented at home.  Officials with the project also note that home builders, developers and public officials will be able to use it as a demonstration site on how to incorporate green technology into residences, businesses and public spaces.

Green building and sustainability industries have been taking off in Cincinnati recently with the opening of several new businesses and the incorporation of several progressive sustainable technologies that are helping position Cincinnati as a green building and sustainability leader nationally.

Cincinnati-based HGC Construction is building the $1.2 million project and its expected to be complete and open to the public by fall 2010.  The project has been supported financially through a $2 million fund-raising campaign for education by the Civic Garden Center.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Photography by provided
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

University of Cincinnati starts new bike share program just in time for Bike Month

Just in time for Bike Month this May, the University of Cincinnati has rolled out the region's first bike share program.  The Bearcat Bike Share program debuted on Earth Day, and is available to all UC students, faculty and staff.

"The idea of a bike share program had been bounced around by students for the past couple of years," explained Shawn Tubb, UC Sustainability Coordinator.  "In December 2009 we completed the bike plan and the bike share program was a big part of it, and it just seemed like a logical first start and something we could easily implement."

The program has started out with 30 bicycles at four different locations on both East and West campuses in Uptown.  In large part, the program was made possible thanks to support from Huffy Bicycles, UC Undergraduate Student Government Association who contributed $7,000, the UC Foundation, Reser Bicycle Outfitters, UC College-Conservatory of Music Tribunal, UC Facilities Management and UC Planning+Design+Construction.

The majority of the bicycles are found at the Campus Recreation Center (CRC) and can be checked out much like books at a library.  The bicycles can then be used on- or off-campus, but must be returned by the end of the CRC's business hours.  Bicycles are also stationed at University Hall and the Central Utility Plant on East Campus, and University Paviliion on West Campus.

The pilot program is scheduled to last approximately six months. Officials hope to expand the scope of the Bearcat Bike Share Program to include more bicycles and additional resources.

"We're hoping to encourage some more faculty and administrators to use bikes to go back-and-forth between East and West campus," said Tubb.  "It's a good way to decrease automobile use and get people more comfortable with cycling in the city."

Tubb also described how the Bearcat Bike Share program does interface with the City's Bike Plan, and could eventually work together with future plans for a city-wide bike share program comparable to those found in Washington, D.C. and Paris.  In the mean time though, Tubb is hoping to expand upon the initial $18,500 program by implementing a shop where bicyclists can come for repair work and other needs to help create a stronger bicycling culture.

"The bike plan UC did helps to incrementally change the culture in Cincinnati about the city not being a good city for bicycling," Tubb explained.  "When we put the survey out to students we got 2,100 responses with most saying they weren't comfortable when it came to riding safety in the city, so we want to give them the tools on how to do it safely.  The more bicycles there are on the road, the safer it will get."

Across the United States there have been about 80 colleges and universities to institute similar programs.  In addition to the new program, UC will also be hosting workshops as part of the university's free Sustainability Workshop Series.  The first such workshop will focus on urban riding and safety tonight at 5pm at the Catskeller on UC's West Campus (map), with the second focusing on repair and maintenance on Tuesday, May 11 - also at the Catskeller at 5pm.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Photography by Scott Beseler and Dottie Stover
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

Cincinnati MSD sustainability efforts getting national attention

It has been 30 years since the federal government called for the elimination of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) and a reduction of discharges from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) through the Clean Water Act.  Many cities are still trying to solve their SSO and CSO problems, but Cincinnati's efforts are fairly unique among other municipalities.

The crux of the issue in Cincinnati deals with combined sewer overflows - when a pipe carrying both solid waste (what goes down your toilet) and excess water runoff is overflowed by heavy rainfall.  The rainfall causes the two elements to mix, resulting in solid waste flowing in local waterways that provide our drinking water, and where our wildlife and ecosystem survives. 

There are a couple ways to go about solving this problem, with many communities taking the concrete solution of building additional, separate pipes for the two different elements.  Cincinnati's problem, primarily along the Mill Creek Corridor, is one that local officials are looking to solve with a green solution - one that is getting noticed nationwide.

Cincinnati officials contend that if you reduce the amount of stormwater runoff, you will reduce or eliminate the overflows in the existing network.  As a result, engineers and planners are examining how this might be done through rain gardens, wetlands, green roofs and other green solutions along the Mill Creek Corridor.  A tangible example of this is the new Wastewater Engineering Center that MSD has built in Lower Price Hill along the Mill Creek Corridor, that includes the latest green building techniques.

The payoff is potentially huge both financially and environmentally.  Environmentalists have longed for the reclamation of the Mill Creek Corridor which is already underway through efforts like the Mill Creek Restoration Project, Revive I-75 Vision Plan and the GO Cincinnati report which recommends an economic future of green businesses and industries along the corridor.

In spring 2007, Cincinnati City Council even passed a motion requiring Municipal Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) to form a test project that would determine the effectiveness of such green strategies in reducing stormwater runoff in an urban setting, with the ultimate goal of reducing the volume of stormwater going into sewer pipes and reducing overflows.

Cincinnati MSD is currently working on a sustainable infrastructure plan with the help of Denver-based engineering firm CH2M HILL.  The plan is still in the preliminary stages, but officials hope to make significant progress on the development of the plan over the next six months.  The ambitious, trail blazing plan is one that will certainly not be easy, but it may turn out to be the most progressive solution to solving the CSO problems that the majority of older cities in this country face today.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Photography by Randy A. Simes
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

Newport Gangster tour operators start walking tour that highlights OTR's history

When Jerry Gels put on the first Newport Gangster Tour two years ago, he struck a chord with people in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky who wanted to explore a glamorous period in their city's past.

That tour began as a two-day fundraiser, but soon boomed into Newport Walking Tours LLC, which brought 4,000 people to Newport, KY last summer.

This year the company is expanding to Over-the-Rhine, a place where hundreds of historic buildings still stand even if their stories are rarely told.

Beginning on Memorial Day weekend, a tour called Queen City Underground; Bosses, Brewery's and Burials will take guests through Over the Rhine to learn about the characters and events that shaped Cincinnati from the 1810's to the 1950's. Gels said it is not a crime tour, but tells the story of Over-the-Rhine and the people who shaped Cincinnati.

"The story of Over-the-Rhine really is a story of immigrants, you know, it is the story of America," Gels said. "And so many key things that shaped our city's future happened there. Over-the-Rhine's history really is Cincinnati's history and you don't realize it until you start reading the stories."

The tour will tell the exploits of infamous George "Boss" Cox and will cover the beer-brewing history in the area, but Gels said the much of the information on the tour is stuff that has lived on in relative obscurity. For instance, the idea for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was born in a beer hall on Vine Street; Harriet Beecher Stowe and Levi Kaufman both ran schools in Over-the-Rhine, and world heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles trained there.

Gels said nearly all of the buildings in which the stories transpired still exist, a testament to Over- the-Rhine's designation as the largest historic district in the country.

"I've been on walking tours all around the world, and at most of them you're lucky if a few buildings are still standing." Gels said. "In Over-the-Rhine we found 30 or 40 buildings that we could incorporate on the tour: places where Wild Bill Hickok used to perform and places where Charlie Chaplain used to perform - and these structures are still there, they're being preserved."

Gateway quarter merchants and 3CDC were instrumental in helping to get the tour launched this summer, Gels said. The first tours will run Thursday May 27 through Memorial day as a fundraiser. This summer the tours will run every Saturday. The tickets, which will cost $15, will be sold at Mica, 1201 Vine St.

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler
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