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West Side Preservation Summit to be held on June 5th

The Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) will host the first-ever West Side Preservation Summit on Saturday, June 5 from 10am to 4pm.  The summit is being sponsored by Comey & Shepherd Realtors, City Office and will gather West Side stakeholders to discuss the use of historic preservation as a revitalization tool among other things.

"Often under-appreciated and overlooked, the West Side has strong neighborhoods, wonderful building stock, wooded hillsides and river views," described Margo Warminski, CPA Preservation Director.  "Unfortunately some West Side neighborhoods are struggling with population loss, disinvestment, vacant buildings, foreclosures and demolitions."

Preservationists cite many historic assets in Cincinnati's western neighborhoods including the Anderson Ferry, Knox Hill Historic District, Incline District in Price Hill, Sayler Park Indian Statue, and the Boldface Park Shelterhouse among others.  Another prominent historic landmark in the area - the James N. Gamble House in Westwood - has recently been embroiled in controversy as preservationists and community leaders battle to have the structure saved from the wrecking ball.

"If you look at vacant and condemned buildings list, or you look at the public nuisance hearings you'll see West Side building after West Side building," Warminski said.  "Buildings are being knocked down left and right on the west side of the city, and many of them could probably be reused and many probably even have historical importance.  We need to look at how to solve this issue."

Facing the aforementioned challenges in a tough economy while preserving the best of Cincinnati's western neighborhoods is what event organizers hope will be the focus of the summit.  Summit discussions will serve as the beginning of an ongoing dialogue about West Side preservation issues.

According to event organizers, the daylong summit will focus morning sessions on the challenges facing West Side communities, while the afternoon sessions will look at potential solutions.  The following six topics will provide the basis of these discussions:
  • Code Enforcement, Hazard Abatement & Demolitions
  • Balancing Preservation & Demolition in Westwood
  • Historic designation: Perception vs. Reality
  • Learnign From Other Cities: Best Practices for Preservation Legislation
  • Jewels of the West Side: Lesser-Known Historic Treasures
  • A Plan for Preservation & Receivership
Several speakers have been confirmed to help lead these discussions including representatives from the City of Cincinnati's Community Development Department, the Metropolitan Sewer District and several community leaders.

"This is not intended to be something where we just talk to people.  We want to hear the concerns from people on the West Side so that we can hopefully address them going forward," Warminski said.

The West Side Preservation Summit is free to anyone interested, but space is limited at the Westwood Branch Library (map).  As a result, reservations are required and can be made by contacting CPA at (513) 721-4506 or info@cincinnatipreservation.org.  Those unable to attend will be able to receive a summary of the presentations after the event by contacting CPA.

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

Cincinnati to begin Phase 1 of Mt. Lookout Square enhancements

The City of Cincinnati will begin work on the first phase of enhancements to Mt. Lookout Square on Monday, June 7.  Construction, expected to last throughout the summer with an anticipated completion date in October 2010, will create approximately 11 jobs.  The completed project will eventually total around $1.2 million of investment

Crews from R A Miller Construction will execute the $664,574 first phase of the project that includes the installation of new curbs, sidewalks, brick pavers, streetlights and tree replacement on the southern half of Mt. Lookout Square.  Project officials state that the traffic signal at the south intersection of Linwood and Delta will be rebuilt along with the mid-block crosswalk at the parking island.  New electrical outlets will also be installed in the parking island that will now make future street festivals or holiday lighting possible.

"The difficult part of this project is maintaining pedestrian access to the wide variety of shops there," explained Dave Krusling, PE with Cincinnati's Department of Transportation & Engineering.

Krusling went on to say that access will be maintained though thanks to R A Miller's experience in these types of projects including recent streetscaping work along Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine, Woodburn Avenue in East Walnut Hill, and Colerain Avenue in Camp Washington.

Last August, the Mt. Lookout Community Development Corporation (MLCDC) announced their plans for the neighborhood business district that they had felt become "somewhat worn" over the years and needed attention.

The two-phased approach the MLCDC outlined focuses on improving the square's appearance while also improving vehicle flow and parking.  Included in the proposed changes designed by Vivian Llambi & Associates was the removal of parking from the center of Mt. Lookout Square in favor of a site design similar to what is found at nearby Hyde Park Square.

Construction work on this first-phase of enhancements will make driving conditions more difficult through the area, so project officials request that motorists use alternative routes if possible.  The second phase of work will be dependent on the availability of funding, and is expected to have a similar price tag.

The removal of parking on Mt. Lookout Square will be contingent upon the availability of replacement parking nearby, and is not included in the price tag or time table for the two-phased Mt. Lookout Square enhancement project.

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

Local women planting the seeds for a successful Cincinnati Riverfront Park

In 2007, Helen Heekin and Debbie Oliver formed The Women's Committee of Cincinnati Riverfront Park after they became trustees on the Cincinnati Parks Foundation Board.  Their initial goal was to organize a group of 100 women and collectively raise $100,000 for the new 45-acre riverfront park.  Within the first year, though, they signed up 450 women from around the area and raised $450,000.  Now this group is looking to continue their efforts with the creation of the Twig Project.

Organizers say that the Twig Project is a response to numerous requests from individuals, groups and organizations throughout the Cincinnati area that were looking for ways to support the private fundraising efforts currently underway for the Cincinnati Riverfront Park.  Cathy Caldemeyer and Dianne Rosenberg joined efforts with Heekin and Oliver to outline the new project for the more than 500 people in attendance at the recent "Hats Off Luncheon" fundraising event hosted by the Women's Committee.

"We have over 45-acres of previously wasted space that are being transformed right before our eyes into an outstanding new destination park for this region," Heekin exclaimed. "Now, with the construction of the park moving along so quickly, people are seeing even more clearly what a precious commodity this really is - while knowing that most cities do not have this kind of opportunity."

The new effort works with groups establishing special Twig projects that are essentially activities to generate proceeds intended for the Cincinnati Riverfront Park.  The first project is a cookbook written and published by the Cincinnati Town & Country Garden Club.  Get Fresh: Simple, Savory and Successful Recipes is on sale throughout the city at various retail locations and at the Krohn Conservatory's Gift Shop. 100% of the book's sales is being donated to the park.

The CRP has been funded through a variety of local, state and federal money, but is also contingent upon a significant private fundraising campaign.

Organizers believe that the Twig projects will help to create an even greater grassroots level of support for the CRP while engaging others that might not otherwise have been involved.  Since the Women's Committee formed in 2007 they have raised nearly $1 million.

"The full potential of the park can only be accomplished through meaningful citizen involvement," said Heekin. "While the park is being built with a blend of federal, state and local dollars, private donations are imperative if the park is to be constructed with all of the dynamic features that will transform the former wasted space into a park worthy of becoming a true destination park."

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

World Peace gets a makeover in Clifton

"Mark was at the juice bar drinking wheat grass and I thought - Healthy Person.  I need to talk to him," Anna Ferguson remembers. One smoothie later, she and Mark Stroud became business partners making 'World Peace' their occupation. 

Anna dreamed of opening a yoga studio and vegan restaurant that embodied yoga philosophy. She and her new partner found a space in the gaslight district and began holding yoga classes and study groups.   

"The World Peace Diet study groups are almost like a support group - people can come and feel like they're not such a freak!"  she says. Mark adds, "Or they can come and be with other freaks."

The study group, which meets every other Monday and includes a bounteous vegan potluck combined with a discussion of The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle, is home to even more non-vegans than vegans.  The conversation is non-judgmental, with World Peace at its very core from sound to taste.  The community that is formed in the study groups, the potlucks, and the yoga classes is exactly what Anna and Mark feel is raising the collective consciousness of not just the studio, but the city itself. 

"We want to involve entire families.  That's why we have prenatal, postnatal, and children's yoga, as well as adult yoga, because nothing gets done without the support of others around you," Anna says. 

That sense of community has become both their business model for World Peace Yoga and Motion and a practical strategy for accomplishing their current renovations.  Mark and Anna have created an environment of giving and gratitude, and as they give to their students, the students are willing to give back to the studio by helping with construction and planning the opening.  Renovating with eco-friendly materials like recycled blue jean insulation, cork flooring with non-toxic cashew based sealer, and non-toxic vegan floor glue, the studio is unique in its intention to make everything friendly toward our bodies and toward the earth as well. 

"What I'm most excited about is having a space to practice yoga that is indoors and emulates a natural outdoor setting," Anna says. 

 The renovations will include two studios in the upstairs and a vegan restaurant downstairs with everything from spicy field greens salad with vegetable and herb cheese, to sushi, pizza, enchiladas, and lemon cheesecake - all vegan.  The classes will include yoga for every age, and vegan cooking classes as well. 

"Our dream is creating a spiritual Urban Village, a place to retreat within the city to connect with nature, recharge and get grounded in spirituality," Anna says.  In addition to the studio and restaurant, the 'Village' would include a juice bar, environmentally and ethically conscious retail, live music and more. 

As Anna and Mark renovated the space, they rediscovered their own teachings which are the pillars of the studio.  "What we teach as a practical way toward world peace is mindfulness.  We mindfully chose only non-toxic, vegan materials, even if it was a big price difference. We use every opportunity to give back to the earth," Mark says.

For more info on the June Grand Opening of the newly eco-renovated World Peace Yoga and Motion Studio and the future World Peace Jubilee Restaurant, visit here.

Writer: Alison Vodnoy
Photography by Scott Beseler

RoHo gallery reopens in Over-the-Rhine

When RoHo Photo gallery re-opens in Over-the-Rhine this Friday, Michael Skaggs will bring a do-it-yourself arts concept full circle.

The gallery has moved from a downtown 4th St. location to a larger space in Over-the-Rhine that will accommodate bigger crowds and link RoHo to the Final Friday gallery-walk circuit. The move will also bring RoHo back to the neighborhood where it was born.

"In the seventies in New York City people went into old loft warehouse spaces in SoHo and held Jazz concerts," Skaggs said. "So in the eighties I decided to have jazz concerts in a loft in Over-the-Rhine, and I called it RoHo."

Skaggs eventually stopped hosting concerts and moved to New York City. When he returned to Cincinnati in 2000, he opened RoHo photo gallery on Central Avenue, which then became RoHo Photo and Framing in Bellevue, KY. The galleries featured mostly local artists' work, but they didn't work financially, he said.

To solve that problem Skaggs fashioned an innovative, low-risk business plan and opened the latest format of RoHo photo downtown a year ago.

RoHo offers cash prizes ($1750 total per show) to photographers who enter their works as a digital file. The images are juried by Skaggs and partner William Spangler, or by guest jurors. The two directors then print and frame the best 31 entries for the show, pay the prize money and host an opening reception. RoHo artists don't have to pay for printing and framing of their work, and if their work is selected to be hung then it will also be for sale in the gallery. The top three photos win a cash prize.

With about 100 entries at $50 apiece for each show, RoHo brings in more than enough money to cover their costs. The fees also pay for an open bar and hors de ouvres by chef Miranda Leurck. This week's opening features live Jazz by Brian Cashwell.

Anything Goes," a wide range of photographs from professional and amateur photographers from nine foreign countries and 25 states will open in the downstairs gallery. A solo show of local photographer Matthew Andrews' work will hang in the upstairs gallery, and jewelry by Elaine York McGue will also be on display.

RoHo photo is located at 209 Woodward St. Loft G. "Anything Goes" will be open from 6 to 10 p.m. on this Final Friday.

Writer: Henry Sweets

Cincinnati Planning Commission considers reduced parking requirements along streetcar line

A proposed revision of the City of Cincinnati's Zoning Code would add an allowable reduction of parking for residential buildings located within approximately two blocks of a streetcar stop.  Presently, the City's Zoning Code has similar reduced parking options for properties with close proximity to public parking facilities, housing for the elderly and persons with disabilities, and on development sites with multiple uses.

The proposal would allow for the Director of Buildings & Inspections to grant a 50% reduction in the number of required parking spaces for any "permanent residential" use located within 800 feet of a streetcar stop.  For residential buildings where a 50% reduction equates to less than five required spaces, no spaces will need to be provided.

The proposal comes just as the Cincinnati Streetcar project has secured $86.5 million of the total $128 million needed to complete a modern system running from Cincinnati's riverfront through its center city and to nearby Uptown neighborhoods.  City leaders are still banking on significant federal money to close the financing gap and make the project a reality.

In February, Cincinnati leaders learned that they had missed out on the first round of TIGER funds in part due to the lack of complimentary zoning policies - policies such as the proposed parking reduction amendment that would encourage mixed-use and transit-oriented development along the proposed route.  Beyond the proposal's impact on the Cincinnati Streetcar project, preservationists are encouraged by what it could mean for historic neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine.

"In general, parking is the enemy of historic preservation because developers of historic properties are required to provide a lot of off-street parking," explained Danny Klingler, Director, OTR ADOPT.  "This leads to demolition of other buildings to make room for surface parking lots.  So we end up de-densifying our urban communities so that we can park cars, instead of walking and using public transit."

The zoning amendment must go before the City Administration, then back to Planning Commission and eventually on to the full City Council before becoming reality.  Supporters of the amendment hope to have the proposed changes in put before City Council later this year.

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

Know Theatre gears up for 7th Annual Fringe Festival, readies for new marquee

Know Theatre is feverishly preparing for the 7th Annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival which has now become Ohio's largest performing arts festival.  This year's installment of performance and visual art will take place between Tuesday, June 1 and Saturday, June 12.  More than 190 artists from across the country will be on-hand to "push the boundaries of the norm and experiment with style and content."

Eric Vosmeier, Know Theatre's managing artistic director, says that this year's artist makeup includes 80 artists from outside of Cincinnati - up from the previous high of 45 at last year's festival.

"Staff spent time going around to other Fringe Festivals and did some recruiting, but artists talk highly of our festival to other artists which helps out as well," Vosmeier explained.  "We are a very artist-centric festival and I think that's why so many of our artists love us."

To build on that artistcentricity, this year's Cincinnati Fringe Festival will include playwriting and clowning workshops, and even yoga classes throughout the festival for the artists.  Those attending the festival will also experience new features like the Fringe Bar Series, Fringe Prom put on by the artists and the 22.5 Hour Play Project which will give participants 22.5 hours to write, direct, produce and perform a new play.

Aside from the upcoming Cincinnati Fringe Festival, the Know Theatre is also moving forward with its new marquee made possible through two $50,000 grants from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the City of Cincinnati.  Roughly 40% of the $100,000 will go towards the new marquee that will be installed no later than November 1, 2010, with the rest going towards other capital improvements at the theatre.

"We'll be making some equipment purchases including new chairs, lighting and sound equipment that will improve the theatre experience for our attendees for years to come," Vosmeier said.

All tickets for the 2010 Cincinnati Fringe Festival are $12 and can be purchased online.  Full Frontal Fringe passes are available for $200 and provide access to everything the festival has to offer, while six show passes are available for $60.  Tickets and passes may alse be purchased by calling (513) 300-5669, or during the festival at the Know Theatre's box office (map) or at any of the individual venues 30 minutes prior to show times.

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

First ArtWorks bike rack installed outside local coffee shop

ArtWorks will kick off their Queen City Art Racks program today outside of Coffee Emporium at 3pm to celebrate the completion of their first bike rack.  Over time, the program will create 15 decorative bike racks to be installed throughout Cincinnati.

"Iíve been dreaming about doing this project for the past six years. The timing is perfect as people are more aware of being healthy and environmentally conscious," said Tamara Harkavy, Director, ArtWorks.  "It is a smart way to engage artists to create functional art.  ArtWorks' mission is to provide jobs for artists and create public art, and bike racks are something anyone can use."

The program ties in nicely with the City's recent push to make Cincinnati more bicycle friendly by investing in bicycle infrastructure including new bicycle parking facilities.  The artistic idea for the program was inspired by a trip to Louisville where Harkavy and others saw something that was part sculpture, part bicycle rack, and entirely captivating.

The first Art Rack is called "Tours de Cincy" and was designed by Pam Kravetz, Carla Lamb and Karen Saunders.  Fabricated by Cincinnati-based Vulkane Industrial Arts and sponsored by the NLT Foundation, the inaugural Art Rack can be found along Central Parkway outside of Coffee Emporium's Central Parkway location (map).

Artists interested in submitting a portfolio can do so by contacting michael@artworkscincinnati.org for a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) packet.  Those interested in sponsoring an Art Rack for $7,500 can do so by contacting Beth Fiore at beth@artworkscincinnati.org.  ArtWorks officials say that the 15 Art Racks will be completed by July 2011 to coincide with the organization's 15th Anniversary.

The kick-off celebration later this afternoon will include community members, public officials and neighborhood leaders.  There will naturally be coffee and other selected treats for those in attendance outside of Coffee Emporium.

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

Solar panels helping new Nky middle school go off the grid

The Kenton County School District received a $2 million boost from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act that will help take a new school's energy needs off the grid.  The money will go towards the the purchase and installation of solar panels that will help offset the school's energy needs.

The new $30 million school is slated to open this August in time for the 2010-2011 school year, and is located near the existing Turkey Foot Middle School in Edgewood. Once complete, the new Turkey Foot Middle School will house more than 600 students and become a part of the district's campus that includes Caywood Elementary School and the J.D. Patton Area Technology Center.

In addition to the solar panels, the new school will also boast a variety of other green features that will help reduce its energy demand and overall carbon footprint.  These features include a vegetative roof, gray water collection systems, special lighting systems and geothermal heating and cooling systems.

School district officials hope the green building measures pay off by eventually making it one of the first "Net Zero Energy" schools in all of Kentucky.

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

Mobile gelato cart hitting Cincinnati's streets this Summer

Dojo Gelato opened at historic Findlay Market last August and gelato lovers have been lining up ever since to enjoy their handcrafted Italian-style ice creams and sorbettos.  With the temperatures heating up, and festival season getting started, those same loyal customers have been clamoring for a more mobile gelato experience.  Later this month, gelato fans will get their wish.

The new Dojo Gelato cart will make its first appearance at the Over-the-Rhine Summer Gateway Celebration on May 22nd, and then at Park+Vine's 3rd Anniversary Party on Friday, May 28th.  After those two events, the Dojo Gelato cart can be found at the Wyoming Farmers Market starting in June on Tuesdays, the Clifton Cultural Arts Center for Wednesdays on the Green, Saturdays on Fountain Square for movie nights, and at the Hyde Park Farmers Market on Sundays.

"When I opened the cart wasn't even budgeted into the business plan, but we always thought it would be great to do five or six special events a year," explained Michael Christner, owner, Dojo Gelato.  "With business being so good, it's become reality much quicker."

While he has eventual hopes of setting up at Taste of Cincinnati, Christner is content to operate the Findlay Market store and the new cart which has been a much bigger undertaking, adding another 20 hours a week of operation at a different location.  To help, Christner plans to add another two part-time, seasonal employees to help cover the load.

Christner says that gelato will be made specifically for the events at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center and movie nights at Fountain Square, and will hold six pans of gelato, or about half of what is offered at the Findlay Market location.  To stay up-to-date on what flavors are being offered, Christner suggests following @DojoCart on Twitter.

"There will be a few surprises here or there to keep things interesting between the cart and the Findlay location," Christner said.  "On Fountain Square though you can expect a complete 180 from what is offered at nearby Graeter's, something that might be attractive to get the parent's to come by."

Prices at the gelato cart will be comparable to the prices at Findlay Market, ranging from $3.75 for a small serving, to $4.75 for a large.  Christner says that there is a chance that they will bring the cones down to these events as well and that the gelato lovers should also be on the look out for an impromptu gelato set-up.

"London's World Barista Champion would set-up somewhere random, like in the back of a hipster-type clothing store, and just start serving up espresso," Christner detailed.  "I would really love to do something random like that here in Cincinnati with ice cream.  It all just makes me want to get out there and start serving up gelato with confetti and dancing animals like you would see at a Flaming Lips concert."

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

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
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