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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

AJ Creations opens new bakery in downtown Covington

Two and a half years ago Amber Jones and her family decided to purchase a dilapidated historic structure in downtown Covington with the goal of eventually moving there.  During the renovation work, Jones said that her husband suggested it would be a good idea to open a bakery in the street-level space of the structure.

The growing dream became reality a little over a week ago when the Jones family opened AJ Creations inside the renovated 1,000 square-foot retail space along Pike Street in downtown Covington.  The family lives in the two floors above the bakery space and is enjoying their new city lifestyle after previously living in the suburbs.

"We had been looking at small homes to renovate, and we've always liked downtown Covington, so after checking out this building we fell in love," explained Jones.  "We really like living here and we haven't had any problems.  It's nice being so close to MainStrasse and being able to walk down the street for dinner or just go out for walks."

Part of what made the location more appealing was the progress the Jones family saw being made in the area.  Following the purchase the family performed about 80 to 90 percent of the renovation work themselves with private financing and with the assistance of a facade improvement grant from the City of Covington that went towards a new paint job, a sign, doors and windows on the front of the structure.

"They've done wonders cleaning up the area, and we have felt really safe and comfortable here," Jones described.

The bakery itself is a bit of a dream realized for Jones who said that baking had always served as a way for her to relax, and that it was originally going to be a retirement goal of hers.  Obviously way ahead of schedule for Jones, the bakery's products are reflective of her passion for baking.

"My husband jokes that the reason we ended up doing this is because we got tired of giving away all the excess food I would bake," said Jones.

Inside the small bakery space customers are greeted by a small table that seats two, a couch and another chair.  Boston Stoker coffee and teas from Republic of Tea are offered inside the small bakery operation. Jones sees AJ as a place where people can pick up products on their way home, or order for a catering event more so than a bakery cafe where customers might linger for hours.

All of Jones' products are gluten free while many are also dairy free.  The menu changes weekly and offers items like fresh biscuits, scones, cookies, muffins and eventually cheesecakes, pies and breads.  Jones describes the bakery's candies as something customers must try, including their homemade caramels, buckeyes, peanut butter fudge and marshmallows that cost 75 cents a piece.  Once in season, the bakery will also be selling local honeys and jams.  The rest of the prices at the bakery are all under $2 per item in an effort to keep prices low and affordable for nearby residents.

AJ Creations is located at 212 Pike Street (map) and is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 7am to 2pm and Saturday from 8am to 2pm.  Those interested in placing catering orders can contact the Bakery at (859) 322-8434, by email ajcreationsonline@yahoo.com or even by leaving a comment on the bakery's Facebook page.

"People don't have to choose off of a special menu.  We can make what they want and I'm really big on special orders because I realize that everyone has special tastes."

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

Cincinnati Parks working to green city's unique neighborhood business districts

Following the renovation of Fountain Square, the City of Cincinnati needed someone to manage the plantings on the public plaza.  After a competitive bidding process the Cincinnati Park Board's Greenspace Program emerged as the best organization to handle such a project.  Since that time, the program has expanded considerably throughout Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, and more recently into eight of Cincinnati's neighborhood business districts.

"The Park Board competed for the landscaping contract against private companies and eventually won," described City Council member Laure Quinlivan, Chair of the Livable Communities Committee.  "The City was excited to hand this platform off to a group able to do this, and we are really fortunate to have one of the best park departments in the country that was able to step up to the challenge."

The initial contract at Fountain Square has led to other opportunities for the Park Board's Greenspace Program.  At the end of 2007, City Council looked at eight business districts that recently had streetscaping projects completed, or had existing landscaping in their business districts. The goal was to find out what it would take to design, install and maintain three seasonal displays annually.  The Greenspace Program fit the bill and also maintains the sidewalk cutouts that include tree plantings in those business districts.

"We really enjoy the opportunity to do this work in neighborhoods throughout the city," said Dave Boutelle, Service Area Coordinator for the Greenspace Program.  "It has added a new dimension to our program and we are encouraged by all the positive feedback we have been receiving from the neighborhoods where we have been working."

Neighborhoods where Greenspace has been working include Westwood, Bond Hill, Roselawn, Evanston, Northside, O'Bryonville, Mt. Washington and Pleasant Ridge.  The work has been ongoing since 2008 with a two person crew maintaining the landscaping in these areas to keep them looking beautiful.

"Our Greenspace Program concentrates on public areas that are not parks, but do have landscaping like highway ramps, parkways, neighborhood gateways and other park-like settings," Boutelle explained.  "And we are fortunate to have talented people that do tremendous design work that has been able to keep the areas colorful year-round."

The program costs the City no additional money and expands the work of the Cincinnati Park Board; which in the end is something Quinlivan is very proud about.

"My goal is to create a cleaner, greener and smarter city, and what better way to do that than through a partnership like this," she said.

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

Christian Moerlein to move brewing operations back to Over-the-Rhine's historic Brewery District

Just months after announcing his intention to open the Moerlein Lager House in 2011 at the Cincinnati Riverfront Park, Christian Moerlein President and CEO Greg Hardman has made another huge step in solidifying the Moerlein legacy.

On April 16th, Hardman announced that Moerlein will bring back brewing operations to Cincinnatiís historic Over-the-Rhine Brewery District.  Although the company had yet to establish its own facility - Moerlein contract brews its brands at Lion Brewery in Wilkes Barre, PA -  since the April 2007 launch of OTR Ale the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company has helped open eyes to the importance of local, craft beer in Cincinnati.

"We are proud to be part of the continued renaissance and economic development of Over-the-Rhine," said Hardman.

Just blocks from the site of the original Christain Moerlein Brewery on northern Elm Street near Findlay Market, the new production facility will be housed in a building that most recently was the Husman Potato Chip plant located at 1621 Moore Street (map) just north of Liberty Street and east of Vine Street.

The company has entered into a lease agreement with an option to buy the former pre-prohibition malt and lager house for the Kaufman Brewery, and plans to bring nearly 25 percent of its "high-end" beer production to the 125,000 square-foot facility by spring of 2011.

Steve Hampton, President of the OTR Brewery District, could not be happier.

"The announcement of the new Christian Moerlein brewery in Over-the-Rhine is a big step not only for Greg, but for the neighborhood as a whole.  He has worked very hard and very diligently to grow not only his brands, but also the Brewery District," explained Hampton.  "Greg gets the "big picture" that success breeds success, and has been committed to being a part of redeveloping Over-the-Rhine.  While there are challenges to working in Over-the-Rhine, there are also greater rewards possible by being part of the history and future of a great neighborhood."

With the recent introduction of locally based Rivertown Brewing, the expansion of Mt. Carmelís brewing facility and the recent accolades for Cincinnati Rock Bottomís Brewmaster Mitchell Dougherty, coupled with multiple local micro-brewery projects on the horizon, Cincinnati is poised to reestablish itself as a brewing center once again.

Writer: Bryon Martin
Photography by TIffani FIsher
Stay connected by following Bryon on Twitter @BryonMartin

New urban garden taking root in OTR to supply historic Findlay Market

Cincinnati's historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has embraced an increasing trend nationwide to turn under-performing urban lots into urban gardens.  The new gardens help to rid neighborhoods of previously blighted properties, introduce new plant life into the area, put neighborhood residents to work in their own community and even help supply local markets and restaurants with locally sourced produce.

The most recent addition in Over-the-Rhine is a two-thirds of an acre plot of land that sits along Elm Street near Findlay Market.  Over the past two weeks, neighborhood residents and volunteers have been prepping the site that was once occupied by a collection of deteriorating structures and grassy lots.

The transformation of the site will produce over 30 produce offerings that will eventually be sold at Findlay Market as part of its Cultivating Healthy Environments for Farmers (CHEF) project.  The goal is to get vegetables growing as soon as possible, and ideally have them available at Findlay Market's Tuesday and Sunday farmers markets by the beginning of July.

"We have four existing urban garden sites across the city where apprentice farmers work with experienced farmers and receive on-site training from the volunteers," explained Ken Stern, Urban Farm Manager for Findlay Market.  "Once the produce is ready the apprentices will operate stands at Findlay Market and sell their goods just like a business."

Stern explained that the CHEF project focuses on low-income individuals and attempts to not only provide training for them, but also provide access to fresh, local produce.  The apprentices will earn money from their produce sales and have to decide how they will reinvest that money into their garden plots to make themselves successful.

So far, the project has 35 apprentices involved from Over-the-Rhine, the West End, College Hill and St. Leo's Catholic Parish where Guatemalan immigrant and Burundian refugees have been integrated into the CHEF project that has been funded through August 2011 by the USDA's Community Funds Program.

"When we finish with the grant money, we intend to continue the program" said Stern.  "We are helping low-income residents become urban gardeners while also producing more fresh vegetables in Cincinnati's center city."

In the mean time, the individuals working at these urban gardens are in need of critical supplies like shovels, spading forks, nursery hoes, action hoes, weeding/cultivators, wheel barrows, watering cans, pruners and soil knives.  Those that are interested can donate any gently used gardening tools to this effort at Findlay Market (map) outside the Internet Cafe on Saturday, May 15 from 9am to 4pm and on Sunday, May 16 from 10am to 3pm.

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

Singh family deepens roots Uptown with new Indian restaurant

A new restaurant has come to stake its claim as a player in Cincinnati's Indian culinary scene.

Deep India opened earlier this month in the former Jersey Mike's sub shop space located on W. McMillan Street in the Uptown neighborhood of Clifton Heights.  The new restaurant comes to challenge the beloved hole-in-the-wall establishment, Krishna, located just around the corner on Calhoun Street, for some of its North Indian food loving business.

Like Krishna, Deep India serves hungry college kids and nearby Uptown residents reasonably priced Indian food inspired from the country's northern region. Inside, Deep India can seat up to 18 people comfortably, with room for more to wait for their carryout items.

The restaurant is a 50/50 partnership owned and operated by Amandeep Singh and his cousin Rajwinder Singh who also serves as the head chef.  The establishment is a family business that employs four. Amandeep's father worked for several years at Baba India, and it was the Uptown area that inspired Amandeep to open the restaurant after moving to Cincinnati six years ago from the Punjabi region of India.

"My family was already established here, and it made sense for me to come as well," said Rajwinder.  "I chose to open my restaurant in Clifton Heights because there are lots of people here - with the University of Cincinnati close by, it was a good choice."

The Singh family definitely has a handle on quality food - Rajwinder has worked in the Cincinnati area for several years, helping to open nearby Krishna and also cooking at Cumin which was ranked as one of Cincinnati's top ten restaurants by Cincinnati Magazine in 2010.  The North Indian cuisine has a wide variety of items on the menu, and Rajwinder lends his expertise to give excellent flavor to well known dishes.

"Our most popular items on the menu are the chicken tikka masala and the saag paneer," Rajwinder said.  "People don't even look at the menu, they just come in and order it.  For those with dairy restrictions we can make many of our items without dairy if requested, like the aloo gobi which is made of potato and cauliflower."

The inside of Deep India is currently clean and plain, and even features traces of the former Jersey Mike's restaurant.  However, the Singhs have plans for the future that will change the interior's look.

"We want to change the interior, add seats and carpet, update the look.  We want people to come hang out and eat our food," Rajwinder explained.  With a liquor license looming, diners will soon have a chance to sip their Kingfisher, chomp on their tandoori, and watch sports or a movie on one of the televisions inside Deep India all while enjoying a casual, delicious meal.

Deep India is located at 211 West McMillan Street in Clifton Heights (map), and is open Monday through Friday from 11am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday from 11am to 10:30pm, and Sunday from 11:30am to 9:30pm.  Prices range from $1.50 to $11.95; call 513-421-6453 for carry-out and delivery orders.

Writer: Jenny Kessler
Photography by Scott Beseler
Stay connected by following Jenny on Twitter @jenlkessler

Broadway Commons steps closer to new Casino in Pendleton

The Cincinnati casino passed one more major checkpoint on Thursday, as Rock Ventures, LLC completed the purchase of the 20-acre Broadway Commons site

Matt Cullen, President and COO of Rock Ventures, LLC announced the closing of the sale in an afternoon press conference at the offices of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, calling the acquisition of the land south of the Pendleton neighborhood a "straight purchase" and quoting a price of $35 million.

In sharing other financial details, Cullen said that the project will create 2100 construction jobs, and 2800 permanent jobs, with ninety percent of the permanent jobs earmarked for locals -- a figure he said was "committed to Mayor Mallory in writing."  When asked to define "local," Cullen explained that those hires will constitute residents of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area, which consists of the five southeastern most Ohio counties, as well as seven counties in northern Kentucky and three Indiana border counties. 

As he shared details of the current design concept, Cullen described a casino that was engaged with its surroundings, in its physical layout, as well as its personnel.  As he elaborated, Cullen said that the casino's retail and restaurant space would be street-level storefronts, intended to connect to the surrounding neighborhood, explaining that unlike existing "arena-like" casinos, "we want to create a walkable site, a walkable district."

Carrie Rathod is the President of the Pendleton Neighborhood Council and says that she appreciates the intent of Rock Ventures, LLC, but notes that a community-friendly design is but one piece of the puzzle to building a more successful neighborhood. "It's great that the developers have created this plan to integrate their building into the neighborhood," she explains. "Now it's up to the city to make sure the other side is attractive and ready for development in the surrounding area, to provide the incentives and signage and traffic planning to make it happen."

While the design notes should have been a pleasant surprise to casino critics, several matters of alcohol policy are yet to be worked out, each of which would also have a significant impact on the visitor experience. Addressing the disconnect between gaming norms and Ohio liquor laws, Cullen explained that Rock Ventures, LLC would be exploring the possibility of being able to serve liquor twenty-four hours a day, as well as offer drink comps, two practices currently restricted here.  He went on to say that being able to offer drink comps was the higher priority, citing a desire to stay competitive with industry norms, but saying that, ultimately, "We want to defer appropriately to the communities."

With the property purchase now complete, Cullen laid out the rest of the project's present timetable, saying that the next step is to select and hire an operator -- a contract that he indicated has attracted nationwide interest, and which should be awarded by June of this year -- and citing an expected grand opening in "mid- to late-2012."

Writer: Jeremy Mosher
Photography by Jeremy Mosher

Northside's Chase Elementary to be reborn as community hub

From Take the Cake to Shake It Records, some of Cincinnati's most buzz-worthy local businesses have hung out their shingles in Northside, and this spring, on-site work will begin to construct a new elementary school building intended to bolster the residential side of the neighborhood's identity. 

The new home of Chase Elementary will rise on Turrill Street, between Blue Rock and Chase Roads, two blocks from Hamilton Avenue and the Northside business district. Cincinnati Public Schools Public Affairs officer Christine Wolff says, "This month or early April is when we'll get all the construction bids and then you can usually figure two years for a new building."

By using the present location of Chase's 31-year old, 96,000 square foot building, city officials intend to pool the resources of the school and the adjacent McKie Recreation Center, creating a hub of educational and recreational activity for the whole community.  Asked about the measures taken to do so, CPS Project Coordinator Robin Brandon explains, "We pushed the school as close to the rec center as possible, and we pushed the public-use spaces as close to the rec center as possible." 

Additionally, in keeping with the pedestrian-friendly streets that are a Northside hallmark, Brandon says the design limits vehicular access, opting to turn the school's connection to the eponymous Chase Avenue into a pedestrian-only approach.  According to her, "[CPS] always try to achieve a building that has a balance between welcoming community and functioning as a school. I think we achieved that on multiple levels with Chase."

Community leaders seem weary of rebuilding in the same location that the school occupied through years of disconnect with much of the surrounding neighborhood.  However, just as CPS hopes that a new building will provide multifarious use for the whole of Northside, local leadership shares the goal of having an elementary school that is closely tied to the neighborhood, a fact reflected in increased local involvement within Chase.  Arts-education non-profit Happen Inc opened a studio space two blocks from the school and has held its "ASAP: After School Arts Program" at Chase, and Bruce Demske, president of the Northside Business Association, points out that "more neighborhood people are now tutoring in the school."

Previously, the disconnect with the neighborhood could be seen when Northside residents sent their children to private or more highly-rated CPS schools.  With a new building on the way, residents and CPS want to see a stronger school emerge, one more asset to a Northside community that already prides itself on diverse culinary, social and cultural offerings, all within a few blocks walk.  As Demske says, "I'd love to put my kids into the neighborhood schools."

Writer: Jeremy Mosher

$24M Uptown hotel scheduled for Fall 2010 opening

Last June site work began on the $24 million Corryville Crossings project that will be anchored by a new Hampton Inn hotel.  Today the site looks much different - the new five-story hotel is nearly 50 percent complete with much of the exterior work finished.

The new Hampton Inn will add 132 hotel rooms to the Uptown area, but they will be rooms at a lower price point than the nearby Kingsgate Marriott.

"We will have some of the same crowd, but we saw a need for additional hotel rooms Uptown," said Paul Laing, owner's representative for the new Hampton Inn.  "The location of where it is at has a huge need especially with the recent closing of the Vernon Manor."

The hotel is the first part of the larger Corryville Crossings project which will eventually include new retail space along Martin Luther King Drive in addition to the 132-room hotel and 200-plus space parking garage.  The development team stated that the project is currently on-budget and on-time for an expected Fall 2010 opening.

"The people of the Corryville Community Council and Uptown Consortium have been wonderful to work with," described Laing who also stated that Messer Construction's experience has been critical in avoiding any lost time due to injury for the roughly 50 workers on site daily.

"The people in the neighborhood are very happy to see us there," Laing said.  "We're bringing in jobs and will be a big boost for the local economy."

As work continues on the Hampton Inn a staff will also have to be hired.  According to Laing, the plans are to host a job fair within the next one to two months that will fill the majority of these positions.

Stay tuned for a website and details on the upcoming job fair.

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

Soho Sushi opening in downtown Cincinnati's Tower Place Mall

It was just a short time ago when many downtown Cincinnati residents, business workers and visitors complained about a lack of sushi options downtown.  But like downtown Cincinnati's nightlife, food options have also been blossoming, taking advantage of the renaissance occurring in Cincinnati's urban core.

The newest place scheduled to join the mix this May is Soho Sushi.  The sushi restaurant will add to the already popular sushi options at Bootsy's and Mr. Sushi in downtown's Backstage Entertainment District, but do so with a different approach where people can order customized rolls along with standard sushi staples.

"We will offer affordable sushi with good value," said Stephen Harman, managing partner of Soho Sushi.  "A lot of people think of sushi as a splurge item, but we're trying to get past that preconceived notion."

Harman likened the new concept to that of Chipotle where you can get in and out in a short time, get a good customized product and spend less than $10 for lunch.  The concept is one that Harman said he and his business partner had not seen before, and was the main driver behind opening a sushi restaurant.

"We were brainstorming about what kind of business we haven't seen yet in terms of fast, casual food and sushi seemed to be it," Harman explained.  "Everyone that I grew up with and people I hang around with now seem to love sushi, so it made a lot of sense."

With a three-year lease on the space, Soho Sushi will add to the availability of casual restaurants in the southwestern part of downtown including the recent addition of It's Just Crepes which added a second downtown location on W. Fourth Street recently.  Soho's space on W. Fourth Street will occupy a 5,000 square-foot, two-level space at Tower Place Mall which has been in the process of reprogramming itself lately.

"We've seen a lot of growth over the past five years downtown since they they redid Fountain Square and it brought a lot of life back into downtown," said Harman.  "We're hoping to bring some of that traffic over towards us from Fountain Square, draw on crowds going to Reds and Bengals games, and eventually be a part of bringing the urban lifestyle back to downtown."

Soho Sushi (map) will initially be open for lunch and dinner from 11am to 6pm Monday through Saturday.  Take-out and catering will also be offered by calling (513) 246-4261.  Also be sure to follow @SohoSushiCincy on Twitter for special promotions and updates.

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

York Street Cafe deepens roots in Newport with new Mercantile shop

After operating York Street Cafe in the heart of Newport for 12 years, Terry and Betsy Cunningham decided to expand its scope by opening the new Mercantile shop next door to compliment their eclectic restaurant.

The Mercantile sells a variety of products similar to what you might find decorating York Street Cafe's interior.  Everything from antiques to a variety of collectibles are sold with the help of Stuart Hochman who manages the store for the Cunninghams.

"I've always been into antiques and collectibles," explained Hochman about his interest in running the shop.  "It's been a passion of mine for the last 30 to 40 years, and they say that this kind of a passion starts out as a hobby, and once you get so much stuff, it eventually turns itself into a business."

Hochman explained that he and the Cunninghams decided to move items they had from the restaurant over to the previously vacant storefront to see if anything would sell.  The permanence of the business was not immediately clear, but with business being good, Hochman stated that it appears to have staying power.

"We get lots of people from Monmouth Street which is only one block away, and we also get some spillover from a nearby antique shop," Hochman said.  "But really we just don't have much else over here that draws people so we get much of our traffic from those going to the restaurant who want to check out what we have inside the shop."

The store is situated in a historic house turned storefront next to York Street Cafe and occupies about 700 square feet of the structure.  Those interested are encouraged to go check out what the shop has to offer, but Hochman does have some advice.

"It is a fun place to be, and there is lots of stuff to see, but you should have a love for antiques and collectibles."

The Mercantile shop (map) is open from 12am to 3pm Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; and on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays in the evening from 6pm to 9pm.  Hochman stated that there are other times when you will find him inside and be able to stop in, but that it varies greatly.

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

Picnic and Pantry bringing specialty food market to Northside

The popular Melt Eclectic Deli in Northside will be opening up a new business just down the street in the former Hideaway Restaurant space later this Spring.  The new micro market, called Picnic & Pantry, will offer specialty foods that follow the same Melt ethos of foods that are free of trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugars and flours, MSG, hormones, antibiotics and other unnatural preservatives.

"We have been wanting to do this for the past couple of years so that we could provide a conduit for these local purveyors," said Melt owner and Northside resident Lisa Kagen.

Kagen plans to open the new market sometime in May 2010, and has plans to offer even more after the business gets started.  Future plans include weekend dinner reservations for themed dinners prepared by Picnic & Pantry's staff that will showcase a local chef's prix fixe menu, as well as, Saturday morning cooking classes featuring seasonal foods and specialty products sold at the market.  One of the immediate goals though is to start selling authentic Mexican street foods through the store during the day, and through the large porch window facing Northside Tavern's patio at night.

"We really like working together and plan on doing a little taco stand at the window at night," said Kagen about Picnic & Pantry's market chef, Frances "Frannie" Kroner.  "It seems like a really fresh idea for Cincinnati that is already done in city's like Portland, Pittsburgh and New York City, and it should be a very exciting aspect of the market."

Kroner will join Picnic & Pantry after having worked at Slims Restaurant for three years, managing the Northside Farmers Market for two years, and starting FEAST - Breaking Bread with the Creatives.  She will work on menu development of Picnic & Pantry's ready-to-eat and take-home gourmet foods in addition to the market's seasonal catering menu.

The food sold and prepared at the micro market will be local and organic as much as possible, according to Kagen, and will be used in a way that will compliment Melt just a few doors up the street.

"Melt is splitting at the seams and this will allow us to move our catering and 'grab-n-go' foods here," said Kagen.  "Everything at the market will be completely fresh and nothing will go to waste.  We will either use it in the food products we prepare, sell it or compost what is left over and can't be used."

Picnic & Pantry will sell local eggs, meats, dairy, breads, honey, packaged foods, desserts and 50 percent of their produce.  The market will also sell locally roasted coffee, grains, spices, sweeteners and baking supplies, organic canned goods, eco-friendly household cleaning supplies and paper products, specialty oils and vinegars, and other items.

Picnic & Pantry will be open Monday through Saturday 10am to 6pm, and Sunday 10am to 4pm.  Once the market gets settled in Kagen hopes to start selling the Mexican street food during normal business hours and until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays.  Those interested can get a sneak peek at the products to be offered at Picnic & Pantry this Saturday, April 17 at the Crafty Supermarket being held at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center from 11am to 6pm.

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

Historic Vernon Manor Hotel to become medical office building

The historic Vernon Manor Hotel - which recently closed its doors - won't sit vacant for much longer.  The structure from the 1920s will soon be transformed into Class A office space by Cincinnati-based Al Neyer Inc. and will house professional offices for Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

The $37 million project will include an extensive interior renovation of the 171,000 square-foot building, construction of a new 440-vehicle parking garage valued at $7.1 million and will create approximately 105 construction jobs.  The project will result in the relocation of 600 employees from other Cincinnati Children's locations that will free up additional space there for new clinical and research jobs at its main campus in nearby Avondale.

"We had our sights on this project from the moment the hotel closed down," said Gail Paul, spokesperson with Al Neyer Inc.  "The commitment we got from Cincinnati Children's really kick started the project and made it financially feasible."

Cincinnati Children's has signed a 17-year lease on the entire structure.  $9.9 million in New Market Tax Credits were instrumental in financing the project and were allocated through PNC Bank and the Cincinnati Development Fund.  Another $1.3 million came from Federal Historic Tax Credits.

"When you are dealing with a project of this size it really takes the cooperation of many people to make it happen," Paul explained.  "Taking this on is a significant project for our company, but we love this kind of reuse project which is similar in nature to the work we did restoring and developing the space dunnhumbyUSA now occupies downtown."

The targeted completion date is set for May 2011 and has thus far received terrific support from the surrounding communities.  Paul noted that Al Neyer Inc. is particular proud of the partnership established with a local African-American investor group that will own a majority stake in the project once complete.  The African-American investor group, Real Estate Enterprises for African-American Leaders (REEAAL), is led and was created by Edwin Rigaud, a 36-year Procter & Gamble alumni who also served as the President and CEO of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

"Everyone relates to this building, not just for its historical significance, but for its siting as well," described Paul.  "It is a great landmark for the city and this region prominently located at the top of the hill, and people are really happy to see it stay."

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

Cincinnati debuts transect for developing form-based code

Cincinnati is a city and region rich in history that is often defined by its urban, or suburban, form.  When combined with the natural landscape, the built form of a community significantly helps to define who and what that community is all about.  In Cincinnati,  Jeff Raser from Architecture and Urban Design firm glaserworks is trying to champion just that by introducing and helping implement new form-based codes.

"This is about creating an approach that is about placemaking and creating more walkable places that people can use and enjoy," Raser described.  "The Cincinnati region will be well-served by form-based codes because it not only helps create the places we want to have, but also improve the places we currently feel could be better."

Raser and his team at glaserworks recently put together a Cincinnati-specific transect, commonly used in the creation of form-based codes, to help visualize the process for those living and working in the region.  The 'urban transect' is based on the transect more typically used in Biology to plot an ecosystem along a line.  The premise is the same, but instead the urban transect creates an abstract plan in elevation for which development can be modeled.

"We created the Cincinnati transect with photos and aerial images to help relate the diagram to people," said Raser.  "People can look at T-5 and say, oh that's Northside, I know what Northside is like, and can come away feeling more comfortable about what is being proposed."

Bellevue, KY is the furthest along in the region at implementing a form-based code.  Raser's team at glaserworks was selected to help develop the code which was recently completed and is now awaiting formal adoption.  Officials with the City of Cincinnati meanwhile have been traveling to Nashville, TN to see the realization of that city's form-based code and are currently on a process to create one of its own with the help of Opticos Design.

"We experienced a very good process in Bellevue where we got lots of great input from the community with a strong consensus about what they want and don't want," said Raser.  "They want to allow developers to develop walkable and dense communities, and they are comfortable with that because they see it everyday as they walk down Fairfield Avenue.  People in places like Colerain Township might be a bit of a harder sell as they might not be at the same level of understanding as those in Bellevue when it comes to creating communities like this."

The idea is a bold one for a region of more than 2 million people, three different states and a seemingly never-ending supply of diverse and unique communities, but Raser believes that with the support of the OKI Regional Council of Governments, Agenda 360 and other regional strategy plans that it can be possible to create form-based codes all over.

"Most of the people who start off opposed to form-based codes eventually realize that this approach tends to allow more densities and greater possibilities.  It shifts the focus from the mathmatical approach we currently use, to an approach designed to build great communities."

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