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Over-the-Rhine : Development News

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What's next for affordable housing in Over-the-Rhine?


Historically, Over-the-Rhine has been at the epicenter of Cincinnati’s housing boom; however, it can be argued that not enough of the neighborhood’s housing options are affordable. But 3CDC, Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity, Model Group and Over-the-Rhine Community Housing are working together to change that.
 
It’s estimated that 550 new apartments will be developed this year, with the majority designated as affordable housing. Developers are working to save 300 units of low-income and affordable housing that have been lost in recent years or are at risk of leaving the market, and a total of 12 new housing projects are also in the works that will add 50 more affordable units and 200 more market-rate apartments to the neighborhood.
 
In order for these projects to happen, 3CDC had to acquire the Section 8 Jan and Senate apartments, which include six separate buildings, from Community Builders. To complete the project, 3CDC needs to get 101 housing assistance payments — these are U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidies — that are associated with the two buildings. Those subsidies will be donated back to the 12 projects that will create a mixture of low-income, affordable housing and market-rate units in different buildings.
 
Model Group and 3CDC also plan to acquire the Mercy Housing portfolio, which is a group of 18 buildings, or 140 units, scattered around OTR. The goal is to rehab half of the units that are in desperate need of repairs, and make basic renovations to the other half.
 
The Jan and Senate buildings, located at the northwest corner of 13th and Walnut streets, along with 216 W. 12th St., are vacant, and will be included in the housing overhaul.
 
The City of Cincinnati also recently passed an ordinance that will forgive four loans that are associated with the Mercy buildings, for a total of $2.2 million in loan forgiveness. The loans were federal housing funds that were passed through the City to the projects.
 
In partnership with McCormack Baron Salazar, developers are planning to build high-quality affordable housing that will ensure that there are options available to residents of all income levels. In total, 276 units will be available to those who earn less than 60 percent of the area median income; 71 units for those who earn less than 80 percent of the area median income; the remaining 200 units will be market-rate.
 

Another restaurant concept coming to Pendleton neighborhood this summer


This summer, a new restaurant concept is joining the 1200 block of West Broadway in Pendleton. Boomtown Biscuit Bar, which is slated to open in June, will specialize in traditional American fare that was favored by pioneer settlers.

Boomtown’s menu was designed by head chef Christian Gill, formerly of the Terrace Cafe at Cincinnati Art Museum.

“The story we’re trying to tell through food and beverage is the life of prospectors,” says owner PJ Neumann. “From waking up at a campground at the base of the mountain, making a breakfast in cast iron, and going up the mountain and coming back to pass the whiskey around.”

Neumann says Boomtown will be a biscuit bar by day and whiskey bar by night, with an extensive whiskey selection and specialty cocktail list. The menu is still being tweaked, but is so far slated to include Pick & Shovel (fork and knife) biscuit sandwiches, Prospector plates (entrées) and Sweet Fixins (pastries and desserts), as well as a selection of Sundries (sides).

The menu will also provide alternative options for people with dietary restrictions, including a gluten-free griddle cake that can be subbed for a biscuit, and a mushroom and truffle gravy for vegetarians.

“No one will categorize us as health food,” Neumann jokes of the comfort food menu, “but we are hyper-focused on food quality.” He says that the restaurant will develop purveyor partnerships with distributorships to source local ingredients such as micro-greens, lards for biscuits and other key ingredients.

Neumann, a 17-year food-and-beverage industry veteran, says that he’s been wanting to open a biscuit restaurant for years and has been on the hunt for the perfect property. He formerly worked at the nearby Nation Kitchen + Bar, which opened in Pendleton in 2015. That location is what inspired him to look at properties in the neighborhood.

“I’m really excited to be a part of the neighborhood," he says. "There are so many talented people there."

The restaurant is part of the Broadway Square project being developed by Model Group at the corner of East 12th and Broadway streets. The restaurant will occupy a 1,400-square-foot space, with seating capacity for about 70 patrons. It will open at 7 a.m., offering breakfast, lunch and dinner six days a week.

For updates on the project and its official launch date, keep an eye on its website, or follow @boomtownbiscuitbar on Instagram and Twitter.
 

Six Greater Cincinnati projects receive more than $2 million in state historic tax credits


Across the state, 18 organizations were awarded $22.8 million in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits to rehabilitate 33 historic buildings. The projects are expected to bring more than $225 million in private investment to 12 communities.

This round, six Greater Cincinnati projects received more than $2 million in tax credits, which will help developers continue work on pivotal projects in Hamilton and Over-the-Rhine.
 
509 E. 12th St., Pendleton
Received $150,000 in tax credits
Two buildings on the front and rear of the site have been vacant for about 20 years. They served as housing for about 130 years, and after catching fire in 2016, will be rehabbed into seven one- and two-bedroom apartments.
 
1810 Campbell St., OTR
Received $250,000 in tax credits
Located in OTR’s historic district, 1810 Campbell is part of Model Group’s Market Square project near Findlay Market. The building, which has been vacant for years, will be rehabilitated into commercial office space.
 
1925 Vine St., OTR
Received $249,000 in tax credits
This building, which is on the northern edge of OTR’s historic district, will be renovated into 20 residential units. Built in the 1850s and abandoned decades ago, the building will become a combination of studio and one-bedroom apartments. OTR A.D.O.P.T. helped save the building, and plans include preserving the original staircases, wood floors, wood trim and fireplace mantels.
 
Dollar Federal Bank Building, 2 S. Third St., Hamilton
Received $250,000 in tax credits
Built in 1958, the mid-century modern bank building will have two of the upper floors rehabilitated into commercial office space.
 
Liberty and Elm, 212 and 214 W. Liberty St., 1711 and 1713 Elm St., OTR
Received $1,358,772 in tax credits
This project will include the rehabilitation of five historic buildings, plus more than 100,000 square feet of new construction on currently vacant lots. When finished, the project will yield first-floor retail space and 109 apartments.
 
Market Square III, 30, 34 and 124 Findlay St.; 1821, 1834, 1936 and 1941 Race St.; 41 W. McMicken Ave.
Received $1,690,000 in tax credits
Near Findlay Market, Model Group will rehabilitate eight primarily vacant, historic buildings that once served as residential and mixed-use commercial storefronts with residential above. When finished, the buildings will house retail and office space, as well as 38 residential units. One non-historic building will be demolished, and a new commercial building will be built in its place.
 

Mecca creates artistic haven in the heart of OTR


In November, Mecca OTR held a quiet opening, which isn’t normal for a bar in the heart of Over-the-Rhine. However, owners Joe and Robin Creighton and Jon Mouch, who also co-own Cheapside Café, wanted to let people discover something new on their own.
 
The building, which is located at 1429 Walnut St., used to be the home of local developer Urban Sites, but when they moved to a new office on Sycamore Street, they asked Creighton if he wanted to open something in the space.
 
Mecca gets its name from the Walnut Street saloon where Boss Cox kept his office. It’s also used in the religious sense of the Holy City, which is a place that draws people together, regardless of their culture or background. And that’s what the Creightons and Mouch wanted Mecca to be for OTR.
 
In the 1800s, Cincinnati was called the "Paris of America" and was filled with artists. Now, many of those artists go to New York or Los Angeles. To strengthen Cincinnati’s current artistic community, Mecca’s owners worked with artists all over the city to cover every inch of the bar’s walls in murals, drawings, sculptures and art installations.
 
Each bathroom was designed by a different artist, and the tables have Sharpie drawings on them by Alex Frank. A giant metal bee perches on the building's façade, and lights are strung across the outdoor courtyard. Ferns hang from the ceiling in the indoor bar area, which is black-lit to create a 3D effect on the murals.
 
An outdoor bar area is in the works, and will include a deconstructed car tunnel entrance and a tree that will be done by Adam Sands of Elite Customz (who also designed the bee).
 
Mecca alo houses a vintage Americana apparel and memorabilia shop on the Walnut side of the building. Owner Matt Joy curates his collection from estate sales across the country, and has everything from vintage denim to license plates, boots and decorations. The shop is open from 4 to 8 p.m. on days that Mecca is open.
 
The cocktail program is simple, and shots of absinthe are available for $6. The signature drink is called the Chichunker, a can of flavored San Pellegrino served with a lime wedge and a tiny bottle of liquor in the mouth of the can. The food menu is small and basic: popcorn and corn dogs.
 
Mecca is open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
 

Source 3 Development finalizes plans for redevelopment and infill project in OTR


At the beginning of December, the Cincinnati Planning Commission approved Source 3 Development’s plans for a new housing development in Over-the-Rhine. Freeport Row, which will be located at the northwest corner of Liberty and Elm streets, will break ground in March 2017.
 
The $25 million, mixed-use project will sit right in the middle of OTR, connecting the north and south portions of the neighborhood. The project will include four historic building renovations, as well as the construction of a new building on a currently vacant lot.
 
In total, Freeport Row will yield 110 apartments and 17,000 square feet of retail space. There will also be a two-phase parking garage with 155 total parking spaces.
 
Freeport Row is so named for Freeport Alley, which is at the center of the development site.
 
Initial plans for the 1.5-acre site were announced a year ago, but have gone through a number of changes since then.
 

Findlay Market plans City Kitchen pilot program for new year


In January, Findlay Market plans to launch City Kitchen, an eight-week workforce development program that will partly be managed by CityLink Center, the nonprofit’s partner in this new venture. The program will run from Jan. 16-March 11.
 
“There’s a great food scene here, but the barrier is the availability and reliability of a skilled workforce,” said Joe Hansbauer, executive director for the Corporation for Findlay Market.
 
Although Greater Cincinnati has a higher unemployment rate, there are restaurant jobs just waiting to be filled. The workforce doesn’t have the skills needed, so City Kitchen will help workers develop those skills.
 
City Kitchen’s first cohort will include 12 people that will spend one month learning soft skills and hard skills in a low-pressure environment. The second month of the program will continue the hard skills training and will culminate in running a pop-up restaurant at Findlay Kitchen each week.
 
Students will learn knife skills, kitchen vocabulary and math, as well as all the skills needed to run and work at a restaurant.
 
Findlay Market will manage the hard skills and restaurant portion of the program, and CityLink will manage and operate the soft skills and wrap-around services.
 
City Kitchen is modeled after similar restaurants and programs across the country, including Fare Start in Seattle, Café Reconcile in New Orleans and Edwin’s in Cleveland. Hansbauer says the goal is not to compete with programs like it in Cincinnati, such as Cincinnati COOKS! and Venice on Vine, but to complement them.
 
For example, students from Cincinnati Cooks could graduate from that program and come to City Kitchen to learn more about the restaurant side of the food world.
 
When the pop-up restaurant goes live, seatings will be held for four weeks in February and March on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with two seatings each night. You can purchase a seat for $45, a table for $250, a seating for $1,500 or an entire evening for $3,000.
 
The menu will be unique, with three courses and two options per course. Wine pairings will be available each week for an additional cost per person and can be purchased on site. There will also be a cash bar with local beer and wine by the glass.
 
“The goal is to learn as much as possible by leveraging the program and physical assets of CityLink and Findlay Kitchen,” Hansbauer said. “We want to ensure we can deliver on the promise and execute a great culinary and service experience. If we’re able to accomplish this, the next steps would be to ensure that we can operate in a sustainable and profitable way that serves the needs of Findlay Market and the community we are looking to assist.”
 
Sponsorship levels are available for City Kitchen. Please contact Hansbauer at jhansbauer@findlaymarket.org for more information.
 

First alcoholic ice cream shop opens March in Over-the-Rhine


Buzzed Bull Creamery, Cincinnati’s first liquid nitrogen ice cream shop, plans to open at 1408 Main St. in Over-the-Rhine in March. According to the owners, it will also be the world’s first alcoholic ice cream shop.
 
Owners Colten and Kaitlyn Mounce, Keith and Amber Ayers and Shane, Katherine and Cathy Mounce grew up in Mason and went to school together. The Mounces have been looking for a place to open their ice cream shop for about a year, after moving back home from out-of-state.
 
The group plans for the OTR location to be the first of several Buzzed Bulls in the area.
 
Buzzed Bull will be a traditional ice cream shop with a few twists. The first is that the ice cream is frozen with liquid nitrogen, and the second is that those 21 and older can add shots of alcohol to their creamy concoctions.
 
Freezing the ice cream with liquid nitrogen allows for each order to be fully customizable. It also presents a smoother, creamier texture than other ice creams.
 
Customers will choose a base ice cream or yogurt flavor like vanilla, chocolate, cookies and cream, strawberry or peanut butter. There will also be flavors designed to taste like cocktails, such as margarita, rum and Coke or whiskey sour.
 
From there, adults can add one to two shots of alcohol, either well or premium brands. The end result will be about 5 percent alcohol by volume. Everyone will be able to choose from the wide selection of add-ins: brownie pieces, chocolate chips, cookie dough, cookie pieces, graham crackers, Lemon Heads, Snickers pieces, etc.
 
Buzzed Bull’s menu will include a number of specialty concoctions, including the

 
The mixture is then frozen instantly with liquid nitrogen, which is liquid at -320 degrees. It makes a cloud of vapor when it freezes, and will freeze in a matter of seconds. The resulting ice crystals are much smaller than in typical ice cream, which is what makes the ice cream smoother.
 
Buzzed Bull will be open from noon to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday.

Keep tabs on Buzzed Bull's Facebook page for details about its grand opening.
 

Downtown building to undergo renovations, solar panel installation


The former Strietmann Biscuit Building, which is located at 221 W. 12th St. in Over-the-Rhine, will soon undergo a $12 million renovation. The project received $1.2 million in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits; the building will be historically preserved.
 
The 117-year-old, 100,000-square-foot building, which was built in four phases between 1890-1910, was originally the home of the Strietmann Biscuit Co. It served as a bakery, warehouse and offices for the company until the 1970s. Since the 1990s, Western Interiors and Wegman Co. used the building for storage.
 
Renovation plans include 70,000 square feet of Class A office space and 15,000 square feet of street-level retail. The seventh floor of the building will become a conference center with full kitchen and rooftop terrace. The basement of the building will include locker rooms and bike storage.
 
Initial construction will focus on repairing or replacing any deteriorated structural aspects. During renovations, many of the building’s historical aspects will be preserved, including original hardwood, brick and exposed ceiling beams. Modern touches like marble, chrome, concrete and hardwood floors will be added too.
 
A new roof will be added, and Grandin Properties, the building’s owner, is planning to install 144 rooftop solar panels in order to receive LEED certification. The panels will produce about 61,000-kilowatt hours of electricity per year, and will offset lighting, heating and air conditioning needs.
 
HGC Construction is doing the renovation work, and SunRock Solar LLC will install the solar panels.
 
Blue Chip Venture Co. and Grandin Properties have already been named as tenants. Developers are courting marketing firms and other companies that serve Kroger and other Fortune 500 firms.
 

People's Liberty, Brick Gardens


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a "food desert" is an area where substantial numbers of residents live in poverty and lack access to affordable, nutritious food. Under this federal definition, Cincinnati has several neighborhoods that qualify as food deserts, including Avondale, Bond Hill, Evanston, Northside and South Fairmount.

Domonique Peebles, a 2016 People's Liberty grantee, wanted to do something about it.
 
Peebles first had the idea to activate vacant spaces throughout the city by turning them into urban gardens, and then share the resulting produce with those in need of fresh food. As he began to research his concept, he realized there are already dozens of urban gardens throughout the city, and he didn't want to replicate existing efforts.

Not only that, but traditional gardening has its limitations: the growing season is limited, the weather is unpredictable and garden spaces are not universally accessible. That's when Peebles decided to address food access issues in Cincinnati in a cutting-edge way: vertical farming.
 
Peebles, a resident of Over-the-Rhine, envisioned vacant buildings in his neighborhood as possible locations for vertical farming set-ups.

"There are all kinds of benefits," Peebles said. "Activating empty space in the city, getting rid of blight, getting rid of run-down structures, physically growing food that can be distributed and teaching people how to grow food."
 
Peebles traveled to Detroit to learn from an urban gardener who was using an innovative vertical farming set-up to grow produce year-round. Peebles spent over a year researching methods of how to build vertical farm "stacks," as he refers to them, and he received a $10,000 People's Liberty grant for his project, Brick Gardens.
 
Though vertical farming may sound complex and expensive, the whole process from building the stack to harvesting the produce can be learned in less than an hour. A stack includes trays for the plants, a growing medium, a water reservoir and standard fluorescent lighting. Stacks can be assembled from commercially available components for under $200. Ongoing maintenance of the system is minimal, and it also recycles water, so it is inexpensive to maintain the growing plants.

"It's really hands-off once you get the initial planting done," Peebles said. "It's really just a daily maintenance check. It seems like it's very technical, but once you do it once, you can do it the rest of your life."

Peebles said that a single stack, of a size that could be maintained within one's own home, is able to produce about 56 heads of lettuce in 21 days.

"A person might grow that amount of lettuce on an acre of land, with two harvests per year," Peebles said. With vertical farming, a person could get about seven harvests every three months.
 
Peebles has a working model of a small stack that's suited for home production in his shop Featured, which is on Main Street in OTR. People interested in learning how to create a stack are welcome to reach out and arrange a time to view the model and ask questions.

Peebles has also partnered with the agriculture department at Cincinnati State and has two stacks growing there. With these stacks, Peebles is experimenting with growing different types of crops that are less commonly grown indoors on vertical farms, such as tomatoes. He also maintains six stacks at New Prospect Church in Roselawn.
 
Vertical farming is so much faster and more efficient than traditional methods that Peebles had his first Brick Gardens harvest less than a month after starting seeds.

"I had no idea I would be so successful," he said. "But my very first time was a 100 percent success rate on sprouting."

The stacks continue to flourish: "Once a week we've been going to all the sites and harvesting one to three pounds per site." Brick Gardens donates the harvested produce to community members in Roselawn, to students who help to grow the produce at Cincinnati State and to Gabriel's Place, a nonprofit in Avondale.
 
Peebles has high hopes for turning Brick Gardens into an ongoing enterprise.

"It's something that could be done in multiple neighborhoods," he said. "These could be put anywhere — elementary schools, hospitals, nursing homes."

There are pre-made vertical farming systems currently on the market, but Peebles wants to encourage people to consider going the DIY route. He says that the system he designed is about half the cost of pre-built systems.
 
Peebles ultimately hopes to continue partnering with schools, universities, local neighborhoods and even restaurants in need of access to fresh, local produce year-round.

"The thing with growing food is there's not really competition," he said. "There's always going to be a need for food production. People are always going to need to eat."
 
Those interested in learning more about Brick Gardens are encouraged to visit its website.
 
Twice per year, eight grantees are chosen per grant cycle to prototype solutions to civic challenges. Project grantees are supported with $10,000, a launch event and access to People’s Liberty’s workplace and mentorship.

 

Newly renovated Memorial Hall now open to the public


The yearlong, $11 million renovation of Memorial Hall in Over-the-Rhine is now complete. Although finishing touches are still being added, Memorial Hall opened to the public on Nov. 25 for its first art exhibit, Brickmas. It will be on display through Dec. 30.
 
Memorial Hall sits between Music Hall — which will reopen next fall after a $135 million renovation — and the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s new, $17 million Otto M. Budig Theater, which will open in September 2017.

Built in 1908 by local architecture firm Samuel Hannaford & Sons, the 100-year-old Beaux Arts building was built to honor veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Civil War. The building is currently owned by Hamilton County.
 
It was once used by the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players and the MusicNOW Festival, but the building had been underused in recent decades because it lacked updated amenities like air conditioning, adequate restrooms and backstage areas.
 
Besides restoring the outward appearance of Memorial Hall, many historical details of the building were preserved. The original wrought iron décor is still intact, and the historic hat racks underneath the seats were kept. The building's reception areas feature original stenciling that has also been fully restored.
 
Updates include:
  • Wider seats, which reduced the total number of seats in the theater from 610 to 506. Padding was also added to the wooden seats. Handicap accessible seating areas have been added.
  • New theatrical lighting, a new sound system, a new laser projector and a screen for showing films have been installed. New cushions were added for sound absorption, as well as adjustable, sound absorbing drapes in some doorways.
  • The stage was extended five feet.
  • New glass doors were added to insulate the hall from noise in the marble stairwells.
  • The passenger elevator on the building’s north side remains, and a new service elevator was added. For the first time, a grand piano will be able to be moved on and off the stage with little difficulty.
  • A new outdoor patio area was added, as well as new bars throughout the building, which will allow for light bites, desserts, beer and wine tastings from local restaurants, craft breweries and wine distributors.
The theater itself is being renamed the Annie W. and Elizabeth M. Anderson Theater in honor of the foundation that is underwriting the upcoming concert series.
 
In February, the foundation will launch the Longworth-Anderson Series, featuring concerts from contemporary artists. The winter-spring season will open on Feb. 10 with Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash, with musical collaborator and husband John Leventhal. Other artists include Pink Martini featuring Chyna Forbes on March 9, Richard Thompson on April 7 and Sarah Jarosz on June 9.
 
The Memorial Hall Society will also program up to 10 events each year. There will also be other programs lined up by 3CDC, which oversaw the building’s renovation and manages Memorial Hall, as well as community programs and event rentals.
 
The public is invited to Memorial Hall’s official ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. on Dec. 2. The ribbon cutting will be followed by tours of the building.
 

Cohousing coming to Over-the-Rhine with Kunsthous


Next summer, a new kind of apartment community will make its debut in Over-the-Rhine called Kunsthous. Cofounders John Blatchford, Michael Fischer, Alyssa McClanahan and Barrett McClish are currently renovating two historic buildings in the neighborhood, and are creating co-living spaces within them.
 
“I’ve been renting for 10 years, and all of the places I’ve lived have had really strong communities,” Blatchford, CEO of Kunsthous, said. “People are moving back to cities and renting more than ever, but many apartments are too big and we’re living in buildings where we don’t know our neighbors. Kunsthous is trying to get away from that suburban seclusion.” Cohousing is popular on the West Coast and other urban areas. Typical cohousing has a smaller footprint, shared common space for building community.
 
The first building the team is renovating is 205 W. McMicken St., which they purchased through OTR Adopt. When finished, it will have six studio and one-bedroom apartments with a shared kitchen on the first floor and a co-working space.
 
Kunsthous units are smaller than typical apartments, and a bit cheaper when compared to other OTR apartments — the average rent for the first six units is $650 per month.
 
“We’re really trying to focus on the idea of co-living in Cincinnati,” Blatchford said.
 
In order to build intentional community, Kunsthous kitchens will have beer and kombucha on tap, and there will be public and private events throughout the year for tenants and the larger community.
 
“There is so much growth going on in Cincinnati, and a lot of that growth is focused in OTR,” Blatchford said. “You can look at larger coastal cities and see where OTR is going — rent is going to get more expensive, and more and more people will be moving in. We need to find a way to provide more affordable apartments, and ways for people moving in to meet others and build a network.”
 
Kunsthous will continue to grow, with seven more apartments planned for the building located at 509 E. 12th St. Blatchford said he and his team are planning to expand their idea within Cincinnati, and are looking at Walnut Hills and Northern Kentucky.
 
By the end of next year, there will be about 20 Kunsthous apartments, and although the buildings aren’t right next to each other and maybe not in the same neighborhood, that sense of community will be there.
 
“A lot of the best things in our lives are the result of the people that we meet,” Blatchford said. “Lots of people are moving back or just moving here, and we need to create more opportunities for people to meet other like themselves, or not like themselves. That’s what makes a city stronger and makes people happier.”
 
There is already interest from potential renters, and if you’re interested in living in Kunsthous, visit its website to sign up.
 

Local filmmaker screens films in OTR on sprawl, spatial segregation


On Nov. 2, local documentary filmmaker Andrea Torrice will showcase three of her films at the Mini Microcinema. Divided We Spra
wl,” The New Metropolis: A Crack in the Pavement and Trees in Trouble all have to do with issues that impact cities and suburbs in the United States.
 
Divided We Sprawl” focuses on spatial segregation in Gary, Ind., where much of the industry has left and moved to the suburbs. Torrice chose Gary because it’s a reflection of many cities in the Northeast and Midwest like it. In the film, she looks at how a city like Gary rebuilds, as well as the economic upheaval and abandonment by people, policy and government.
 
“I’m really interested in the meaning of a city or place, and how the meaning is changing,” Torrice said. “The intersection between place and income disparity impacts the community, and personal decisions and how decisions about transportation and economic growth dramatically impact our lives. We don’t always see that — I call it the invisible hand.”
 
The New Metropolis: A Crack in the Pavement” is about Cincinnati’s older suburbs, and the pattern of people moving to the suburbs, new suburbs cropping up and people moving out of the inner suburbs to the outer suburbs. Downtown is now going through a rebirth, and people are moving from the suburbs back to the urban core.
 
“I like to tell these stories because I like to put a human face on how public policies impact our lives,” Torrice said.
 
Cincinnati is also the case study for “Trees in Trouble” because like many Midwest cities, its streets are lined with ash trees, and the Emerald Ash Borer has invaded and is killing the ash trees in the United States.
 
Over the last 30 years, the city has planted about 12,000 ash trees, and they’re now all dead or dying. Torrice looks at how the city is responding to that, and the value of a tree in our community.
 
“Trees play important roles in cities for many reasons — they’re part of the infrastructure and quality of life,” she said.
 
Torrice is an award-winning documentary and public TV producer/writer whose work spans a range of contemporary issues, including spatial segregation and suburban flight.
 
“These films are important because it helps us understand more about our community and how we’re connected to other communities throughout the nation,” Torrice said. “We have some of the same problems, and these films will help spark dialogue on how to make all communities more vibrant and resilient places.”
 
Torrice made the film on Gary six years ago, but this will be the first time it will be shown in Cincinnati. The other two films have been broadcast on PBS, with “Trees in Trouble” most recently in April upon its release.
 
Doors open at 7 p.m., and the films will be shown one after the other beginning at 7:30.
 

People's Liberty grantee takes his mobile science lab to streets


Aaron Greene has a passion for science. As the program chair for bioscience technology at Cincinnati State, his work “encapsulates everything from pharmaceuticals to environmental biology.” Bioscience technology is applied to things as varied as the creation of insulin for diabetics, techniques for cleaning up the Mill Creek watershed and the development of new foods and flavors.

Though Greene is well-versed in the many applications of science in our everyday lives, he recognizes that not everyone shares his understanding, and that many people regard science as intimidating.

“What I hear is that ‘science isn’t for me, I’m not good at it’,” he said. “But it’s not something for somebody else, and it’s not something you’re good at to start with. It’s for everyone.”

A desire to dispel the misconceptions about science led Greene to apply for a $10,000 People’s Liberty grant for a project he calls It’s Just Science.

“My main goal is to show people that it’s not scary," Greene said. "It’s much more accessible than people give it a chance to be.”

When he applied for the grant, he had to clarify exactly how he’d make science approachable for the general public.

“How do we get it out there and into the hands of people?” Greene briefly considered using a tent or a pop-up camper to house a portable science lab. “But we really wanted to reinforce the accessibility and make it as mobile as possible, so we settled on a tricycle.”

Greene worked with a custom tricycle company based in Oregon to create a collapsible lab on wheels. The trike includes fold-out shelves on the side, which Greene will pack with microscopes and DNA extraction kits as he travels throughout the city.

Greene is busy reaching out to local libraries, community centers, events and even breweries to bring his mobile lab to learners of all ages and experience levels. “The trike is to break down the initial barrier, lowering the hurdles to the public," he said.

“Demystifying science is at the heart of this whole project,” Greene said. The soft launch of the It’s Just Science tricycle will happen in the coming weeks, but Greene already has his sights set on big goals for the future.

“I’m looking at a physical presence in an unused storefront to do a larger launch,” he shared. Ultimately, Greene has dreams of establishing a community lab where people can explore science in a less stressful environment than the classroom, under the supervision of scientists and graduate students who know science and can answer questions.

“As a scientist, I already understand the uses for these technologies,” Greene said.

But he anticipates that engaging people from different backgrounds in scientific exploration could yield new approaches to old problems. “I’ll be interested to see what comes out of it. When you think outside the box and let new minds come in, that’s where you get a lot of new innovation.”

To get up-to-date information on upcoming It’s Just Science appearances and find out where you can catch it next, visit its Facebook page.

Twice per year, eight grantees are chosen per grant cycle to prototype solutions to civic challenges. Project grantees are supported with $10,000, a launch event and access to People’s Liberty’s workplace and mentorship. Stay tuned to Soapbox for profiles of this year's 15 other grantees.

 

People's Liberty project grantee: Nate May


2016 People’s Liberty grantee Nate May is a composer and pianist whose work is influenced by his Appalachian roots. Inspired by his upbringing, May received a $10,000 grant from People’s Liberty Project Grant II class that allowed him to compose a musical piece entitled "State: A Testimony to Urban Appalachia," which debuted in April at The Sanctuary in Lower Price Hill.


Though the live performance ran for only two nights, "State" was years in the making.

“I grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, and lived in Fayetteville,” May says. “While I was living there, I became really interested in Appalachian issues. I was looking for the next step to explore these topics.”

During that time, May wrote an opera called "Dust in the Bottomland," which focused on issues that Appalachians face.

That next step came when May was awarded an Appalachian Sound Fellowship from Berea College in 2015. He was funded to collect oral histories, and he planned to use that content as the lyrical text for a piece of music. May then connected with Community Matters in Lower Price Hill, which introduced him to Appalachians living in Cincinnati.

As May began to compose State, word spread about the project. May was told that MUSE: Cincinnati Women’s Choir had just moved into The Sanctuary along with Community Matters, and they, too, shared an interest in Appalachian history. May immediately reached out to discuss the possibility of collaborating on the piece, and the choir's director, Rhonda Juliano, enthusiastically took on the challenge.

“It was such a difficult piece,” May says. “They put a huge amount of work into it and pushed themselves.”

Classically-trained Cincinnati vocalist Kate Wakefield, whom May knew from school, sang the lead part, which tells the story of three urban Appalachian women using their own words. A trio of percussionists and a pianist brought rhythm to the piece.

“I’m really proud of the piece and it came across as I’d envisioned it,” May says. “And I can’t say that about every piece that I’ve written. This was the most ambitious piece I’ve ever undertaken.”

The experience of creating "State" opened many doors for May. He now works as a consultant for the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, in addition to continuing to compose and perform regularly as a pianist. With the Coalition, May is helping to start an initiative for Appalachian college students in Cincinnati to explore their identities through research, advocacy and cultural events.

“On a creative level, having a vision that big, and that prone to failure, and then actually realizing it has given me a big head about the possibilities that I can undertake,” May says.

Buoyed by the success of "State," May says that he is now throwing himself into projects with a newfound enthusiasm and self-assurance.

“I’m taking on things I wouldn’t have undertaken before,” he says. He is now in the early stages of developing a collaborative musical project that will involve touring nationally. “It will be like 'State' in a number of ways, but even more visible nationally. I’ve found that my ego needs to be unrealistically large in order to actually accomplish what I need to accomplish. If it’s realistic, I’ll stop short of what’s possible, but if it’s unrealistic, I’ll push myself to the edges.”

May will be speaking about "State," and his other works surrounding Appalachian issues, on Oct. 6 at “Composing Appalachia: A Conversation with Nate May.” The talk is part of a series of literary salons organized by Pauletta Hansel, Cincinnati’s Poet Laureate. The event will take place from 7 to 10 p.m. at Lydia’s on Ludlow in Clifton.

A full recording of "State," as well as photos and video, can be found on May’s website.

Twice per year, eight grantees are chosen per grant cycle to prototype solutions to civic challenges. Project grantees are supported with $10,000, a launch event and access to People’s Liberty’s workplace and mentorship. Stay tuned to Soapbox for profiles of this year's 15 other grantees.

 

People's Liberty project grantee, Access Cincinnati


Kathleen Cail and Nestor Melnyk have known each other for years. After working individually to make the world a more welcoming and accepting place for children and those with special needs, they realized their work wasn’t just about disabilities.
 
“We want to create an environment where everyone is accepted and no one feels singled out,” Melnyk says.
 
Two years ago, Cail and Melnyk spearheaded a program called LivAble Cincinnati as part of the ReelAbilities Film Festival, which was developed around a video short that highlighted the obstacles people with disabilities face when navigating a city.
 
“What was most striking was that most of the obstacles were very minor and were simple to overcome,” Melnyk says. “These were obstacles that if corrected, would benefit everyone. They were really issues of universal design.”
 
After the program, the group stayed active and tried to come up with ways to promote universal design. LivAble Cincinnati looked at ways to educate, promote and develop those concepts in the areas of live, work and play in order to make the city a more livable, welcoming place.
 
According to Melnyk, people with disabilities comprise about 20 percent of the nation’s population. There is a consumer market out there that many businesses and organizations are missing out on if they don’t embrace accessibility and universal design.
 
“With momentum growing in Over-the-Rhine, downtown and The Banks, one of our ideas was to see how we could create an information source for people who might want to take advantage of bars, restaurants and other venues in those areas, but are concerned about their physical conditions,” Melnyk says.
 
During their research, Cail and Melnyk found that there were people who had never gone to those areas because they didn’t want to take their chances of going to OTR and finding out they couldn’t get into a restaurant due to physical limitations.
 
Access Cincinnati was born out of that research, and helps provide objective information that allows people to make their own decisions about what bars, restaurants and venues will work for them.
 
Cail and Melnyk looked to People’s Liberty for resources and funding — they were part of its Project Grant III class and received a $10,000 grant to execute Access Cincinnati, focusing specifically on the area from OTR to The Banks, along the streetcar route.
 
The pair developed a strategy to survey about 300 bars and restaurants in the project area, and held a survey launch event in August to educate volunteers on what Access Cincinnati is. Over the next few months, they will assemble information and provide an interactive mobile website that is similar to Google Maps or Yelp, but with accessibility details. The locations will be graphically represented and communicated via icons; Cail and Melnyk are also developing window clings for the bars, restaurants and venues to display.
 
Access Cincinnati will officially launch in early 2017. A relaunch will happen just in time for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which is being held in Cincinnati. During the Games, over 600 wheelchair athletes will be staying in and around downtown, along with their trainers, coaches, officials, staff, family members and spectators.
 
Twice per year, eight grantees are chosen per grant cycle to prototype solutions to civic challenges. Project grantees are supported with $10,000, a launch event and access to People’s Liberty’s workplace and mentorship. Stay tuned to Soapbox for profiles of this year's 15 other grantees.

 
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