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CEOs report: Cincinnati highly engaged, not-so-weird

During its spring conference hosted here in Cincinnati last week, CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban, civic leaders, released its second ever “City Vitals” report, a kind of scorecard that measures and ranks key development and quality-of-life indicators for cities around the country.

Using the acronym of CITY (Connections, Innovation, Talent and Your Distinctiveness), report authors analyzed mostly Census data to explore what makes cities vibrant, appealing and successful.

Here’s a roundup of where Cincinnati rates among CEOs’ 51 identified cities and regions.

First, some good news. Cincinnati ranked in the top 20 in the following catgories:

•  Voting. Nearly 65 percent of Cincinnati’s population voted in the 2008 Presidential election, putting us in 13th place. (Minneapolis-St. Paul ranked first with more than 76 percent of the population casting ballots.)

Community involvement. We squeaked in the top 20 at number 19, with close to 29 percent of the metro population reporting a volunteer effort in the past year. (In Salt Lake City, more than 42 percent of the population reported volunteering.)

Economic integration. Cincinnati ranked 11th in the percentage of the population living in middle-income neighborhoods, with 76.1 percent. (Minneapolis-St. Paul topped the economic integration list with more than 84 percent of the population in middle-income homes.)

Patents. Cincinnati ranked 19th in number of patents issued per 10,000 employees with 5.9. (San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara dominated this category with 83.5 patents per 10,000 employees. The next closest city, Austin-Round Rock, issued 31.9 per 10,000 employees)

Creative professionals, or folks employed as mathematicians, scientists, artists, engineers, architects and designers. Four percent of Cincinnati’s workers come from this creative group, making the city 18th on the list. (The number one slot went to San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, where 7.6 percent of the population fits into this category.)

Now, some challenges, or, as we like to call them, room-to-grow areas:

Greenhouse gas emissions. Cincinnati earned its highest ranking, second, in this not-so-positive category of per capita carbon emissions. While we emitted 3.28 tons per person, per year, Los Angeles emitted just 1.41 tons per person per year. Yes. Los Angeles.

Entrepreneurship and small businesses. In these increasingly essential categories for cities, Cincinnati ranked 46th and 43rd, respectively. (See Cincinnati growing Cincinnati for some examples of how to increase those numbers significantly.)

Weirdness index. Cincinnati nearly bottomed out this category with a ranking of 48th out of 51. What this means, basically, is that we tend to buy what everyone else in America buys. Weirdest cities on record: San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara and San Francisco, not surprisingly, rank first and second. But number three? Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s just weird.

The CEOs for Cities report can be accessed in its entirety online. Overall, it provides a fresh lens for city dwellers, city lovers and city officials through which to view the present and plan for the future.

By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter

Brandery renovates to welcome, support startups

Managing Editor’s Note:

If you’ve noticed dust settling around The Brandery building in Over the Rhine, that’s because new General Manager Mike Bott is overseeing a massive remodeling project. The building's first-floor space is being renovated for a new class of startups (applications being accepted now) while graduates Choremonster, Road Trippers and Venue Agent will maintain workspaces on the third floor.

Soapbox Media, also a web-focused startup, can be found in the space as well.

In addition to dedicated space at The Brandery on Vine Street, we will also maintain office space in Northside as part of a collaborative office suite we will share with startup local nonprofits.

While the Brandery caters to and nurtures high-tech startups, the collaborative space in Northside serves as a new home for disparate, community-focused nonprofits.

In Northside, at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Blue Rock, the space currently occupied by Shop Therapy will soon serve as the home for The Urban Legend Institute, the retail store element of the literacy and creative-writing focused nonprofit WordPlay. With creative and marketing support from Possible Worldwide, WordPlay plans to offer preview tours by July.

The second floor of the building houses the offices of the educational nonprofit as well as two other nonprofits: parProjects, which is focused on building a community arts center and providing arts programming in Northside, and 350.org, the local arm of the national environmental nonprofit. (Full disclosure: Soapbox's managing editor sits on the Board of the nonprofit WordPlay.)

One thing that has not changed is the best way to reach Soapbox with your story ideas, questions and comments. Connect with us via email. But if you want to send us a letter, old-school postal-style, you can find us:

Soapbox Media via The Brandery
1411 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Soapbox Media via WordPlay
4041 Hamilton Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45223

Downtown bicycle club explores Cincinnati

As they prepared for Bike Month, Casey Coston, an OTR resident and avid bike rider, paired up with Mike Uhlenhake, to plan a group ride in the urban basin of Cincinnati. 

After gauging interest via Facebook and holding one planning meeting at Neon's, the Urban Basin Bicycle Club was formed and launched their first ride from Fountain Square April 17. The ride was planned on Tuesday to not interfere with the Thursday evening Slow and Steady Ride, which starts at Hoffner Park in Northside. The UBBC's main goal was to give downtown residents a group ride with a more accessible starting point. 

The first ride brought more than 20 riders sporting bikes from 1960's Schwinn cruisers to road bikes to mountain bikes. They rode along the river, through Sawyer Point and ended with post-ride libations at The Lackman on Vine Street. Since the first ride, two more rides have happened with the most recent leading more than 30 riders, of all skill and experience levels, on a tour past some of Cincinnati's historic breweries. The second ride crossed the Roebling Suspension Bridge and went through Covington and Newport before making the trek back to OTR and ending at Neon's, but not before stopping for a beer on the patio of Party Source. The upcoming ride on May 15 will take riders past all of the Art Deco landmarks in the urban basin, including Union Terminal and the main post office and as always, will end with a post-ride meet up at a local business. 

"We'll be meeting up at a different local business after each ride," says Coston, a Soapbox columnist. "We want to spread our business around and support as many as we can." 

Members of the UBBC will be led on a themed ride each week as a way to explore the downtown area. All riders are welcome and the group makes a conscious effort to keep all riders in one group. Monthly Saturday destinations rides are being discussed, including a potential early afternoon to Terry's Turf Club for lunch and back. Whatever the ride, riders can expect a leisurely, friendly exploration of Cincinnati.

By Evan Wallis (Follow him on Twitter)

Ensemble Theatre rebrands, rebuilds

Ensemble Theatre opened its doors in 1986 as a place to give professional artists a place to work without having to travel to Hollywood or Broadway. The theater has since become a landmark in Over-the-Rhine. Now, for the first time, Ensemble has unveiled new branding, a new website, and a refreshed exterior.
With attendance at an all-time high and after being awarded a $1.2 million grant from the state of Ohio, ETC is in the midst of a long-overdue makeover. 
"We've been in the neighborhood for 26 years, I think it's time to celebrate," says D. Lynn Meyers, artistic director. "The tenacity of us staying here through times that weren't as good as they are now is something special." 
With a new user-friendly website designed by LPK and a facade that is currently being painted, the goal of the rebranding and renovations is to raise visibility and mirror ETC's ambitious schedule in both building and branding. The branding has four main colors -- blue, red, green and purple. All represent the four "E's" ETC strives toward: Excite, Enliven, Enrich and Entertain.
"What we do on stage has a very eclectic feel," Meyers says. "Our branding was very typical. We wanted something more exciting and colorful, like what you see on stage." 
Visibility was also a concern for ETC. Meyers says patrons have sometimes walked by the entrance. New banners outside of the entrance should alleviate confusion. 
"I think a lot of people walk by and wonder what we are," Meyers says. "We want people to know we are here and want people to come in and check us out."
The grant ETC received won't be awarded until the group raises $1.2 million in matching funds. So, ETC is in the midst of kicking off its "Next Stage Capital Campaign," a $6.5 million renovation plan. Renovations will include a larger lobby, increased accessibility, a new HVAC system and building connections between the main theater building and other buildings ETC owns on the block.

Capital funds must come from contributions, since ticket sales support 10 full-time employees and more than 180 professional set builders, actors and other artists throughout the year. One the state grant is matched, ETC can begin renovations.
"We have a lot of fun neighbors now, and that means more people walking around," Meyers says. "People are walking in and buying tickets. That never used to happen, so we want to continue to make sure people feel welcome and know what we're about."
By Evan Wallis

OTR Kickball back for season three

This summer, the third season of the OTR kickball league will return to Cutter Field, this time, with a little more organization.
The kickball league was started two years ago by Jenny Kessler, who, until now, has found sponsors, rounded up teams, organized referees and scheduled the 22 teams who have competed during the first two seasons. At the end of last season, Tom Hodges, an OTR resident and lawyer, asked Kessler if she was going to plan a third season. After a short discussion, Hodges and Kessler, along with Joe Yoo, decided to form Urban Sports Cincinnati (USC), an LLC which will help govern the kickball league, and other downtown games like bocce ball at Neons and ping pong at the Drinkery. 
"The idea is to have something in place so once the person who started doesn't want to run it anymore, it still continues," Hodges says. "It's about the neighborhood. We want it to continue to thrive, and small things, like kickball, contribute to why people want to live here."
USC will create an infrastructure, complete with a website, to help in the planning of sports in the downtown area. 
"When I decide I don't want to run kickball anymore, someone won't have to build it from scratch again," Kessler says. "I can give someone the contacts, the set-up and all the other information they need to keep it going."
USC will also help keep the funds in one place. Soapbox contributor Casey Coston started ping pong at the Drinkery last year, but it has since stopped because of a lack of functioning tables. Hodges hopes that with USC, gathering the money needed will be easier, and better than having one person invest in the equipment alone.
The third season kicks of in late June and runs through August with a cost of $15 per person. The low cost has always been a goal, and is aimed at making the league more relaxed and all-inclusive, rather than ultra-competitive. It was a goal of Kessler's to bring the community together. Neighborhood children have always been encouraged to join teams when substitutes are needed, and those children have since become welcomed members of some teams.  
"I think the organization will give these games legitimacy, so people won't mind paying the $15," Hodges says. "But it's also cheap enough to keep the feeling that this is for fun and to make the community a more vibrant place." 

Sign your team up here.
By Evan Wallis

VisuaLingual's Seed Bomb biz blooms

Tucked into the third floor of a warehouse on W. 15th Street, right above Harvest Gallery, Maya Drozdz and Michael Stout, the duo that comprises VisuaLingual, have been busy stuffing muslin bags full of Seed Bombs for everything from baptisms to orders for Williams-Sonoma.
The Seed Bombs are gumball-sized brown balls made out of a cookie dough-like substance that encases different seeds. The bombs break on impact with the ground and eventually start to grow in almost any environment. Seed Bombs are completely hand-made and the bags are screen-printed by the couple in Over-the-Rhine.
One of their recent, larger developments is a contract with Williams-Sonoma. At the beginning of April, Drozdz put together two exclusive products for the new "Agrarian" line of products. The two products are cocktail garnishes that include cinnamon basil, lemon mint and lime basil, and culinary herbs, which include parsley, basil and cilantro. 
"It's been in the works for a long time," Drozdz says. "Once our products get featured in one national store, people start to see it and then contact us about getting it in their store." 
In the midst of stuffing bags, tying knots and packing up boxes for national retailers like Anthropologie and Williams-Sonoma, Drozdz and her two after-school employees and three part-time helpers work on custom orders for people and businesses around the country. Right now, the team is stuffing 10,000 bags of parsley seed bombs, which is a digestive-aid for dogs, for the all-natural dog food company, The Honest Kitchen. The Seed Bombs will be sent out as gifts to the dog food company's customers. 
Seed Bombs were also featured at an Etsy event in New York that showcased one-of-a-kind Etsy products for wedding favors. In the past year, VisuaLingual has experienced much growth, which will allow Drozdz's partner, Stout, to join the team full-time in May. 
"We've had to learn a lot of things as we go," Drozdz says. "But I feel like I always have a challenge and am learning and doings things I never thought I would." 
Next up, Drozdz is already thinking about the holiday season and making their Blooming Briquettes, a creative stocking-stuffer that looks like a piece of coal but is actually a Seed Bomb
By Evan Wallis

Global 2 Local blends translation, technology

A Cincinnati-based interpreting company has been providing translations and interpreting service to companies worldwide, and recently won a contract from the City of Cincinnati to provide interpreter services for all of the Health Department locations in the city. 
Global 2 Local Language Solutions was founded by Grace Bosworth in 2009, but she didn't really start working on her company full-time until November 2010. G2L specializes in technical document translation, which is possible through its database of more than 300 to 400 interpreters and translators. 
After helping another woman start a language service business out of a house, and eventually broke off of the company to travel for a year, and upon returning to Cincinnati, she founded G2L. With previous experience starting a similar type of business, Bosworth was able to hit the ground running. 
G2L provides service including everything from website localizations, meaning the website is designed and programmed in several different languages to technical document translations to in-person interpreting. 
"Translators and interpreters are special people," Bostworth says. "They have to have a complete grasp of both languages they area working with as well as a background in the specific matter they are translating." 
Besides the translation and interpreting services, G2L also provides web design, graphics and database administration. This blend of technology and translation is a departure from what many language service businesses offer. One major hurdle G2L faces is finding new clients. Bosworth started 2012 with the goal of gaining 25 new contracts, a large number for a company with only four full time employees. 
"Finding new clients is one of our biggest challenges," Bosworth says. "Gaining contracts like this one with Cincinnati is a great way for us to bridge the gap to bigger contracts. You can't get experience until someone let's you have it." 
With the momentum of winning the contract from the City of Cincinnati, G2L is now in the running to win a larger contract to provide interpreter services for all of the hospitals in Dayton. 
Business will continue to grow for G2L as they obtain more clients and Bosworth believes more people will see the need for providing their services to a non-English speaking customer base. The Ohio Department of Development has a grant right now that gives companies money towards developing their website and marketing materials into other languages in an effort to increase exports from Ohio.
"Sometimes people don't think about it, but if you want to get your product out to other languages you need to make marketing materials in other languages as well as get your website available in other languages," Bosworth says. "We are able to do all of that for companies." 
By Evan Wallis

Plan, Build, Live encourages community feedback

City and neighborhood leaders, led by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, have been building support for a new approach to development regulations for more than four years. Much of that has been developed through the program Plan, Build, Live.
Plan, Build, Live is a program driven by community feedback and discussion, all gathered  via the project's website. The website encourages people to share their ideas about how a city should be designed. This weekend, instead of just online, Cincinnati residents and business leaders will come together to shape our future through a citywide Urban Design Workshop. The Workshop takes place from April 28 to May 2 to help create a "form-based code" that can be used by neighborhoods all over Cincinnati -- and help shape how development happens in Cincinnati in decades to come.  
"Traditional zoning focuses on the use of the building and how far the building is off the street or how large the building is," says Della Rucker, public engagement office for Plan, Build, Live. "Form-based code flips that around and focuses on how a property contributes to the experience people have in the area. How it creates a vibrant, walkable community."
Plan Build Live is funded by a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Local funding is provided by the City of Cincinnati, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Health Department, and the Mill Creek Restoration Project.
One of the Plan Build Live tools, a form-based code, encourages strong neighborhoods, business districts, and downtowns by focusing on the shapes of buildings, streets and sidewalks. Form-based codes can helps maintain or enhance a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly environment that offers a mix of residential options, transportation methods, workplaces, shopping and more. Traditional zoning codes encourage patches of similar use, forcing long distances between work, home and play. Form-based codes allow different uses to cluster – restaurants, apartments, drug stores and grocery stores, for instance – as long as they stick to rules that address the ways they relate to the neighborhood.  
Form-based codes are not planned to replace other types of zoning in Cincinnati, but they are intended to give neighborhoods a more flexibility.
A key difference of form-based codes is that even people who are not trained planners help put them together. Participants only need to be willing to share their ideas. During the Workshops, citizens will meet with planners, architects and engineers to talk about what they like and want to see -- both in Cincinnati's neighborhoods and on several "special opportunity" sites. 

The preliminary Workshop focuses on creating a city-wide form-based code that will serve as a framework for the fall workshop, which will focus on four neighborhoods: Westwood, College Hill, Madisonville and Walnut Hills. 

The estimated completion date is 2013, but feedback and participation from residents and business owners is critical to helping the city implement the program.

By Evan Wallis

UC students take stroke detection device global

A team of UC students that has won several awards for their stroke-detection device, Ischiban, are in the hunt for bigger awards and more recognition. 
The team includes biomedical and computer engineers and an industrial designer: Pooja Kadambi, Joe Lovelace, Scott Robinson and Alex Androski. They developed the device, comprised of an elastic headband connected to an electronic diagnostic device, which can quickly determine the type of stroke a patient is suffering from. This allows for quick diagnosis and faster treatment for better recovery rates, according to the developers.
Currently, such stoke differentiation is done by a CT scan, which is costly and time-consuming. Ischiban can be used by EMTs at a patient's home or during an ambulance ride. Early detection is important because patients whose stoke is caused by a blood clot who are treated within three hours of symptoms are significantly more likely to survive and recover.
Most recently, the team took first place at the Oregon New Venture Championship, which included a $3,000 prize. Teams are judged on their ideas, business plans and pitches, as well as how quickly they can adjust to feedback from various judges, says Charles H. Matthews, executive director of UC’s Center for Entrepreneurship Education and Research, professor of management and a team adviser.
“The NVC is one of the best, but also one of the toughest competitions,” Matthews says. “Everyone was talking about their innovative approach to early stroke detection.”
The other prizes the team have won for their device include first place at the Innov8 Health Idea Expo at GE Aviation Learning Centre and runner-up in the Spirit of Enterprise Competition. After winning the Oregon competition, the group is on its way to the Venture Labs Investment Competition in Texas, May 3-6, which only allows 40 teams from around the world to compete. 
Prizes include $135,000 in seed funding, feedback from investors and faculty and an opportunity to gain interest about their product or business. The competition is designed to mimic the real world process of garnering venture capital. 
By Evan Wallis & Feoshia Henderson

Smale Park grand opening highlights Black Brigade Monument

After over a decade of waiting, on May 18, Smale Riverfront Park will open with a bang, literally. 
A firework display and local bands will commemorate the first phase of construction opening to the public. Phase 1 includes the Schmidlapp event lawn and stage, the Black Brigade Monument, the Bike, Mobility and Visitor's Center, The Smale Tree Grove and the first section of the bike trail. Other Phase 1 features, including the labyrinth, are expected to be open by the fall. 
The 45-acre, $120 million park, which, once finished, will house a boat dock, will be in construction for the next couple years, but the grand opening is a important timestamp for the park because the plans have been approved since 1999.  
The first piece of commissioned art in Smale park, the Black Brigade monument, pays tribute to the often overlooked group of 700 African-American men who volunteered to build a barricade to defend Cincinnati from a confederate attack during the Civil War in 1862. This marked some of the first black males to be employed by the North. Originally, the men were forced into constructing the barricades, which led to protests of the inhumane treatment of the men and an outcry by local media. The protests led to an intervention by Union officers, who freed the men from the forced labor and returned them to their homes. After returned home, the men were invited to volunteer their services and become a part of the team of 8,000 Cincinnatians that constructed the barricade to protect Cincinnati from attacks. Mayor Malloy's father, William Mallory Sr. was a leader in the development of the monument, saying that it is a important story that pertains to the history of Cincinnati. 
"It is a very significant moment in Cincinnati's and the country's social history," says Joyce Kamen, public information officer for Smale Riverfront Park. "Cincinnati was on the river that separated slavery from freedom and many of the men who volunteered ended up serving in the North's military."
The sculpture will have three life-size bronze sculptures, interpretive panels of the monument and several relief panels. The monument will also show all 700 names of the men of the Black Brigade. Writer Tyrone Williams, graphic designer Erik Brown and sculptors John Hebenstreit and Carolyn Manto are all working on the development of the monument. The four artists were chosen out of a total of 40 artists who submitted applications to design the monument. 

Future phases of Smale Park's development include an extension of the Ohio River Trail and the Women's Committee Garden, which are targeted to be completed by fall of 2013, and the Adventure Playground and Boat Dock,  on schedule to be completed by summer of 2014.
By Evan Wallis

Brandery accepting applications for next round

Cincinnati’s nationally recognized startup accelerator, The Brandery, is accepting applications for its 2012 class via its Web site. Applications are due May 15, and early-admission decisions will be made May 1. The 2012 class of 10 companies will be announced on June 1. 
As a member of the Global Accelerator Network and named a top 10 accelerator by the Kellogg School of Management/Kauffman Fellows/Tech Cocktail rankings, the Brandery has graduated 14 companies in its first two classes. These companies have generated funding across the country from CincyTech, Crosslink Capital, Draper Associates and Transmedia Capital.

The Brandery runs a four-month program in Cincinnati for startups that are consumer-focused and brand-driven. It will add several aspects to its program this year:
Brandsmiths. The Brandery will hire developers or designers who don’t have a specific startup idea but want to work for one. They will work full-time for a stipend with Brandery participants and may have the opportunity to join one of the startups. The application and additional information can be found here.
edSpark. The Brandery is soliciting applications for an education-focused startup. The Greater Cincinnati Foundation has funded a new initiative called edSpark to encourage educational innovation. Startups focused on education initiatives should apply through the standard channel. 
Office hours. For those looking for more information or advice before submitting an application, the Brandery is holding office hours from 5-7 p.m., Tuesday, April 3, at The Brandery office, 1411 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine. Register for office hours.
“The Brandery aims to give startups an unfair opportunity to succeed by leveraging Cincinnati’s regional strengths in marketing, branding and design and world-class companies such as P&G, Kroger, LPK, Nielsen and dunnhumby,” says Mike Bott, general manager of the Brandery, a position that was added this year. “Startups are attracted by the mentors and resources associated with The Brandery. We’ve already attracted applicants from six continents.” 

The Brandery provides each company with $20,000 in seed money, training sessions with other entrepreneurs and industry experts, and networking with more than 50 mentors who work with startups to provide insights and help grow each idea into an investable, scalable product. Additionally, Cincinnati’s design agencies have donated their services to help each of the startups develop their branding and visual identity. The seed money that each company receives from The Brandery is now being provided by an award from the Ohio Third Frontier’s One Fund program for accelerators. For the first two years of the Brandery programs, CincyTech provided the $20,000 grants.

Building upon a mentor list of industry leaders, The Brandery has recently welcomed Tim O’Shaughnessy of LivingSocial, Jonathon Triest of Ludlow Ventures, Bill Hildebolt of ExpoTV and Mike Brown Jr. of AOL Ventures.
The 2012 session will begin July 2 and culminate Oct. 4 at Demo Day, where each Brandery company pitches its startup to a room of angel investors, venture capitalists, marketers and media. Last year’s Demo Day attracted more than 350 people to Great American Ball Park.  
By Sarah Blazak

Five Design Challenge welcomes ideas for empty spaces

What do an empty lot and the wasteland underneath an overpass have in common? They're both unused space. 
The wide range of unused space in the city got the people at MSA Architects thinking about the Five Design Challenge. Their offices on Fourth Street overlook a lot that has been empty for too long. Instead of putting the space to good use, the owner put up a fence. That fence sparked ideas. Why not find other unused spaces around the city and see what people, designers, architects, artists, would do with the it?
"Michael Schuster [Founder of MSA] wanted to start a dialogue about general design issues and opportunities in Cincinnati," says Chris Rohs, project designer at MSA. "He's a very community-minded person." 
The competition evolved from an earlier idea last year. Last year, competitors were charged to convert drivers to riders -- to come up with a solution to get drivers off the road and using public transportation. Almost 40 entrants offered ideas, but that doesn't begin to compare to this year's level of interest.
The competition is to take one of the five downtown spaces, come up with an idea for it and submit it. The options are as varied as entrants' imaginations: create a destination, a park, a zoo, an art gallery, something temporary, something permanent, something temporarily permanent.

Submissions will be accepted until April 26; winners will be chosen by May 15; $5,500 in prizes will be handed out. Jurists include Tamara Harkavy of ArtWorks, Chad Munitz of 3CDC, Leah Spurrier of High Street, William Williams of DAAP and City Council member Wendell Young.
Five Design Challenge is meant to be all-encompassing and include as many entrants, from as many professions as possible. So far, Nick Dewald, who handles the entries as they come in, has seen entrants from Italy, China, Australia, India, Germany  and around the US. Currently, there are more entrants from outside Cincinnati than from within. 
"The whole idea is to get people to be more active in their community," Rohs says. "To work to make it a better place."
By Evan Wallis

Model Group work expands to north OTR

After selling all of their units available south of Liberty Street in OTR, The Model Group has set its sights on renovating 14 buildings north of Liberty to provide affordable housing. 
The North Rhine Heights Project is scheduled to be completed by late summer and includes buildings on various streets. The renovated buildings will offer high-quality housing for low-income residents. Low-income housing is determined by calculating 60 percent of the neighborhood's household median income. 
"The existing affordable housing was in really bad shape," says Bobby Maly, COO and principal at The Model Group. "In a neighborhood like Over the Rhine, you want a good mix of market rate and affordable housing, but it all needs to be high-quality."
With continued renovations in the Gateway District, The Model Group looked for a new focus area. With much of the area north of Liberty Street still blighted, The Model Group went to work the build affordable housing that is indistinguishable from its market-rate neighbors. With the help of Federal Historic Tax Credits, The Model Group will open 65 newly renovated units this year. The Model Group sees the new rehabs as replicating the work they did south of Liberty. With all their completed condos sold out, the area north of Liberty was chosen because of its potential. 
"We went in with the same idea we had when working on our developments in other areas, and that is blight is blight, no matter where it is," Maly says. "Blight deters investment, and we want to turn that around."
The Model Group has spent more than $100,000 on police details in the neighborhood while completing the rehabs, which Maly hopes will also contribute to further revitalization. 
"We want to make the neighborhood safer for investment," Maly says. "We worked on making high-quality affordable housing a priority in other areas, so we're doing the same with this project." 
By Evan Wallis

Student Designed brings real work to design students

Completing assignments in college can seem pointless when there is no more return than a grade. So, instead of designing a fictitious building, why not pair students with the developer to design viable ideas for a real structure in their own city?

The pilot project for the startup Student Designed (SD), founded by Adam Treister, did just that. Treister, a DAAP architecture alumni and architect at City Center Properties (CCP), paired CCP with 34 interior design students to spend an entire quarter working on developing ideas for the Guildhaus building in Over-the-Rhine. Last Friday, all 34 students presented their ideas for the ground floor, basement and sub-basement of the building on Vine Street. CCP doesn't yet know if they will use one of the designs, but the project gave students real-life experience and a development company 34 ideas for the development of their building.

"The building has a lot of potential," Treister says. "We are seeing some very innovative uses for the Guildhaus."

Treister has been working on the idea for more than a year, and now, with a site designed by Mindbox Studios, SD is launched. SD is a database-driven site that brings students, professors and companies together. The idea was born out of seeing countless hours spent on projects that never came to fruition. The site allows businesses to submit projects, teachers to review them, and students to search and send on to their professors. Businesses will specify a charitable donation when they post a project that they want to outsource to a university. Universities can then search through the projects, and assign them to students. SD will provide a cheaper outsourcing of work for businesses and provide income to universities, all while giving students real-world experience.

"Student Designed provides a better experience for everyone involved," Treister says.

After winning Xavier's Launch-A-Business competition in 2011, Treister received six months of mentorship and assistance in developing his idea, and now, after launching the site, he is applying for a spot in the first round of UpTech in Northern Kentucky. At first, Treister plans on working on getting projects for UC and Xavier, but thinks the business will grow organically. 

By Evan Wallis

OTR townhouses sold out before completion

Twelve new townhouses being built in the 1400 block of Pleasant Street in Over-The-Rhine, as the final phase of City Home Cincinnati are already sold out, and the company behind the transformation has left its surburban roots to build new ones in the city's urban core.

The new townhouses are the final phase of the development by Schickel Design Company. The block's renovation began in 2006, and when finished it will blend historic OTR architecture with modern living, complete with private yards. The new homes also include parking. Seven houses are registered to be LEED-certified and the other five, built during the project's initial phase, have received Energy Star’s highest rating.

“This is a testament to the value design provides," says Schickel Design principal Martha Schickel Dorff. "The new construction meets the requirements of an upscale modern buyer, yet capitalizes on the beautiful fabric of small lots, alleys and pocket green spaces of this historic walkable neighborhood.”

Dorff designed City Home Cincinnati to appeal to young families and older buyers. Once finished, the project will have added 25 new homes to an area better known for blight than beauty. The project accomplishes its goals while using 100 percent of the existing historic shells of buildings.

The new homes, which extend continued development in OTR westward toward Findlay Market and Music Hall, have already received plenty of praise. In 2009, they were named Greater Cincinnati’s Most Outstanding Collaborative Effort, and in the same year Cincinnati Magazine dubbed the area the city's "Best Street Makeover." Further kudos have come from Urban Land Magazine and Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce.

To top it all off, Schickel Design itself is making an investment in the neighborhood. They recently moved from their Loveland location, which has been the companies’ home since being founded in 1948, to OTR.

By Evan Wallis
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