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'Play Me I'm Yours' pianos find second homes

If they didn't spend too much time in the rain over the last six weeks, the pianos from the Play Me I'm Yours public art project will be put to good use.

Of the 35 pianos used for the project, about 15 have already found a second home at schools, arts centers and other organizations around Cincinnati. They will be used for educational and community arts-oriented programs, Cincinnati Public Radio's vice president for Marketing Chris Phelps said.

The remainder of the pianos were collected this weekend and their condition will be assessed to see if they are still in usable shape.

"Some of them had better cover than others," Phelps said. "The two that were on Fountain Square were there for six weeks and they're in bad shape right now, but other pianos were on a porch or sheltered a little bit more and those are the ones that still can be used."

All eight of the arts centers that received pianos will keep them to be used in educational programs, or to remain a permanent public art fixture.

Chatfield College's Findlay Market campus, which recently doubled its enrollment, added a vocal music class after the expansion. They couldn't afford a piano, and students were singing along to a small CD player.  Now their students, ranging in age from 20 to 50, will have musical accompaniment to their singing.

"The students are very excited because they've never been exposed to anything like that," social outreach and special events coordinator Britney Grimmelsman said.

Chatfield College offers two year associates degrees at one campus in Findlay market and another in Brown County. Many of their students are single moms or low-income residents of Over-the-Rhine.

The Drake Rehabilitation Center has received another piano, as well as the Oyler School in Lower Price Hill, one of many elementary schools who have struggled to provide arts and music education in the midst of funding cuts.

The Madisonville Arts Center, the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, the Fitton Center for the Arts, the Oxford Community Arts Center, the Sharonville Arts Center and The Wyoming Arts Center all hosted pianos during the project, and will keep them as well.

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Developers get started on $50M Incline Square project in East Price Hill

Developers have been working since 2005 to make the proposed $50 million Incline Square development a reality.  Over those five years developers have scaled back plans, modifying the phasing of the proposed development, and even adjusting specific elements of the project.  But as the economy slowly recovers, the development team believes that now is the time to move forward.

To commemorate that news, the development team celebrated an official ground breaking for the project on Monday, September 13 at the nearly eight-acre project site in East Price Hill.  One of the primary members of the team is former Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley who believes that this success will breed success for future phases of the development.

"The $50 million project will be a long-term endeavor over the next decade, but we hope that momentum of the new restaurant and office building will help drive demand," Cranley explained.

Cranley described the initial $3 million work, that will include a restaurant with biergarten and 15 apartments ranging from $900-1,000 per month, as phase 1a.  The hope is to begin work on phase 1b - a development that includes at least 20,000 square feet of medical office space - by late 2011.  Once the two-part phase 1 effort concludes, Cranley expects there to be another medical office building and additional restaurant and retail space in later phases.

According to Cranley, the extended nature of the project can be explained by a variety of economic realities the project has faced including an ongoing lawsuit between the Greater Cincinnati Associated Physicians (GCAP) and the Health Alliance.

Even with the challenges, developers believe that the progress being made now is not only encouraging for Cincinnati, but specifically for the Price Hill community which doesn't ordinarily see this kind of investment.

"It's been a very, very challenging environment to say the least," said Cranley.  "But for us to be able to get a project done in Price Hill is very encouraging given that most people thought we would never get it done."

Cranley went on to speak to the project's viability by saying that this area of East Price Hill is facing the same challenges that Mt. Adams, Covington, and Newport have faced over the past 20 to 30 years, and that the views and close proximity to downtown are "very underutilized" at this point.

"Price Hill has astounding parks like Dunham and Mt. Echo, great proximity to downtown, unbelievable architecture, and a really great size and affordability of homes.  We need to keep anchors like Price Hill Chili, Elder and Seton high schools, and Kroger in the neighborhood while establishing new anchors like Incline Square.  East Price Hill today has more potential and signs of improvement than it has in 30 years thanks to the trend towards urban living."

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

Cycle tracks included in list of potential bicycle fixes for Riverside Drive

Cincinnati officials are looking to make bicycle improvements to Riverside Drive through Cincinnati's East End neighborhood. The corridor has a large number of commuting and recreational bicyclists, but is also a federally designated truck route with a significant amount of vehicular traffic along U.S. 52.

The corridor presently has four lanes of traffic that has on-street parking in two of the lanes throughout much of the day. Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE) officials say that traffic travels at an average speed of 46mph even though the posted speed limit is 35mph. Officials also state that roughly 10 percent of all traffic in the corridor is truck traffic.

The hope is to eventually improve bicycle conditions enough to encourage more bicycle commuters along the eastern corridor while also encouraging more recreational users to take advantage of it and the adjacent string of riverfront parks. One such plan is the Ohio River Trail which would connect downtown Cincinnati to the Little Miami Scenic River Trail on the east side. While development has been ongoing for years, project officials are not sure when money will be available to make improvements along this stretch.

"We're continuously looking for ways to improve the quality of life for residents, and enhance neighborhoods in ways that are more in line with our community's interests in walkable, bike-friendly and sustainable neighborhoods," said Matthew Andrews, Acting Principal Architect with Cincinnati's DOTE. "But due to the complexities of this corridor, we are really interested to see what kind of feedback we can get from the public."

Feedback on five potential modifications to the lane configuration on Riverside Drive from Bains to Congress is what is needed. The potential modifications include designated bike lanes on Riverside Drive, buffered bike lanes, shared pathways for bicyclists and pedestrians, and a cycle track concept that would separate bicycle traffic from speeding motorists and large freight truck traffic.

All five concepts have removed the rush hour parking restrictions that currently exist, created additional on-street automobile parking, space for trees on both sides of the street, and dedicated new space for bicyclists.

Those interested can provide feedback online now until Thursday, September 30, 2010. The DOTE will also be hosting an open house on Wednesday, September 15 at the LeBlond Center (map) from 4pm to 7pm on the potential modifications. Officials hope to then narrow down the five concepts based on further analysis and public feedback in early October.

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

Corner BLOC brewing coffee, community and change in Price Hill

Approaching Corner BLOC Coffee in East Price Hill's Incline District, the building looks more like its former laundromat space than the artisan coffee house pouring some of the best Sumatra in the city that's also brewing community development.

Opened in November 2007 by Dwight Young, founder of BLOC Ministries, the coffee shop began as a catalyst for change in a community that struggles to provide a safe and positive place for its neighbors. Corner BLOC is a nonprofit to creating a space for people in the neighborhood so that kids have a secure place to go and experience something different - not a convenience store or fast food restaurant.

"There weren't any good places to hang out or that cared about the neighborhood beyond making money. They created a business to revitalize the area," says Daniel Smyth, a volunteer and advocate for Corner BLOC.

Three days a week, an after school program is offered in the two lounge-type rooms parallel to the coffee shop that offer Cincinnati Public Schools students in the area homework help, mentoring, and a positive presence in their lives. Wednesday evenings a dinner is provided to students who attend the after school program; two computers with Internet access give students the opportunity to do homework and for people in the neighborhood to apply for jobs and work on their resumes.

Based on the philosophy of third places, with the first being the home, second being work or school and third becoming the place where one can feel like a "regular" and a part of their community, Corner BLOC provides that place. It's all just word of mouth, kids telling their friends because they love it and want to share it with somebody else," says Smyth.

"Enough people believe in our vision and how we're going about it to make it happen," says Rhett Harkins, a barista who's making sacrifices in his own life to be able to contribute to the coffee shop's cause. "It's really a beautiful thing. This is a neighborhood where people would say you couldn't build a coffee shop. We lose money every day we're open but greater things than that are produced. We see kids and families encouraged to be here that lived here for last 30 years before things went awry. To them, Corner BLOC is a beacon of hope."

Corner BLOC is located at 3101 Price Avenue in East Price Hill. Hours are Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Closed Sunday. Find out more information here or follow on Twitter @CornerBLOC.

Writer: Rene Brunelle
Photography by Scott Beseler

A Tavola will bring pizza and hand-made style to OTR

The owners of a trattoria and bar opening on Vine St. plan to bring fresh, wood-fired pizza to Over-the-Rhine later this year.

The restaurant, A Tavola Pizza, grew out of a weekly pizza night that Jared Wayne began hosting at Northside's Take the Cake restaurant a little over a year ago. The events quickly drew 150 diners every time and it wasn't long before Wayne and a couple of friends decided to open their own place.

The new restaurant at 1220 Vine St. will feature an open kitchen with a wood fired oven at its center and bar-style seating around it. Toppings will come from nearby farms, and the dough, cheese and meat will be prepared in house by hand. One owner, Sam Ginocchio, will design cocktails with locally-sourced herbs and fruits for the bar, which will also have a selection of Cincinnati beers. Another owner, Bill Draznik, will cure meats like bacon and soppresso and hand-make sausage. A Tavola's menu will change with the seasons but will always have some type of Margherita pizza, Wayne said.

In the past year Wayne has traveled to lumberyards in the Berkshire Mountains to select wood for chairs and slab tables that he's designed and built, mostly with hand tools, in his Mt. Adams studio. He doesn't like using words like "boutique," "artisan," or even "local," but said food and furniture crafted by hand and sourced locally will translate into a better dining experience.

"People's response when you're building furniture by hand - it's like it's something they've never seen before," he said. "I think people connect with it more because they can see human touch in it, and that's exactly what we're going to do with the food too. Nothing crazy, just pizza made with local ingredients, and it happens to be a lot better when you make it with that stuff."

Wayne said he and Ginocchio grew up as neighbors eating from their family's gardens in North Avondale, and emphasized that the "localness" of A Tavola will not give it a high price. Like the pizza, the business plan is simple.

"The price point of our menu is going to be very affordable," he said. "I can buy ingredients that were grown around here, we can create a profitable business and we can feed people really wholesome food."

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler

Cincinnati leaders see great potential in newly created National First Look Program

An unprecedented agreement with top mortgage lenders may help streamline the way local governments and nonprofits acquire vacant and foreclosed homes. The National First Look Program was unveiled by HUD secretary Shaun Donovan early this month and although it received very little media attention, it has the potential to accelerate reform efforts in Cincinnati neighborhoods struggling with the after effects of the foreclosure crisis.

The new program is, among other things, a public-private partnership between HUD and the National Community Stabilization Trust (NCST). NCST originally pioneered the 'First Look' model in 2008 in order to give local government housing providers a chance to purchase foreclosed and abandoned properties before private investors. The model has since been viewed as a success and has gained recognition as an important tool in post-housing crisis neighborhood revitalization efforts.

The goal of the National First Look Program is to expand on the trust's successes by increasing the number of financial institutions involved in the program's efforts, as well as the number of groups who are able to participate. Under the new program, any group participating in HUD's Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) will now have access to national servicers such as Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, as well as financial institutions such as Bank of America, Chase, Citi, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

Currently, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) offers a complementary pilot program in which NSP grantees receive an exclusive option to purchase so-called 'HUD Homes' at a discount prior to those homes being made available to private investors. The FHA pilot, alongside the new program announced this month, expands the opportunity for NSP grantees to gain access to real estate owned (REO) properties.  It also gives community organizations an important 'first look' at real-estate owned properties.

"REOs sit forever in our neighborhoods and they are easy targets for all kinds of crime, so getting them sold and fixed up helps," said Matt Strass director of Marketing and Neighborhood Promotion at Price Hill Will.  "It's even better when they go to organizations that have the community's interest at heart, and not private investors that have no social investment in the community."

Hamilton County has been participating in the NCST since round one of the NSP, and according to Community Development director Susan Walsh it has worked very well.

"Through our participating communities we have been able to acquire 20 vacant and foreclosed homes through NCST, and are in the process of rehabbing them now.  We have already sold one in North College Hill, and have sales contracts for two more."

The Cincinnati Homesteading and Urban Redevelopment Corporation (HURC), the regional contact for NCST, has also experienced success, acquiring 36 properties (20 of which were for the county) in Greater Cincinnati since working with the trust. With funds from round one of the NSP already allocated and round two funds dedicated to larger projects, benefits of the new program will not be seen until round three funds are distributed. Making Friday's announcement that the Cincinnati region will receive $6 million in round three funding all the more important.

Ed Rust, Director of HURC, wishes that HUD would have implemented this program much earlier, but still foresees numerous benefits once round three funds are allocated.

"Although HUD is coming in a little late on this…having access to HUD, FHA and VA mortgages will be extremely beneficial. Also, the program will be beneficial to lenders who will now be able to provide properties at a price that allows them not to have to market the property, pay real estate taxes, maintain the property, etc."

Rust also points out that through this process NSP funds will be reprocessed as properties are sold, creating a cycle of funding for the NSP grantees that will accelerate neighborhood recovery and begin reversing the domino effect of foreclosures and abandonment.

"Anything that reduces the number of vacant properties has a tremendous benefit on the community because property values are pulled down by vacancies. Crime, drugs and blight also increase along with vacancies. Overall, programs like this have a positive effect on the entire community, plus it’s positive for the city tax rolls…it’s an everybody wins situation."

Writer: Kevin Wright
Images Provided
Stay connected by following Kevin on Twitter @JKevinWright

2010 Gateway Quarter Tour of Living to show off region's hottest housing market

The 2010 Gateway Quarter Tour of Living will take place on Sunday, September 12 in the heart of Over-the-Rhine.  The free urban living tour is scheduled to include eight models that show off what close to 100 available loft condos in the area offer.

The event comes as the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) continues work on more than $70 million worth of development projects in the immediate area including 200 housing units, 63,000 square feet of commercial space, and 300 parking spaces - all of which should be complete by February 2011, with Parvis Lofts becoming available later this fall.

Previous 3CDC-related development projects in Over-the-Rhine date back to 2004 and include 205 housing units and 43,733 square feet of commercial space.  To date, more than 70 percent of these housing units have been occupied, and roughly 60 percent of all commercial space has been filled resulting in more than 39 businesses becoming members in the Gateway Quarter Merchant's Association.

"People have been attracted to the downtown area because they can actually walk to work, entertainment and dining and not have to worry about driving.  People can actually save money by living downtown," said Holly Redmond, Gateway Quarter Realtor with Link Realty.  "New buyers are also excited about the hype of everything new coming like the streetcar and the casino."

The area is becoming more desirable as more young professionals, first-time home buyers, and businesses move into the resurgent Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.  Between 2004 and 2009, there has been a 48 percent reduction in reported crime within the area, and 849 fewer crimes.  Additionally, several new businesses are planned to open in the coming months as leases are finalized and build-outs completed.

"The lack of crime is huge, you can actually walk down the streets and the streets look good with the new streetscaping and stores and cleaned up buildings, it just looks fabulous," Redmond said.  "But for those who may not have visited in a while, the biggest difference they'll notice is that the crime is no longer there. It's just stunning."

The 2010 Gateway Tour of Living is anticipated to show off all of this progress and more this weekend - the event coincides with the monthly Second Sundays in OTR street fair.  Gateway Quarter realtors say that condos in the area are available from the low $100s to mid $300s.  Tour-goers will be able to tour ten buildings including Lackman Lofts, Duvenick, Trideca Lofts, Good Fellows Hall, Belmain, Falling Wall, City Home, Gateway Condos, and the brand new Parvis Lofts and Trinity Flats.

The 2010 Gateway Tour of Living is free and open to the public, and will run from 12pm to 4pm on Sunday, September 12.  Event organizers say that automobile parking will be available at lots at the corner of 12th & Vine, Mercer & Vine, and inside the Gateway Garage that is accessible from 12th Street and Central Parkway.  Free bicycle parking is available throughout the area, and Metro bus service is also available (plan your trip).

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

Fresh Table to open sustainably focused takeout at Findlay Market late September

A new vendor offering sustainably focused take-out food will open at Findlay Market in late September.  Fresh Table will be located inside the historic market house near the far eastern entrance by Race Street in stand 102.  According to Fresh Table co-owner Meredith Trombly, the location is perfect given the focus of the business.

"Historically Findlay has been raw food stuff, and we're hoping to advance the options down here and really open up the possibilities," stated Trombly.  "We didn't really consider any other neighborhood to open Fresh Table.  We concentrated on Findlay because we knew that's where we wanted to be, that where our customer base is, and the market offers instant name recognition with built-in marketing power."

According to Trombly, the menu at Fresh Table will change regularly based on the seasons and the chefs' whims, but she says that vegan and vegetarian options will always be available.  Customers will also be able to choose from a mixture of soups, salads, starters, entrees, and sweets.  All of which will be available for curb-side pickup or delivery to Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, and Uptown neighborhoods.

"We're going to use sustainable, local, organic, or natural foods for everything we do.  If I can make a French pate out of locally sourced meat, I'm gonna do it."

Inside the market house, customers will be treated to a bit of a theatre production as two flat-screen televisions will display the action taking place in the exhibition kitchen.  Trombly says that when action is not taking place back in the kitchen, unique menu items and the businesses many green partnerships with local vendors will be highlighted.

"Our passion for the environment fits with Findlay Market’s mission to reduce carbon footprints," explained Trombly.  "We are participating with Findlay’s recycling program, which includes composting all kitchen scraps.  Our chefs will also be wearing organic cotton chef's coats, pants, hats and even aprons."

Fresh Table is the fourth new vendor to join Findlay Market since May, but Trombly says that a $20,000 grant from the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce and a $35,000 microloan from the Greater Cincinnati Microenterprise Initiative (GCMI) helped to make it all possible.

Fresh Table will be open during regular Findlay Market (map) hours on Tuesday through Friday from 9am to 6pm, Saturday from 8am to 6pm, and Sunday from 10am to 4pm year-round.  Curb side pickup and delivery orders will be able to be placed online or by calling (513) 381-3774.  Trombly says that a series of opening parties are planned in mid to late September, so stay tuned by becoming a fan on Facebook.

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

Developers break ground on $12M condominium project in Mariemont

Greiwe Development Group and North American Properties broke ground on the $12 million Emery Park condominium project in Mariemont last week.  The development is the second phase of a larger project that will eventually create 121 new condominiums built according to the village's historic master plan and well-known Tudor Revival design.

"Mary Emery hired a great town planner named John Nolan to design Mariemont," explained Rick Greiwe.  "Nolan's plans show a very dense village center with retail surrounded by walkable residential areas.  Our projects are following that original plan that was finished in 1921."

Greiwe says that due to a number of factors, much of the plan was not fully realized.  As a result, his development team has been working to acquire land, tear down aging properties, and replace them with dense residential developments that adhere to the principles set out for Mariemont roughly 90 years go.

The 29-unit Jordan Park development was the first-phase of this effort, with Emery Park being the second.  Greiwe says that the development team decided to move forward with this second phase even before a single condo had been pre-sold.

"We are very confident in this location and the price point of these units," Greiwe said.  "You're only 15 minutes from downtown, you have a great retail district, good schools, and a park nearby.  As a result, we have already sold three units as of our groundbreaking last week."

This second phase of development is expected to be complete by fall 2011; at that time they hope to start work on the next phase of development, Nolan Park, named after Mariemont's original town planner John Nolan.  Greiwe says that in order for work to move forward on that phase, they must pre-sell at-least half of the total 35 units.

The development team hopes to then come up with a more definitive plan for the fourth and final phase of the total development, but they do have a vision for exactly the kind of end result they want.

"We have noticed that people appreciate walkable communities, and Mariemont is one of the most walkable communities in the nation.  We like to do infill projects close to healthy retail centers in walkable communities, and that is exactly why we're so bullish on Mariemont."

Tours of Jordan Park and Emery Park condominiums can be scheduled with Sibcy Cline at the Mariemont Lifestyle Sales Center (map) from 1pm to 4pm on Sundays.

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

UC students start streetcar discussions with Transforum

Three groups of UC students hit Cincinnati's streets to find out what everyday residents think about public transit and the Cincinnati Streetcar as part of a three-quarter-long project called Transforum.

They heard responses that ranged from "can someone please tell me what light rail is?" to "I see public transportation as a civil rights issue." One person said "the streetcar is a choo-choo train to nowhere."

The students digested those words and created a campaign of posters, videos and flyers in response. The final presentation of their work was shown last Wednesday in Corryville at the Niehoff Urban Studio.

Many of the students are seeking degrees in industrial, graphic, digital, or fashion design and the range of backgrounds lent a broad aesthetic appeal to their gala presentation. Visitors could don a cardboard streetcar costume and pose for a photo before chic, tasty hors de oeuvres fueled them along a path to different informational stops. At one stop, a poster illustrated all of Cincinnati streetcar's funding streams, and at another films of potential transit scenarios played out on computer screens.

In the center of the room sat the future of the project: a mock streetcar stop. The aluminum and plexiglass shelter displays images and information relating to light rail in Cincinnati, but has one white panel where people can write their thoughts and opinions in response to the information (it feels kind of like writing graffiti on a bus stop advertisement.) Peter Chamberlain, the professor who taught the studio, said the kiosk has already been to Final Friday in OTR and the Northside Farmer's Market, and it might show up in the lobby of the Downtown Library someday.

The comments written on the white wall will be transferred into digital form as a picture or text, and posted on the Transforum website. Chamberlain called the streetcar stop the physical manifestation of the site.

"We really want it to live on to be a magnet for people's comments," he said. Once they've been posted, the comments can start discussions on the Transforum website.

Since the Transforum studio time has come to a close, the project must now rely on volunteer labor of the students to keep it alive. Chamberlain said he thinks they will carry on the unique project.

"I don't think there's any other group in the city that's doing such a focused effort of trying to connect with people in the course of their everyday lives," he said.

Writer: Henry Sweets


MOTR will bring live music to OTR, without a cover

Thirteen-forty-five Main St. has been a watering hole for most of its 130 years, and its ornate tin ceiling and cathedral-like bar will once again be filled with the sounds of music and merriment when MOTR, a bar and music venue, opens there during the Midpoint Music Festival in late September.

At first glance MOTR is another success story for a vacant space on Main St. in Over-the-Rhine. But co-owner Dan McCabe, a self-appointed evangelist for Cincinnati's music scene, says MOTR's opening marks something much more important: it will offer a "steady diet" of new sounds to Cincinnati's urban core, free of charge.

"That [no-cover] model lends itself beautifully to a sense of discovery and the idea that we're working within the parameters of just new up-and-coming acts," he said. "It's going to be at the forward front of music genres and trends."

The venue will have a 150-person capacity listening room as well as a courtyard, dining room and two basement rooms. The layout will be similar to the one left by the last occupant, Coopers.

MOTR will eventually feature live music seven nights a week, when McCabe plans to host genre-specific nights on Sundays through Wednesdays with a variety of styles on the weekends including new strands of folk, electronica and indie rock. The restaurant's menu will feature MOTRburgers, which McCabe insists will become famous, as well as a new take on pub fare that will include vegetarian options.

McCabe, the executive producer of Midpoint Music Festival, and his business partner Chris Schadler have four decades of experience booking live music in Cincinnati. In addition to bringing regional acts to MOTR, McCabe said the stage will give local bands an opportunity to grow a following. He says that musicians are Cincinnati's finest resource.

"People [in Cincinnati] aren't satisfied pulling up alongside these mainstream sounds," he said. "They want to take it a step further, and push the envelope. It's very precious and needs to be nurtured."

McCabe said he hopes MOTR will both grow "outside the walls" of its physical space to host outdoor events, and bring Cincinnati's creative community inside with art shows and local film screenings. He said he and Schadler chose Main St. because it is an event driven arts neighborhood, among other reasons.
"This place will be a neighborhood bar first," he said. "A neighborhood bar where the neighborhood comes to expect new music."

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler

Cincinnati leaders looking to humanize streets with more two-way conversions

In the near future, city officials hope to convert two Uptown streets back to two-way traffic as they once were during their business district's heydays.  In addition to William Howard Taft Road and E. McMillan Street, some city leaders believe there may be a future for additional two-way street conversions throughout Cincinnati.

"There was lots of discussion about converting Vine Street to two-way traffic in the early 1990's, but it was ultimately done to create a more vibrant corridor," explained Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is pushing for additional Complete Streets measures to be included throughout the city.  "There might be some streets in the central business district, and definitely some in Over-the-Rhine that should be examined."

Before the Uptown streets can be converted back to two-way traffic, they must first be studied in conjunction with the ongoing I-71 Access Improvement Study.  The transportation study is examining various aspects of vehicular access in the subject area, and Vice Mayor Qualls believes that now is the time to look at the conversion before physical progress is made on any possible interchange reconfiguration.

"The key thing for McMillan and Taft is creating a corridor that supports retail and business," Qualls said.  "This area used to serve as Cincinnati's second downtown, and the goal should be to prioritize pedestrian and bicycle traffic through this type of a neighborhood business district."

The idea has been well received by neighborhood residents and businesses who believe a two-way street conversion will help to create additional opportunities to revitalize the area.  Preliminary cost estimates peg the two-way conversion work around $235,000.  A report on the conversion proposal is scheduled to be presented to the administration in early September 2010.

According to Qualls, the interchange redesign of Uptown may still be a long way off, but does not eliminate the possibility of other two-way conversions.  In particular, Qualls sees particular promise with other north/south streets in Over-the-Rhine following the success of Vine Street's conversion.  Other possibilities could potentially include Elm, Race, Walnut, and Main Streets through the historic neighborhood.

"I have been following this kind of movement since I first joined the Congress for New Urbanism Board in 2000, and what we need to be doing is designing our streets in a way that creates and supports vibrant types of urban environments."

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

Emersion Design to partner with CAM on Art Academy Building renovation

The Cincinnati Art Museum has selected Emersion Design to lead an architecture and engineering partnership that will renovate its historic Art Academy Building.  While in its early phases, the project is expected to break ground next summer with an organized fund raising campaign scheduled to begin in October 2010.  The renovation work signifies the first phase of the museum's long-term renovation and expansion plans.

According to project manager Jim Cheng, Cincinnati-based Emersion Design will be partnering with Advanced Engineering Consultants out of Columbus on engineering work, and Heapy Engineering from Dayton on electrical work.  Outside of the familiar partnerships, Cheng says that the real joy will be working to improve the historic structure for a world-class institution.

"The Art Academy was built in 1886 for art education purposes, and to bring people the many staff members together whose mission is to do that is really pretty cool," Cheng said. 

The renovation will result in the consolidation of more than 180 CAM staff members currently working in spaces throughout the building.  Project officials anticipate that this consolidation will create an opportunity for even more renovation work down the road.  Once complete, the CAM expects to benefit from an additional 15,000 square feet of exhibition space.

"We are pleased to begin work on this project which has been in the planning phases for many years," said CAM Director Aaron Betsky.  "Partnering with them [Emersion] now will allow us to be sensitive both to the legacy of the Art Academy building’s past and the present need for environmentally sensitive design and construction as well as improved staff work spaces."

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

State housing credits pave way for $12.4M renovation of historic Anna Louise Inn

For 101 years, the Anna Louise Inn has provided safe, affordable housing for women in downtown Cincinnati.  In need of renovation work and various upgrades, Cincinnati Union Bethel and Over-the-Rhine Community Housing have successfully landed $10 million worth of housing credits to renovate the Inn.

"A project like this is a real boost to businesses and the economy because it will produce jobs," said project manager Mary Carol Melton.  "We're working now to secure the final funding through a variety of sources, but we're excited to now be able to improve and enhance the quality of life for women looking to find safe and affordable housing."

The tax credits come from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, and will be worth $1 million annually over the next ten years.  Project officials say that this tax credit will allow renovation work to begin on the historic structure in June 2011.

When the Charles Taft family originally built and donated the structure, their intent was to provide housing to the many women coming to downtown Cincinnati for work from rural areas.  And while times have changed, Melton says that the mission and need for such housing has not.

Part of the changing population includes changing needs at the historic Anna Louise Inn.  The $12.4 million renovation project will allow for bathrooms and kitchens to be added to 85 units.  The addition means expanded living areas for residents, and thus fewer total units.

"There will be a slight decrease in the number of units due to the upgrades, but our goal is to preserve the safe and affordable housing needed for women today," Melton explained.  "We're going to work with residents during the renovation to make this as least disruptive as possible, and we are currently looking at a phased renovation process to be able to do just that."

Project officials expect that even with any phased renovation approach, the project should be complete in around fall 2012.  The end result will be a modernized Anna Louise Inn  with a 152-person capacity and larger rooms that include private bathrooms and kitchens in a convenient location.

"The amenities of being in downtown Cincinnati are great.  Our residents benefit from great access to transportation, employment, and they also enjoy using Lytle Park located right outside.  It's really nice for our residents to be able to take advantage of all these amenties provided downtown."

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

Gangster tour operators open OTR Civil War tour

At the corner of 12th and vine streets in Over-the-Rhine, a tall man in a black vest and top hat commands the attention of a few dozen suburban-looking Cincinnatians.

"We're no Antietam, Gettysburg or Shiloh, but I guarantee you that this place was a battleground," he says. "It was a battlefield for the hearts and minds of Cincinnatians…who had to sleep with one eye open for four years."

Mac Cooley was delivering the opening lines of "Cincinnati Civil War; Heroes, Halls and Holy Houses," a new walking tour exploring Civil War History in Over-the-Rhine. The tour will start every Saturday in September in front of Mica 12/v on Vine Street.  It is the third tour that Cooley, Jerry Gels and their friends and family operate in the Greater Cincinnati Area - and the second in Over-the-Rhine.

While the other tours - Newport Gangster Tours and Queen City Underground - cover salacious topics like prostitution and beer, Gels said he thinks the history in this tour is the most significant they've covered yet.

It doesn't get any bigger than people who follow the Civil War and want to hear Civil War stories, so our goal is to put Cincinnati on the map for that," Gels said.

The tour begins on Vine Street and heads to Washington Park beneath a monument for the 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry - the Dutch Devils - an all German speaking group from Over-the-Rhine. It moves into Memorial Hall, and then over to the Emery Theatre which sits on the site of the Eagle Ironworks, where as many as 3,000 muskets a day were rifled for Union Troops. The tour ends at Old St. Mary's Church.

Though no battles were fought in Cincinnati, much of the city's history was shaped by the war, and it provided a number of characters - like William Lytle, Powhatan Beaty and Sister Mary Anthony O'Connell -whose legendary actions figure prominently into Civil War history.

Gels teaches Biology and Cooley teaches English at Hughes High School in Covington. Gels won a Next Generation Leadership Award (NGLA) for the work he does in the classroom and mission trips he leads to Jamaica. The business began when Gels and Cooley, then amateur history buffs, decided to hold a Gangster tour in Newport as a fundraiser for the mission trips. The tours were a hit, and the rest is history.

They are now investigating commercial spaces in Over-the-Rhine for a potential new home.

"We're interested in having a bricks and mortar place in Over-the-Rhine," Cooley said. "It's the largest historic district in America, people love heritage tourism and that's what we're good at."

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler
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