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Northern Kentucky urban development corporation aided by $1M investment

Thanks to a $1 million investment by Duke Energy, an urban development fund in Northern Kentucky is now well on its way towards reaching a goal of raising $10 million to invest in development projects in Ludlow, Dayton, Bellevue, Newport and Covington.

The fund is the result of Vision 2015, a Northern Kentucky initiative which focuses on growth, opportunity, culture, and prosperity.  When the initiative's leaders began discussing these priorities, it became evidently clear that part of that focus had to be on the five urban cities located along the Ohio River.  After studying "best practices" from around the country, local leaders determined that creation of the Catalytic Development Corporation was necessary.

"We noticed that many successful urban areas around the country were utilizing development funds that are privately funded and used to assist real estate developments," said Jeanne Schroer, Executive Director of the Catalytic Development Fund of Northern Kentucky.

The $1 million investment from Duke adds to the $1 million investments made by the Bank of Kentucky and Corporex Companies which jump started the fund in late 2008.  According to Schroer, the contributions made by the three companies thus far are long-term investments that will be paid back over time.  The benefit arises from the fact that the companies do not have to underwrite individual projects, and developers can utilize the money as gap financing for projects that might not otherwise garner interest from such large companies.

"We can take this money to close the gaps on projects that need our help.  This will make more projects happen more quickly, and will serve as a catalyst to the other funds involved," Schroer said.

Schroer believes that the remaining $7 million can be raised within the next 12 months to meet the urban development fund's ultimate goal of $10 million.  She says that there are "a lot" of proposals outstanding, and that these interested parties could help make the goal a reality.  In the mean time, the Catalytic Development Corporation is very pleased with its current investors.

"Duke is very focused on regional economic development, and a healthy downtown area is important to the health of the larger region," Schroer said.  "Urban revitalization is very important to long-term economic health as it serves as important factor for companies and young talent who look for vibrant urban areas."

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

Food program to help low-income residents buy, prepare healthy food

The Corporation for Findlay Market has announced a new program that will allow individuals utilizing the food stamp program to shop for healthy, local produce at the farmer's market portion of Findlay Market. Called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Plus, this innovative program encourages urban agriculture and healthy eating for low-income residents often plagued with unhealthy food options.

The food stamp program with Hamilton County's Job & Family Services currently uses an electronic EBT card to make purchases. This is an upgrade from the old paper system, but farmer's markets only operate using cash, and as a result a portion of Findlay Market's consumers have not necessarily had the opportunity to purchase locally harvested produce, dairy, and other artisanal products offered by vendors. SNAP Plus solves this dilemma: those currently using the EBT food stamp card can now go to the Findlay Market office and purchase tokens in $5 increments for the program.  The tokens are only good at the various farmer's market stands, and the vendors later trade them for cash.

Fran Amatulli, Ohio State University Extension Program Assistant with the Family Nutrition Program, is one of the partners in the SNAP Plus program. Amatulli teaches nutrition classes around the city, and states that anyone interested in learning more about healthy eating can sign up for a free class. She has worked with various refugee programs in the city, teaching basic cooking skills and quality eating habits.

Amatulli also emphasized the importance of getting the word out to people who can benefit from this program. "It's so easy to sign up and do. The important thing is to let people know about this exciting new program."

Program participants have to opportunity to earn bonus tokens by attending cooking demonstrations conducted by chefs from the Midwest Culinary Institute, and classes on healthy eating supported offered through Hamilton County Job & Family Services, Cooperative Extension, the Nutrition Council, the Center for Closing the Health Gap, on-site agencies like senior centers or Head Start locations, and at Findlay Market as well. There is a series of eight classes offered and each class attended earns $10 in farmer's market coupons.  Attending four or eight classes earns additional bonus coupons, with a total possibility of $120 in matching EBT benefits available.

"This is a project I'm very much behind," stated Chef John Kinsella, President and CEO of Smart Chefs LLC, one of Findlay Market's partners. "They say that CHEF stands for Cooking Healthy, Edible Food, and the SNAP program is one step closer to that goal."

Writer: Jennifer Kessler
Photography by Jennifer Kessler
Stay connected by following Jenny on Twitter @JenLKessler

Centers of Development proposed to focus state investment around urban hubs

A week after Cincinnati was named a Hub of Innovation & Opportunity in Consumer Marketing, an additional effort is now underway that would further focus state investments around existing assets like universities, medical districts, and other areas of research and development.

"The basic idea is to have state resources focused around existing resources and assets," Senator Eric H. Kearney (D-Cincinnati) said about his proposed legislation.  "This would go one step above the state's Hubs of Innovation & Opportunity, and better take advantage of these proven job creators."

As proposed by Senator Kearney, Senate Bill 284 would create "Centers of Development" that would become areas of focus for state investment.  The idea behind the focused investment approach is to leverage private investment and create a "catalyst for development and job creation."

Centers of Development would be determined by place-based institutions that are permanently rooted in specific locations.  The institutions would be further examined for their ability to generate jobs, create local business opportunities, and contribute to human, social and cultural capital. Kearney believes that such an approach will result in the best return on investment for Ohio taxpayers by leveraging assets that are proven job creators

"This legislation will support and enhance the good work being done by Governor Strickland and the Ohio Department of Development," said Senator Kearney.  "The hub zones will become more attractive for private investment due to the level of activity taking place there when it comes to job creation, business activity and infrastructure investments."

An area that meets one of the following three criteria would be eligible to be designated a Center of Development by the State of Ohio:
  1. Designation as a Hub of Innovation & Opportunity by the Ohio Department of Development
  2. Designation as a Center of Excellence by the Ohio Board of Regents
  3. Medical complex employing more than 5,000 employees that provides in-patient care and conducts medical research and education
After receiving the new designation, business and residential developers within two miles of an anchor institution would receive additional consideration for various incentive programs.  Those developers would have to first be asked to show how their projects link to the anchor institutions.

"Cincinnati is full of locations that could be named Centers of Development," Senator Kearney explained. "Institutions like UC and Cincinnati Children's Hospital, or research giants like Procter & Gamble would be at the top of the list for designation.  A two-mile zone around any of these assets would accelerate investment within the city."

Senator Kearney says that the legislation would not involve any new money, but rather provide a new policy approach towards allocating state resources.  The legislation could be approved as early as November 2010 after it is further developed by the related state agencies.

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

Preservationists gather in Cincinnati to develop adaptive reuse strategies for Over-the-Rhine

The National Trust for Historic Preservation chose Cincinnati as the location for its Advanced Preservation Leadership Training session that began Saturday. The week-long training session is bringing together preservation professionals from Cincinnati and around the nation to focus on adaptive reuses for four historic properties in Over-the-Rhine.

"A lot of these buildings were made for uses that no longer apply like St. John's Church on Elm Street which will probably never be used as a church again," said Paul Muller, Interim Executive Director, Cincinnati Preservation Association which is sponsoring the session locally with the Over-the-Rhine Foundation.  "New uses for these buildings makes them economically viable again, and helps to make the city a vibrant place."

The preservationists involved in the week-long training session were split into four groups and toured the buildings on Sunday, July 18.  Over the course of the week the groups will put together a report for their respective buildings that will include proposals for the structures.  The reports will then be presented at a public meeting on Saturday, July 24 at Memorial Hall (map).

"We're happy that the National Trust for Historic Preservation followed up on this after naming Over-the-Rhine one of the most endangered historic districts in 2006," Muller said.  "They only do a few of these trainings each year, and it is an honor they chose Cincinnati."

Muller explained that following Saturday's report presentations at Memorial Hall, the National Trust for Historic Preservation will follow-up with additional efforts down the road, but he emphasized the importance of this work even if nothing comes from it immediately.

"Other cities have historic districts that would only make up a corner of Over-the-Rhine.  Seeing a collection of historic buildings this large through outside eyes is really inspiring, and so far the participants have been amazed by the city and its rich historic assets."

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

Moerlein Lager House to pay tribute to Cincinnati's brewing heritage while anchoring its future

Final details have been released on the $4 million Moerlein Lager House on Cincinnati's riverfront that will include seating for approximately 1,100 people inside and outdoors in its biergartens.  Once complete in August 2011, visitors will be treated to food found on the menus of Over-the-Rhine's 19th Century biergartens, the largest collection of Cincinnati craft brews and a unique setting on Cincinnati's central riverfront all while learning a little about Cincinnati's rich brewing heritage.

"We're trying to put Cincinnati beer and its brewing heritage on the map, and we're well on our way thanks to a lot of community and civic support," said Greg Hardman, President & CEO of Christian Moerlein Brewing Company.  "Without the support of a lot of people, we would not be bringing this great establishment to Cincinnati's riverfront."

The Moerlein Lager House is expected to produce 5,000 barrels of beer annually. Hops and barley, critical ingredients in the beer making process, will also be grown in the Hop Garden outside where guests will be able to sit around a fire pit overlooking Cincinnati Riverfront Park, the Ohio River, Roebling Suspension Bridge and other riverfront landmarks.

Hardman also says that the Moerlein Lager House will be connected to historic Over-the-Rhine through the Cincinnati Streetcar which is scheduled to start construction in fall 2010 and begin operations approximately one year after the brewpub opens.

"The streetcar is a great vehicle that will enhance development and link us to Over-the-Rhine and Uptown," Hardman said.  "When you can hook up a world-class park with the University of Cincinnati, and everything in between, it will be a great economic driver.  While the streetcar was not the only factor in our decision making process, it was certainly one of the reasons we wanted to locate in both of these areas."

Inside the Moerlein Lager House, guests will be treated to rooms themed around Cincinnati's past breweries that will include information about where the breweries were located and the beer barons responsible for the product.  Hardman hopes that once people tour the rooms inside the Moerlein Lager House they will want to see the real thing in Over-the-Rhine's Brewery District, including Christian Moerlein's new brewery facility on pace to begin beer production in early 2011.

"The design of the Moerlein Lager House and future brewery is to link Cincinnati's brewing heritage to the riverfront and vice versa," Hardman explained. 

The interior of the brewpub will feature a two-story brick wall that uses reclaimed bricks from some of those historic local breweries in Over-the-Rhine.  Even utilizing historic materials, the new brewpub is expected to achieve LEED certification and include a geothermal heating and cooling system

The 15,000 square-foot Moerlein Lager House will be open Sunday through Wednesday from 11am to midnight, and 11am to 2am Thursday through Saturday.  The brewpub will feature the largest collection of heritage Cincinnati beers anywhere including Hudepohl, Shoenling, Burger, Moerlein and others.

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

New coffee shop investing profits back into Cincinnati's west side neighborhoods

Cincinnati's west side neighborhoods have a new independent coffee shop thanks to a group of passionate westsiders who wanted to give something back to their community.  Refuge Coffee Bar is located in West Price Hill and focuses on bringing together the community as much as it celebrates the barista art.

"We decided we wanted to do something good for the community," said Nate Reed, General Manager.  "The building owner was tired of bar tenants inside the space, and wanted something better in that part of the neighborhood."

That neighborhood - Covedale - is part of West Price Hill and while it boasts a strong community presence, it didn't have anything like Refuge Coffee Bar that could serve as a gathering space for the community.  Reed says that Refuge is helping to do that with its long hours of operation and inviting interior space.

"This is a place where you will want to stick around, and a space where people can gather," Reed explained.  "The best part is that the money generated from the business either goes back into the coffee bar or the community."

Refuge's three baristas have over 31 years of experience.  Most evenings guests are treated to the latte art of Rob Hoos, and customers can always try out specialties like Refuge's Orange Mocha drink  - orange peel shavings infused with Refuge Coffee Bar's own blend of espresso.

Reed says that in addition to being globally conscious, they are currently supporting local ventures like Covedale Garden District's monthly litter pick-up and are also interested in partnering with Price Hill Will and various mentoring groups nearby.

"I've been to the fields where coffee is grown and I think it is important to get these farmers a fair wage, so Refuge Coffee Bar supports fair trade products," Reed said.  "And to help support local mentoring programs we offer buy one, get one free coffee deals so that the mentors have a safe, comfortable place to come without incurring an extra expense."

Refuge Coffee Bar (map) is open Tuesday through Thursday from 7am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday from 7am to Midnight, and Sunday from 2pm to 7pm.  On Friday and Saturday nights they host live music from 8pm until about 10 or 11pm, depending on the artists.  Those interested in staying connected with Refuge Coffee Bar can do so by following them on Twitter @RefugeCoffeeBar, or on their Facebook Page.

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

LEED-certified housing hub pops up in Northside

Early last fall, Potterhill Homes announced its newest housing endeavor, a community in Northside called Northwind.  Now, just nine months later, and a month since the ribbon-cutting on the community, over one-third of the Northwind lots have been sold. And each is LEED certified, adding a dense cluster of modern, progressive planning to a historic neighborhood that has enjoyed a reputation for beautifully timeless housing stock.

The Northwind models were touted for offering options including solar and geothermal energy systems, and, according to Potterhills' Northwind representative Vicki Painter, every buyer has taken advantage of those opportunities.  "All of them have opted to go LEED certified," she says. "[These homes] were built to LEED standards so, for 1500 to fill out the paperwork you save 30,000."

Beyond the savings, Potterhill president Carolyn Rolfes suggests that the people interested in Northwind are just involved, forward-thinking people, period. "It's such a mix. And it's people who are excited to move back to the city."

While Northwind means adding fresh blood and a new wrinkle to Northside, Rolfes says that being mindful of the existing neighborhood is always part of the Potterhill mission. "That's always our goal: to try to complement what's already there," she explains. "We've always tried to mimic the older architecture."  Painter points to design elements in the Northwind units such as big front porches, as an effort to connect back to the feel of the rest of the area. "We have that craftsman look," she says. "So we blend in well."

If the idea of a multi-lot development might seem out of place alongside the stately older homes that have been Northside's architectural calling card, it bears noting that the community's location between Kirby and Hamilton Avenues sits slightly adjacent to Northside's historic core to the south.  And the homes -- which range in price from $150,000 to just over $170,000 -- are small enough to fit comfortably into an urban neighborhood.

Moreover, there is no denying that Northwind is meeting an obvious demand, with nine of twenty-five lots selling within weeks of the June 15th ribbon-cutting. "People want to live in Northside," Painter says. "We've never had an opening w/ such impact."

Writer: Jeremy Mosher
Photography by Jeremy Mosher

The Northside House adds a new art element to the neighborhood

On a long sunny curve of Colerain Avenue sits a tidy, two-story brick shotgun house that announces itself with an ornate metal sign: "THE NORTHSIDE HOUSE, EST. 1880." Inside the building last Friday, two men put the finishing touches on a brand new contemporary art gallery, The Northside House, which will open this Saturday in the 130-year old building.

"This is the growing, creative area of the city," marketing and design director Jonathan Sears said. "Artists live here and work here and eat here, and they should be able to see and show art here too."

Last Friday, abstract paintings by Chicago-based artist Steve Amos and wall installations by Northside resident Alice Pixley Young filled the upstairs rooms. Their work will be joined next week by that of Ellington Robinson of Washington D.C. and Jon Payne of Dayton, OH, to complete the show "Inauguration." An exhibition of African ceremonial art titled "Life" will be on display in the gallery's entry room.

Chris Hoeting and Doug Hafner, director and owner respectively, are Sears' partners in opening The Northside House. Hoeting is a University of Dayton art teacher, and Hafner is owner of nearby Honey Restaurant. All three are artists.

Like many new galleries around the country, The Northside House is eschewing the traditional sterile, white gallery look and instead embracing the homely nature of its aged, charming quarters: the main gallery room has an old woodstove, openings will be catered by Hafners' local-centric restaurant Honey and the sign outside implies the organization is 130 years older than it really is.

Their gallery will give local artists a place to show work alongside nationally recognized artists, and also host museum-like exhibitions from private collections. Hoeting said they hope to collaborate with Prairie, an existing Northside gallery, to bolster Northside's artist community and ultimately foster a fine-arts component that will grow with the booming bar and restaurant scene there.

After its first six-month series of four shows, the gallery will begin moving towards a future goal: to become a community-based arts group that can offer classes, host artist groups or start public art initiatives. In the meantime they will keep regular weekday hours and be open on Mondays in their attempt to be more than just a gallery, Sears said.

The grand opening reception will run from 7 to 11 p.m. this Saturday, July 17 at The Northside House, 4034 Colerain Ave.

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler

Cincy Coworks celebrates new permanent space in Walnut Hills

Cincinnatians began coworking in November 2009 in the Over-the-Rhine.  From those early beginnings, the group of full-time coworkers and those interested in the concept have grown.  After expanding coworking operations in OTR in February 2010, Cincy Coworks is now celebrating a much anticipated move into a permanent space in East Walnut Hills.

The new 800 square-foot space at 2714 Woodburn Avenue (map) has been a work in progress according to Cincy Coworks co-founder Gerard Sychay.  In addition to the permanence of the East Walnut Hills location, coworkers can now utilize the space 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a full-time monthly membership that costs $200.

"We love the new location," said Sychay.  "We've got great food options within a couple of blocks and a big free parking lot for those who need it."

In addition to access, monthly membership also guarantees a dedicated desk, the ability to reserve space for evening and weekend events, and other amenities that Sychay says are still to come.  The space also boast an lounge area and outdoor space for those looking to get a bit of fresh air.

Joining Cincy Coworks is a second coworking operation called Working Side by Side.  Located in Woodlawn, Working Side by Side has 1,200 square feet of space, five full-time members and presently operates from 8am to 5pm Monday through Friday.

"I heard of the coworking concept before and thought it would work here.  The financial and social benefits were both appealing to us," said Brian Mueller who is one of the creative minds behind the Woodlawn coworking space.  "We have learned a lot from the Cincy Coworks people, and we have learned that it's a pretty close knit community."

Mueller went on to say that the close knit community of coworkers is working on potential collaborative efforts between the two spaces Mueller for their members.  If things work out for his group of coworkers from Jasco Engineering & Sales and Precision Cincinnati, the Working Side by Side space may expand into adjacent space where a recreation room or conference rooms could be added.

Like Working Side by Side, Cincy Coworks is also planning for a future expansion that could bring its footprint to 2,000 square feet and more than double the amount of space for its members and drop-in users.

"We stuck to a zero-sum, pay-as-you-go approach, so we opened up operations in the black," Sychay explained.  "If there is enough interest we would love to grow our operations and get an even bigger space somewhere in the neighborhood."

Stay up-to-date by following Cincinnati's coworking spaces on Twitter @CincyCoworks and @WorkingSBS.

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

Cincinnati awarded $25M for modern streetcar system through Urban Circulator program

Thursday, July 8, 2010 might go down in history as the day that the long-planned Cincinnati Streetcar project finally became reality.  While no construction has begun, city officials did successfully land $25 million through the federal government's Urban Circulators grant program.  The additional money means that the project now has $114.5 million of the total $128 million needed, making it approximately 90 percent funded.

The grant was announced by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who said that Cincinnati's recent $64 million commitment was a large factor in the project getting the maximum award through the program.  The Cincinnati Streetcar was one of only six urban circulator proposals awarded money nationally out of 65 applications that totaled more than $1 billion in requests.  The other five projects are located in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Ft. Worth, and St. Louis.

"This announcement illustrates the broad-based support for the streetcar at all levels of government," said Brad Thomas, Founder, CincyStreetcar.com. "Transportation experts at the city, regional, state and federal level have all examined the Cincinnati Streetcar and have come to the same conclusion - it is a worthwhile project that they support."

The news has also seemingly quieted an intense battle between those in favor of the project and those against.

"The Cincinnati Streetcar represents the triumph of a huge grassroots effort of concerned Cincinnatians," Thomas continued.  "This success of this project was truly the result of countless ordinary citizens standing up and working to make their city a better place to live."

City officials are now working on the next phases of the project which include environmental assessments, utility relocation, and preliminary construction which is expected to begin this fall.  Once under construction, the project should take approximately two-and-a-half years to complete, with the first passengers riding in spring 2013.

In the interim, local leaders are reveling in the success and progress that has been achieved thus far.

"This is great news for Cincinnati.  Having the federal government come in as a partner on our streetcar shows that we have one of the best plans in the country," Mayor Mark Mallory said.  "This is why it is important to go out and engage decision makers directly.  Secretary LaHood told me that we got this grant because of the leadership that we showed in pursuing this money."

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

Findlay Market Fund to support low-income urban produce growers

One year ago Findlay Market began its Cultivating Healthy Environments for Farmers (CHEF) program.  The program was seen as an opportunity to recruit and train new urban growers while also complimenting the city's Urban Gardening Program.

Since then the program's reach has grown and so has its impact.  As a result additional resources are needed to help support an ongoing program that produces over 30 different produce offerings at four locations throughout the city, including a new two-thirds of an acre plot in OTR and then sold at Findlay Market.  The program focuses on low-income residents and has dozens of apprentices from Over-the-Rhine, the West End, College Hill and St. Leo's Catholic Parish.

In April 2010, Ken Stern, Urban Farm Manager for Findlay Market, explained that once the initial grant money ran out from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they intended to keep the program going.  To help out, local culinary rock stars including Julie Francis from Nectar, Jean-Robert de Cavel from the Midwest Culinary Institute, and Joanne Drilling from Murphin Ridge Inn have stepped up to support the 2010 Findlay Fund Drive.

"Last year the project trained and equipped four low income urban growers, who farmed on four vacant lots near the market and sold produce at the farmers market," Stern explained.  "In 2010, more than two dozen urban farmers will grow food on over three acres of vacant land in the city of Cincinnati. Their work will create supplemental income for their families, increase the availability of nutritious local food at Findlay Marketís farmers markets, and benefit our environment by creating green space and reducing the carbon footprint of the food we eat."

The growing program also compliments the growth at Findlay's farmers market.  Since 2005, Findlay Market has seen its market operations increase from once a week with 17 participating farmers, to three days a week with more than 50 participating farmers.

With this success the market has decided to make it a more formal endeavor called Findlay Market Farms, and donations to the fund will buy tools, seeds, water, and training for the urban growers.

Tax deductible donations can be made online to the Findlay Market Fund, or by calling (513) 665-4839.

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

Housing authority transforming Newport, making national impression

A recent analysis of Newport, Kentucky's use of the federal government's HOPE VI program shows that the historic river city may be one of the best success stories in America.  The use of the program in combination with a strategic economic development effort has caused what a report by the University of Louisville's Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods describes as a transition from "vice to nice, and from hips to hip."

In past decades Newport struggled with a large criminal element that include gangster and mob activity, prostitution, and gambling.  But now thousands of visitors to Newport on the Levee each year might never know it if not for the large walking groups led by tour guides dressed playfully as the gangsters..

The report details that much of the improvement has come from the deconcentration of poor residents who were once housed in urban renewal housing developed during the post-war period in and around downtown Newport.  The concentrated low-income housing has been replaced by mixed-income developments through the HOPE VI program which encourages social mobility and provides self-sufficiency services to residents of the community through both local government and non-profit agencies.

The most recent, and prominent example of this deconcentration is seen on the western edge of downtown Newport where the Licking River and the Ohio River meet.  Once a large low-income housing project, the site is now slated to become an $800 million mixed-use development that will create more residences, offices, retail, entertainment and lodging in Newport's downtown.

What the Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods recognized as most significant was the success Neighborhood Foundations was able to achieve for its size.  The housing authority is the smallest housing authority in the nation to win a HOPE VI grant, and it was recognized as the best housing authority in Kentucky by the Department of Housing & Urban Development in 2009.

The organization is now turning its focus to smaller pockets of Newport like Hamlet Street.  Just south of Newport's East Row Historic District, Hamlet Street represents what was once one of the worst blocks in Newport.  The completed program on the 900 block of Hamlet Street (map) will renovate three properties and construct five new homes in a development called Hamlet Row.

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

New KZF Design headquarters anchors burgeoning 8th Street Design District

54 years ago KZF Design got its start in the historic Ingalls Building on 4th Street in downtown Cincinnati.  Since that time the design firm has experienced internal growth and a growing national reputation withing the design industry.

That growth moved KZF from its original downtown space to the Baldwin Center on the northeastern outskirts of downtown Cincinnati near Walnut Hills.  As the firm continued to grow, KZF leaders saw an opportunity to return to their downtown roots while also creating a showpiece office space that highlights the firm's acclaimed workplace design.

"KZF is a leader in sustainable design and we wanted to make sure that we were walking the walk with the new headquarters space," said Tim Sharp, Vice President of KZF Design who expects the project to be awarded at least LEED Silver certification.  "We are also nationally known and recommended for our workplace design, so we wanted to invest in a great workplace of our own."

The $6 million renovation project of the historic 1915, three-story structure will initially house 75 employees within its 36,000 square-foot space.  What Sharp sees as the most exciting aspect is the location of the new headquarters within what some are beginning to call the 8th Street Design District - primarily for its conglomeration of design-oriented businesses.

"The location allows us to recruit and retain young, talented designers who want to be within the urban core," said Sharp.  "The 8th Street corridor is a very creative environment, and our employees love the ability to walk to work, lunch and just explore the downtown and Over-the-Rhine areas.  There is a great energy being downtown and it is also nice being close to public transit."

Sharp sees the burgeoning 8th Street Design District as a perfect compliment for the growing loft residential district there as well.  He notes the warehouse structures on the edge of the central business district as a perfect location for design firms who can not afford the high prices found on 4th Street where KZF was once located.

"It's no coincidence that so many design firms have located in the 8th Street Design District," Sharp said.  "The price points are good and, as I said, the creative environment found in those buildings and in that district is something design firms look for."

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

Cincinnati unanimously approves sweeping bicycle policy reforms

Cincinnati City Council voted unanimously to approve sweeping policy changes with a new Bicycle Master Plan that calls for establishing a 445-mile network of bike routes, progressive bicycle safety measures, and new off-street bicycle facilities that will compliment recently approved bicycle parking requirements.

"Our bicycle safety ordinance package is actually stricter than Chicago's and more comprehensive than anything else in the region," said Katie Vogel, Chair of the Cincinnati Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee (Bike/PAC).  "This is something that's going to go a long way towards assuaging the fears of cyclists and towards informing motorists as to the rights of cyclists."

The $55 million bicycle program is expected to dramatically change the landscape for one of the fastest growing forms of transportation in Cincinnati, and is the culmination of a nearly year-long community planning effort that included charrettes, meetings and public rides that took inventory of the city's existing infrastructure.

The changes will take place incrementally over the next 15 years with approximately one-third of the 330 new miles of bike routes completed by 2015 at a cost of $2.8 million.  The new bike routes will include more sharrows, climbing lanes for bicyclists going up Cincinnati's hills, and close to six miles of on-street cycle tracks.

The aim of the aggressive bike route expansion plan is to create a continuous network across Cincinnati, while new policy reforms will aim to change the culture of bicycling in the historic Midwestern city.

While the approval of the Bicycle Master Plan and its programs does not mandate its implementation, it does set the policy direction for Cincinnati leaders as they vote on future measures related to the plan.

"We clearly have a long way to go, but yesterday was downright monumental for active transportation in Cincinnati," concluded Vogel.

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

Community Development Corporations changing the trajectory of Cincinnati's inner city neighborhoods

The renaissance taking place throughout Cincinnati's inner city neighborhoods is not happening by coincidence or chance, but rather a transformation is taking place because of a concerted effort by local leaders to invest in those neighborhoods.  According to Patricia Garry, Executive Director of the Community Development Corporations Association of Greater Cincinnati (CDCAGC), the investments being made by Cincinnati-area CDCs are helping to not only direct investment back towards these neighborhoods, but also place the decision making at the neighborhood level.

"The neighborhood is able to make plans for themselves and they are able to partner with private developers to make it happen," said Garry.  "This collaboration makes it a lot easier to get project funding because banks know they're good projects and can make money on their investments."

In 2009, the CDCAGC funded 13 local CDCs which in turn developed 34 housing units.  The number of CDCs being assisted decreased in 2010 along with the total funding CDCAGC received from the City of Cincinnati.  But while there has been approximately $100,000 less to work with, Garry says that production has actually increased.  In 2010, the CDCAGC is funding nine local CDCs which are creating 89 housing units with another 140 housing units in pre-development stages.

The investments made by local CDCs are seen as a critical tool in turning around neighborhoods that have long been ignored by private investors.

"When the private market doesn't function it creates a need for Community Development Corporations," Garry explained.  "Utilizing the process our CDCs use may take a bit longer upfront, but implementation happens in a second since there is already community support for the project."

The need has been far and wide throughout the Cincinnati region as Garry states that there are approximately 50 CDCs stretching from Northern Kentucky to Middletown.  Ten of the most active CDCs are found in Cincinnati's inner city who often partner with Al Neyer Inc. and The Model Group - both have a track record of working with neighborhoods and taking advantage of the tax credits that become available by working with CDCs.

Garry plans to keep improving annual performance by capitalizing on potential economies of scale.  CDCAGC's Back Office Project will move accounting, information technology and other consulting work to the CDCAGC so that each individual CDC is not burdened by full- or part-time staffing costs, and can instead share those costs across the larger collection of CDCs.

"Our Community Development Corporations often times don't have the money to be fully staffed, but the Back Office Project will allow them to still have their needs met - it's a win for everybody."

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