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Reformed Cincinnati parking policy increasing rates while upgrading system

Last week, the City of Cincinnati made significant changes to its parking policy that includes increased rates all across the city.  In most areas the rate is doubling in an effort to upgrade the city's parking infrastructure, while also becoming more cost competitive with private rates.

The changes come following analysis of a 2009 parking report completed by Walker Parking Consultants.  The report outlined that Cincinnati's off-street parking facilities, and on-street meters, were priced "well below market rate."  The report will help the City in planning for the following:
  • Increase parking needs as the city continues economic development efforts
  • Address predicted shortage of the city budget's parking fund
  • Provide for increased efficiency in the parking system's administration
The rate increases will make on-street meters in downtown Cincinnati $2 per hour, while city-owned parking garages will also see varying increases.  In six neighborhood business districts, on-street meters will double from 25 cents an hour, to 50 cents an hour.

Even with these increases, more may be on the horizon as the 2009 Walker Parking report called for the city to price its parking spaces within 5 percent of private market rates.  The basis for this recommendation is two-fold as studies indicate that often times public parking spaces are priced artificially low at the detriment of nearby businesses and the immediate environment.

Donald Shoup, Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, has studied this subject matter extensively, and found that higher parking rates actually benefit local businesses by creating higher turnover.  At the same time, the higher rates, Shoup contends, deter drivers from circling blocks in search of that cheap parking space.  This, in turn, reduces direct emissions and reduces congestion on local roads.

City officials report that the increased meter rates are the first increases in more than ten years, and places Cincinnati within the lower range of of comparable cities like Louisville, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Cleveland.

The increased rates will reportedly help cover maintenance costs associated with parking facilities, and support upgraded on-street parking equipment that will include new solar-powered pay/display stations like those currently found on Court Street and Second Street in downtown Cincinnati.  City officials say that the new pay/display stations will make parking services more efficient, while also reducing maintenance costs long-term.

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

$3.1M Dana Avenue transformation through Evanston underway

Dana Avenue through Evanston is in the midst of a transformation that includes streetscaping and on- and off-ramp improvements at the Interstate-71 interchange. Ramp improvements are currently underway and are expected to be complete this month, while the streetscaping projects are expected to begin this fall.

The Dana Avenue improvements have been made possible through more than $1.7 million in contributions from Neyer Properties, who developed Keystone Parke, and a $1.4 million Ohio Job Ready Sites (JRS) grant. The JRS grant was awarded to the City of Cincinnati because of the grant's ability to compliment Keystone Parke and an emerging commercial development node.

"Positive attributes are that it [Keystone Parke] leverages a small amount of state funds to create a smart office complex of over 460,000 square feet," said Sheena Metzger, administrator for the Ohio JRS program. "The project has excellent visibility from the interstate, and all of the buildings on site are going to be LEED-certified at least to the Silver level."

Trend Construction is expected to complete Dana Avenue's streetscaping projects by spring 2011. Improvements will include new sidewalks, crosswalk lights, and street trees in an attempt to make the roadway more pedestrian-friendly. A middle turn lane will also be added along Dana Avenue (map) where needed, with a landscaped boulevard design included where turn lanes are deemed unnecessary.

"Keystone pushed the idea forward, but these improvements were really needed by the whole community," explained Jeff Chamot, Senior Development Project Manager, Neyer Properties." He adds, "The light poles are not the only thing about this project that is green. Like the light poles, all signage is lit with LED and fluorescent bulbs, landscaping is native and drought-tolerant, and low-flow drip irrigation in the planting beds will be tied into a moisture sensor to ensure unnecessary water usage is minimized."

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

Ground broken on new $3.8M children's home in Northern Kentucky

On Wednesday, July 28 ground was broken on a $3.8 million expansion to the Diocesan Catholic Children's Home (DCCH) in Ft. Mitchell.  Officials say that the new facility will allow for the children's home to offer expanded programs and services for those that live there.

The DCCH is a treatment center for children between the ages of 6 to 14 that have severe to moderate emotional and/or behavioral problems.  Located on an 83-acre campus just off Interstate-75 in Northern Kentucky, the children's home dates back to the mid-1800s when Kenton County leaders formed the St. John's Orphan Society.

As the organization moves forward with the next phase of its operations, leaders are thankful for the $3.2 million that has been raised thus far to get the project to this stage.

"Guided by the dedicated and passionate service of our board, leadership team and executive committee, we have raised more than $3 million during the most difficult economic downturn since the Depression," said Sister Jean Marie Hoffman, DCCH executive director.  "With more than 83 percent of our goal reached and with the blessings of our many donors, we have entered the construction phase of this long-range endeavor."

The new facility (map) will reportedly expand the DCCH school, meet growing residential needs, create a new treatment center, and include an indoor therapeutic recreational facility.  While much funding progress has been made thus far, officials note that the final $600,000 needed to complete the vision will be raised through the organization's public fund raising phase.

The added room and facilities could not come at a better time as the facility operates at virtual capacity with an average 97 percent occupancy rate.

According to the DCCH, more than $35,000 has been raised as part of the public fund raising phase already.  The $3.8 million expansion is expected to be complete by summer 2011.

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

Officials meet to discuss importance of Brent Spence Bridge project

U.S. Congressman Steve Driehaus (D-OH) and James L. Oberstar (D-MN) were in Cincinnati on Monday, August 2 to discuss the Brent Spence Bridge replacement and rehabilitation project.  The congressmen met with local officials on the 25th floor of the Enquirer Building in downtown Cincinnati overlooking the river span.

Driehaus and Oberstar were joined by Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, City Manager Milton Dohoney, Ohio Department of Transportation director Jolene Molitoris, and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls who also serves as chair of the Livable Communities Committee and Major Transportation & Infrastructure Projects Sub-Committee.  They gathered to discuss the project's economic and transportation impacts on the region.

Completed in 1964, the Brent Spence Bridge is currently exceeding its designed capacity and presents a variety of safety concerns that range from the bridge's lack of emergency break down lanes for motorists, to poor signage partially obstructed by the bridge's support structure.

In March 2010, Brian Cunningham from OKI Regional Council of Governments told Soapbox that the Brent Spence Bridge project is the metropolitan planning organization's number one priority because of the safety concerns and the major transportation choke point it presently causes.

"OKI has estimated that there is a crash along this 8-mile stretch once every three days, and when a crash occurs on that bridge it basically shuts down two interstates," Cunningham detailed.

The Ohio River crossing also represents a major economic linchpin for the region, and nation.  It is presently estimated that $400 billion worth of commodities travel across the bridge every year; a number expected to more than double by 2030 to $815 billion.

Cunningham states that local officials have been very supportive of the project thus far, but that significant amounts of money are still needed to make the $2-3 billion project a reality.  Local officials are hoping that a large portion of that money can come from the federal government with the help of representatives like Congressman Oberstar who serves as chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

According to Oberstar, the present federal transportation bill calls for significant increases for both Ohio and Kentucky's transportation projects.  Due to a plan to jointly fund the project, Ohio and Kentucky's resource boost would mean a tangible boost for the project itself.

The Brent Spence Bridge replacement designs have also been narrowed to three final design options, and officials hope that if the necessary funding is secured that construction can begin on the new span by 2015.

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

Thousands will raise money for neighborhood organizations at 4th annual Downtown Dash

The city's largest block party will take place this Friday, August 6 in downtown Cincinnati.  The fourth annual Downtown Dash & Block Party is expected to attract thousands for the 5k run and post-race festivities.

The now annual summer party was started in 2007 to create both a fun event and a way to raise money for neighborhood community service organizations like the Freestore Foodbank, Downtown Residents Council, Drop Inn Center, Crossroad Health Center, and Kicks for Kids.  Last year's event raised $500 for each of the six charities included.  This year event organizers hope to grow that amount as they raise the profile of the event.

"Our major goal is to host a fun party and a great race in downtown Cincinnati, but in the end we are looking to promote local organizations, businesses and the downtown community in general," said Alex Ewing. 

Not to be confused with a typical fundraiser, organizers emphasize that the Downtown Dash & Block Party is a "for-purpose" event.

"Our goal is to bring people downtown, raise awareness of the great things going on downtown, and give back to the organizations that are working to support the downtown community," Ewing explained.

All of the money raised by this year's event will once again be donated to local community service organizations, and the party will have a distinctly local flavor.

Christian Moerlein will be providing beer, LaRosa's will be serving pizza, Avril-Bleh & Sons will be hosting a $15 rib dinner, live music will be provided by The Websters, and additional food and drink will be provided by other local establishments.  The annual cornhole tournament is also expected to add to the local vibe.

Those interested in participating in the 5k Run can register online.  Run organizers say that the top 1,000 finishers will receive a custom Downtown Dash medal, with the top three men and women finishers receiving awards.

The 2010 Downtown Dash & Block Party will take place adjacent to St. Xavier Church (map) located in the northeast portion of downtown Cincinnati.  Cash automobile parking and free bicycle parking will be available nearby, and the event can be reached by Metro bus service (plan your trip).

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

Losantiville Kunstwerkhaus does product design and fabrication in OTR

They were going to open a bike shop on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, but when the realities of bookkeeping, tune-ups, order forms and merchandise sunk in, they opened Losantiville Kunstwerkhaus instead.

The business is a collective studio where five industrial designers and two interns design, fabricate and sell a variety of products.  A gallery in the front of the space holds chairs cut from reclaimed cardboard and a semi-enclosed recumbent trike. Vintage furniture and bicycles, an antique engine lathe and other tools pepper the production space in back where the walls are covered with drawings of potential new products.

The shop loosely mimics those found in Over-the-Rhine in the 19th century, when craftsmen produced and sold products out of buildings called Kunstwerkhauses. Today, old ways of producing locally continue to catch on around the country, and the do-it-yourself concept is back en vogue.

One of the business' founders, John Burnham Dixon, brought the idea back from New York where he saw independent designers banding together to split high rents. In other cities with top industrial design programs, he said, it's common for designers to support themselves with jobs in unrelated fields after graduation so they can pursue their goals of designing and/or producing their own products. In Cincinnati, he said, it seems most of his fellow University of Cincinnati Design Art Architecture and Planning (DAAP) industrial design graduates either go straight into jobs with a few major corporations here, or move away to find work.

Dixon works in a machine shop during the day and designs furniture in the evenings. He also makes and sells wooden bike handlebars and leather coffee cup holders. He and business partners David Parrot, Noel Gauthier, Matt Anthony and Chris Heckman all hold or are pursuing industrial design degrees - all but one from DAAP.

Losantiville does not provide a primary source of income for him or the others, but it allows them to pursue their interests, goals and dreams without breaking their banks. It also allows them to cross-promote one-another. A sixth member is joining them next month, and there is room for others.

Some proponents of development on Main Street might consider Losantiville to be in a "hobby business" stage, since it doesn't have regular storefront hours or, as of yet, produce enough salable products to support those hours. But Losantiville presents a model that could catch on in Over-the-Rhine, where inexpensive rents can land a collective of creatives a commercial storefront at an affordable price.

The collective is currently looking for larger spaces in Over-the-Rhine where one-ton presses, lathes or mills could help bring their fabrication to the next level - and maybe let at least one of them quit their day jobs.

Writer: Henry Sweets


Transit authority looking to overhaul Cincinnati's bus system, improve access

As local transit officials struggle to do more with less, leaders at the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) are examining how they might be able to restructure the Metro bus system to better serve Cincinnatians.  The changes may mean that the decades old hub-and-spoke model may finally be on its way out of style.

"The hub-and-spoke model in Cincinnati is broken," exclaimed Colin Groth, Government Relations Director, Metro. "Right now, if you're trying to go from say Hyde Park to Westwood, you have to go Downtown first.  This is a problem."

The problem is especially pronounced in Cincinnati due to its neighborhood orientation which lends itself to more hub-to-hub trips, rather than spokes leading to a singular hub.  According to transportation experts, the solution seems to lie in an option that moves people from neighborhood hub to neighborhood hub.

The beginning of such a neighborhood hub bus system in Cincinnati will more than likely start by adding a second hub in Uptown, that will also serve as a facility for the Cincinnati Streetcar, followed by neighborhood hubs in Northside and Walnut Hills.

"We have worked with neighborhoods and [transportation infrastructure consultant firm] Parsons Brinckerhoff to figure out where people wanted to see Metro grow, and better access to Uptown and improved crosstown service were at the top of the list," Groth said.

Officials say that the goal is to eventually develop a collection of Neighborhood Transit Hubs that will serve as transfer points in the restructured system.  The incremental changes will mean better service for riders within the city as they move from neighborhood to neighborhood, but it will also mean improved service for those traveling in traditional commuter patterns into Downtown and Uptown as buses will be able to travel in a more direct fashion.

What transit officials need now is money.  The Uptown Neighborhood Transit Hub alone is estimated to cost approximately $6.2 million, but Metro officials are currently working with the Uptown Consortium and the Cincinnati Streetcar Development Partners to come up with the best plan for implementation.  Design and engineering work is already underway and is expected to be complete within the next year, and construction will begin as funds are available.

In June, Metro received $11.77 million from the OKI Regional Council of Governments through their allocations of two federal transportation programs.  Some of this money will go towards the replacement of aging buses, but another chunk of the money will go toward this Neighborhood Transit Hub vision.

"The money is to develop the capital infrastructure to support both existing service as well as creating the building blocks for a more robust system down the road," Groth explained.  "With more neighborhood hubs you can really facilitate center-to-center and neighborhood-to-neighborhood transportation - that's when you really begin to change the system."

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

Passage Lounge latest to join downtown Cincinnati nightlife

Downtown Cincinnati has another new destination for nightlife entertainment with the opening of Passage Lounge at 6th and Main Street.  The new 5,302 square-foot club is looking to capitalize on the consolidating nightlife district in downtown called the Backstage District.

Passage Lounge General Manager says that the excitement of a nightlife district in downtown Cincinnati is there, and that Passage Lounge looks to offer up something that both compliments what is already there, while also adding value of its own.

"Our number one commitment is to be a service-based venue and we have trained our staff to provide our downtown Cincinnati community patrons with a full, pleasurable and exciting experience," Bond explained.  "We pride ourselves on a return to the basics of hospitality and customer service."

Passage has a large, circular bar that is situated in the center of an open floor plan to serve patrons at night - customers can talk with the bartenders and see the dictionary-thick book they had to study before Passage opened for business.  Visit the new establishment during its daylight hours to try something from its tapas menu.

Inside customers are also treated to one of the most heavily themed and designed interior spaces in Cincinnati.  A secret passage way guarded by a sharply dressed man leads to the VIP lounge.  Whimsical designs cover the walls around the club and even inside the restrooms.  An elevated DJ platform overlooks the entire first-floor space and dance floor.

Ownership says that future expansions could be in the works that would include opening up the basement vaults once used by the bank for which the building was originally built in 1920.  And early discussions with Passage management revealed the possibility of eventually creating a large rooftop bar area that would be the first of its kind in downtown Cincinnati, and one of the largest in town.

Passage Lounge (map) is open Wednesday through Friday from 4pm to 2:30am and Saturdays from 7pm to 2:30am.  Weekday happy hours will include drink specials, live entertainment, and a tapas menu.  For more information, or to make table reservations, contact VIP Manager Ramsey Houston at (513) 720-9946 or vip@passagelounge.com.

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

Regency Cafe & Coffee opens in downtown Covington

Regency Cafe & Coffee has opened in the heart of downtown Covington in the Wedding Mall.  The new establishment fills the space at 630 Madison Avenue formerly occupied by Proverbs Cafe.

Directly located along Madison Avenue, the Regency boasts views of passing street life through large floor-to-ceiling windows complemented by the space's open layout.

Co-owners Earl Hughes and John Sinica say that the new cafe & coffeehop is public-oriented where customers can expect to come in and meet new people daily.  They also say that the daily menu offers a little something for everyone including breakfast items like English muffins, bagels and pastries that compliment the cafe's assortment of coffees, teas, and hot chocolate.  For lunch customers are treated to soups, salads, sandwiches and daily lunch specials that cost between $3 to $7. Coffees cost $1 for a small house blend to $1.75 for a large specialty roast.

Regency Cafe & Coffee (map) is open Monday through Friday from 7am to 5pm, and Saturday from 9am to 4pm.  Delivery and catering options are available to those in the local area, and space can be reserved within the cafe for private meetings by contacting regencycafecoffee@yahoo.com.

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

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
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