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CDBG funds to help West Chester expand sidewalk network

Thanks to $148,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, West Chester Township is able to take a significant step forward in implementing its Connections Plan.  The CDBG funding will be combined with $40,000 from West Chester Township to construct sidewalks along Fountains Boulevard south of Cincinnati-Dayton Road.

"This grant award is a significant milestone in the development of West Chester’s Connection Plan," said West Chester Township Board of Trustees President Lee Wong.  "Sidewalks and bike paths make the community more enjoyable and provide residents with a safe alternative form of transportation."

According to project managers, the sidewalk project will construct a six-foot-wide path along Fountains Boulevard, and its final completed length will depend upon costs at time of construction.

The new sidewalks are being installed in a primarily residential area of West Chester that has experienced tremendous growth over the past two decades.  Since 1990, West Chester has nearly doubled in population and has seen the addition of thousands of new jobs including high profile companies like G.E. Aviation and AK Steel.

"These new sidewalks will provide safer access for residents of the adjoining neighborhoods to the new, growing commercial development," said Trustee George Lang. "Investors in this midtown district of our community have been supportive of the emphasis on pedestrian-friendly development, and this project will strengthen that effort."

The addition of all the new residents and businesses have created higher pedestrian counts in the area according to West Chester officials who state that increased safety and an enhanced quality of life is what's being pursued in West Chester's Connections Plan which is funded by money generated from local recycling efforts.

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

Original Thought Required brings fresh street wear style to Cincinnati

Over-the-Rhine's newest neighbor, Original Thought Required (OTR), opened January 29 on Main Street for Final Friday. The street wear boutique is one of the first of its kind in Cincinnati and its owner is excited to be a part of the renaissance taking place in the historic neighborhood.

"I really believe in what 3CDC is doing and I'm really excited to be able to make my dream a reality," said owner James Marable, who also lives in the neighborhood.

After graduating from the University of Cincinnati's College of Business in 2006, Marable started his own t-shirt line, Atypical Sole, and began working in advertising before he decided to take the leap and help grow local street wear culture in Cincinnati.

"It has been growing over the past four or so years now, and a lot of younger people are looking for original style, music and events," said Marable.  "The street wear culture is an edgy look and is typically more fitted and very much about self expression."

The nearly 800 square-foot boutique on Main Street was leased from Cincinnati-based Urban Sites and features exposed brick walls, a glass storefront, and narrow layout which works well with the boutique's design -  Marable said that he was originally attracted to the creativity of the space for his new street wear boutique.

"I wanted to create a space where people could come in with an open mind and be their own person," said Marable.  "I just want people to come and check it out even if they just come down and hang out without even buying anything."

Original Thought Required (map) will be much more than just a street wear boutique - it will eventually include regular events and be representative of the larger street wear culture where people focus on individuality, personal style, and music. Prices at the store will range from $20 to $100 for t-shirts, sweaters, flannel, button-downs, hoodies, sweatshirts, cut and sew pieces, and more.  The store is open Monday through Saturday 12pm to 7pm, and Sunday from 2pm to 6pm.

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

Keller Williams relocates to historic Columbia Tusculum neighborhood

Keller Williams Realty made the decision to relocate their realty group to Cincinnati's historic Columbia Tusculum neighborhood in late 2009.  Since that time the company has reportedly outpaced other local markets by 30 percent.

The relocation brings Keller Williams Realty to Columbia Square which was developed by Cincinnati-based Al Neyer Inc.  The mixed-use development features 30,000 square feet of retail space, restaurants, and 43,000 square feet of Class A office space that includes 30 executive parking spaces on the first floor of the four story structure.

"When the City partnered with Al Neyer Inc. to develop this project, we were hoping to be able to attract office tenants like Keller Williams Real Estate," said City Manager Milton Dohoney.

The realty group has leased 5,600 square feet of space and becomes the office building's first major tenant.  Inside, the Keller Williams Realty space serves as the home base for 104 agents and 22 permanent agents with dedicated office space.  The new space also serves as a training center for all of Keller Williams Realty's agents in the Cincinnati area.

The City of Cincinnati helped make major improvements, that included new streetscaping, to Columbia Parkway and Delta Avenue when Columbia Square was developed in 2005.  Additionally, the City maintains ownership of the surface parking lot in the center of the development that serves as parking for not only the Columbia Square development, but also the entire Columbia Tusculum business district.

"We can now see the mixed-use development concept at work, with Keller Williams’ 104 real estate professionals supporting the restaurants, fitness facilities, and other service businesses both in Columbia Square and in the surrounding business district," said Dohoney.

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

Providence Pavilion opens in former St. Elizabeth North hospital building

The historic former home of the St. Elizabeth North hospital in Covington (map) has been filled with a new rehabilitation and nursing center called Providence Pavilion.

Following more than $500,000 worth of renovation work, the 277,000 square feet of space will now provide rooms for 82 residents in addition to a wide array of treatment services and other amenities.  The new use of the 98-year-old complex also means the addition of 370 employees working throughout the three building campus.

"This is the beginning of an amazing project," said George Hagan, owner/operator of Providence Pavilion.

The first residents of the newly renovated facility moved in this past November into the building's fourth floor.  Lower levels are occupied by rehabilitation services and other medical services.  One of the most notable architectural features of the newly renovated structure is the cathedral-like chapel located on the building's second floor that boasts large stained glass windows.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare has maintained a significant presence on the site and is leasing more than 25 percent of the total 377,000 square feet for its financial operations and employee education programs.

“We have been pleased to expand upon the quality services that St. Elizabeth formerly provided to the community at this location. We also are honored that the Diocese of Covington has kept its offices in the building," said Hagan.

Future plans call for additional community services including those specifically targeted for senior citizens.

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

Cincy Coworks expands operations to five days a week in OTR

It was just four months ago when Cincinnati began coworking.

Cincy Coworks co-founder Gerard Sychay said that the group is still looking for a permanent space for their coworking operations, but that their home on 14th Street in historic Over-the-Rhine has been tremendous thus far.

"It has worked out great," said Sychay.  "The Willow Creative Group space offers us cubicle space, a conference area, a kitchen with coffee, and internet access which is pretty much all most coworkers need."

The big news is that Cincy Coworks is now working five days a week between the hours of 9am and 5pm.  The group started out coworking only on Mondays, but has been able to work out a deal with Willow Creative Group owner, Wade Dent, for five days of operation.

"They have been there a couple weeks now and it's really been gaining steam," said Dent.  There are now  six regulars that use the space weekly. "The group has also been able to develop a symbiotic relationship with the professionals working at Willow Creative Group."

Cincy Coworks occupies approximately 700 square feet of space and shares another 700 square feet of common space at the historic Over-the-Rhine building.  As the effort progresses Sychay hopes to grow the number of regulars to 15 as well as developing charter members that would pay a membership fee to defray future furniture and office space costs.

Sychay envisions a permanent 2,000 square foot home for Cincy Coworks that includes a flexible floorplan and many of the same amenities the group has at the Willow Creative Group.

"It would be great to have a layout where we have conference rooms during the day, then at night move the walls around to set up more of an open classroom type space," said Sychay.

Those interested in coworking can simply walk right in to 222 East 14th Street (map) and pay a flat $10 (cash) for the entire day.  Cincy Coworks also has a mailing list that keeps those interested up-to-date on what is happening while also gathering feedback on how to grow the group founded by young professionals.  They also still have a survey where you can share your thoughts about coworking in Cincinnati.

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

Phase 1a of The Banks on pace for Spring 2011 opening

Cincinnati City Council's Strategic Growth Committee received a critical update on The Banks development at City Hall this past week.  Assistant City Manager, David L. Holmes, and Banks Project Executive, John F. Deatrick, were both on hand to explain the project's progress in further detail.

The update focused on Phase 1a of the construction plan, which includes 300 apartments and nearly 80,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space with parking garages below street level. As of this January, Phase 1a is 65 percent constructed and staying well within the budget previously set for the development - the City and County have pledged $20 million and $5 million respectively.  After both the city and the county have paid their committed shares, they will split the remaining cost 50/50.

"Because of the nature of the project, every day is a challenge," said Deatrick, "but because of the project team we have been able to work through it all."

Phase 1a of The Banks is projected to open by Opening Day 2011, and according to the project team leaders, apartment leasing will begin in fall of 2010.  Projected price points of those apartments are still up in the air.

The scope of construction that is complete is mostly parking and mechanical, electrical and plumbing infrastructure. Currently, crews are laying shear walls and columns in the south site by the bridge. The workers are waiting for warmer weather to come back in order to pour more concrete.  Once the exterior facades on the buildings are finished the surrounding streets that are currently closed off will reopen.

The project's financial director stated that 74 percent of construction workers for the project currently live in the Cincinnati metropolitan area, while 20 percent are minorities, and 2.5 percent are female.  The statistics regarding local employment on the project have been of particular concern by local political leaders and was a point that was reemphasized by City Council members Charlie Winburn, Laure Quinlivan and committee chair Chris Bortz.

"The proof is really in the pudding," said Deatrick in regards to the project's success. "We're under budget so far, the project is on schedule with the parking garage scheduled to open in June, we're hitting our inclusion targets, and we have recorded 160,000 man hours with no lost time due to accidents."

So far The Banks has achieved $1.6 million in bid savings due to a competitive bidding process, and the project team has also been able to avoid using $2.1 million in contingency funds.

Following the completion of Phase 1a in early 2011, work will begin on reconstructing Mehring Way to cut a wider arc above the river, bordering the new Central Riverfront Park. As a result, project managers are currently in the process of appropriating stimulus funds for this development.

Retailers for the Phase 1a portion of the project are still yet to be announced, but much has been speculated about a potential grocery store, entertainment venues like an ESPN Zone, and other restaurants, bars and entertainment venues to compliment the evolving riverfront district. Connectivity to the existing Riverfront Transit Center, and proposed Cincinnati Streetcar, will then help connect The Banks to the rest of Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and Uptown neighborhoods.

Writers: Randy A. Simes & Jenny Kessler
Photography by Scott Beseler
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy

Bellevue looking to the future with new form-based code

The City of Bellevue is looking to the future concerning development and redevelopment.  Now in its 140th year as a city, Bellevue is kicking off a new initiative that will look at form-based code models that have been used to create great places elsewhere to apply in Northern Kentucky.

Coding Bellevue is about much more than looking at what has been done elsewhere though.  The motto for the whole initiative harkens to the historic nature of the community - "Preserving the past, preparing for our future."  According to city leaders, the initiative will take place over the next several months and will require extensive public participation in order to be successful.

"With form-based codes you can do three things," said Bellevue Assistant City Attorney Candace Klein who is also working on drafting the code.  "You can protect the assets you currently have, enhance the assets you would like to improve, or you can use a form-based code to transform your community."

In Bellevue's case, Klein says that they will be focusing on protecting and enhancing their current assets since the community already has a tremendous base to work from.

Much like the form-based code initiative taking place in Cincinnati, Coding Bellevue will eventually create a customized code for the Bellevue community to look to for its future growth and redevelopment.

The first of several public meetings will take place on Wednesday, January 27 from 7pm to 9pm at the Callahan Community Center (located behind City Building at 616 Poplar Street).  The informational event hosted by the City of Bellevue and Jeff Raser of glaserworks will introduce the concept of form-based codes and function as a kick-off to the Coding Bellevue initiative.

The next event will also be at the Callahan Community Center and will take place on Saturday, February 27 from 9am to 12pm.  This interactive workshop will provide the opportunity for the public to develop a vision for how Bellevue should evolve.  The crux of the workshop will be a Visual Preference Survey that will provide a foundation for the future form-based code.

Then over the course of four days, the Coding Bellevue Charrette will run from Monday, March 22 through Thursday, March 25 from 9am to 8pm each day.  This four day charrette will feature public presentations and opportunities for members of the public to interact with the consulting team, PlaceMakers LLC, about their work.

Klein concluded that, "It's going to be an exciting time for Northern Kentucky being the innovator on this, and I think we're going to see a lot of communities do this in the coming years."

Reservations for the Coding Bellevue Charrette are not required, but are requested and can be made by contacting Jody Robinson or John Yung at (859) 431-8866.

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

Fine Arts Fund and ArtWorks set up shop in OTR

The Fine Arts Fund (FAF) and Artworks have settled in to one of the last remaining commercial hot spots along Central Parkway - both moving to the historic Hale Justis Building.  Leaders from the two prominent arts organizations welcomed the move to Over-the-Rhine's dynamic and growing arts district which already includes the Know and Ensemble Theatres, Music Hall, Memorial Hall, and the Art Academy.

The Fine Arts Fund is moving their 28 employees to the 10,000 square-foot second-floor space in Over-the-Rhine from their previous Hyde Park office where they had been for 35 years. 

"The world has changed around us, and it has become evident to pretty much everyone that a move to the downtown area in this emerging arts district made a lot of sense," said Margy Waller, Vice President of the FAF's Arts & Culture Partnership who also stated that the central location made it quite desirable.

Artworks will also be moving eight full-time employees into their 8,000 square-foot first-floor space in the building.  One of the big differences, though, for both the FAF and Artworks, is the contiguous and flexible space the Hale Justis Building provides.

"We're now all on one floor and have separate project space for individual and group artist projects," said Artworks Director Tamara Harkavy.  "The new space creates a much more dynamic and engaging process."

"It's more necessary than ever to have this cross-functional activity taking place due to our expanding role in the community," said Waller, who touted the new "huddle spaces" and "doodle room" complete with white wall for drawing and writing out ideas.

The move also meant the elimination of a lot of office materials and furniture that the FAF no longer needs with the new flexible space.  As a result the FAF has donated the unneeded office materials and furniture to roughly 13 different local non-profit groups.

"It feels like we've completed the area there along Central Parkway with all the arts organizations and businesses," Waller said.  "A lot of people have already told us they're very happy that we filled this space."

Artwork's Harkavy concurs, "In the end, the sum total of both of our organizations moving here represents a huge investment to Over-the-Rhine and the urban core."

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

Marty's Hops & Vines uncorks College Hill's latest addition

Marty's Hops & Vines is the latest business to open in College Hill's historic business district.  The proprietor of upscale wine and beer joins several new businesses that have invested there over the past year sparking a resurgence in the area.

Located at 6110 Hamilton Avenue (map), Marty's Hops & Vines occupies a 2,100 square-foot building previously occupied by the Jr. Order of Mechanics.  After a six month renovation project the building has been transformed into one of the district's assets - something that makes owner and neighborhood booster Marty Weldishofer very proud.

"My love of College Hill, and my belief that people want to shop locally and with people who they know and trust to give them good advice, is what drove the partnership to renovate this historic building and open Marty's Hops & Vines," said Weldishofer. Weldishofer's wife Kate, and their staff of three man the shop.

The shop includes over 200 varieties of wines from all over the world and more than 150 types of beer.  There is also a small selection of food items and a bar and seating area to accommodate guests who might take advantage of one of Marty's Hops & Vines' wine tastings or food or wine demonstrations that are in the planning stages.  Weldishofer states that a calendar will be made public soon with information about these events and more. 

"Our selection is unique and we think we've created an environment where friends can gather and talk about wine, beer and whatever else," exclaimed Weldishofer.

Prior to opening Marty's Hops & Vines, Weldishofer was most well-known for his dedicated work in College Hill where he fought for action against abandoned buildings, absentee landlords, and helped secure and administer more than $500,000 in facade improvement money for the College Hill business district. 

Marty's Hops & Vines is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11am to 10pm; Friday and Saturday from 11am to 11pm; and closed on Sunday and Monday.

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

Abby Girl Sweets opens cupcakery in heart of Downtown Cincinnati

In an attempt to drive more foot traffic for their cupcakery business, Abby Girl Sweets' owners, Nathan and Andrea Thompson, decided to relocate from Oakley to the heart of downtown Cincinnati.  Their new location is directly across the street from Macy's and just a half-block away from busy Fountain Square.

"This is a much better location and a better setup for the store," said Nathan Thompson.  "The long and narrow layout is much better for our customers and our operations."

Named after the Thompson's daughter, Abby Girl Sweets follows much of the same methodology that the growing world of cupcakeries follow.  Their cupcakes are made from scratch with fresh ingredients and baked fresh every day.

The initial move downtown did not come easy though. The Thompson's had searched for months for a location with higher concentrations of people until they got help from Arlene Koth with Downtown Cincinnati Incorporated.

"I had kind of given up on the downtown search myself, but they had a whole list for us to look at which led to this perfect location," Thompson said.

So far the move has been a success.  The 510 square-foot cupcakery has doubled the amount of sales previously experienced in Oakley.  Business has been so good that the Thompsons have been selling out of their cupcakes on a regular basis even though they keep increasing the amount they bake.  

Customers can find a selection of 12 different cupcake flavors at Abby Girl, and one special flavor of the week cupcake.  Cupcakes cost $2.75 each, or they can be purchased in half-dozen quantities for $15.  Cupcakes can be ordered in advance for large or specialty orders by calling (513) 335-0898 or emailing cupcakes@abbygirlsweets.com.

According to Thompson, additional staff may be needed with the growth in sales they and an additional downtown location, vending cart, or delivery service are all possibilities.

"We love it downtown, and we're really hooked on it," said Thompson.  "We just get the feeling that a lot is going on; even late at night there are people out walking around."

Abby Girl Sweets is not the only business looking to the center city for business.  Mica 12/v recently refocused their energies on their Over-the-Rhine location, Five Guys decided to open their chain burger concept in Clifton Heights before considering expansion to the suburbs, and Tazza Mia decided to expand Downtown after the success of their first location.

Abby Girl Sweets (map) is open Monday through Friday from 11am to 6pm.  You can also stay connected with special offers, weekly flavors, and other happenings by following @AbbyGirlSweets on Twitter.

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

Future Blooms remaking hundreds of depressed buildings

In fall 2009, city leaders and members of the Cincinnati Empowerment Corporation, the Jacob G. Schmidlapp Trusts, and Fifth-Third Bank Trustees stood with individuals from Keep Cincinnati Beautiful to kick off the Future Blooms Project.  The project's goal: to accomplish "aesthetic enhancement of vacant, abandoned and foreclosed properties within the Empowerment Zone."

The beautification project targets depressed buildings that have been boarded up and become eyesores in the community.  Keep Cincinnati Beautiful teams with local artists to paint and install window or door designs to both beautify and secure the buildings.

The targeted structures have often been victims of the foreclosure crisis, and as a result, have become points of crime and unsightliness throughout the neighborhood.  This deterioration often leads to the damaging of property values and even acts as a deterrent for prospective home buyers.

Since its start, Future Blooms has been able to successfully transform 33 buildings throughout historic Over-the-Rhine, and has a goal of completing a minimum of 130 buildings by May 2010.  The team of artists, directed by Catherine Richards, have been working out of Keep Cincinnati Beautiful's studio at 1334 Main Street (map).

"Our hope here at Future Blooms is that the reintegration of a visual language referencing the occupation of these properties will lend itself to positive shifts within the community including a reduction in crime surrounding these properties and a rise in area property value," said Richards.

A full interactive map of Future Bloom's completed buildings can be viewed online.

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

Senate to open in Over-the-Rhine's Gateway Quarter this February

The much anticipated Senate Pub plans to open in early February according to owner/chef Daniel Wright.  The current plans are to host a family, friends and neighbors night sometime near the end of January and then open up the restaurant to the public just after that in early February.

The roughly 1,000 square-foot restaurant will introduce several new concepts to Cincinnati food lovers.  Described as "gourmet street food," the menu will consist of a variety of items ranging from $4 to $18 including gourmet hot dogs.  The hot dog selection will consist of seven different gourmet hot dogs with names like the Korean, Trailer Park, Croque Madame, and Hello Kitty, each made with 100 percent all-beef, natural casings and served on brioche buns made specifically for Senate.  Also on the menu will be a Sweet Potato Falafel Sandwich, Lobster BLT Sliders, Duck Fat Fries, and a PB&JF (peanut butter and jelly fois gras sandwich).

Wright said that Senate will feature eight craft beers on tap, four of which will only be found at Senate, and another 30 options available in bottle.  The restaurant will also have five white and five red wines available and will pay special attention to the growing field of mixology through the leadership of Daniel's wife, Lana Wright, who will serve as the restaurant's general manager and drink expert.

Senate's mixologist, Josh Treadway, has reportedly been doing a lot of research in New York, Chicago, and Bourbon Country - research that Wright believes will pay off for Senate's customers and offer them an authentic craft cocktail experience.

"West Coast mixologists use tradition and mix in newer and fresher ingredients," said Wright who went on to say that Senate would be doing more of the West Coast thing where they try to update the classics.

The restaurant seats 48 people inside with 16 people at the bar and a 10 person communal table near the open kitchen.  Senate will also feature Cincinnati's first accordion windows that allow the glass restaurant front to fold into itself and open the space out to Vine Street where another 20 people will be accommodated.

The restaurant space was developed by building owner Urban Sites, and designed by the Wrights who used their previous restaurant experience to design the space in combination with Urban Sites' experience elsewhere in the neighborhood by utilizing old milk crates to create storage behind the bar.  The shelving and cabinets are constructed from remnants of the original structure's pine floors.

The Wrights engaged the help of his neighbor Switch (a local lighting company) to select the lighting treatment to help complete the restaurant's sleek, modern aesthetic. The Wrights also are utilizing graphic designers Nati Evolvement for the restaurant's  logos, branding, website and t-shirts.  The "Senate" sign outside the new restaurant is a replica of a 1917 sign that Wright saw on a recent trip to the Sign Museum in Camp Washington.

"I've always wanted to own a restaurant, since I was a kid," said Wright who has spent 17-plus years in the restaurant business including five years as the chef at Souk in Chicago's Wicker Park/Bucktown area - a place that Wright feels is very similar to Over-the-Rhine.

"This neighborhood is going to change over the next ten years and we're excited about the direction it's heading," exclaimed Wright.  "Over the next five years we would love to do three different places in Over-the-Rhine."

As for the restaurant's name, Wright explained that Senate is a place for the neighborhood and that all business used to be done in the back of neighborhood salons where people would gather to discuss the issues important to them.

"The reason you surround yourself at the table with friends and family is to discuss the issues important to you - just like it's done in the Senate," said Wright.  "We want the foodies, young professionals, empty-nesters, and a steady stream of gay clientele to come in and make this their place."

Located at 1212 Vine Street (map) in the heart of Over-the-Rhine's Gateway Quarter, Senate will be open Tuesday through Thursday from 11am to 2pm and 4:30pm to 11pm; Friday from 11am to 2pm and 4:30pm to 2am; Saturday from 4pm to 2am; and Sunday from 12am to 10pm.  The patio along Vine Street will open this April once the weather improves, but Wright encourages everyone to stay tuned for their full menu and website release later this week.

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

Historic Mercantile Library reopens after a refreshing restoration

Few places in Cincinnati hold the historical significance of downtown’s Mercantile Library located on the 11th and 12th floor at 414 Walnut Street (map). While it has been in the same space for over one-hundred years, the library itself dates back to April 1835 making it one of the three oldest cultural organizations in Cincinnati. However, even with its historical significance, the Mercantile is also one of the Queen City’s best kept secrets which Executive Director Albert Pyle hopes to change with the recent renovations.

“This library deserves it,” said Pyle, referring to the renovations made at a recent preview event.

The massive undertaking led by local architecture firm Brashear-Bolton and local construction firm HGC Construction was the first major refurbishment since the Library moved into the space in 1903. Modern touches were added but a lot of attention was given to maintaining the historical feel as well. The timing of the renovation was meticulously planned as the Mercantile celebrates its 175th anniversary this year.

An example of this mix was the movement of the 16 portrait busts featuring presidents and authors, among others, to eye level mounts throughout the room. This was done so that members could appreciate the art and “hold better conversations with them,” joked Mr. Pyle.

Another balance of modernization and history comes on the south side of the reading room where an old, noisy air conditioning unit was taken out and new two story stacks were installed. According to Pyle, the old air conditioning had to be turned off during events because it was just too loud, so now the library can stay cool in the summer and remain a quiet place of solace for its members. The new stacks are made of steel beams which were actually hoisted up from Walnut Street and through the windows one morning so that they could be installed on the top floors of the building.

A final update sure to be debated between traditionalists and modernists is the fact that the card catalog is now electronic and located online through the Mercantile’s website. The modern move actually forced the library to make its first official count of its collection which totals over 78,000 books, many first editions. About 2/3 of the Library's collections can not be found elsewhere in the city.

These updates and many others are to be unveiled this week when the library reopens on January 20th.  Undoubtedly the 2,000 members will be excited by the modernization efforts that balance the 21st century with the Old World feel of the open space.  Pyle says the Library could “easily welcome in 2,000 more,” members. 

With dues starting at $45, if you spend a good amount of time around the center city it is well worth considering so that you could stop in and soak in the quiet oasis that is the Mercantile Library.

Writer: Dave Rolfes
Photography by Scott Beseler

Metro adds capacity to heaviest traveled corridors with new articulated buses

Articulated buses have arrived in Cincinnati and will be used along Metro's highest capacity corridors to add capacity and improve productivity. Each of the five new articulated buses has a capacity in excess of 100 people (62 seated, 50+ standing) which represents a 50 percent increase over normal bus capacity.

“The articulated buses are workhorses. They will allow us to carry more customers per bus and increase the efficiency on routes that are frequently crowded,” said Marilyn Shazor, Metro’s CEO. “This is especially important now as we try to stretch every dollar to serve as many customers as possible with a smaller budget.”

Each of the new buses cost just over $611,000 and were paid for primarily with federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality (CMAQ) funds that were made available through the Ohio Department of Transportation and the OKI Regional Council of Governments.

The new 24-ton articulated buses are being deployed along Metro's heavily used 43, 45, and 47 bus routes along the Reading Road corridor, and are replacing existing buses that were beyond their useful life according to Metro officials.

Financially these buses represent a potential gain for Metro through the additional capacity added while maintaining the same labor costs with only one bus driver. Future articulated buses are being investigated and might even be hybrid like many of Metro's newer buses.

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

Lawyers Title Building looking to sing a new tune

When Urban Sites purchased the Lawyers Title Building in downtown Cincinnati in 2007 they never imagined they would discover a large ballroom inside that had been covered by drop ceilings during a later renovation.  The discovery of the 4,000 square-foot ballroom immediately changed Urban Sites' plans for the building.

It has been just over two years since the discovery was made. During that time, Urban Sites has also discovered former showers, bathrooms and even a six-lane bowling alley that was used by the Republican Party which owned the building for some time.

The 120-year-old structure currently boasts close to 20,000 square feet of space and looks to be perfect for an entertainment venue according to Urban Sites property manager Kris Sommer.

"The ballroom that was built on to this building in the 1920s tells me there's an awesome opportunity to create an entertainment venue here," said Sommer.  "The building is also located in a 'destination location' downtown and has lots of available parking surrounding it."

The ballroom, with its 19-foot ceilings and beautiful crown molding, could easily be transformed into a top-notch live music or theatre venue.  Upper floors seem perfect for the addition of bars, gathering spaces, rooftop patios, offices or even apartments for visiting artists.

Urban Sites purchased the building for just over $400,000.  Sommer estimates that it will take $2 million to get the building refurbished and ready for use once again, but that with the preliminary work already done it could be a quick process.

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