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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

Regional consortium lands $24M to clean up neighborhoods

The Cincinnati-Hamilton County NSP2 Consortium (CHCHC) has landed more than $24 million for neighborhood stabilization efforts in seven different communities throughout Hamilton County.  The awarded money is a result of a successful grant proposal put together by the consortium this past summer and is part of the second round of Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding.

Made up of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County and The Model Group; the consortium works together with the purpose of redeveloping specific neighborhoods and communities within Hamilton County.

Within the City of Cincinnati, Avondale, East Price Hill, Evanston and the Northside neighborhoods will receive funding while Golf Manor, Lincoln Heights, and Mt. Healthy will receive funding elsewhere throughout Hamilton County.

Some preservationists see the use of these funds as a threat to historic properties that make Cincinnati unique, and that it could cost the region down the road. Further, its alleged that the use of such funds without a proper review is illegal.

"These funds should yank these funds unless the city and county can provide a process to the State for Section 106 review  that provides for public input on those properties that will either be demolished or rehabbed as part of this process," said historic preservationist Paul Wilham.  "The preservation community should insist that federal law be followed and a proper Section 106 review takes place."

As part of the application, CHCHC has committed to not exceed a 10 percent threshold for demolition activities, but has proposed demolition of blighted structures in all seven of the targeted areas.

According to the CHCHC, the targeted communities have lower economic indicators that result in higher numbers of homes that end up vacant.  This, in combination with overwhelmed local code enforcement agencies, has led to homes becoming blighted and becoming a destabilization factor in the neighborhoods.

Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper sees the $24 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development as a great opportunity for communities throughout Hamilton County that have been hit hard during the housing crisis saying that, "this competitive grant will allow us to clean up vacant, blighted and abandoned properties in some of our hardest hit communities."

"Those funds are going to help us have a big impact on Cincinnati neighborhoods," according to Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory. 

"We will be taking properties that are dragging down our communities and turn them into new housing opportunities that will strengthen our city."

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

Charrette Week kicks off for Revive I-75

The City of Cincinnati is enlisting the help of Pittsburgh-based Urban Design Associates (UDA) to reconnect and redesign several neighborhood areas that were torn apart by the construction of Interstate 75 decades ago.

To accomplish this, UDA is examining four areas along the I-75 corridor through Cincinnati in an effort being called the Revive I-75 Corridor Study.  The project team said early on that the success of the project will hinge upon public involvement and effectiveness of the overall planning process.

"We've worked in many cities for municipalities and development authorities, and we always engage the community in the planning process.  The first step is to meet as many people and discuss the issues - that's when we really learn about the project areas," said UDA principal Paul Ostergaard.

Urban Design Associates and the project team are in town this week to host a charrette week -throughout the week, UDA will be hosting a variety of design workshops where sketch artists will work on preliminary design concepts while members of Cincinnati City Council and Revive I-75 steering committee members will be on hand to provide feedback.

Following these design workshops and feedback sessions, there will be a public meeting that will mark the end of Charrette Week at Cincinnati State (map).  The public meeting takes place on Thursday, January 14 from 6pm to 8pm, and will present the initial design concepts and plans.  From there UDA will have breakout sessions so that attendees can provide feedback on the ideas, much like they did at a previous meeting held last November at Cincinnati State.  Findings from that meeting are available online for public review .

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

Model Group breaks ground on $4.2M Forest Square development

Cincinnati-based Model Group has broken ground on a new $4.2 million development in Avondale that will create 21, two-bedroom affordable senior housing units.  The Forest Square project is being developed at the corner of Harvey and Rockdale Avenues and is expected to be completed by Fall 2010.

"This is a momentous day for the Avondale community," said Patricia Milton, president of the Avondale Community Council. "Forest Square will provide a new affordable housing option to our seniors allowing them to remain in the community they've called home their entire lives and at the same time, attract new families to the neighborhood."

The development represents a significant investment for the Avondale neighborhood which has recently seen a flurry of new investments lately along the Burnet Avenue corridor with the help of the Uptown Consortium.

"The Uptown area, specifically Avondale, is in the midst of an exciting revitalization and we are proud to be a part of it," said Bobby Maly, The Model Group's Vice President of Development. "We look forward to investing in Avondale with this top quality housing for our seniors."

According to the project team, the new housing units will be made available to senior residents earning at or below sixty-percent of the area's median income.  Forest Square has also been registered with the U.S. Green Building Council as the Model Group intends on achieving LEED certification on the project.  LEED features incorporated into the final design will include low VOC paints, recycled carpeting, low-flow water fixtures, high efficiency furnaces and air conditioning, Energy Star appliances, and energy efficient building systems.

Once complete, neighborhood leaders envision Forest Square as an anchor to the northern edge of the Burnet Avenue corridor - an area previously occupied by vacant lots.

"This is just one of the many projects that demonstrates the City's continued neighborhood investment and strategic partnership which has revitalized the area around Burnet Avenue," said City Manager Milton Dohoney.  "This targeted use of City resources improves the quality of life for all of us who live and work in Cincinnati," Dohoney said.

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

Cincinnati Preservation Association to host first-ever sustainability program

Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) is sponsoring Cincinnati's first-ever program on energy efficiency and sustainability for old-house owners.  'Old House, Green House' will take place on Saturday, January 23 from 9:30am to noon at the Art Academy of Cincinnati (map) in historic Over-the-Rhine.

CPA officials say that while much of the green building movement is about new construction, older existing buildings also play a significant role.

"One of our country's most urgent tasks is to "green" the buildings we already have - including historic buildings," according to the CPA.

In addition to the many inherently green features built into older structures like natural materials and natural ventilation, older structures also boast a built-in green advantage over new structures with the energy and labor that has already been invested into the structures.

"Preservation and sustainability go hand in hand," says CPA.  "According to economist Donovan Rypkema, when you preserve a historic building, instead of building a new one on a greenfield site, you are preserving land. When you rehabilitate a historic building instead of carting it to a landfill, you are reducing waste generation. When you reuse a historic building, you extend the life of the "embodied" energy used to build it: a wise use of resources. And by revitalizing an in-town neighborhood, instead of building a new subdivision miles from the city, you promote a more sustainable, more transit-friendly, less-car-dependent way of life."

CPA goes on to say that by building on an old house's good qualities, owners can improve efficiency and comfort levels, without sacrificing historic character or making costly upgrades, and that many features of new "green" homes can be duplicated in older buildings, including efficient lighting, water-saving plumbing fixtures, and high-value insulation.

'Old House, Green House' will cover a variety of topics including how to properly insulate older homes, high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, geothermal energy options, appropriate storm windows, and how to green your home renovation project.  Admission for the program is $7 for CPA members and $12 for non-members.  Tickets can be purchased online or by calling CPA at (513) 721-4506.  Reservations are required due to space constraints.

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