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Cincinnati Planning Commission considers reduced parking requirements along streetcar line

A proposed revision of the City of Cincinnati's Zoning Code would add an allowable reduction of parking for residential buildings located within approximately two blocks of a streetcar stop.  Presently, the City's Zoning Code has similar reduced parking options for properties with close proximity to public parking facilities, housing for the elderly and persons with disabilities, and on development sites with multiple uses.

The proposal would allow for the Director of Buildings & Inspections to grant a 50% reduction in the number of required parking spaces for any "permanent residential" use located within 800 feet of a streetcar stop.  For residential buildings where a 50% reduction equates to less than five required spaces, no spaces will need to be provided.

The proposal comes just as the Cincinnati Streetcar project has secured $86.5 million of the total $128 million needed to complete a modern system running from Cincinnati's riverfront through its center city and to nearby Uptown neighborhoods.  City leaders are still banking on significant federal money to close the financing gap and make the project a reality.

In February, Cincinnati leaders learned that they had missed out on the first round of TIGER funds in part due to the lack of complimentary zoning policies - policies such as the proposed parking reduction amendment that would encourage mixed-use and transit-oriented development along the proposed route.  Beyond the proposal's impact on the Cincinnati Streetcar project, preservationists are encouraged by what it could mean for historic neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine.

"In general, parking is the enemy of historic preservation because developers of historic properties are required to provide a lot of off-street parking," explained Danny Klingler, Director, OTR ADOPT.  "This leads to demolition of other buildings to make room for surface parking lots.  So we end up de-densifying our urban communities so that we can park cars, instead of walking and using public transit."

The zoning amendment must go before the City Administration, then back to Planning Commission and eventually on to the full City Council before becoming reality.  Supporters of the amendment hope to have the proposed changes in put before City Council later this year.

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

Know Theatre gears up for 7th Annual Fringe Festival, readies for new marquee

Know Theatre is feverishly preparing for the 7th Annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival which has now become Ohio's largest performing arts festival.  This year's installment of performance and visual art will take place between Tuesday, June 1 and Saturday, June 12.  More than 190 artists from across the country will be on-hand to "push the boundaries of the norm and experiment with style and content."

Eric Vosmeier, Know Theatre's managing artistic director, says that this year's artist makeup includes 80 artists from outside of Cincinnati - up from the previous high of 45 at last year's festival.

"Staff spent time going around to other Fringe Festivals and did some recruiting, but artists talk highly of our festival to other artists which helps out as well," Vosmeier explained.  "We are a very artist-centric festival and I think that's why so many of our artists love us."

To build on that artistcentricity, this year's Cincinnati Fringe Festival will include playwriting and clowning workshops, and even yoga classes throughout the festival for the artists.  Those attending the festival will also experience new features like the Fringe Bar Series, Fringe Prom put on by the artists and the 22.5 Hour Play Project which will give participants 22.5 hours to write, direct, produce and perform a new play.

Aside from the upcoming Cincinnati Fringe Festival, the Know Theatre is also moving forward with its new marquee made possible through two $50,000 grants from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the City of Cincinnati.  Roughly 40% of the $100,000 will go towards the new marquee that will be installed no later than November 1, 2010, with the rest going towards other capital improvements at the theatre.

"We'll be making some equipment purchases including new chairs, lighting and sound equipment that will improve the theatre experience for our attendees for years to come," Vosmeier said.

All tickets for the 2010 Cincinnati Fringe Festival are $12 and can be purchased online.  Full Frontal Fringe passes are available for $200 and provide access to everything the festival has to offer, while six show passes are available for $60.  Tickets and passes may alse be purchased by calling (513) 300-5669, or during the festival at the Know Theatre's box office (map) or at any of the individual venues 30 minutes prior to show times.

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

First ArtWorks bike rack installed outside local coffee shop

ArtWorks will kick off their Queen City Art Racks program today outside of Coffee Emporium at 3pm to celebrate the completion of their first bike rack.  Over time, the program will create 15 decorative bike racks to be installed throughout Cincinnati.

"Iíve been dreaming about doing this project for the past six years. The timing is perfect as people are more aware of being healthy and environmentally conscious," said Tamara Harkavy, Director, ArtWorks.  "It is a smart way to engage artists to create functional art.  ArtWorks' mission is to provide jobs for artists and create public art, and bike racks are something anyone can use."

The program ties in nicely with the City's recent push to make Cincinnati more bicycle friendly by investing in bicycle infrastructure including new bicycle parking facilities.  The artistic idea for the program was inspired by a trip to Louisville where Harkavy and others saw something that was part sculpture, part bicycle rack, and entirely captivating.

The first Art Rack is called "Tours de Cincy" and was designed by Pam Kravetz, Carla Lamb and Karen Saunders.  Fabricated by Cincinnati-based Vulkane Industrial Arts and sponsored by the NLT Foundation, the inaugural Art Rack can be found along Central Parkway outside of Coffee Emporium's Central Parkway location (map).

Artists interested in submitting a portfolio can do so by contacting michael@artworkscincinnati.org for a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) packet.  Those interested in sponsoring an Art Rack for $7,500 can do so by contacting Beth Fiore at beth@artworkscincinnati.org.  ArtWorks officials say that the 15 Art Racks will be completed by July 2011 to coincide with the organization's 15th Anniversary.

The kick-off celebration later this afternoon will include community members, public officials and neighborhood leaders.  There will naturally be coffee and other selected treats for those in attendance outside of Coffee Emporium.

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

Solar panels helping new Nky middle school go off the grid

The Kenton County School District received a $2 million boost from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act that will help take a new school's energy needs off the grid.  The money will go towards the the purchase and installation of solar panels that will help offset the school's energy needs.

The new $30 million school is slated to open this August in time for the 2010-2011 school year, and is located near the existing Turkey Foot Middle School in Edgewood. Once complete, the new Turkey Foot Middle School will house more than 600 students and become a part of the district's campus that includes Caywood Elementary School and the J.D. Patton Area Technology Center.

In addition to the solar panels, the new school will also boast a variety of other green features that will help reduce its energy demand and overall carbon footprint.  These features include a vegetative roof, gray water collection systems, special lighting systems and geothermal heating and cooling systems.

School district officials hope the green building measures pay off by eventually making it one of the first "Net Zero Energy" schools in all of Kentucky.

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

Mobile gelato cart hitting Cincinnati's streets this Summer

Dojo Gelato opened at historic Findlay Market last August and gelato lovers have been lining up ever since to enjoy their handcrafted Italian-style ice creams and sorbettos.  With the temperatures heating up, and festival season getting started, those same loyal customers have been clamoring for a more mobile gelato experience.  Later this month, gelato fans will get their wish.

The new Dojo Gelato cart will make its first appearance at the Over-the-Rhine Summer Gateway Celebration on May 22nd, and then at Park+Vine's 3rd Anniversary Party on Friday, May 28th.  After those two events, the Dojo Gelato cart can be found at the Wyoming Farmers Market starting in June on Tuesdays, the Clifton Cultural Arts Center for Wednesdays on the Green, Saturdays on Fountain Square for movie nights, and at the Hyde Park Farmers Market on Sundays.

"When I opened the cart wasn't even budgeted into the business plan, but we always thought it would be great to do five or six special events a year," explained Michael Christner, owner, Dojo Gelato.  "With business being so good, it's become reality much quicker."

While he has eventual hopes of setting up at Taste of Cincinnati, Christner is content to operate the Findlay Market store and the new cart which has been a much bigger undertaking, adding another 20 hours a week of operation at a different location.  To help, Christner plans to add another two part-time, seasonal employees to help cover the load.

Christner says that gelato will be made specifically for the events at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center and movie nights at Fountain Square, and will hold six pans of gelato, or about half of what is offered at the Findlay Market location.  To stay up-to-date on what flavors are being offered, Christner suggests following @DojoCart on Twitter.

"There will be a few surprises here or there to keep things interesting between the cart and the Findlay location," Christner said.  "On Fountain Square though you can expect a complete 180 from what is offered at nearby Graeter's, something that might be attractive to get the parent's to come by."

Prices at the gelato cart will be comparable to the prices at Findlay Market, ranging from $3.75 for a small serving, to $4.75 for a large.  Christner says that there is a chance that they will bring the cones down to these events as well and that the gelato lovers should also be on the look out for an impromptu gelato set-up.

"London's World Barista Champion would set-up somewhere random, like in the back of a hipster-type clothing store, and just start serving up espresso," Christner detailed.  "I would really love to do something random like that here in Cincinnati with ice cream.  It all just makes me want to get out there and start serving up gelato with confetti and dancing animals like you would see at a Flaming Lips concert."

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

Avenue Brew coffee shop opens in Bellevue, joins ongoing renaissance

Christine Brondhaver decided to transform the This n' That Shoppe into a coffee house named Avenue Brew after she saw an apparent need in the Bellevue business district.

"People would come in and ask where they could get some coffee nearby, so I thought I had to open up a coffee shop here," said Brondhaver, owner of Avenue Brew.  "Bellevue Bistro is right across the street and used to serve as more of a coffee shop until they became more of a restaurant lately, leaving a gap behind."

Avenue Brew (map) was delayed a week in opening due to electrical problems that had not been envisioned during the minor renovation work needed to install the new kitchen facilities, espresso operations and seating area.  With renovations now complete, Avenue Brew seats approximately 14 inside with room for eight more guests outside.

Patrons will be treated to drinks ranging from $1.43 for a small coffee, to $3.29 for a cafe mocha, to $3.50 for a small smoothie.  Avenue Brew also serves a variety light food and breakfast items including breakfast sandwiches that cost $2.65.  Brondhaver also expects to add some lunch offerings at a later time.

"All of our food is made fresh, and we use 100 percent all-natural ingredients whenever possible including our Monin syrups from Italy," Brondhaver emphasized.

For those concerned about the loss of the This n' That Shoppe, fear not, as the potpourri of products previously sold there can still be found at Avenue Brew.

"We have been saying that you can really think of the new place as Avenue Brew with a little bit of This n' That," jokes Brondhaver.  "This n' That was more of a hobby for me, whereas this I expect will be more of a retirement."

Avenue Brew is currently open Monday through Thursday from 6am to 7pm, Friday from 6am to 9pm, Saturday from 8am to 9pm, and Sunday from 8am to 4pm.  The shop will also be open for the monthly Shop Bellevue festivities on Friday, June 4th until 9pm with live acoustic music to entertain the pajama-themed customers.

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

Kennedy Connector project infused with $12M in funding from OKI

The OKI Regional Council of Governments approved two $6 million requests for phases one and two of the long-awaited Kennedy Connector project.  The $12 million total is by far the largest amount of any project receiving funds through the federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) or Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality program as allocated by OKI.

The Kennedy Connector requests were rated as two of the top requests among the 33 STP/CMAQ projects applying for more than $90 million in transportation funds.

Once complete, the project will connect the Kennedy Avenue/Duck Creek Road intersection to the current Madison Road/Camberwell intersection (map).  Cincinnati officials state that the new roadway will be called Kennedy Avenue and will improve access to nearby land and businesses.

"This is about better transportation access and connectivity, but probably more significant is the effect on economic development of improved business access for 5/3 Bank and Coca-Cola, and the additional opportunities for new economic development nearby," stated Brian Cunningham, OKI spokesperson.

The Kennedy Connector project is one of the recommendations to come out of the Eastern Corridor study which include a variety of multi-modal transportation improvements on Cincinnati's east side.  In addition to the new roadway, the project also includes the realignment of several existing roadways and intersections nearby to further improve traffic flow and access in the area.

The $12 million in STP funds covers 80 percent of the total $15 million project cost, with the remaining 20 percent coming in a required local match.  OKI officials state that the maximum award for STP funds is $6 million, and that the two-phases of the Kennedy Connector project act as two independent projects.

"The projects approved are critical to continuing our efforts to provide our citizens with a variety of commuting options that will save them time and money while alleviating stress that comes from traveling on congested roadways," exclaimed OKI Executive Director Mark Policinski.  "OKI continues to move multi-modal projects forward which benefit our commuting population, environment and economy."

Construction for Phase 1 is expected to begin in 2013, Phase 2 will start a year later in 2014, with both phases are expected to be completed by 2016.

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

New Messer Construction leadership looking to grow, innovate in changing economy

Messer Construction was founded nearly 70 years ago in 1932 and has gone through major changes since that time, but maybe none as important as now when the company is restructuring its leadership and repositioning itself for a new economy.

"We needed to move leadership to younger people within our company, and that's what we did with this group of six new leaders," explained Tom Keckeis, President & CEO, Messer Construction.  "All of these leaders will elevate Messer as we move toward achieving our future goals, and it's their leadership that inspires others."

Keckeis takes over the company's highest position after working with Messer for 30 years, and believes that the future of the company lies with continued innovation and a focus on sustainability.

"Technology is having a big impact on how to reduce wasted effort in our business, and green building is a definite focus," Keckeis said.  "We're trying to stay on the leading edge, and the younger people seem to embrace these changes the most."

Specific innovation measures Keckeis described include a new Integrated Project Delivery model that works with contractors upfront to work out any issues prior to construction.  This new practice is currently being used on Xavier University's new Hoff Academic Quad project.  Messer Construction is also implementing new Building Information Modeling systems that allow for the entire project to be modeled prior to construction to help reduce or eliminate any potential wasted time or energy.

Keckeis also emphasized that the new leadership is looking to grow its footprint beyond its current eight cities to a ninth region sometime soon.  Even as the company expands its reach, Keickeis notes that roughly 40-45% of the company's total commercial construction, or $280-300 million, comes from the Cincinnati region in sectors like health care, senior living, higher education and the emerging life sciences market.

It was these industry sectors that Keckeis said helped keep Messer Construction stable during the recent economic recession.  To stay competitive in these markets he said that the company went as far to hire executives from those sectors to better understand the product they were producing.  Relationships like these are what Keckeis says Messer holds most dear, and is what has kept the company strong over its history in the city where they started it all.

"There aren't many cities that have the arts and culture we have, and Cincinnatians often do not realize how well off they are," said Keckeis.  "There is a great quality of life here for everyone and this is why we stay focused on Cincinnati, and why so many people decide to stay."

Other leadership changes at Messer Construction include Paul Hitter as Senior Vice President & CFO; Mark Gillming, Mark Luegering and Tim Steigerwald have been elected to the Board's executive team; while Dave Miller, Steve Bestard and Rick Hensely have been promoted to executive officers.

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

Kennedy Heights to get green light for new cultural center

The residents of Kennedy Heights are turning their business district into an arts community one vacant building at a time.

Three examples now flank the neighborhood's short stretch of Montgomery Road. A one hundred-year-old Victorian mansion vacated by a funeral home is now the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, a former bar is now a dance and music studio operated by Ballet Tech Cincinnati, and an old filling station hosts an art gallery and weekend "green market."

Now the most ambitious project - the proposed conversion of a 32,000 sq ft vacant Kroger store into the Kennedy Heights Cultural Center - is expected to get a very important legal green light.
Within the next two weeks, representatives from Cincinnati Public Schools, the City of Cincinnati and the Kennedy Heights Development Corporation (KHDC) are expected to sign an option agreement that will legally allow the KHDC to purchase the building from Cincinnati Public Schools, which currently uses it as a warehouse. Once the agreement is signed, the KHDC and the center's three resident organizations will have six months to raise the rest of the money needed to make an offer on the building, KHDC chair Ernie Barbeau said.

If the center is built it will be shared by three occupants. The Cincinnati Art Museum will display a collection there that is currently in storage in Columbus, the Kennedy Heights Montessori School will make the building its permanent home and the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, which has more demand for artist studio space than it can provide, will open studios and a theatre there.

"From my view the cultural center is going to change people's perceptions about Kennedy Heights and I think it's going to change many Kennedy Heights residents' perceptions about themselves," Barbeau said. "And it is really going to be changing not only the nature of our neighborhood but our business district, and I think we are really going to become a major force within the arts district."

The KHDC recently secured a $375,000 grant from the City of Cincinnati to purchase the property, and have been recommended to receive a $300,000 grant from the state for construction costs, Barbeau said. He also said an anonymous donor has pledged a donation that will bring the effort to about 40 percent of its $2.4 million goal, the estimated cost to purchase and renovate the building. If everything goes as planned then construction on the project could begin as early as this fall, Barbeau said.

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler

Righteous Room operators opening "neighborhood bar" in OTR

Cincinnati bar entrepreneurs - Four Entertainment Group (4EG) are spreading to the Gateway Quarter of Over-the-Rhine late this summer in the form of a 900 sq ft pub called The Lackman.

The eighth project on a list that has included The Righteous Room, The Stand and Mount Adams Pavilion, The Lackman is intended to be a "neighborhood bar" for the growing community in the Gateway Quarter, 4EG partner Bob Deck said.

While many of their other projects feature dance floors and bustling weekend crowds, The Lackman will be styled as a classic corner pub with wood trim, televisions for sporting events, a selection of craft beers and an "eclectic jukebox," Deck said.

"It's going to be a corner bar that we hope will anchor the progression of that neighborhood," Deck said. "The kind of place you can meet friends for happy hour or sample a couple of beers and watch the game."

Deck said he hopes the bar will provide a sense of place for those who live in the OTR gateway quarter and also play off the success of Senate, an eatery that opened there this spring, to attract more visitors to OTR.

"Hopefully the places that are going in down there will feed off of each other and encourage people to come to the area," Deck said. "It's set up to be a destination area."

The pub will be located in The Lackman Lofts Building, which was recently renovated and parceled into condominiums. It once housed a brewery and pub during the golden days of OTR, Deck said. The Lackman will be the second establishment, after Senate, to open in the Gateway Quarter with the financial and logistical support of 3CDC, the development group that is driving a massive redevelopment of that area, 3CDC development manager Adam Gelter said.

He said his group approached 4EG about the project after they worked together to open the Righteous Room in downtown Cincinnati last year. In both projects 3CDC provided a loan, assisted with planning issues and helped to secure necessary permits, Gelter said.

Gelter said 3CDC is in the early stages of playing the same role for other bar and eatery projects in the Gateway Quarter.

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler

$45M Mercer Commons development to transform large swath of Over-the-Rhine

In December 2009, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) landed $4.2 million in historic tax credits from the State of Ohio.  That money will cover almost 10 percent of the $45 million development project that will restore 19 historic buildings and build three new mixed-use buildings, and 14 townhomes.  The project will include approximately 15,000 square feet of first-floor commercial space, 155 residential units and a four-level, 275-space parking garage.

The 2.2 acre Mercer Commons site has long been a sticking point in Over-the-Rhine.  Negotiations to sell the land from Cincinnati Public Schools to 3CDC took some time, and the scale of the site has made it a difficult development prospect for a neighborhood still in the midst of a dramatic urban revitalization.

Officials at 3CDC are hoping that with the tax credit and recent momentum in the immediate area, that now is the time to move forward.  New designs have been released and the debate is shifting from whether the project will happen, to how its impact will be felt in the historic neighborhood.

"The Mercer Commons project has the ability to infuse dramatic change through Over-the-Rhine with its large footprint and modern aesthetic," described Greg Meckstroth, Urban Designer with RW Armstrong.  "Ironically, the projectís transformative nature has given way to the neighborhood's traditional urban forms, something that is reflected in the plan's urban design.  Ultimately, this is the project's greatest achievement."

The plan calls for a new structure along Vine Street with a modern appeal that will stand in stark contrast with the existing 19th Century building stock nearby.  The new above-ground parking garage will be hidden behind a mixed-use building constructed along Vine Street.  Meanwhile, historic structures will be restored throughout the site while new infill structures are mixed in to fill existing open lots.

"A great aspect of this urban design is its respect for the current traditional form while still infusing the neighborhood with a modern aesthetic," Meckstroth explained.  "There is little to complain about this design.  It's urban, compact, contextually sensitive, and handles the parking garage beautifully, tucking the structure behind the street wall and forcing it towards the center of the block."

3CDC President Steve Leeper has stated that the goal is to include both market-rate and affordable housing units in the completed project, while also leaving as many buildings intact on the site as possible.  But as far as design goes, the envelope seems like it will once again be pushed in Over-the-Rhine as new infill projects mingle with historic structures in one of America's greatest urban neighborhoods.

"This design, along with 14/v and Trinity Flats, is truly raising the bar for high quality urban design in Cincinnati," Meckstroth continued.  "As these condo and apartment units continue to fill up, solidifying this model of urbanism as a solid financial investment in the City, expect even better, higher quality urban designs in the future."

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

Cincinnati casino could set bar for urban casino design

Cincinnati leaders expect Ohio's first casino to be developed on the Broadway Commons site located on the edge of downtown Cincinnati.  Developers hope to break ground on the $350-400 million project later this year, with a grand opening planned for sometime in 2012.  One issue in Cincinnati is the design of the casino and how it fits into the surrounding historic neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton.  Luckily for Cincinnati, Rock Ventures, developers of the casino, appear willing to design a casino that engages the neighborhood.

"Cincinnati could set the bar for what an urban casino could be," said Aaron Renn, Urban Policy Analyst from Chicago, during a panel discussion at the 2010 Commercial Developers Power Breakfast.  "The developers will have to make something that engages the community though."

During the discussion Renn emphasized that the plans sound great, and that if Rock Ventures follows through on their promises, Cincinnati will get something truly special and unique.

Matt Cullen, Principal of the Cincinnati Casino and self-described "city guy," highlighted the project and discussed how Rock Ventures wants to work with the community to deliver a great product.  Cullen also described their interest in developing an urban casino.

"Cincinnati is a city of outstanding neighborhoods, and we bought the ultimate fixer-upper and prepare to give it the ultimate makeover," said Cullen in describing the troubled Broadway Commons site.  "A successful region in this global economy must be built around a great urban core," Cullen explained.

Once complete, the Cincinnati Casino is estimated to generate close to $21 million for the City of Cincinnati, $12 million for Hamilton County and $14 million for public schools annually in tax revenue.  Neighborhood proponents are excited about thousands of new temporary and permanent jobs, an estimated 6 million visits annually and new investment spurring from the development that will be more than typically seen with an inward-facing casino design.

"We've been getting a lot of calls from people who own property in the area who are ready to do something with it," said Patrick Ewing, Interim Director of Cincinnati's Economic Development Division.

Cullen stopped short of promising a truly urban design, but did commit in writing to work closely with the City, County and State; engage in local and minority hiring practices; work with the local business community to increase economic impact; and to use existing local hotels.

"This will be the first great urban casino in the United States," exclaimed Cullen.  "We plan to fill 90 to 95 percent of the jobs with Cincinnati-area residents, and we want to be a part of downtown and drive business to local hotels, restaurants and bars.  We don't want to be an island...if we wanted that we would have been on another site."

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

Bold design sought for Brent Spence Bridge replacement

In the coming weeks six design alternatives for the Brent Spence Bridge replacement will be narrowed to three.  From there Ohio and Kentucky's respective Departments of Transportation will decide on the final bridge design.

The new bridge will eventually cost somewhere between $2-3 billion and relieve traffic from the existing congested and unsafe river crossing.  The OKI Regional Council of Governments estimates that some $400 billion worth of commodities travel across the bridge every year presently, with an estimated $815 billion crossing annually by 2030.

As the project moves forward in the coming weeks and months, some project members are concerned about the lack of public engagement thus far given the large scope of the project and the long-standing impact the bridge's design will leave on the community.

"This bridge will leave a major impact on the region for decades to come," said Miguel Rosales, President, Rosales+Partners.  "I am glad the city leaders and residents will help guide the selection of the final bridge design in the months to come."

To date, the cable-stayed bridge designs have been the most popular in online voting along with an arched bridge design similar in appearance to the Daniel Carter Beard "Big Mac" Bridge that carries I-471 traffic across the Ohio River on downtown Cincinnati's eastern edge.

"This is the number one priority for our region because the Brent Spence Bridge is a safety hazard and a major choke point for two interstates," said Brian Cunningham, OKI spokesperson, in a previous interview with Soapbox Media.

Once engineering and environmental studies are completed, the construction and development of the new bridge will take several years and create the largest double-deck bridge in the world, and one of the highest capacity bridges anywhere.  The new bridge will carry six driving lanes on each of the two levels of the bridge for I-75 and I-71 traffic over the Ohio River.

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

Cincinnati City Council approves $64M in bonds to fund modern streetcar system

Cincinnati City Council's Budget & Finance Committee voted 6-2 to approve $64 million in bonds for the city's proposed streetcar system on Monday, May 10th.  The move is the first bold commitment from City Hall in terms of financing for the project to date, and is seen as a strong signal to the Federal government that there is local support for the project.

"This project can help us grow our tax base without growing our tax rate," described Brad Thomas, founder of CincyStreetcar.com.  "The approval of these bonds will send a clear message to Washington D.C. that Cincinnati is serious about this project, and will strongly position Cincinnati for the next two rounds of Federal funds."

Specifically, the vote approved three separate bonds that were made up of $11 million from the Blue Ash Airport sale proceeds, $28 million from General Capital sources and $25 million from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) sources.  The General Capital and TIF bonds were strengthened with proceeds from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport.  Beyond the technical proceedings, several young people spoke about the future benefits the project will have on the city and its citizen's quality of life.

"I'm really excited about what I'm seeing in this city, and I'm very excited about the prospect of urban living and more transportation options," said Xavier University student Adam Clark.  "It's very important that we provide these options, and I'm looking forward to riding the streetcar soon."

During Council's deliberations, Council member Jeff Berding asked Cincinnati Budget Director if the Blue Ash Airport sale proceeds could legally be used for cover the City's pension fund or close the City's Operation Budget deficit.  The City's Budget Director proceeded to give a direct and clear message that those funds could not be legally used for the City's pension.

The meeting heard 10 public comments that ranged from local entrepreneurs, students and residents in support of the Cincinnati Streetcar project.  Tim Mara, a lawyer representing Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending & Taxes (COAST) member Mark Miller, was the one public comment in opposition to the project and threatened a lawsuit against Council member Chris Bortz should he vote on the issue.  On April 19, 2010, City Council voted to approve $2.6 million in bonds for the project and had 29 public comments in favor of the Cincinnati Streetcar project with just three in opposition.

The meeting was once again defined by the participation of young people in the political process with several of the public comments coming from young professionals and students alike.

"This has been one of the single issues that has involved a diverse group of people, and has involved more young people in the decision making process in the future of Cincinnati," Council member Laketa Cole stated.  "People always ask me where the young people are, and I can say that young people have been up in the front on this issue from day one making their voices heard.  That is something I'm excited about."

Chris Bortz, Jeff Berding, Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Cecil Thomas and Laketa Cole voted in favor of approving $64 million in bonds while Chris Monzel and Charlie Winburn voted in opposition.  Leslie Ghiz was not present.  The vote will go to the full City Council meeting on Wednesday, May 5th for a final vote where it is expected to pass by a similar vote.

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

XU MBA's have a plan for Main Street revitalization

Fresh eyes are bringing fresh ideas for how to make Main Street in Over-the-Rhine anything but Main Street USA.

A team of Xavier University MBA students is partnering with the OTR Chamber of Commerce to help develop a business plan that aims to revitalize Main Street north of Central Parkway, imagining a progressive and balanced district that is a hub of IT commercial opportunities, blended with retail and entertainment destinations.

Early in 2010, Brian Tiffany, President of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, reached out to students in a course called "New Venture Creation," an entrepreneurial-focused capstone in Xavier's MBA program, and described how students might assist the Chamber. Tiffany explains why the student-involvement was so attractive to him, saying "We need fresh ideas. If I say this is my idea, it can automatically put [Main Street stakeholders] on the defensive."

Eight weeks after Tiffany's presentation, a student team of Joel Willis, Jesse Martinez, Scott Armacost, and Madhukar Srivastava presented a 36-page proposal of ideas to Tiffany, covering issues of Vision, Organization, Marketing, and Best Practice Sharing.  The students were drawn to what they saw as a common cause. "Entrepreneurship and business-skills in general don't always have to focus specifically on financial profit," Willis says. "The same principles can be applied to increase the economic value in a region, translating into a higher quality of life."

Ongoing development success on Vine Street in OTR both demonstrates that increased economic value is attainable and provides inspiration for what Main Street can and could be. Martinez believes, "[Main Street] needs to differ from Vine, but it has the opportunity to be part of a bigger family."  While Vine and Main could each benefit from a potential symbiotic relationship, Main Street Revitalization efforts might be able to get off the ground even faster than the rapid growth that has occurred just blocks away. 

"It's going to be a lot closer to the [Broadway Commons] casino," Martinez says. "Cincinnati has an opportunity to take advantage of that exposure."  With millions of investment dollars tied to the casino, the team specifically recommends exploring partnerships with proven, well-known business that might want to piggyback on that exposure and development by expanding into an additional location on Main Street.

Indeed, stability and longevity are key goals for both the OTR Chamber and the students' proposal. While Main Street briefly exploded into Cincinnati's premier nightlife destination in the mid-2000's before shrinking back to a handful of still-successful nightspots, Tiffany and the student team imagine a new Main Street that grows steadily through balanced investment, with the food and entertainment options complementing the forthcoming casino, and retail options and office employment spurring daytime-vitality. 

Tiffany sees a Main Street with dual identities between business hours to after-hours, and says that the opportunity to achieve that is ripe, thanks to previous development efforts and the Chamber's current Business First grant program, which offers rent subsidies and matching grants for improvements and signage.  He states, "The infrastructure is there, and it's attractive financially."

Adopting elements of the proposed plan into a development strategy will come next, and Tiffany believes the source for the plan can help win over local stakeholders, thanks to the objectivity and creativity of the students.  "This plan comes from people not even from Over-the-Rhine," he points out. "With some brains behind it."

Writer: Jeremy Mosher
Photography by Scott Beseler
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