15 for '15: Big ideas driving Cincinnati forward in the new year

New year, new hopes and dreams, new promises and resolutions, yet same bleak weather and playoff results for the Bengals. It's January in Cincinnati, when all things are possible ... except a Super Bowl appearance.

Before the holidays we reviewed the 10 most popular Soapbox stories from 2014, but now it's time to consider the year ahead. What will 2015 bring for our community, our friends and neighbors and ourselves? How will Cincinnati handle the business and housing renaissance occurring downtown and in several neighborhoods? Will we build on our successes and our new-found "can do" attitude?

The winds of change are moving Cincinnati in the right direction. Positive momentum is on our side.

Here are 15 big ideas for Cincinnati in 2015 that, if achieved, will accelerate the region's forward movement. They're certainly doable given our recent track record.
The local startup scene gets even hotter. Support for entrepreneurship in Greater Cincinnati today is tangible, contagious and everywhere. It's as responsible for downtown's and Over-the-Rhine's resurgence as any other factor. Simply put, if you have a good business idea, you can make your mark in Cincinnati in 2015. Mayor John Cranley got national press for making Cincinnati's startup community a funding priority when the city invested in a new OTR home for the "big three" accelerators/incubators (Cintrifuse, The Brandery and Cincy Tech) that opens this summer. It's enough to make you think Cincinnati could be one of the next Silicon Valleys. Seeking funding/mentoring/incubation support for a business that's in Hamilton County, in Northern Kentucky, in the northern suburbs, in manufacturing, is minority-owned, is female-owned, is a nonprofit, is Christian? No problem. Looking for individual grants, how-to-start-a-business classes or pop-up storefronts where you can test your idea? Check. Want to collaborate with students and faculty at Xavier, NKU and UC or medical professionals at Cincinnati Children's? Yep. Want to just meet other creative types, talk shop and bust startup myths? OK. But get going ... 2015 is only 12 months long.
Cincinnati Streetcar starts running. Well, training runs at least. Actual streetcars will start plying the rails in Over-the-Rhine in 2015, while the remaining track is laid in central business district streets. As excitement builds for the line’s 2016 opening, look for continued clashes between those committed to extending the line up to UC’s campus and those dubious about the first phase’s prospects.
Covington takes center stage. Just in time for its bicentennial celebration, Kentucky’s fifth largest city has a new branding, logo and slogan, “Covington’s Alive!” The city’s definitely pushing forward, attracting talent and innovation via the Center for Great Neighborhoods and asking residents to help redevelop historic buildings. Covington’s birthday is officially celebrated Feb. 7-8, but fun events will continue through September.
People’s Liberty puts unique stamp on community engagement. And now for something completely different, as the new “philanthropic lab” begins its five-year quest to change Cincinnati one disruptive project at a time. Mentored by the Haile Foundation’s Eric Avner and the Johnson Foundation’s Amy Goodwin, People’s Liberty opens shop next month across from Findlay Market to host its first two Haile fellows, Brad Cooper and Brad Schnittger. They’ll also fill new writer/designer residencies, begin the $10,000 Project Grant series and fund crazy art projects for the building’s storefront. Hold on, it’s gonna be a wild ride!
Cincinnati’s “front door” at The Banks generates attention and excitement. The national spotlight hits Great American Ball Park in July for the 2015 Baseball All-Star Game, along with thousands of fans and families looking for a good time. Carol Ann’s Carousel leads the next wave of new attractions to open this year at Smale Riverfront Park. And GE’s new office building on The Banks will top out this year in expectation of 1,800 downtown employees arriving in 2016.
More housing units drive momentum of Over-the-Rhine renaissance. 3CDC continues to be the dominant developer in OTR, with numerous projects nearing completion in 2015. Urban Sites received Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits for two Main Street projects and is opening 14 apartments on Walnut this summer. Grandin Properties received state tax credits to help with projects near Washington Park. Model Group is working on a major development project near Findlay Market. Urban Expansion is renovating homes on Wade Street. Newly built and rehabbed townhomes are coming to Pendleton this year. And the old SCPA building is still being talked about for an apartment development.
Over-the-Rhine continues as a prime entertainment destination. It’s difficult to keep track of all the new eating and drinking spots in OTR, so forgive us if we miss a few ourselves. Late 2014 saw the debuts of Krueger's Tavern, Goodfellas Pizzeria and Lachey’s Bar, and before long we’ll welcome Taft's Ale House, Pontiac Bourbon & BBQ, Low Spark, ZBGB Gourmet Burgers and 16-Bit Bar + Arcade. And don’t worry, there’s room for more.
Local, healthy food reaches more area residents than ever. Cincinnati is finally catching on that all residents, not just certain restaurant customers, want and deserve healthy food options. Our Harvest leads a new generation of food co-ops offering locally grown products to the masses, and the Healthy Corner Stores campaign brings nutritional offerings to urban neighborhoods that are often food deserts. Even schools are getting in on the action, growing produce for student lunches and neighborhood residents.
Cincinnati’s emergence as a craft beer hotspot steams ahead. Given Cincinnati’s leading place in the history of U.S. beer-brewing, it was frustrating when it seemed we would miss the surging craft beer tsunami. Finally, however, we’ve staked our rightful place among great American beer-making and beer-drinking towns, with really good craft breweries popping up everywhere … and more to come in 2015, including Braxton in Covington, Wiedemann in Newport and DogBerry in West Chester. Try them all at the Cincy Winter Beerfest in February at the Duke Energy Convention Center.
Cincinnati embraces immigrants. Mayor John Cranley wants to make the region more competitive by attracting foreign-born residents, which he hopes will draw new sources of capital, innovation and cultural richness to the city and in turn bring more residents and businesses. His Task Force on Immigration, headed by 92 community leaders, presents its full recommendations later this month.
Enrollment agreements begin to redefine college experience. Matriculation agreements between Cincinnati State and the University of Cincinnati and between Gateway Community & Technical and Northern Kentucky University will start to pay off in 2015, as college students on both sides of the river find more cost-effective work/study options close to home. In higher education, more is definitely better.
“Icon” projects gain traction. A path forward in 2015 is finally visible for Cincinnati’s cultural icons, which have faced the ravages of time and neglect for decades. Hamilton County voters approved $170 million in sales tax proceeds to Museum Center at Union Terminal, not everything needed to renovate the historic train station but enough to get the ball rolling this year. Music Hall won $25 million in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits last month after being denied a place on the county ballot with Union Terminal, providing a needed shot of momentum to get the project back on track. And Memorial Hall announced that 3CDC’s planned renovation would begin this summer.
Cincinnati finally "gets" bicycles. This will be the first full year of Red Bike operations, off to a promising start after the bike share program rolled out in the fall. 2015 will also see decisions on bike and hiking paths along abandoned railroad tracks on Wasson Way (Xavier to Hyde Park to Mariemont) and the Oasis Line (downtown to East End to eastern suburbs) and a full year of separated bike lanes on Central Parkway. Cincinnati might finally join the best U.S. cities for bike commuters after all.
Greater Cincinnati continues to support worthy charities and causes. The nation and the world were captivated late last year by Leah Still’s and Lauren Hill’s brave efforts to raise awareness of and funds to fight their respective cancers. Each brought in over $1 million in donations, thanks to generous people in Cincinnati and elsewhere. Cincinnatians support many other causes and nonprofits with less fanfare, as evidenced in Soapbox’s “For Good” section every week.
Hot neighborhoods include Avondale, Madisonville, Newport, Northside, Price Hill, Walnut Hills and Westwood. Click on the neighborhood links to see Soapbox feature stories, development news and innovation/job news from each place throughout 2014 and previews of anticipated breakthroughs in 2015.
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Read more articles by John Fox.

John Fox is an experienced freelance writer and editor who served as managing editor of Soapbox from December 2014 to August 2016.