10 Things to Watch in 2010

1.  Green Acres in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine

It might have taken the Banks' project 10+ years to get started, but construction on downtown's first green space in half a century, Cincinnati Riverfront Parkbegins in earnest this year. The new forty-five-acre recreational and entertainment space by Cincinnati's Park Board will serve as a welcome mat for the bricks and mortar development that gets vertical later this year.  In addition to significant green space, its design includes fountains, walkways, gardens, event lawns, playgrounds and restaurants, including the Moerlein Lager House on Main Street. Construction is set to begin in the first half of 2010 with completion in Spring 2011.  The park will also feature a bike and welcome center, and include a section of the Ohio River Bike Trail.

Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine gets its first makeover since the turn of the century beginning in the new year, and the Park Board and 3CDC's plans for this important space are ambitious.  The $32 million mixed-use project will include the renovation and expansion of the park and the addition of a 500-space underground parking garage designed to keep the above ground space 'green.' And while parking will be a boon for the existing institutions that surround the park: Music Hall, Memorial Hall, the new SCPA, and surrounding Gateway retail district, it might also serve as a nudge for developing the handful of remaining vacant properties surrounding the area as well.

2. Festival to Watch:  Know Theatre creates Cincinnati's first LGBT Theatre Arts Festival

The decade old theatre company that brought Cincinnati its first Fringe Festival (now in its seventh year), and is renowned for its thoughtful presentation of controversial and challenging productions discussing race and sexual orientation, now plans on introducing Cincinnati to its first LGBT Theatre Arts Festival. Know Theatre Managing Director Eric Vosmeier says the company plans to run the festival in conjunction with its epic production of Angels in America at the end of April. 

"We believe it is important to continue to engage the LGBT community in our programming as they have always been strong supporters of Know Theatre," Vosemeier says.

While there are similar festivals in other cities, Know is starting from scratch. Vosmeier says you can expect more of the same solid choices by Know that continue to expand the Cincinnati conversation about equality and sexual orientation.

"It will help give voice to the issues that are currently facing the LGBT community and will hopefully serve to strengthen the dialogue that is carried on by so many social services organizations that serve that community."

3. Call the Doctor: MedCon Comes to Cincinnati  

With medical device innovation, development and distribution occurring at a record-setting pace throughout the world last year, how the medical device industry addresses critical regulatory and supply chain challenges will ultimately determine its success or failure.  Leading the conversation is Xavier University, whose Leadership Center hosts MedCon 2010, the first annual Medical Device Industry Conference May 4-7, 2010. The goal?  Put the private sector in the same room with FDA officials and global industry experts to address pressing issues for the blossoming industry and contribute to the development of cutting-edge industry wide solutions. 

"In today’s competitive and lean environment, professionals need to continually keep up to-date on trends, expand their knowledge-base and be well-connected," according to Dr. Marla Phillips, Chair of the Medical Device Conference and Founder/Director of Xavier University's Med-XU.  Med-XU promotes increased patient safety through enhanced awareness and compliance within the FDA Regulated Industries. 

4.  Herbivore's Delight: The Return of Mullanes

In a town largely known for pork consumption in all its itinerant forms or Jeff Ruby's cotillion of steak palaces, if you were alive in Cincinnati in the late 80s/early 90's and wanted creative vegetarian food, you had few choices. But Mullane's Parkside Café on Race was a breath of fresh air downtown, well known for its creative vegetarian offerings and independent, arty vibe (The Movies Repertory Theatre was right next door, providing the one-two synergistic punch of independent cinema + gourmet eatery).  Not surprisingly, no rumor attracted more attention amongst foodies in town this winter then the possible return of Mullanes which had been closed since 2004.

Now, former Mullanes' employees Ellen Faeth and Jackie Newton plan to open a newly reconstituted Mullanes five blocks north on Race Street across from Washington Park and Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine. Faeth says the pair are completing renovations this winter and plan a late spring/early summer opening. The menu will feature older favorites, but also embrace more contemporary culinary themes like organic and locally grown produce.

The restaurant had changed hands a couple of times before closing for good in 2004. As for what will make Mullanes 2.0 stand out among the handful of veggie/vegan friendly spaces that came to life in the intervening years, Faeth claims it wasn't only the food that made Mullane's a special place.

"It will be the same thing that made us unique when Kim Cole originally opened the doors of Mullane's Parkside Café. It will be a place that creates an atmosphere where people can enjoy art, music, and wholesome, inventive dishes in the company of other open minded, creative, and amazing beings."

Follow their progress and request your old favorites on their Facebook page.

5.  Posh Place to Crash. The Metropole's $48 million renovation gets underway

It's been 26 years since a hotel has been built in downtown Cincinnati - the last was the Hyatt Regency located on Fifth Street, in 1984. So what makes the renovation of this historic hotel more interesting is the modern twist planned by developer 3CDC.  Partnering with Louisville-based 21c Museum Hotels, their plans call for a transformation of the space into a 160-room boutique hotel and contemporary arts venue at the site by 2012, with work to begin at the end of this year. Built in 1912, the Metropole was originally constructed as a 10-story, luxury hotel but was divided up into mixed income apartments in the mid 70's.

The original 21c Museum Hotel - located in Louisville's West Main Street Historic District, has been more than just a boon for Louisville's downtown arts and theater district. With its brilliant marriage of contemporary art - the entire hotel including its rooms, restaurants and bathrooms, is an art museum - and southern hospitality, the hotel ended up the #1 Hotel in the United States and #6 in the World in Condé Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards last year. The Metropole will only be the group's second hotel, but the concept is a perfect fit with next door neighbors the Contemporary Arts Center and the surrounding theatre district.

Steve Wilson, Founder and Chairman of 21c Museum Hotels, concurs.  "We look forward to creating a 21c Museum Hotel that reflects the unique character of the Queen City." 

6.  Best Bet? 

If a group of fervent supporters had their way, a 1996 ballot initiative might have made Broadway Commons the home of the Cincinnati Reds instead of their current home on the banks of the Ohio. Ironic then, isn't it Red's fans, that Broadway Commons will welcome the city's first Casino which earned its place with a successful statewide ballot initiative this past November. 

What the Casino will look like, and how it affects the adjoining historic neighborhoods is anyone's guess. What we do know is the developer, Rock Ventures Group, who also has dibs on developing a casino in Cleveland also approved by voters, has plans to begin this year.  The developer has pledged to work in concert with downtown's recent tidal wave of resurgence and not against it - to wit, no on-site hotel is planned and there has been talk of supporting an eastern extension of the proposed streetcar to the new venue. 

Many details still need to be worked out, including what to do with hundreds of downtown parking spaces during the Casino's construction.   More importantly, what does the Casino's development really mean to the neighbors and groups that already call the surrounding neighborhoods of Pendleton and downtown home. The decisions that the private and public players in this development make over the next year might just define Cincinnati's ability to balance significant new development while working in cooperation with its oldest, historical neighborhoods.  

7.  Transportation to Watch. The Cincinnati Streetcar and Bicycles built for two (or more)

Its anticipated that we’ll know more this spring, but federal and state funding should start finding its way to Cincinnati this year for the proposed streetcar project.  All public transportation won a significant victory by defeating a ballot initiative last November that would have impeded City Council’s ability to apportion funds for any transportation projects in the region.  While there will be more hurdles to overcome, when funding does arrive, studies can begin in earnest with construction possible as early as this year. That's certainly something to watch.

Until then, two-wheeled transportation in the Queen City scored major points in 2009 with the allotment of two-wheel parking and the Sharrows Pilot Project offering shared lane pavement markings for bicyclists and drivers in Clifton Heights and Hyde Park. The city currently has eight miles of dedicated bike lanes throughout the city and another 340 miles of roadway is being considered as part of the City's Bike Plan.  The City solicited survey responses from cyclists in its first ever Bicycling Report Card. The results suggest more lanes might be on the way, as well as a connector from downtown to the East End.

8.  A Queen Gets Her Crown: Great AmericanTower at Queen City Square

Cincinnati hasn't built a skyscraper in twenty years (1990's Scripps Center being the most recent), so pardon us if this one is slightly regal.  Construction on the Great American Tower at Queen City Square began in 2008 and the structural steel skeleton that forms the building is slated for completion this month. This spring the building will get its distinctive 400 ton steel tiara inspired by the late Diana Princess of Wales, according to the building's designer, Gyo Obata.  Symbolically, when completed the Queen will also take the crown of the venerable Carew Tower as Cincinnati's tallest building - a record Carew has held since 1931.

More important than what's on the outside though, is the 800,000 square footage of office space inside, half of which will be assumed by Great American and the remainder being filled by large businesses like law firm Frost Brown Todd, which will relocate its offices from the PNC Center. While some critics have questioned adding this much class 'A' office space to downtown, the completed building will create new opportunities according to Elizabeth Edwards with Metro Innovation.  

According to Edwards, the vacancies incurred by other downtown buildings as businesses move to the Tower will require 8,000 more people working downtown to get back to historic vacancy rates.  Those numbers, according to Edwards, are better suited to come from start up and smaller companies, many of which have traditionally avoided downtown's more pricier leasing structures and overly large spaces in the past.  Edwards points out that 23,000 new companies are started every year in Greater Cincinnati and finding a way to market this space to start ups makes good sense.  She's proposed allotting two-year shared office arrangements to freelancers, consultants, and startups with a friendly lease structure that allows them to combine their space and services, creating an entreprenuerial 'collective' of sorts.  

Edwards'  "one floor experiment for 24 months" is innovative and worth watching.

9.  Neighborhood to Watch:  Uptown

Over-the-Rhine has benefited of late from a residential building boom and downtown has Fountain Square and will soon have its Banks and Tower, but no community may offer more promise in developing and attracting talent to Cincinnati over the next year than the collection of neighborhoods known as Uptown

Counting Clifton, Corryville, Avondale, Fairview, University Heights and Mt. Auburn among its neighborhoods, the Uptown community has long boasted the city's largest employer, the University of Cincinnati, and an unmatched corridor of research and service hospitals. The University and its affiliates such as Children's Hospital recorded $378 million in research funding in 2009, a record high.  Its anticipated that this number will grow even more in 2010.

Even the University is seeing significant gains - last fall's enrollment topped out at 39,667, the highest since 1980, and the freshmen class of 6,000 was UCs largest ever. Applications for 2010 are running well ahead of last year's record number according to Mary Stagaman, Associate Vice President for External Relations with UC. 

Retail and residential development are also finding firm footing in Uptown. In Corryville, plans are underway to revitalize Short Vine's retail stretch, a project anchored by the Hampton Inn that's currently under construction at MLK and Vine. In late 2009, Mt. Auburn also unveiled a retail study addressing the unrealized potential for its business district and soliciting proposals. In Clifton Heights directly across from UC's west campus, business owners, students and residents are looking forward to a possible groundbreaking on the delayed first phase of Uptown Commons along Calhoun Street.  All of Uptown will be getting a new way-finding system in 2010 that will enhance the experience of patients, students, shoppers, and others that live, work and play in the community.

Stagaman says that UC, along with Cincinnati Children's, TriHealth, the Health Alliance, and the Cincinnati Zoo, as well as the newly formed coalition of community councils, business associations, and community development corporations known as the "Neighborhoods of Uptown", have been overseeing the community's progress.   

10.  Back to School: Cincinnati Public Schools

Don't call it a comeback, they've been here for years, but the oft maligned Cincinnati Public School system will cap off significant developments this year and begin others as it seeks to provide innovative educational options to Cincinnati's inner ring neighborhoods.

First up is the School for Creative & Performing Arts (SCPA), which moves into its new home adjacent to Washington Park in the fall. The new building merges the Schiel Primary School for Arts Enrichment with SCPA to create the first public K-12 arts school in the world. Classes will begin this fall for 1,350 students, but current SCPA seniors will get to use the building for graduation ceremonies this May. This past December, CPS's board agreed to name the building in honor of the late Cincinnati Pops Conductor Erich Kunzel who was the public driving force behind the school's strategic relocation near Music Hall.  Equally important is what CPS will decide to do with the SCPA's home since 1976, the former Woodward High School. The historic building and its valuable green space play an important part in its surrounding Pendleton neighborhood.

Last May, the Rothenberg school in Over-the-Rhine was saved from demolition when CPS's board agreed to fund the project as a renovation.  CPS considers the renovation a  "win for the OTR community" which helped lobby for the decision and been involved in the design phase.  Rothenberg, built in 1914 and designated a historic building, will be renovated for 550 students.  The $17,000,000 renovation will also include additional green space and an 11,120 square-foot gymnasium.

Another school that's getting more than just an aesthetic makeover is Hughes High School in Clifton Heights. Hughes' year long building renovation will be complete this year in time to welcome another class to a new innovative program termed STEM. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and focuses on hands-on, inquiry-based learning emphasizing 21st century learning skills across all subject areas.  Creation of the STEM high school program was made possible by a planning grant from the Ohio Department of Education and a $20-million, five-year systemic grant from the GE Foundation aimed at improving mathematics and science instruction throughout CPS.  When students return in the fall, they’ll have a professional practice and demonstration laboratory providing professional development opportunities for teachers and college students in teaching programs as well as dual high school/college enrollment programs and business internships.

Soapbox wants to know what are you watching in 2010?  Share your picks with us on our Facebook page.

Photography by Scott Beseler
Washington Park from above
The Know Theater
Xavier University
Herbivore salad
Money shot
Great American Tower
Children's Hospital
School for Creative & Performing Arts

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.