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Tri*Metro campaign providing entertainment buses Sept. 13

This fall, Metro is launching the tri*Metro campaign, which will encourage young professionals to incorporate Metro into their lives. The three-pronged campaign focuses on learning about Metro, experiencing Metro and challenging riders to go car-free during the month of October.
 
Cincy YP and Give Back Cincinnati wanted to form a partnership with Metro to better educate others about riding the bus. They didn’t want to go to more meetings, but instead created a video about riding Metro, which shows riders how 20- and 30-somethings use the bus.
 
As part of the campaign, Metro is providing three entertainment buses for riders on Sept. 13. The bus will circulate to hotspots in Hyde Park, Mt. Lookout, Oakley, O'Bryonville and Over-the-Rhine. The bus will run from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., and will stop at designated bars and restaurants.
 
“Riders can get on and off the bus all night long, and will give everyone the opportunity to experiment with the buses,” says Kim Lahman, ridership development manager for Metro.
 
A specific route will be drawn up for the night that will circle the neighborhoods involved in the event, and there will be a bus schedule specifically designed to fit the route.
 
Volunteers from Cincy YP will be at each of the designated bus stops to help riders figure out where they’re going and how long they will have to stand and wait. Riders will also receive special discounts at participating bars and restaurants.
 
Venues include Cock & Bull Public House and Unwind Wine Bar in Hyde Park; Mt. Lookout Tavern and Millions Cafe in Mt. Lookout; Animations and The Oak Tavern in Oakley; O’Bryon's Bar & Grill and Uncorked in O’Bryonville; and The Drinkery and MOTR in OTR.
 
“It will be great for ridership, as well as for economic development because we’re supporting businesses along the way, and helping get people familiar with the Metro system,” Lahman says.
 
If you’re interested in riding Metro’s entertainment buses on Sept. 13, tickets are $5. For more information, visit Metro’s website.

Fresh Thyme markets coming to Tri-State

A new specialty grocer will soon be opening two locations in Cincinnati—one in Oakley and one in Symmes Township. The Fresh Thyme Farmers Market is like an outdoor farmers market but combined with a full-service grocery store.
 
Fresh Thyme has plans to open more than 60 stores in the Midwest in the next five years. Its first location in Mount Prospect, Ill., will open this spring, followed by eight more in 2014, including the Cincinnati locations in the fall.
 
The stores are roughly 28,000 square feet, and 80-100 employees will be hired for each Cincinnati location.
 
Fresh Thyme focuses on locally sourced, organic fruits and vegetables. The stores will have more than 400 bins of natural and organic bulk items, plus small batch locally roasted coffee beans. Stores will also have a butcher shop with all-natural handmade sausage and meat raised without hormones, specialty sections with gluten-free and dairy-free products, a full dairy with local items, a Hops & Grapes department with wine and local craft beer, varieties of vitamins, supplements and natural body care products, and a section with ready-made healthy meals for on-the-go.
 
Follow Fresh Thyme on Facebook and Twitter (@FreshThymeFM) for updates on the Cincinnati stores.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
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Nourish Yourself offers healthy, home-cooked meals to busy clients

After a 15-year career with P&G, Cherylanne Skolnicki became a certified health coach and started teaching people how to eat better. In January 2011, she started Nourish Yourself, a service that will cook dinner for you.
 
“The concept of a home-cooked meal resonates with busy families,” Skolnicki says. “Clients want to feed their families fresh, healthy, unprocessed, seasonal food, but struggle with the time and skills to cook those meals. We take the guesswork and challenge out of it.”
 
Nourish’s core team has three employees who focus on everything from customer care to menu development to marketing. A team of nine cooking partners go into clients’ homes and make the magic happen, Skolnicki says.
 
Clients are matched with a Nourish cooking partner in their area—they shop for and prepare meals in your kitchen. Meals are prepared all at once, and Nourish even cleans up afterward.
 
Nourish offers flexible pricing that starts at $159 per week plus groceries, and you choose the service date. Nourish’s winter menu is available on its website, with 50 entrée choices, many of which are freezable, plus fresh salad greens and homemade dressing.
 
The menu changes seasonally, but favorites include healthy makeovers of restaurant dishes, such as chicken enchiladas, Thai basil chicken and buffalo chicken meatballs. Skolnicki says both Nourish’s risotto with asparagus and peas and bison burger with Cabernet caramelized onions and white cheddar are also popular.
 
“Busy is the new reality for today’s families,” Skolnicki says. “We hope to make dining in the new normal for busy, health-conscious households. And cooking is one of the aspects of a healthy lifestyle that you can now outsource and still get all of the benefits.”
 
Today, Nourish serves the Greater Cincinnati area and northwest Arkansas (because of P&G employees), but Skolnicki hopes to expand to other markets in 2014.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
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Sleepy Bee Cafe creates a buzz in Oakley

Oakley’s newest restaurant, Sleepy Bee Café, opened its doors the week of December 16 at 3098 Madison Road. Dr. John Hutton and Sandra Gross, owners of Oakley’s blue manatee children’s bookstore and decafé and Brazee Street Studios, also own the café.
 
The idea for Sleepy Bee came from the recent dramatic decline in the honeybee population. Hutton and Gross wanted to get involved, and to them, a restaurant seemed like the best way.
 
Sleepy Bee serves breakfast, lunch and brunch with a focus on local, organic, and hormone-free produce, meat and dairy products. The menu, created by chef Frances Kroner, also caters to the health-conscious eaters with the Buff Bee lineup and offers creative, “real” food for kids. Some of the restaurant’s signature dishes include “Killer Bee” cookies, gluten-free Bee Cakes and the Queen City Bee breakfast, which features locally made goetta.
 
The restaurant showcases bee-centric art made by artisans from Brazee Street Studios of Glass and C-Link Local. Sleepy Bee boasts unique bee-inspired kiln-formed glass light fixtures and local artwork, including custom tiles in the dining room and restrooms that feature vegetables that are fertilized by hardworking bees.
 
Hutton and Gross plan to offer catering services and host annual bee-themed fundraising dinners to do their part for bee conservation and awareness.
 
Sleepy Bee is open Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
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Neighborhood Asset Mapping tool focuses on neighborhoods' strengths

The Community Building Institute recently partnered with Xavier University and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati to develop and launch the Neighborhood Asset Mapping tool. It’s an online resource that allows all 52 Cincinnati neighborhoods to create a profile of community-based assets and resources in the area.
 
NAT was made available to the public this spring,and was in development for six to eight months before that. It’s free, and it promotes engagement and resource-sharing among residents. Residents can add assets to NAT, and they’re immediately available to other users.
 
“If you’re new to the community or thinking of moving to a neighborhood, you can find what’s going on there,” says Trina Jackson, program director of the Community Building Institute. “You can find community councils and neighborhood associations. Lots of people don’t know about grassroots organizations, and Nat allows residents to connect with one another through smaller organizations.”
 
The United Way helps support community development and community-based organizations, and NAT is the community engagement arm for Xavier, Jackson says. “We were focused on getting people connected with each other, and helping them see what’s out there.”
 
For example, in Evanston, many people know about the employment resource center. But if you’re not from the neighborhood, you don’t necessarily know it’s there, so you turn to the computer or your phone to find the things you need.
 
NAT focuses on a neighborhood’s strengths, and doesn’t include crime data or vacant property statistics. It's intened to be used by new and potential residents, entrepreneurs and developers as a tool to help find the best locations to live, work and play.
 
The Community Building Institute plans to host a series of “data entry parties” where people can get together and enter assets into NAT and learn new things about the neighborhood they live in. The first one is planned for Walnut Hills, but the date is to be determined.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
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New online tool aims to keep Cincinnati residents engaged in their neighborhoods

On July 24, the City of Cincinnati adopted Nextdoor, a free, private social network for you, your neighbors and your community. The goal is to improve community engagement between the City and its residents, and foster neighbor-to-neighbor communications.
 
Each of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods will have its own private Nextdoor neighborhood website, which is accessible only to residents of that neighborhood. City administrations and several city departments will also use Nextdoor to share important news, services, programs, free events and emergency notifications to residents, but they won’t be able to see who is registered to use the site or the conversations among residents.
 
Founded in 2010 in San Francisco, Nextdoor’s mission is to bring back a sense of community to the neighborhood. The site was tested in 175 neighborhoods across the country, and results showed that neighborhoods had some of the same issues, plus a variety of different issues.
 
“We all remember what our neighborhood experience was like as kids, when everyone knew each other, looked out for one another and stayed in the community longer," says Sarah Leary, co-founder of Nextdoor. “We want to invoke that nostalgia for neighborhoods.”
 
To date, Nextdoor is being used by about 17,000 neighborhoods across the country. In June, Nextdoor partnered with New York City and Mayor Bloomberg to communicate with the city’s 8.3 million residents. The site plans to roll out in other major cities like Cincinnati over the course of the next several months.
 
Nextdoor also recently released its iPhone app. “We’re really putting the lifeline of the neighborhood into the palm of the residents’ hands,” says Leary. “The common thread is an interest in using technology to make connections with neighbors. But it doesn’t stop there—once people have an easy way to communicate, they’re more likely to get together in the real world.”
 
You can sign up for Nextdoor on its website, or download the app in the App Store.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
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Local fitness instructors start workout group for moms

After Amber Fowler, 32, gave birth to twins in August, she started teaching group fitness classes at Body Boutique in Oakley. But she and Body Boutique’s owner, Candice Peters, 34, felt they weren’t servicing an important group in the community: moms and their young children.
 
Last week, Fowler and Peters started Fit Mommies, a fitness class for moms who need help getting back in shape after having a baby or who need help staying in shape, period. The class is unique in that it’s held in local parks, and is focused on moms working out with their children.
 
“We wanted a place for moms to bring their kids while they were working out,” Fowler says. “It’s like a playgroup atmosphere at the same time—moms don’t have to find a sitter, and their kids get to play with others in the fresh air.”
 
Besides a playgroup, Fit Mommies is also intent on building a community for moms. Fowler says it’s like a group therapy session and workout all in one. The women want their clients to be able to vent, get advice and get great ideas from others, all while working out.
 
“Fit Mommies is a place where moms can go to talk about things that they’re going through,” Fowler says. “It’s stressful for new moms; and it’s helpful to see other people going through the same things you are.”
 
Fowler and Peters also plan to offer Family Fit Days each month, where the whole family can come and work out for free. Fit Mommies will also host a Final Friday zoo workout—the workout is free, but you need a zoo pass.
 
The pair will also be sending out monthly newsletters and provide a resource list for clients that includes ideas from moms, family-friendly meal ideas and contact information for dentists, doctors, hairstylists, etc.
 
Fit Mommies offers power-walking and circuit training combination workouts for women who are at all different fitness levels. Classes run from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays in Hyde Park’s Ault and Alms parks, and Tuesdays and Thursdays in Loveland’s Nesbit and Paxton Ramsey parks. Classes are $59 per month for unlimited sessions; class passes are available.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
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Bronte Bistro gets a makeover at Rookwood Commons

Coffee and a good book go hand-in-hand, but what about a good book and lunch? Joseph-Beth Booksellers at Rookwood Commons recently remodeled its full-service restaurant, Brontë Bistro, to better serve its customers.
 
Joseph-Beth opened at Rookwood Commons in 1986. At the time, the Bistro was a smaller component, and was added on to in the early 1990s. But there haven’t been any significant changes to the Bistro—until now.
 
The remodel began on Jan. 7, and was 99 percent complete as of Wednesday. The entire restaurant was gutted and remodeled, from the kitchen—where new equipment was put in, including a grill—to the front of the house—where there is now a coffee kiosk for customers on-the-go. Before renovations, the only entrance to the Bistro was through the bookstore; now, there’s a front entrance that is accessible from the parking lot.
 
“The remodel really adds more offerings to our customer base,” says Joseph-Beth Booksellers’ CEO Mark Wilson. “Our goal is to create an experience for our customers. We want them to find a place where they can broaden their perspective and deepen their thinking, and the bookstore and Bistro provide that now with a nicer ambiance.”
 
The Bistro’s menu isn’t going to change much, but there will be a few new entrees available for dinner, says John Gains, general manager of the Bistro. In April, the Bistro will roll out a new dinner menu, which will include about two-thirds of the Bistro’s favorite lunch offerings, plus the new dinner offerings.
 
A meeting space was also created at the far end of the Bistro, complete with presentation screen that has the ability to house 50 people for business meetings and community events. There’s also a smaller part of the large meeting room that seats 20.

"With the remodel, we wanted to make seating more comfortable," says Gains. "Before, the dining room was loud, but we put in booths and put a wall up between the restaurant and the kitchen so people would be able to enjoy a meal and have a conversation."
 
By Caitlin Koenig
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City Hall launches app as a community-organizing tool

The City of Cincinnati has taken out the back-and-forth that can occur when residents try to reach them to report issues in their neighborhoods. At the Neighborhood Summit on Feb. 16, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls announced that the Cincinnati City Hall mobile app is available to the public.
 
With the app, residents can look up trash, recycling and street sweeping days, and set reminders; locate and report problems by address; bookmark locations for quick reporting; and track the status of reports. City Hall mobile also has GPS, so users can report issues, even without an address. There’s even a searchable map with property owner information, which enables residents to see if a property is occupied or vacant.
 
A few years ago, residents had to use the Yellow Pages to look up the number for city departments to file complaints, says Kevin Wright, executive director of Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. The city then implemented a hotline for all complaints, but residents never knew the status of their reports.
 
“It’s amazing how comprehensive the app is,” Wright says. “If you see a broken window, pothole, graffiti, hanging gutter or anything else that is physically wrong with your neighborhood, street or community, you can report it in an instant. It’s a great tool for neighborhood redevelopment.”
 
The app can also be used as a community-organizing tool, Wright says. For example, if there is a property owner who historically hasn’t taken care of his or her property, social media can help organize a community and target the property to enforce codes until the property is fixed, which is what neighborhood councils and organizations like WHRF do.
 
“We’re really putting power in the hands of the citizens of the neighborhoods,” he says.
 
As with most tech programs, the app has room to grow, too. In the future, it could be linked with Facebook or Twitter, so your friends and followers will know who reported problems and where they are.
 
Cincinnati residents can download the app in the Apple App Store or download it through Google Play.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
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Trend Boutique flaunts affordable fashion in Oakley

Although she has a background in finance, and experience sussing out business plans from a career launched at IBM, Stephanie Rozanovich says she was surprised by some intial costs at her Oakley-based Trend Boutique

She didn’t want customers to be worried about the cost of clothing at her boutique. Tired of the equation of “boutique” with “expensive,” she now offers most of her items for $100 or less.

The demographic for her store is roughly women ages 25 to 45. Rozanovich, 37, says she looks for designers that offer a young, contemporary look and whose fashions “don’t look like the stuff you see in chain stores.”

She takes buying trips each year, traveling to Chicago, New York and as far as Las Vegas, but stays focused on clothes that will work in the Midwest. Compared to, say, Los Angeles or New York, Rozanovich says her picks are a touch more conservative and take Ohio’s cold winters into account. “A lot of the designers in Los Angeles can do lighter knit year round, whereas we need warmer stuff in the winter, like coats that are a little bit thicker.

“I start out honestly buying things I like because I don’t feel comfortable selling [clothing] to people if I don’t like it, the fit, or the brand,” Rozanovich adds. She chose her Oakley space for its proximity to her east-side home and the area’s up-and-coming vibe. After weeding out a few out-of-town landlords – she was concerned they didn’t have a vested interest in the neighborhood – she found a local landlord whom she liked and who serves on an area community council.

Today, Rozanovich employees three part-time staffers and spends time on the sales floor as well. Trend Boutique is open seven days a week on Oakley Square, plus online.

By Robin Donovan

Big plans in the works for Cincinnati

As many areas of Cincinnati are being rejuvenated, including OTR and Washington Park, the City of Cincinnati approved a comprehensive approach to focus on development in the city as a whole, not just targeted neighborhoods. 

Last Friday, the City Planning Commission approved and adopted Plan Cincinnati, which was designed with input from residents. The Plan is an opportunity to strengthen what people love about the city, what works and what needs more attention, says Katherine Keough-Jurs, senior city planner and project manager.
 
The idea is to re-urbanize suburbanized Cincinnati; in a sense, to return to the strengths of the city's beginnings. Cincinnati was established just after the American Revolution in 1788 and grew into an industrial center in the 19th century. Many of those industries no longer exist in the city, which is part of why Cincinnati has become more suburbanized in the past 50 years. One of the long-term goals of the Plan is to bring new industries to Cincinnati.
 
With a new approach to revitalization, Cincinnati is blazing the trail for other cities. With a focus on building on existing strengths rather than tearing down structures and creating new ones, the Plan aims to capitalize on the city's “good bones” and good infrastructure.
 
Cinicinnatians had a huge role in developing the Plan. The first public meeting for the Plan was held in September 2009, when residents offered their insights into “what makes a great city?" and "what would make Cincinnati a great city?” A steering committee of 40 people representing businesses, nonprofits, community groups, local institutions, residents and City Council helped develop the Plan.

The Plan also got support from a grant from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which the City received in 2010. The grant allotted $2.4 million over three years to support the Land Development Code, which combines and simplifies Cincinnati's codes, reviews the development process, implements Form-based Codes and considers more creative uses for land. The grant allowed the city to start implementing some of the ideas voiced in public meetings.
 
Visionaries included youth, too. City staff worked with community centers and Cincinnati Public Schools to develop an art project for children. They were given clay pots and asked to paint their fears for the city on the inside and their dreams for the city on the outside. The children saw the big issue was quality of life, just like the adults did.
 
“It was an interesting way to get the kids involved and thinking about the future,” Keough-Jurs says.
 
The Plan aims to strengthen neighborhood centers—the neighborhoods’ business districts. It maps out areas that people need to get to on a daily basis and found that most are within about a half-mile of the business districts. But in some neighborhoods, residents can’t access their neighborhood centers. 

The accessibility of a neighborhood center is based on walkability—not just for pedestrians, but also about how structures address walking. For exampke, if a pedestrian can walk from one end of the neighborhood center to the other without breaking his or her pattern (the window shopping effect), the area is walkable; if he or she has been stopped by a parking lot or vacancies, it’s not walkable, Keough-Jurs says.
 
The neighborhood centers are classified in one of three ways in the Plan: maintain, evolve or transform. Some neighborhoods have goals to maintain levels of walkability, whereas others need to gradually change or evolve. Still others need to completely transform in order to strengthen their business districts.
 
“Cincinnati is at the heart of the region,” Keough-Jurs says. “If we strengthen Cincinnati, we strengthen a region.”

The next step for the Plan is to go before the Cincinnati City Council, specifically the Livable Communities Committee, which is chaired by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
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Funky Artsy jewelry makes a bold statement

According to Kirstin Eismin, jewelry artist and owner of Funky Artsy, there is no such thing as a piece of jewelry that is too big.

Eismin travels three to four weekends a month to attend art shows in the Midwest or along the East coast, creating most of her pieces in her rare free time; she works full-time as a social worker, in addition to spending nearly 40 hours per week on Funky Artsy in her Pendleton studio.

Originally from Lafayette, Ind., Eismin attended Purdue Universty, majoring in sociology and minoring in art and design. These days, she sees jewelry making as a way to help women explore their self-identity and have fun.

“I try really hard to create pieces that showcase women and their independence and their beauty," she says. "For me, it’s about finding something that will highlight some sort of color or inspiration that may come from the earth or that individual person.”

She frequently alters her pieces on the spot for shoppers and meets with women to sketch commissioned items in front of them after gathering information.

Her colors and materials' palette includes metals with natural accents, such as gemstones, shells, rocks, and, occasionally, found objects, such as antique broaches. As far as size, she says, “My big funky pieces are the large ones you can see from 100 feet away, and then I’ll do small simple, elegant petite pieces that still have some funk to them, that speak to a woman’s personality.”

The fun of owning Funky Artsy, Eismin says, is watching women take a risk on bold, oversized necklace and discover that their new look works.

“It’s really important for women to try new things, go outside their comfort zone and see that there are things that can brighten up an outfit or themselves. … They don’t have to wear just the classic pearls.”  

Earrings, necklaces and other jewelry items and accents are available at Oakley’s Trend Boutique and via the Funky Artsy website and Etsy shop.

By Robin Donovan

Maribelle's open kitchen in Oakley invites inquiry in comfy setting

Comfy. Transparent. Energetic.

That’s how Leigh Enderle, owner of Maribelle’s eat + drink, describes the new location in Oakley.

Maribelle’s, which used to be located on Riverside Drive, reopened late last June in the space that formerly housed Hugo restaurant on Madison Road. The restaurant’s newly remodeled space is based on the idea of transparency and comfort.

“Transparency is the concept we’re going for,” says Enderle. “We want people to know where their food comes from and how it’s made. We want them to understand the sourcing and we want them to understand how much work goes into the restaurant, too.”

The restaurant kitchen is completely exposed, so guests in the dining area can watch chefs prepare their food. And the staff at Maribelle’s invites diners to sample food or ask the staff questions pertaining to their meals and drinks.

“The open kitchen has brought awareness to our guests,” says Enderle. “They really get to see how a restaurant kitchen operates, it’s almost like watching a show.”

The menu items at Maribelles run from $8-15, and include both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. Chefs use local vegetables when in season, and source all chicken and turkey products from Gerber Farms in central Ohio. Maribelle’s beer list includes domestic porters, lagers and IPAs.

Enderle, who is originally from North Carolina, says she wanted to create an atmosphere not unlike a kitchen at home. She says that at home, she’s never afraid to ask questions, and that’s how she wants guests to feel.

And although she admits that it’s tough to get fresh local ingredients in an urban area, she agrees that it’s worth the extra effort.

“I care about what I eat. Not all the time, but I do care,” says Enderle.

“I care about where things come from, and I care that the animals are treated well. At Maribelle’s, we want to make sure we know the story behind the ingredients that we’re getting, and we want to make sure it fits into our concept of transparency.”

By Jen Saltsman
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Wasson Way Project could co-exist with light rail

For the past year, the Wasson Way Project has been a point of contention between advocators of public transit and those who want to transform the six and a half mile railroad track into a public bike path. 

The railroad, which is owned by Norfolk Southern, runs from Newtown to the heart of Downtown Cincinnati and would give the city a nearly uninterrupted trail running through much of the urban core of the city. Many think it should be saved for potential light rail in the future, but Eric Oberg, of the Rails to Trails Conservancy thinks the two can work in unison. 

Last week, the Wasson Way Project presented their project in front of the Strategic Growth Committee with a goal to show why the project is beneficial and why it should be a next step for the city. Oberg said they also wanted to present that many trains coexists next to recreational trails in many places. 

"We wanted to make sure council knew this wasn't a case of either or," Oberg says. "We also wanted to impress upon them that every supporter of the Wasson Way Project is happy to sign what ever needs to be signed so that in the future, if light rail becomes a reality, the trail won't stop it from happening." 

The Wasson Way Project is planning meetings with those who oppose the trail to discuss future plans and rather than working against each other, to work together to find a middle ground. 

Oberg says the next step for the Wasson Way to move forward is to meet with Norfolk Southern to discuss purchasing the old section of track. This is an important step, because, as of now, the trail is in good condition, but if it sits unused, tracks and bridges could fall into disrepair, making a recreational trail, and light rail, harder to build. 

"No matter what, transit will happen there, if and when a transit project gets off the ground," Oberg says. "The long term vision is transit, but what we don't want to see is a six and a half mile corridor sit there and deteriorate." 

By Evan Wallis

Yum! fills cupcake niche from scratch

Inside a small bakery case, cupcakes adorned with Oreo cookies, sugar wafers and even a pair of green frosting legs signal that the freshly opened Yum! aims to satisfy sweet-minded customers.

Open since Labor Day in the compact, free-standing building off of Oakley Square that used to house a neon sign shop, Yum! offers flavored cupcakes made from scratch using recipes owner Peggy Bailey and her employees have perfected through years of personal practice.

Autumnal offerings include apple cider cupcakes and cinnamon roll cupcakes. Summertime favorites, like strawberry lemonade, will no doubt make a strong return next year. In addition to regularly stocking staple flavors—your basic chocolate, vanilla and buttercream—the shop has added cookies and cream cupcakes because of continued popularity.

Baker Pam Cacura shuffles between creating and selling her edible wares, pointing out special offerings like smores’ bars that fill regular trips to Yum! with tasty suprises.

Yum! Gourmet Cupcakes and More, 3923 Isabella Ave., Oakley, open 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. 513-351 YUMM.

By Elissa Yancey

Brush Factory's smooth trip home

The Brush Factory is moving back to its roots.  

After a year in Oakley retail space, the designers and makers of casual, eclectic sportswear and accessories are returning to Brighton, a pocket of industrial history within Cincinnati's West End neighborhood.  

"Our hearts belong to Brighton," admits Hayes Shanesy, co-owner of The Brush Factory.  "When I first moved here, I couldn't believe a place like this still existed."  Vestiges of the community's rich history – its canal traffic, streetcar line, and industrial architecture – give the past an almost tangible quality to Shanesy. 

"If you squint, you can still see it."

Both he and his partner Rosie Kovacs draw inspiration from the neighborhood, once a center for furniture manufacturing, meat-packing and distillery operations in Cincinnati. The design shop's 120-year-old building, at one time the workshop and showroom of the Cincinnati Brush Manufacturing Company, makes a fitting home for the designers' interests, his industrial and hers fashion. In the building's garage and upstairs workshop, Hayes focuses on 3-D forms in design, handcrafting wood furniture and restoring motorcycles and old sewing machines. In addition to her tailoring business, Kovacs creates her clothing line downstairs, where design patterns and hand-woven fabrics make each item unique.

"Nothing is shipped out and our hands touch every part of it," Shanesy says. 

The closing of the Oakley storefront will allow the designer-craftsmen time to expand their latest creative endeavor, melding their two worlds of soft and hard materials through a new line of accessories and bags. Without the demands of a retail operation, they say they can now concentrate on their wholesale business with boutiques here and across the country.

Christopher Dam, The Brush Factory's director of men's and women's sales, believes that Shanesy and Kovacs' vision, inspired by the high-quality products of the past, is a response to America's growing rejection of mass-produced quantity. The Midwest lags behind fashion centers like New York and Paris in embracing this quest for quality and uniqueness, but Dam sees great potential in Cincinnati.

"With wonderful neighborhoods [in the city] like Oakley and Northside, we know the customers are out there."

By Becky Johnson

Photos courtesy of The Brush Factory


Local bookstores fill niches as national chains falter

The publishing and bookselling industries bore witness to the death of a giant last week when Borders ran out of options to stay in business. But as the second largest bookstore chain in the nation closes its doors for good, a new generation of the stores it once replaced say the future looks bright.

Richard Hunt, co-founder of Roebling Point Bookstore in Covington, says the year-old store is gaining a steady following of patrons who appreciate its focus on travel and outdoor recreation titles, as well as its large selection of books on local topics and by local authors.

"We wanted to be a resource for people here," he says. "Our grand aspiration is to be the best resource for these categories."

Hunt says the bookstore is expanding to add a community meeting room, more shelf space and possibly a coffee shop. That may not be much different from the features of the large chain bookstores, but he notes that Roebling Point's knowledge of local authors, and its ability to find the niche books desired by its patrons, give it a leg up in the market.

"That's one of the things the bigger bookstores don't focus on so well," he says.

Serving profitable niches is a specialty of another successful independent bookstore in Cincinnati: Blue Manatee Children's Bookstore in Oakley. Events Coordinator Kelli Gleiner says the small store's deep knowledge of its customers is a huge tool in keeping the business vibrant.

"We're such a small store with a small staff, that most of our customers know the staff well," she says.

For Blue Manatee, that means providing programming that customers won't find in big-box bookstores. The store offers the story times one might expect, but also hosts weekly yoga classes and brings in authors for book signings with the frequency one might only expect for a store catering to adult readers. Again, it's simply a response to customer demand, Gleiner says.

"We have to know what they want, otherwise we wouldn't be here," she says.

Ben Vore, general manager at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood, says the parallel themes of greater customer awareness and adaptability to customer desires are more than just good marketing plans for independent bookstores.

"I think that, to me, is the only way we're going to continue to survive, and to thrive," he says. "With Borders going down, I feel that, with fewer bookstores out there, we're going to really need to be very rooted in the community and in tune to what's going on around town."

Story and photos by Matt Cunningham

Follow Matt on Twitter @cunningcontent


Dutch's Wine Bar will expand with fine foods store

Dutch's Wine Bar in Hyde Park has been in operation since 1947, first as a popular neighborhood carry out. Renovations of late expanded the store's wine offerings and interiors. In keeping with both the establishment's history and the historic inclinations of its owners, Jay Ashmore and developer/manager Jim Cornwell, a new expansion at the bar's location on Erie Avenue will include a fine foods store that will carry the traditional name larder, rather than other names that could hang on a supplier of gourmet and seasonal food.

"We believe in the slow food movement and we want to showcase that belief to people and to demonstrate that their food can be prepared in a slow natural way," Ashmore stated. "We loved the whole idea of larder, which is a space for food storage, that once it came up we realized that it fits with our philosophy and the history of our property."

Ashmore said Dutch's Larder will carry high quality protein sources as well as secondary items such as breads, coffees, olive oil, cheese, and potentially a small seasonal produce section. The owners hope to support the community by providing local products alongside imported items.

But serving quality products is not Ashmore's and Cornwell's only concern: the proprietors also plan to educate their customers about the artisan process and the importance of the slow food movement.

"This will become an even more enriched resource for people to learn about hand crafting the artisan process, which we already do with beer and wine," Ashmore explained. "Education is paramount to what we do. We want someone to learn and continue to enjoy a quality product that they appreciate."

Even though the new addition is still in the planning process, Cornwell explained that he hopes to connect with more local farmers who support free-range farming, in order to support the local community and sell their products.

"Supporting locally owned businesses has always been an important goal of mine," Ashmore said. "By having most of the revenue staying in the community, your creating a sustainable community by not only enriching lives financially, but also from a knowledge perspective. Supporting these creates an enriched community."

The owners also plan to incorporate green construction and practices by incorporating energy-efficiency and reuse programs, such as selling refillable glass bottles for olive oil.

An opening date has yet to be announced, but could occur in fall 2011, Ashmore said.

Writer: Lisa Ensminger

Wasson Way bike path advocates hope to transform rail spur

A group of residents from several Cincinnati neighborhoods spoke at the June 7 meeting of Cincinnati City Council's Quality of Life Subcommittee. Their subject? A recently closed railroad spur and a proposal to change it into a 6.5-mile cycling and walking path.

"This could really serve as an important connector for the many [multiuse path] projects Cincinnati has going on," said project advocate Jay Andress.

The proposed project would convert a Norfolk Southern Railroad spur into a path that would connect with the Little Miami bike trail in Newtown and run into the heart of downtown. Advocates at Tuesday's meeting pointed out that the path would only cross seven roads in its entire length, making it a true rarity: a nearly uninterrupted trail running through several neighborhoods in a major urban area.

But beyond the health benefits and transportation options that the path could provide, some residents at the meeting brought up another point: building the path could resolve a growing problem with the semi-abandoned line.

Hyde Park Neighborhood Council President Anne Gerwin said the point where the line crosses Wasson Road has been a maintenance and safety issue for years. "We struggle many times each year to have the city and railroad maintain it," she said. The neighborhood's council passed a resolution supporting the project.

Likewise, Hyde Park resident Lindsay Felder, who said her home is within sight of the track, said there's been a visible deterioration of it - and an uptick in people loitering along the weedy path - since it became inactive in 2009.

"We've always wondered about the tracks," she said, explaining that she began going door to door to drum up local support after meeting Andress and learning about the proposed project.

"We see it as a great upcycling of existing property that is underutilized," she said.

Subcommittee chair Laure Quinlivan said there are a number of details to clarify before the project moves further forward, such as determining if Norfolk Southern has future plans for the line, and if an arrangement can be made that would allow the city to adapt the path into light rail if that becomes a future transit option.

"This is really a great proposal," she said. "The best ideas don't always come out of City Hall. If we could make this happen, it would be such a great asset to so many residents."

Story: Matt Cunningham
Photo: Wasson Way Project

Hyde Park parents work to bring neighborhood school back

An effort to reopen Hyde Park Elementary is underway by a small group of energized and concerned neighborhood parents. The school was closed in 2005 due to a decline in enrollment and has since been used as temporary location for Kilgore and Mt. Washington schools as they renovated their buildings.

Since the absence of a public elementary school in Hyde Park, the community has seen a loss in young families seeking an affordable public education. The Parents for Hyde Park School now want to make a difference as they try to convince Cincinnati Public Schools that reopening Hyde Park Elementary would benefit greatly both the school system and community.

"On the whole, this is a win-win situation for all parties involved. The community wins as it attracts more young families to the area. The current and new residents benefit by having access to an elementary school for their children, and CPS benefits by having an excellent rated school in their portfolio," Tom Rowe explained. Rowe is an active parent in the fight for this cause. "If everyone gets on the same side of the table to work on solutions, we think we can get this thing accomplished. We are extending our hands to work with CPS to resolve these issues."

Hyde Park students currently attend Kilgore in Mt. Lookout, which is supposed to house 450 students. Currently, the school houses 629 students, almost 200 students over capacity. Another solution included sending children to Parker Elementary, a school currently on academic watch.

"We think that a quality public school option is critical for the vibrancy of any community. We want to increase the sense of community within three neighborhoods including Hyde Park, Oakley, and East Walnut Hills by having a better public school system," Rowe said. "The school serves the community in general as it serves as a foundation and meeting place for members of the community to interact."

Although efforts have been ongoing for three years, the recent involvement of concerned parents has gotten the attention of CPS. The Parents for Hyde Park School claim reopening the school would help save CPS money in the long run and provide a necessity for a vibrant community.

"Our goal is to have CPS reopen Hyde Park School as East Side Elementary providing top notch elementary education to the children of Oakley, East Walnut Hills, and Hyde Park," Row said.

Writer: Lisa Ensminger

Brazee Street Studios and arts consortium bring life to Oakley arts scene

Brazee Street Studios is a driving force behind efforts to raise awareness of art happenings in Oakley and surrounding neighborhoods. The resource center houses the Brazee Street School of Glass, Gallery One One and more than 20 artist studios. Now it's looking to expand on those efforts and reach out to art businesses beyond Oakley.

Let's start with the most immediate effort: Oakley After Hours, which was rescheduled to avoid conflicts with other art events in the Cincinnati area. Happening 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, April 8, the event highlights businesses in the neighborhood, mainly along Madison Road and Oakley Square. It's organized by the Oakley Community Council and happens the second Friday of each month through August. Brazee and other art houses such as Redtree Art Gallery and Coffee Shop and The Brush Factory will stay open later than usual.

"Brazee has been really excited about the support we've received in Oakley from families and artists," says creative director Leah Busch. "It's a nice eastside vantage point. We're just trying to be a bulls eye for art here."

Collage artist Sara Pearce, a former arts editor at the Enquirer, rents a studio space at Brazee. She had approached Oakley Community Council about moving Oakley After Hours, formerly happening the last Friday of each month, to the second Friday. The move was inspired by Redtree, which had been keeping its doors open then.

The "2nd Friday" concept works, she says, because it doesn't conflict with Final Fridays in Over-the-Rhine or First Fridays in Covington.

"It just seemed like an opportunity to carve a new niche on a different weekend," Pearce says.

Councilmembers Lindsay Hooks and Gina Brenner are planning After Hours. Hooks says places like Brazee, Country Club art gallery and Voltage furniture are developing the neighborhood's identity as an arts district.

"I'm really hoping that (After Hours) brings more awareness to what we have here," she says.

Brazee will open its artist studios from 7 to 9 p.m. April 8. It's previewing a new concept, too. Called "Art Between the Lines," an outdoor market for artists, designers, food vendors, event organizers and non-profits. They can purchase a nine foot by eight foot space outside the studios.

Busch says Brazee is in the "infant stage" of organizing an art walk that weaves through Oakley, Hyde Park, Madisonville, O'Bryonville, or "pinpoints eastside art destinations on (and around) Madison Road."

The visionaries behind this effort include Busch, Pearce, and Lisa Merida-Paytes and Tom Funke of Funke Fired Arts, based on Wasson Road.

"It seems like there is a lot of going on in eastside art, but there's no unifying thread," Busch says. "There's no web site you can go to; there's no postcard that says 'Here are the hotspots where you can see.' We want to make it a 'You can make a night out of it' idea."

Writer: Rich Shivener
Photography by Scott Beseler.

Old factory in Oakley gets massive overhaul, movie theater

Once a major employer for the residents of Oakley, the old Cincinnati Milacron factory has been vacant for years.

Past efforts to build something on the site failed in the sluggish economy, but a recent deal between the City of Cincinnati and Vandercar Holdings will bring 850,000 sq ft of new mixed use development to the site.

Demolition is expected to begin as early as next week to make way for the $120 million complex at the corner of Marburg and Ibsen roads.

Preliminary plans include a 55,000 square foot movie theater, 200 residential apartments, up to 350,000 sq ft of retail or restaurant space and 250,000 sq ft of office space. The theater, apartments and more than half of the retail space is to be completed by the end of 2012. The developer intends to get LEED certification for the entire project, the agreement says.
Patrick Ewing, the interim director of economic development for the city of Cincinnati, said the development is projected to bring in $800,000 in annual tax earning revenues to the city; funds that can pay for sanitation, police, and other city services that desperately need more cash.

"Ever since Milacron left the site to go to Clermont County, we've been tying to find a way to put something there to make up for the loss of that tax base," Ewing said.

The city will provide $9.9 million in tax relief funding to the project, and help Vandercar apply for a $3 million grant from the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund.

Oakley residents expressed concern at public meetings on the project about the rise of "big box" development in their district. Oakley Community Council member Brent Van Lieu said the concerns were addressed in the plan.

The agreement says the project can only build 175,000 sq ft of "big box" retail space out of the possible 350,000 sq ft of retail.

Ewing said he had never seen a "big box" stipulation in a development agreement before, and it is too early to tell exactly how this stipulation will guide this development.

"It's been a fairly recent term that nobody has really defined," Ewing said. "It's like an obscenity, everybody knows it when they see it but nobody can define it."

The agreement contains no definition of what a "big box" development is, but says that no single retail space can be larger than 75,000 sq ft.

"You have to set a limit on how big these things can be," Ewing said. "That's what we've understood to be the concerns of the neighborhood."

Writer: Henry Sweets

More than a flip, Home Restart's take on renovation

Mention "real estate flipping," and many people will come back with a less-than flattering image. Maybe it's a shady businessman whose idea of a "rehab" is a new coat of paint and a 200 percent bump in his asking price. Maybe it's a semi-employed hairdresser with more money than experience, whose end product is all style and no structure. It's enough to warn friends and family away from the risks of home ownership, regardless of the many rewards.

But there are others involved in the real estate rehabilitation business; professionals whose work walks the fine line between building in value and preserving profit in a rehab project. And these rehab experts are quietly improving the faces of some of the Queen City's most desirable neighborhoods.

Locally based Home Restart, LLC, falls into the latter category. The company reports it rehabbed seven homes this year, in neighborhoods such as Hyde Park, Oakley, Edgewood and Fort Thomas, Kentucky. With gross profits on the projects ranging from $50,000 to more than $100,000 over the homes' purchase prices, one might wonder if the company simply "pretties up" the properties. According to vice president Anne Pond, the improvements are very real, and are meant to improve more than just the homes where they're installed.

"There are a plethora of homes on the market today, many of them short sales and distressed properties that bring down local property values," she says. "We saw an opportunity with Home Restart to help build property values in neighborhoods."

She explains that some of the homes Home Restart targets are foreclosed or abandoned properties. Others, however, may be homes where the owners, for various reasons, simply can't maintain a home of a given size or complexity. And while Pond notes that, in the end, the numbers have to make sense before they pursue a project, Home Restart looks for opportunities to make substantive improvements to the properties. They range from installation of high-efficiency windows and HVAC to converting an historic home from four-family back to single-family use.

Foreclosed, distressed and abandoned properties could well be considered the windows of Wilson and Kelling's "broken windows effect" - decay invites more decay, driving down the value of an area. No neighborhood, regardless of status, is safe from these problems. But work like that done by Home Restart goes beyond simple profiteering to do something much larger: it is a company tapping a lucrative market niche, for certain. But it's also a service, helping, house by house, to keep Cincinnati's neighborhoods beautiful.

Writer: Matt Cunningham

Brighton's Brush Factory opens new retail operation in Oakley

In Cincinnati's historic Brighton arts district, a West End haven for young artists and designers, Rosie Kovacs and Hayes Shanesy make and sell their designs in an old brush and janitorial supply factory. They call the studio The Brush Factory.

In their showroom they display spice-dyed shirts, handmade dresses and repurposed vintage jackets alongside wooden jewelry, accessories and home furnishings. Resting on shelves and racks that were crafted in a bygone era, and surrounded by the smell of antique wood, the goods seem permeated by the peculiar magic of that factory's well-preserved history. But despite the fine aesthetic, the location has a major drawback - a lack of customers walking past.

"In Brighton, we weren't getting much traffic at all," Kovacs said. "So we had to make a move."
The two young designers will open a retail store at 3227 Madison Road in Oakley on September 3 with an opening reception from 7 to 10 p.m. The Brighton location will become a design and production space, open to the public only for special events.

The store in Oakley will focus on women's fashion and wooden home furnishings, eventually carrying clothing labels from New York and San Francisco but opening with the Brush Factory and Undone/Re-done labels that Kovacs designs and fabricates in her studio. The lines reflect Kovacs' fascination with the chemistry of natural dyes, and the simple cuts inspired by Japanese pattern books, she said.

"Handmade doesn't have to be kitschy and ugly, it's supposed to be simple and elegant with garments that have a real story behind them, that are affordable," she said. "I'm always looking for something that doesn't look like anything else, and by hand-dying something you get a color that you won't find in any store."

Kovacs decided shortly after graduating from UC's DAAP program in 2009 to produce her own designs, which is uncommon for a young designer. She worked as a tailor at Nordstrom's to fund the idea and gain the experience necessary to open the Brush Factory in December, 2009.

"I don't have any money so the only way it was going to get done was if I did it myself," Kovacs said. "And I think it makes more sense, as a whole, to have the capabilities and facilities to make clothes from scratch in one place, instead of shipping everything around."

The move to Oakley will bring her clothes to an established shopping district that has plenty of room to grow, but doesn't yet have a personality that would cast any pre-conceived notions on her store, she said. The neighborhood's main square is currently undergoing a major renovation.

"Oakley doesn't really have a look or a vibe or a character about it yet," she said. "But I feel like something is starting there."

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler

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

Brazee Street Studios installing innovative tubular solar panels

The idea was modest:  local artist and Oakley business owner Sandra Gross dreamed about opening a glass studio that could also offer educational opportunities in kiln-formed glass making to the Cincinnati community.  As that dream has materialized though, things have become increasingly more complex and interesting.

In 2009 Gross began rehabilitation on a 21,000 square-foot industrial space in Oakley that was to house Brazee Street Studios - fittingly named after the street on which it is located.  The work lasted the better part of four months and continues to this day with small projects around the facility.  The net result is15 artist studios that house art companies like HaloMiner, a school of glass that includes a warm glass research center, and gallery One One which will open on April 30.

Gross has been working closely with Leah Busch -  Brazee Street Studios' managing director, gallery director, and instructor - to take the vision a step further by applying for LEED Silver certification on the renovated space.  One of the major elements to help reach the certification is an innovative cylindrical solar panel system that is being installed on the building's roof.

"This is a brand new technology that is more efficient," described Busch.  "The roof is lined with a reflective material and these solar panels are able to pick up the solar energy directly from the sun and what is reflected from the roof."

The ability to pick up diffused and direct sunlight is not the only benefit of these solar panels. Busch says they are also less likely to be picked up by wind and are less prone to be blocked by accumulated snow.

Brazee Street Studios has tapped Ohio-based Dovetail Solar & Wind to install the system.  Typically, Dovetail's work on cylindrical solar tubes has been in California - the Brazee Street Studios project is the first of its kind in Ohio.

"We're pretty sure we will be able to run all of our kilns on the power provided by the solar panels," said Busch.  "Any additional power generated will be used to power the rest of the energy needs at the building."

The public will have a chance to check out the new Oakley arts anchor on Friday, April 30 when they open gallery One One (map).  The gallery opening will occur in conjunction with Oakley After Hours and will take place from 7pm to 9pm.  The free event will showcase the work of local artists and also include refreshments.

"It's almost like a life dream come true for Sandy," said Busch.  "We realizing both the education mission and our dedication to green construction and ecological conservation at Brazee Street Studios."

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

Cincinnati using innovative techniques to green city's infrastructure

As cities work to reduce their overall environmental impact, the hardscape surfaces that make up so much of the area must also be addressed.  As a result, Cincinnati officials are implementing innovative techniques to green the city's infrastructure and make a positive impact on the environment.

The Oakley Square project is one of those efforts.  The new streetscaping with this project includes pervious concrete sidewalks, gutters and pavers, as well as rain gardens and urban bioretention planters designed to reduce water runoff and the urban heat island effect.  According to City officials, the redesign of the Geier Esplanade also decreases the overall amount of impervious pavement in the area while increasing the amount of greenspace.

"This is the first time Department of Transportation & Engineering has installed pervious concrete sidewalks anywhere in the City," said Bryan Williams, Project Manager.  "It was important to the community that the new streetscape be as green as possible, so we thought this would be a great opportunity to try something new."

On the other side of the city through the region's primary industrial corridor, Spring Grove Avenue is being reconstructed to accomplish similar goals.  Once complete, the Spring Grove Avenue/Clifton Avenue Street Improvement Project will plant 77 new street trees and construct close to 6,000 square feet of planted rain gardens in the public right-of-way.

The rain gardens will allow for rain water to run off of the street into these natural area and then "percolate" into the ground in a way that cleans out solid pollutants from the rain water.  City officials state that the rain gardens will help to reduce storm water runoff and prevent potential overflow of sanitary and first flush pollutants into the Mill Creek waterway.

"This project is going to completely transform the street," stated Curtis Hines, Project Manager for the street reconstruction project.  "Overall, the project is removing almost a half-acre of impervious area and replacing it with a consistent grass strip, trees, and landscaping."

Other projects around the city using these new practices include the construction of the new Camp Washington public plaza along Hopple Street where the City will be incorporating pervious paver systems while also using recycled granite curbs.

In the heart of Cincinnati's center city officials are working on what they call 'Green Alleys' that utilize historic clay bricks in the alleys to create a pervious pavement system after they are salvaged and cleaned.  In the reconstruction process officials state that an underground storm water storage area composed of rocks and gravel is built so that the water can filter through the pavement system and be held until the ground can absorb the water naturally.

"Historic alleys of this type represent approximately 5 to 10 percent of the surface area of Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District," stated Cincinnati's Acting City Architect Jack Martin.  "Hopefully, these demonstration projects will become a prototype for similar streets and alleys in OTR and the CBD."

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

May means it's bike month in Cincinnati

As Cincinnati strives to become a more bike friendly city, the local bike community continues to grow and become more active.  Recent victories include the announcement of dedicated bike lanes on Spring Grove Avenue when it is repaved in the near future, the start of a new “sharrow” pilot program that will study a variety of bike corridors throughout the city to determine which ones are best suited for “sharrows” and an update to the City’s Bike Plan is currently underway.

The dedicated bike lane along Spring Grove Avenue will further connect the neighborhoods of Downtown and Northside, and will allow bicyclists to safely and quickly travel through the Mill Creek Valley on their way to or from the center city.

“Sharrows” are marked lanes that are used to indicate to motorists that bicyclists do indeed share the road and help provide a safer environment for bicyclists to navigate congested city streets.  These sharrows are used throughout much of the United States, but have yet to be embraced in Ohio, which has recently been ranked as the 32nd best state for bicyclists.

The hopes are that these new initiatives will illustrate support for bicyclists and encourage higher rates of bicycling in the Cincinnati region. But even with these new initiatives, many hurdles still exist for Cincinnati bicyclists.  Support facilities like lockers and showers are virtually non-existent, many bicyclists still do not ride on the streets with vehicular traffic and ample riding and parking space continue to be issues faced by bicyclists.

Sherman Cahal is the owner of the local bicycling forum known as Cincy Rides and regularly participates in the grass-roots rides known as Critical Mass – both of which are meant to engage the local bicycling community and keep communication open for their efforts.  Cahal has attempted to further network the local bicycling community in a way that will hopefully create new and innovative solutions to many of the problems still faced in Cincinnati with regards to bicycling.

May is also National Bike Month, making it the perfect time to celebrate bicycling and bring awareness to its causes in the Cincinnati-area. This year’s Bike Month includes a variety of events and activities geared towards getting Cincinnati-area bicyclists out on the streets and being visible.  One such activity is Deals on Wheels where dozens of local businesses are offering discounts and special deals for those who bicycle to their businesses.

This coming Thursday marks the Cincinnati Bike to Work Day where cyclists are strongly encouraged to get out and bicycle to work.  The efforts of getting people to bicycle to work are largely centered on support facilities like lockers and showers that are currently not found in Cincinnati.

To get involved with Bike Month activities in Cincinnati, you can visit Queen City Bike for regular updates on events, activities and specials.  This involvement is important as the local bicycling community moves forward and spreads the word about their beloved means of transportation.

“The bicycle is perhaps the cleanest mode of transport for any measurable distance, and nothing remains as pure or as spirited as the natural elegance of a bike ride,” says Cahal.

Writer: Randy Simes
Source: Sherman Cahal, owner, Cincy Rides

Issue 9 debate engages local businesses one month before the November vote

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful's biggest event of the year takes place on April 25 with a kickoff in College Hill, and the organization could use your help.

Great American Cleanup, the nation's largest community improvement project with an estimated 2.8 million volunteers, is aimed at boosting the quality of life in neighborhoods by planting flowers and trees, picking up litter, collecting discarded tires, painting façades, landscaping, and recycling

Because of the massive amount of work to be done, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful program manager Josman Rodriguez says that volunteers are very much needed.

Just last year, 8,352 volunteers collected 406,460 pounds of litter and debris; planted 13,500 flowers and bulbs; cleaned 578 miles or roads, streets and highways; and recycled more than 40,000 plastic bottles and more than 2,500 scrap tires.

"We're expecting 10,000 volunteers beautifying 90 communities, 25 parks, and 30 schools," Rodriguez says.

He also says that Give Back Cincinnati, community leaders, and Cincinnati council members plan to participate, and that United Dairy Farmers is serving as a co-sponsor.

To volunteer, contact Liz Bowater at (513) 352-4380 or at liz.bowater@cincinnati-oh.gov.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Josman Rodriguez, project manager/public awareness, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful

Qualls pushes council to make streets 'for people, not just cars'

Cincinnati City Councilmember and chair of the Vibrant Neighborhoods Committee, Roxanne Qualls introduced a resolution supporting the federal Complete Streets Act of 2009, a piece of legislation meant to encourage streets that are safe for all forms of human transportation.

Sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and introduced earlier this month, the legislation promotes the design of streets that are safe for motorists, bus and transit riders, pedestrians, bicyclists, and people with disabilities by directing state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations to adopt and implement complete streets policies for federally-funded transportation projects.

It would also update the current federal code on pedestrian and bicycle accommodation and authorize research, data collection, technical assistance and dissemination of best practices.

Qualls' resolution is currently in council's Economic Development Committee, which next meets on April 7.

"We actually put funds in the biennial budget to develop a complete streets program," Qualls says.  "So the city has already recognized the need to design streets for people, not just cars.  Ultimately, the goal is to make our streets multi-modal."

According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, more than 5,000 annual fatalities and 70,000 injuries occur to pedestrians and bicyclists because of inadequate sidewalks and crosswalks, space for bicyclists, and room for transit riders.

Locally, the city's Department of Transportation and Engineering has been working with the Mount Washington Community Council to retrofit a portion of Beechmont Avenue that has seen an increase in speeding and accidents since a road widening project in 2004.

Residents of Westwood have also requested traffic calming measures for a mostly residential – but busy – section of Montana Avenue.

"Our competitive advantage is in our neighborhoods, and our quality of life is dependent on our streets," Qualls says.  "If we look at our streets as our largest public spaces, then the quality of those spaces is critical to economic development."

Qualls says that complete streets is one of many strategies that cities are using to become more walkable and mixed-use, pointing out that more than 80 state and local governments already have passed complete streets policies.

"It's a matter of changing how we think about streets," Qualls says.  "What we recognize is that if you design streets for cars, you get cars.  If you design streets for people and alternative modes of transportation, that's what you'll get."

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Sources: Roxanne Qualls, Cincinnati City Council; Jennifer O'Donnell, assistant to Councilmember Qualls

Focus on environment garners planning award for Green Cincinnati plan

The City of Cincinnati, Mayor Mark Mallory, and the visionaries behind the Green Cincinnati Action Plan have been awarded the Frank F. Ferris II Award for Planning Excellence from the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.

The award is presented annually to a planning commission or committee for projects demonstrating planning excellence and civic, economic, aesthetic or environmental significance.

Vice Mayor David Crowley and climate protection coordinator Ginnell Schiller accepted the award on behalf of the city.

"It's great for the City of Cincinnati to be recognized for planning achievement," Crowley says.  "I think that it's the combination of planning around environmental issues that makes this very exciting to us."

Crowley says that the plan ultimately resulted from his meetings with Mallory about restoring the environmental focal point that was lost when the Office of Environmental Management was disbanded in 2003 due to budget cuts.

Mallory appointed Crowley as chair of the plan's steering committee, with much of the staff work being done by Larry Falkin, the current director of the Office of Environmental Quality.

"At that point it was constituted of about 20 organizations and people," Crowley says.  "Not just environmentalists…there were business people, there were government, citizens, institutions, labor.  We had some really key players involved in this overall effort."

The steering committee assembled more than 150 experts and concerned citizens into five task teams – energy, transportation, land use, waste management, and advocacy – to compile a list of ways by which the city could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2 percent annually.

In April 2008, the 212-page plan was finalized with 82 specific recommendations, and, in July 2008, it was approved by city council.

To Crowley, the value of all of that hard work lies in the "action".

"This plan says that we don’t just want this to sit on the shelf," he says.  "We want to make this thing work.  So we started with some of the activities that the city itself can do, and of the 82 recommendations there's work being done by somebody, somewhere, on 60 of them."

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Photography by Scott Beseler
Mayor Mark Mallory

Mallory highlights economic growth in State of the City address

In his fourth State of the City address, delivered last Wednesday at the Duke Energy Center, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory said that the city is weathering the poor economy much better than most.

"At a time when other cities are seeing businesses move out, we are seeing businesses expand and new businesses move in," he said.

He credited the "aggressive and strategic" approach of City Manager Milton Dohoney and Economic Development Director Holly Childs for bringing 2,500 new jobs to Cincinnati last year, including commitments from such major players as Medpace, Humana, dunnhumbyUSA, and US Bank.

Mallory also spoke of the need to empower small and minority-owned businesses, saying that four more Shop52 seminars will be held this year to link entrepreneurs with business experts, non-profit service providers, and lending professionals.

"We must also ensure that individuals have the opportunity to realize their dreams," he said.  "Shop52 is all about small business growth and strengthening our neighborhoods."

In addition to job creation, Mallory noted that construction is underway on two major building projects – Great American Tower at Queen City Square, a 41-story, $340 million office tower and The Banks, a 2.8-million-square-foot mixed-use development on the city's riverfront.

But Mallory said that the most crucial component of Cincinnati's development plans is the streetcar system that would connect Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and the Uptown neighborhoods.

"Now, we have done our homework and the benefits of a streetcar system are clear," Mallory said.  "When a city puts rails in the ground, economic growth follows."

Mallory said that $1.4 billion in economic impact would result from the project's first phase, giving the city additional resources that it can use in neighborhoods throughout the city.

"The benefits of the streetcar system are too significant to allow the naysayers to derail our efforts," he said.  "Streetcars must be a part of Cincinnati's future and we will fight to make it happen."

According to Mallory, the key to Cincinnati's future success is strong local, national, and global partnerships.

To achieve these partnerships, the city and its residents must be their own advocates.

"We have a great city and we must make it our priority to promote it here at home, across the nation and around the world," Mallory said.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: 2009 Cincinnati State of the City address
Photography by Scott Beseler

Spaces remain for 10-week government academy

Several spaces remain for the spring session of the Cincinnati Citizens Government Academy, a 10-week course designed to give an in-depth look at how city government is organized and how services are funded and delivered.

Beginning March 2nd and held Mondays between 6 PM and 9 PM, the Academy features field trips to numerous city departments to learn about their services and programs.

The goal of the program is to not only improve citizen understanding of how local government works, but also to encourage citizen involvement in strengthening and improving the quality of life throughout the city's neighborhoods.

"As City government continues to engage citizens, it's important that citizens have a broad understanding of how their government works," says Cincinnati city manager Milton Dohoney.  "We believe that informed citizens are involved citizens and that makes for better government.  The Academy may also bring forth some new ideas from the public that we may need to consider."

Since 2007, the Academy has graduated 45 participants from its two sessions.

Participation is free, and citizens can enroll by calling Trina Porter at (513) 352-5335 or by e-mailing citizensgovernmentacademy@cincinnati-oh.gov.

Applications are also available online at or by visiting Suite 104 at Cincinnati City Hall.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Tiffaney Hardy, senior communications specialist, City of Cincinnati
Photography by Scott Beseler
Milton Dohoney

New and improved CincySites makes site selection easy

The new and improved Cincinnati Commercial Site Portfolio, joint effort of the Economic Development Office of the Hamilton County Development Co. (HCDC) and the City of Cincinnati, has moved to cincysites.com.

The online database is a comprehensive inventory of Hamilton County sites available for redevelopment, including industrial, retail, office, warehouse, and vacant land.

The database also serves as a central source of information for those who might want to invest in the community, with layers of detailing population and workforce demographics, spending data, and information on nearby businesses.

CincySites is a cut above the average economic development website because it utilizes geographic information system (GIS) technology, allowing users to create maps and reports that would normally take weeks –and dollars – to collect.

Because more than 90 percent of initial site selection screening is now done using the Internet, it is hoped that the depth and ease of use of CincySites will help attract new business and promote economic development in Hamilton County.

"This tool is primarily used to make sure that we get looked at in the first place," says Harry Blanton, vice president and manager of the Economic Development Office.  "If we do not provide this tool, we may not get many looks, since many consultants will cut you out of the search if you don't provide this type of information online."

But CincySites is only one of the strategies employed by his office, Blanton says.

"We also make visits to site location consultants to sell the region, send e-messages to them with development items of interest, participate in the state's referral process, and market the region in foreign publications," he says.

Partners in CincySites also include Hamilton County, the Cincinnati USA Partnership, and the Cincinnati Area Geographic Information System (CAGIS).

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Harry Blanton, vice president and manager, HCDC Economic Development Office

Cincinnati 'doing good, and getting better'

"Doing good, and getting better."

With those words, Cincinnati city councilmember and chair of the Vibrant Neighborhoods Committee Laketa Cole opened the seventh annual Cincinnati Neighborhood Summit at Xavier University's Schiff Conference and Banquet Center.

"That's going to be my motto for this year," Cole said.  "And that's what we're doing here in the City of Cincinnati."

Hundreds of residents, community leaders, and local officials spent the day attending breakout sessions on such topics as housing, economic development, crime prevention, and community building.

"It really does speak to the passion that you have for this city, and the effort that you want to put into transforming this city," said Cincinnati Mayor, Mark Mallory.

The biggest news of the day may have been the official launch of the city's new comprehensive master plan, the first for the city since 1980.

"We are working on a plan for the plan," said Charles C. Graves III, director of the Department of City Planning.  "We'll be holding an in-house retreat with city staff over the next couple of weeks."

At this year's summit, Hamilton County leaders were on hand to share their programs and services with community stakeholders.

Hamilton County Commission president David Pepper took the opportunity to remind Cincinnatians that they are part of the county, too.

"You guys don't call the county enough," he said.  "Sometimes we don't see nearly as many of you [at commission meetings] as I know show up at council meetings.  You're welcome to come!"

Planning for next year's summit has already begun.

"This job does not end today," Cole said.  "It actually begins.  Because once this summit is over, they take all of the survey results, they compile them, and they start talking about them and planning for the next year."

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Photography by Kevin LeMaster

Seventh annual Neighborhood Summit focuses on 'Growing Cincinnati'

The 7th annual Cincinnati Neighborhood Summit 2009 will be held January 24 from 8 AM to 2 PM at Xavier University's Schiff Banquet and Conference Center.

"Growing Cincinnati" will give citizens and community leaders the opportunity to interact with elected officials from the city, county and state and to learn how their colleagues are addressing community challenges in the areas of housing, economic development, and community building.

Laketa Cole, Cincinnati councilmember and chair of the Neighborhoods Committee, will open the summit with an introductory greeting, followed by Mayor Mark Mallory, who will lead a session on the importance of the Census to the community.

Breakout session topics will include:

  • Housing: Section 8 and CMHA, reuse of foreclosed and abandoned properties, promoting homeownership, organizations addressing the foreclosure crisis, and the Neighborhood Stabilization Program
  • Economy and Work Force Development: 2010 Census and Shop 52, Agenda 360, the upcoming 2009 Comprehensive Plan, the future of transportation, and work force development
  • Community Collaboration and Best Practices: Developing a neighborhood art center, community collaboration, form-based codes, reducing violence, and making your neighborhood more green

Registration for the Neighborhood Summit is required by January 16.

On January 23, Congressman Steve Driehaus will speak at a kickoff dinner about the promising changes on the horizon for the City and how we can all play a role in its growth.

Community volunteers also will be presented awards for their efforts.

Reservations are also required for the dinner, at a cost of $20.

The Cincinnati Neighborhood Summit 2009 is sponsored by Invest in Neighborhoods, Inc., the Community Building Institute, and the Cincinnati Department of Community Development.  Support is provided by Xavier University and the Murray & Agnes Seasongood Good Government Foundation.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Sources: Jason Barron, City of Cincinnati; Laurel Bauer, media relations coordinator, Xavier University


Coalition formed to apply for up to $1M in brownfields funds

Greater Cincinnati's industrial history has left the region with a legacy of brownfield sites, abandoned or underutilized properties that are difficult to redevelop due to real or perceived environmental contamination.

In order to address the problem, the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, the City of Cincinnati, and Hamilton County have formed a coalition to jointly apply for $1 million in U.S. EPA environmental assessment grants.

The option of applying as a coalition is new this year, allowing the groups to receive up to $600,000 more than they may have received by applying alone.

The coalition is targeting 28 sites - 18 for hazardous substance contamination and 10 for petroleum contamination.

"If the grant is awarded, we will form a Brownfield Assessment Working Group that will include coalition members and representatives of community-based organizations to solicit applications for environmental assessments and jointly make the final decision on which brownfields will be assessed under the grant," says Christine Russell, director of brownfield development for the Port.

Russell says that these environmental assessment funds are key to seeing where the development potential stands on these properties.

"Some of the major barriers to brownfield redevelopment are the unknown environmental and financial risks associated with a brownfield property," she says.  "This grant will allow us to quantify existing contamination and develop an estimated clean-up cost.  Developers or communities can then better evaluate the feasibility of a brownfield redevelopment project."

The grant is expected to be awarded in spring 2009.

A public meeting will be held in Norwood tomorrow at 6 PM at the Hamilton County Development Company, 1776 Mentor Avenue, Suite 100.

A draft of the grant application is on file at all branches of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Christine Russell, director of brownfield development, Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority

Duke Energy hosts regional forum for economic development stakeholders

Duke Energy sponsored a forum yesterday at the Queen City Club that was an opportunity for consultants and governmental leaders to network and to learn the latest strategies in economic development in Ohio and Kentucky.

J.R. Wilhite, commissioner in the Department of New Business Development for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, says that regardless of all of the innovations and new technologies on the horizon, it still comes down to "blocking and tackling".

"Economic development is changing," he says.  "But just like football has changed with its many rule changes, so must we."

Wilhite says that one of his state's strategies has been a greater focus on Europe, where the Kentucky has contracted with ROI to research the continent's firms and to make initial contact.

Steve Schoeny, director of the strategic business investment division of the Ohio Department of Development, says that Ohio not only needs to do a better job of telling its story, but of developing its workforce as well.

"Our services are of a national caliber," he says.  "However, the system for delivering those services is not."

Schoeny says that Ohio economic development will improve by attracting and retaining young talent through initiatives such as Ohio Means Home and the Ohio Young Talent Network, properly training state staff to focus on clients rather than individuals, and setting up a culture of customer service.

Marti Bremer, senior manager of state and local tax for KPMG, LLP, gave an overview of some of the domestic trends in economic development, including the targeting of industries, benchmarking, giving monetary incentives, public/private partnerships, entrepreneurship programs, development of shovel-ready sites, and workforce development.

Managing director Greg Burkart, of the Novi, Michigan office of Duff & Phelps, provided some insights on economic development websites from the client point of view.

"You may be ruled in or ruled out long before you know it just based upon what information is publicly available," he says.

The final speaker, vice president and director of Austin Consulting Don Schjeldahl, says that alternative energies such as photovoltaic, concentrated solar, and wind power are poised to make significant gains in the next 10 to 15 years, and the geographical pattern for how those industries will be defined has not yet been set.

"If you don't have your act together, you're going to miss the window," he says.

Schjeldahl says that there are still opportunities for Ohio, if they can create market demand for the new technologies and can create awareness of and preparedness for sustainability in the state's communities.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Sources: J.R. Wilhite, commissioner in Department for New Business Development, Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development; Steve Schoeny, director of Economic Development Division, Ohio Department of Development; Marti Brenner, senior manager of state and local tax, KPMG, LLC; Greg Burkart, managing director, Duff & Phelps, LLC; Don Schjeldahl, vice president and director, Austin Consulting

Cycling advocates push for better facilities, planning

One-hundred twenty-five cycling advocates attended a meeting of Cincinnati City Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee last week to discuss how to bring better bicycle facilities to the city and the city's need to update its 32-year-old bicycle plan.

Queen City Bike, a collaboration of several local pro-bicycling organizations, led several group rides to City Hall and supplied many of the hearing's 31 speakers.

"From the overall perspective of Queen City Bike, we're still working on a formal mission statement, but we basically want greater access to walking, bicycling and mass transit in the region; a reduction in bicycle crashes; and a metro that recognizes bicycling and other non-motorized means as a healthy way to get around," Dan Korman says.

Much of the discussion concerned the redesign of Interstate 75 and how it can better accommodate multiple modes of transportation.

"We believe the I-75/Hopple St interchange is an example of how Complete Streets legislation is too often denigrated," Joseph Schuchter says.  "We're tired of bike pedestrian infrastructure being an opt-in.  We want plans for I-75, and all public projects for that matter, to include bike and pedestrian infrastructure.  A fight should not be part of the protocol."

Queen City Bike members agree unanimously that Cincinnati’s bicycle planning is well behind that of competitive cities.

"It's embarrassing that Cincinnati's bicycle plan is 30-years-old and that little has been done to make bicycling a priority in transportation projects," Korman says.

"We're playing catch up, and although alternative transportation is being recognized, I’m still unable to say that we're moving at a pace I’d like to see," Schuchter says.  "Until there is a commitment to update our bicycle plan, merge SORTA and TANK into a seamless and truly Metropolitan system, and stop building highways and adding lanes, the synergies of multiple modes of alternative transportation will not be realized."

Subcommittee chair Roxanne Qualls has said that input received at the public hearings will be considered by highway designers and planners.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Sources: Dan Korman and Joseph Schuchter, Queen City Bike
Photography by Scott Beseler

CPS celebrates one year of commitment to green schools

Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is celebrating one year of its commitment to green school construction, including the opening of Pleasant Ridge Montessori School, the first LEED certified public school in Ohio.

One year ago, the Cincinnati Board of Education passed a resolution calling for all future new construction and renovation to be designed to U.S. Green Building Council LEED Silver standards and encouraging the development of community partnerships to support the effort.

"Our biggest partnership is with the community members who work with us to design our new buildings like the Pleasant Ridge School Planning Team that are increasingly more interested in incorporating sustainable design in our new buildings," says Michael Burson, director of facilities planning and construction for CPS.

With the completion of phase three of the $1 billion Facilities Master Plan under current planning, Cincinnati will have the largest concentration of green and healthy schools of any urban school district in the nation.

"Cincinnati Public Schools should not only take pride at the fact that 22 of our 50 buildings will be LEED Silver certified when we are completed, but CPS helped encourage the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission to go 'green' for all the remaining schools to be replaced in the State of Ohio after September 2007," Burson says.

Burson says that the new, greener, healthier buildings could even improve parents' view of CPS, making the district more attractive for current and prospective students.

"We have to be honest and say that CPS continuing to improve its academic performance as it has for the past few years will be the primary determinate to our success in the community," he says.  "We do believe, however, that parents appreciate that our new buildings provide safe, beautiful, functional, efficient, and innovative learning environments to support great teaching and learning."

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Sources: Michael Burson, director of facilities planning & construction, Cincinnati Public Schools; Ginny Frazier, executive director, ALLY
Taft Information Technology High School renderings courtesy of Cincinnati Public Schools

LandLOC roundtable to address vacant, abandoned properties

Community developers can learn of a new program that helps return vacant and abandoned residential properties to productive use during a roundtable meeting today from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM at Price Hill Will, 3208 Warsaw Avenue.

The Community Development Corporations Association of Cincinnati (CDCAGC) will host two staff members from the Finance Fund in Columbus to talk about LandLOC, a program that provides statewide financing to help non-profit community-based organizations regain control of these underused structures for redevelopment.

LandLOC provides a flexible line of credit to qualifying non-profits to pay for legal and acquisition costs and expenses related to the safety and stabilization of the property.

Projects are also required to be in alignment with or enhance a broader strategy or revitalization plan.

Patricia Garry, executive director of CDCAGC, says that the idea behind the roundtable is to get the word out to community development corporations (CDCs) about the new program, which began in May.

"I sent it to our entire community development list," she says.  "CDCs, banks, housing agencies, city and county officials, funders, for-profit developers, tech service providers like architects and planners.  All of those other folks work with CDCs in various ways to make projects happen, so we thought they should all be invited."

Garry believes that LandLOC will complement other community-based programs that address blight and neglect.

"It will tie in in many ways to the Neighborhood Homes Initiative we've been talking about," she says.  "And it can probably be used with other programs as well, like the City of Cincinnati's RFP coming out in early September."

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Patricia Garry, executive director, CDCAGC
Logo provided by the Finance Fund

Home builders voice support for energy-efficiency credits

Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati president Andrea Lucke wants Congress to extend the New Energy Efficient Home Credit, which expires at the end of the year.

Testifying last week before a House Small Business Committee meeting on how emerging green technologies can help stabilize and grow the U.S. economy, Lucke argued that the best strategy is for Congress to provide tax incentives instead of enacting energy efficiency mandates.

While the hearing focused mainly on energy production and conservation, Lucke, on behalf of National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), spoke about how the homebuilding industry is working to protect our planet as the price of energy continues to skyrocket.

"By encouraging growth in green building, our nation’s home builders have the potential to profoundly affect energy efficiency and conserve precious natural resources and our environment," Lucke told the committee, noting that more than half of the NAHB's members are incorporating green practices into their new projects.

The tax credit, which was established in 2005, gives home builders a $2,000 credit for a new energy-efficient home that achieves 50 percent energy savings for heating and cooling over the 2004 International Energy Conservation Code and supplements.

"The credit allows home buyers to benefit from the advantages that green building provides, while builders to continue to build homes at affordable prices," Lucke says.  "Legislators could also increase the amount of the tax credit to pay for a larger percentage of the building costs that are incurred when making a home 50 percent more energy-efficient, because the costs associated with building an energy-efficient home are higher."

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Andrea Lucke, president, Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati
Photo of Congressman Steve Chabot and Andrea Lucke provided by HBAGC

Forum to explore strong, diverse neighborhoods

You can be a part of the creation of strong, diverse neighborhoods at a meeting being held on July 22 from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM.

Steve Smith, president of The Model Group, will share the ways that his company is working to create an integrated and stable Over-the-Rhine by developing a mix of market-rate and affordable housing.

"I'll be sharing my experiences with working in a neighborhood in transition, from one that's at-risk to one that's more diverse, not only in population but economically," he says.

Smith says that the conversation will focus on the core areas of blight removal, clean and safe, and sustainable development.

Following Smith's presentation, attendees will be engaged to develop additional solutions that they can take back and apply to their own cities, villages and neighborhoods.

"I would encourage anyone who has an interest in Over-the-Rhine's continued revival to come, or people from other Cincinnati neighborhoods in an economic downturn," Smith says.  "This could include community leaders, homeowners, residents of those neighborhoods, or people possibly looking to buy in those neighborhoods."

If purchased by July 18, registration is $10 and can be purchased at the Citizens for Civic Renewal website.

Admission is $15 at the door.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Steve Smith, president, The Model Group

Cincinnati seeking applicants for arts grants

The City of Cincinnati is seeking applicants for its competitive Capital Arts Grant Program (CAP).

The CAP was created to assist arts and cultural organizations in implementing projects that build and maintain the economic viability of the city's neighborhoods.

The program provides funding assistance to non-profit artistic and cultural organizations for capital improvement projects that are designed to construct, expand, renovate or equip cultural arts facilities throughout the city.

Approximately $300,000 has been approved for 2008, with a maximum award of $50,000.

Applicants are required to furnish a 1-to-1 dollar match from non-city sources to be eligible.

"These capital improvement grants certainly add to the vibrancy and energy that the arts and cultural community bring to the City," says Katrina Gragston, the Capital Arts Grant Program administrator with Cincinnati's Department of Community Development.  "We encourage all Cincinnati arts and cultural organizations to apply to the Capital Arts Grant Program."

The application deadline is August 15.

Applications and program guidelines are available at the Department of Community Development website or at their office at 805 Central Avenue, Suite 700.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Media release
Photography Scott Beseler

Green Cincinnati Action Plan passed by council

Cincinnati City Council has passed Mayor Mark Mallory's Green Cincinnati Action Plan, a list of 80 specific recommendations that could reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next 20 years. The plan provides short, medium, and long-term steps that the city and its citizens can take in the five core areas of transportation, energy, waste, land use and advocacy.

Developed by the Climate Protection Steering Committee and chaired by Vice Mayor David Crowley, the goal is to provide the city with clean air and water, improved public health, monetary savings, and a stronger local economy with the creation of new, green jobs. Over 150 professionals and concerned citizens provided input to the committee as they assembled the working plan.

The Office of Environmental Quality will be responsible for implementing the recommendations.

Live Green Cincinnati publisher Brianne Fahey is excited by the plan's recommendations.

"From my perspective, having a city government willing to support an action plan like this is incredibly encouraging," she says.  "It should really help Cincinnati reach that tipping point that pushes environmentally conscious lifestyle changes into the local mainstream and out into all parts of the city."

Fahey is looking forward to continuing to unleash her own passion and to be part of the transition to a more sustainable city.

"Live Green Cincinnati is working hard to connect people and small businesses to the education, services, ideas, and encouragement needed to keep a small environmental footprint," she says.  "The more press and support that sustainability gets, the more we’re affecting local businesses to encourage change.  Change is good, especially when it can make our lives better in so many ways."

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Brianne Fahey, publisher, Live Green Cincinnati
Photography by Scott Beseler

Transit restructuring getting a close look

Cincinnati City Council has adopted a motion that would restructure the finances and control of SORTA, southwest Ohio's transit agency. Councilmember John Cranley will introduce the Regional Transportation Act, a proposal that would create the Greater Cincinnati Transportation Authority (GCTA), reforming the governing structure of SORTA to better incentivize jurisdictions who contribute to public transportation and give fast-growing suburban communities more of a say on regional transportation issues.

Historically, the City of Cincinnati has held a minority on the SORTA board despite contributing the bulk of the operating fund.

"Cincinnati invests $43 million annually in public transit," Cranley writes in a statement supporting the motion. "Sadly, no other jurisdiction comes anywhere near this investment. Cincinnati taxpayers contribute over 90 percent of local transit dollars and that investment should be reflected in the amount of representation they have in the body that governs transportation."

Suburban counties have had no representation on the board, receiving bus routes through contract.

"A successful regional transportation system must include the fast growing Butler, Clermont, and Warren counties, which have a lot of jobs and currently are not formally part of the governing structure of SORTA," Cranley writes.

The GCTA board would be composed of between 11 and 19 members.  Each county would be able to appoint a representative, with the remainder allocated based on financial contribution.

The new agency would receive all of SORTA's assets, liabilities, and routes.

City administration is likely to report back to council on the proposal following the summer break.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Cincinnati City Council
Photography by Scott Beseler

Cincinnati delegation sees form-based codes in action

Late last week, a twenty-five member delegation of Cincinnati city staff, members of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), neighborhood leaders and local developers went to Nashville to see first-hand how form-based codes have accelerated that city's economic development. In her recent budget policy motion, Cincinnati City Councilmember Roxanne Qualls proposed the development of a comprehensive plan that capitalizes on the city's historically dense and pedestrian friendly core and neighborhood business districts.

Form-based codes regulate development's physical form, relationship and scale, rather than using conventional zoning's focus on the segregation of land uses.

While in Nashville, the delegation learned how the city successfully moved from conventional zoning to form-based codes and how citizens were involved in the process.

"To see the thoughful creation of a built environment that creates a sense of place was very powerful," says Scott Golan, a member of the ULI executive committee.

One of the projects they toured was the Icon in the Gulch, a 400-unit condominium development that sold out in 48 hours.

"It's hard to see the impact of form-based codes and not be persuaded," Golan says.  "The quality of what they do is higher.  You could tell which buildings were developed under form-based codes, and which were not."

Qualls and city planning staff convened a Form-Based Code Collaborative Group to explore the next steps, including assembling project partners and communicating to the public the importance of using form-based codes to create "places that matter".

"The city leadership seems to be engaging this in the right way," Golan says.  "Roxanne Qualls has been working hard to educate people about form-based codes.  They're definitely not ignoring the issue."

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Scott Golan, executive committee, Urban Land Institute Cincinnati

Cincinnati promoting National Homeownership Month

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr have announced a schedule of events to commemorate National Homeownership Month.

The city will celebrate several residential projects throughout the city, including:

  • The dedication of Parker Flats, 57 new condominiums Downtown
  • A ribbon cutting for the Homes at Hillside Place, 5 new single-family homes in Lower Price Hill
  • The groundbreaking for Park Avenue Townhomes in Walnut Hills
  • Rehab-a-Rama, a tour of renovated homes in Carthage
  • The groundbreaking for a new LEED-certified home in College Hill
  • 4253 Fergus Street in Northside, one of seven homes to be completed as part of the Homeownership Preservation Initiative

On June 21-22, the city will partner on the Ultimate Urban Tour of Living, a self-guided tour of completed and on-going projects in the urban core.

Last week, the city was the first in the country to partner with Fannie Mae and Neighborworks America to participate in a foreclosure prevention phone-a-thon, which signed up over 1,000 regional callers to receive counseling on how to keep their homes. The goal of all of these events is to highlight why Cincinnati is such a great place to buy a home. Despite turbulent national real estate trends, the city's housing market has remained stable.

Homeownership rates increased 3 percent between 2000 and 2006, and the average price of a single-family home actually increased between 2006 and 2007.

"The City of Cincinnati is serious about fighting against the national trend and developing a strong housing market here in Cincinnati," says Mallory.  "We are addressing the issue on multiple levels with education for new home buyers and also funding to support new housing units."

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Media release

Photography of Parker Flats by Scott Beseler


Allendale Lofts set to capitalize on condo tower's success

Allendale Lofts is hoping to capitalize on the success of Oakley’s Lofts@4120 by converting some of the four-families along Allendale Drive into condominiums. Each 1,240-square-foot unit will include a two-car garage, basement storage space, and rear decks overlooking the Hyde Park Country Club. Interiors of all of the units will feature Whirlpool stainless steel appliances, bamboo floors and granite countertops.

Project manager Jameson Muth of Jameson Group LLC says that they own five other buildings on Allendale, and they will continue to work their way down the street as sales dictate.

"The good thing about this is that all of the buildings are very similar," he says.  "They have a simple design, with an open loft feel."

One of the first two units has been sold, and the other will be used to sell the project.

"We want this to be our showpiece," he says.  "We want it to show that this is what the future of Allendale is."

Brent Van Lieu of Seven Hills Development Corp., who developed the Lofts@4120, is serving as the project's general contractor.

"Brent really wanted to make the street look great, to complement his project," Muth says.
Muth says that Mother Nature provided a strong selling point.

"The big canopy of trees," he says.  "It's not like any other street in Oakley.  That's why Brent chose this street for his lofts."

Muth believes that the project will be attractive to the younger demographic, who crave nice, urban neighborhoods.

"We're excited," he says.  "It's a great project.  You can live on the same street as million dollar lofts for a fraction of the price."

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Jameson Muth, project manager, Jameson Group LLC
Photography by Scott Beseler

Port, National City partner on gap financing program

The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and National City Bank have announced a first-of-its-kind partnership to provide gap financing for small, minority-owned, and women-owned (SBE, MBE, WBE) businesses participating in brownfield development projects in the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Because brownfield projects are often funded by public dollars that have lengthy disbursement cycles, smaller firms without large cash flows or extended lines of credit can
often be effectively shut out of the bidding.

National City's participation will provide these firms with funds from which they can draw until the public money becomes available.

"This agreement will encourage some of the smaller firms to take part in our projects," Port Authority president Kim Satzger says.  "The issues with slow reimbursement have now been addressed."

The new program takes effect immediately.

Brownfield remediation and reclamation is one of the Port Authority's core functions.

In an effort to encourage wealth creation among all segments of the population, the Port Authority has established and Economic Inclusion policy and maintains a database of over 500 SBE, MBE and WBE suppliers.

They also work closely with the South Central Ohio Minority Business Council, Commercial Real Estate Women, the Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce, and the Hispanic Chamber Cincinnati USA.

Of all dollars contracted by the Port Authority since 2001, the policy resulted in 33 percent participation by SBE, 26 percent by MBE and 8 percent by WBE.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Kim Satzger, president, Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority
Photography by Scott Beseler

Money Magazine rates Cincinnati among top 6 best places to buy a home

Citing a manufacturing-heavy economy that should benefit from the falling dollar, Money Magazine has rated Greater Cincinnati among the 6 "best places to buy a home these days".

The six cities chosen were determined to have home prices that should rise the most - or fall the least - within the next 12 months.

"Cincinnati has continued to be relatively stable amidst the nationwide housing crunch," says Jami Stutzman, a realtor with Sibcy Cline.  "We never saw the extreme highs other areas of the country saw, therefore our lows aren't going to be as dramatic either."

Peter Chabris of Team Chabris agrees, saying that speculative forces have been drawn out of the market.

"In this age of ridiculous appreciation and HGTV programming mania, people stopped seeing homes as homes and started seeing them as their 401(k)," he says.

But he says that for people who are serious about becoming homeowners, now is the time to buy.

"It's reasonable to expect the market to depreciate, or maintain it current level for the next 12 months," Chabris says.  "But you don't buy a house for 12 months, you buy it for years.  You should have every expectation that your home will gain value."

Stutzman says that while buyers and sellers seemed to have a negative outlook on the market over the winter, the tide seems to be changing.

"I believe it's more than just spring fever - buyers realize that low interest rates and lower home prices are going to last forever and right now is really a fantastic time to buy," she says.



Other cities making Money Magazine's list were Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and Houston.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Sources: Peter Chabris, realtor, Team Chabris; Jami Stutzman, realtor, Sibcy Cline Realtors
Photography by Scott Beseler

BOOST! offers energetic, all-inclusive meeting space

"Sophisticated, yet playful" is how Jenny White describes BOOST!, her new meeting space in Over-the-Rhine.

The 4,600-square-foot space on the third-floor of 538 Reading Road is part of the Metaphor Flats project, a former warehouse restored by Urban Sites Properties.

After working in meeting planning within the corporate realm for the last 13 years, White finally decided "it's now or never" and took the plunge to create something unique to Cincinnati - and not at all like the office.

"BOOST!" signifies energy, an upward move.  Another level.

Natural sunlight, hardwood floors, exposed beams and an open, flexible layout makes White's project more home-like, and more energizing.

"The big draw is the environment," White said.  "The feel of the space, the uniqueness of the architecture - it awakens your senses."

An $80 per person, all-inclusive rental rate provides meeting organizers with everything they could possibly need: Complete audio and video capabilities, phones, office equipment and supplies, even refreshments.

And to feed the inner child, BOOST! has a custom-made cornhole set, Nintendo Wii and a karaoke machine.

White also says that, by April, clients will be able to unwind on a rooftop deck, and that a future "phase" may include some green retrofitting, such as solar panels.

Outside of corporate meetings, White has had inquiries about using the space for wedding receptions and parties.  She also plans to use BOOST! for community workshops to help groups in need throughout the neighborhood.

"I feel like I'm part of a community now," White said.  "And I like the fact that I can tell clients about restaurants and things to do in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine."

BOOST! officially opens on February 12 with an open house from 11 AM to 8 PM.

Writer: Kevin LeMaster
Source: Jenny White, BOOST!
Photos courtesy of BOOST!
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