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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bacchanalian Society Wine Contest

On September 18th, the Bacchanalian Society is bringing their quarterly "wine contest" to Fountain Square. Not to be confused with a wine tasting, this contest is a great social experience. The idea is based around the "Rule of Three." Essentially you form teams, of up to three people, and bring three bottles of wine. You submit two of those bottles for the contest. During the contest everyone tastes the wines and rates them. The teams whose wines receive the most votes wins.

What do they win...well wine of course. Remember how only 2 of the 3 bottles of wine were used for the contest? Well the remaining bottles are then split up and awarded to the Top 5 teams. The contest is a great social networking opportunity and offers a really fun way to help raise money for a good cause.

The quarterly get togethers are a fundraising tool for non-profits. In the past the Society has helped organizations such as the CAC, Enjoy the Arts, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Cincinnati to name a few. This quarter's money will go to the Fountain Square Management Group, which will then use the money to operate/program the Square.

Jim Murphy, President of Bacchanalian Society, described how this has grown from three local Cincinnatians to a small group of friends to now thousands of Cincinnatians taking part in the quarterly contests. There are also two additional chapters that have popped up in Denver and Nashville.

Murphy said that it has always been a dream of the Society to have one of their events on Fountain Square. He went on to say, "I'm ecstatic to be able to hold one of the preeminent social networking events in Cincinnati, on Fountain Square." The September 18th event, on Fountain Square, is expected to be the biggest event for the Society as of yet. Some 1,200-1,300 people are expected to come out and enjoy the different wines.

The event starts at 7pm with glasses being distributed around 7:30pm. The winners will be announced around 9:30pm or so and then it will be on to the after party at BlackFinn (who is also providing food at FS).

Pre-Register for the event here

Monday, August 25, 2008

My Response

This is a response to this post and this post.

Dear Sir,

I would like to clarify some points you have made about the Cincinnati Streetcar. The Streetcar will increase economic development, help raise support for public transportation throughout the City, and be the first step in larger transportation solution for our region.

First you claim it will not serve enough people, however Phase One of the Cincinnati Streetcar will serve a great many people. Namely the more than 8 million visitors to Downtown Cincinnati per year, around 500,000 conventioneers per year, around 450,000 non-convention hotel visitors per year, 65,000 daily workers of the Central Business District, around 15,000 people who live within a few blocks of the Streetcar, and the workers of OTR, a number I was unable to find.

You state "the grand majority of people who use public transit in the city are people who cannot afford public transportation." Although I have not seen data to support this position, it may very well be true. However, a successful system needs broad based public support. The middle class must buy into a successful public transportation system or it will never be effective.

The public transportation system of a city needs to cater to all of its demographics; otherwise it will be difficult to find funding with only a limited amount of support. Rail attracts more riders of choice than buses. People who will never ride a bus will ride a train. The director of Seattle's Department of Transportation has stated, "what we've found with streetcars, [is that] people who might not use other public transportation will ride on streetcars." This is due to both cultural reasons, and also because rail simply provides better quality of service. Rail is more reliable and frequent than bus service, it provides a smoother ride than buses, and the routes are more clearly visible to a rider unfamiliar with the system.

Consider the state of public transportation in America. All of the cities with great public transportation have rail. I struggle to think of one 'bus only city' that has public transportation anywhere near the quality of New York, Chicago, Boston, DC, or any other city with rail—perhaps Madison, Wisconsin. However, Madison 1) has streetcars, light rail, and commuter rail proposed currently and 2) has a population of 208,903, of those around 42,000 are college students. Regardless, it is an exception at best and clearly not the rule.

You state "Clifton has always been a home for students first and everyone else second." Even if true, students are likely to not have automobiles—especially those living on campus. A reason that Clifton may be "for students first" is the high cost of parking on campus and relative lack of transportation to and from school. The Streetcar will allow greater numbers of students to live Downtown, or in other places along the line and allow Clifton to return to a more balanced neighborhood.

You state the "Streetcar is not serving major areas that see high traffic, including:

Clifton- Plans call for the Streetcar to service this area, available at

Ludlow/Hamilton Ave- Plans call for the Streetcar to service this area

Queensgate- Plans call for the Streetcar to service this area

Price Hill- Grade issues make Streetcar service difficult, but long range plans contemplate Streetcar service for the area [unable to find map]

Reading Road- Plans call for the Streetcar to service this area, or this area would be an alternative route to Uptown.

Bond Hill- No Streetcar service is being considered for Bond Hill at present

Avondale- Plans call for the Streetcar to service this area.

The majority of places you state will not have streetcar service have planned streetcar service.

You state, "the fact the map highlights connects to restaurants and arts venues only reinforces the tourism focus." This is not the case, although tourist will enjoy riding the Streetcar. The restaurants and art venues are listed to show some of the numerous destinations along the Streetcar line. Even if the Streetcar were designed to serve tourists, tourism is an industry that Cincinnati could and should grow to create more revenues to provide better services to those who live in all of Cincinnati's 52 neighborhoods.

You state, "if the Streetcar is going to be an effective local tool, then it should go after those people who need public transit the most" later on, you also state the Streetcar is a "tool of gentrification" that will "push people out of their own neighborhoods." This interpretation would mean that a Streetcar could not be built anywhere in the city. If built in a rich neighborhood, it would fail to serve those who need public transit the most, but if built in a poor neighborhood, it would displace the residents by "bring[ing] a lot of development." In a middle class neighborhood, it would fail on both counts. Based on these internally conflicting statements, the Streetcar cannot be constructed anywhere.

Also the gentrification aspect of the Streetcar is speculative at best. Part A of the Streetcar will result in $1.4 billion of economic development. This amount is greater than either the Banks or the new tallest building at Queen City Square. To throw away such a massive amount of economic development to prevent a speculative harm is no way to run a city. Even if there is such harm the $270 million dollars of net present benefit the Streetcar will bring to the city, at a $102 million price tag, can be used to mitigate any such harm.

You ask, "except for entertainment purposes alone, who does it serve?" the first paragraph of my response addresses this issue. You also ask if you are going to use it for a "park and ride type system, where would you park?" The answer depends on many factors, but the riverfront garages currently under construction will be enormous. If you work on 4th Street , that is a comfortable walk, but if you work near the three courthouses in the CBD or anywhere in OTR, it is a long walk most people would not like to repeat every day. In addition the Hamilton county garage on 12th is underused, a Streetcar connection could increase monthly passes there.

You examine the fundamental role of government to state the Streetcar is unnecessary. While this may be your idea of the role of government, not all of the citizenry of Cincinnati agree with this interpretation. However, I think we can all agree that pragmatism, not any particular ideology should influence our governmental decisions. You admit yourself that Streetcars are an "economic development tool" that have "been used very effectively in other cities as a great tool of economic development." That is a pragmatic reason to invest in the Streetcar.

You state "how long before [Part A] spreads out and winds out into other neighborhoods? In the meantime there is no plan." Aside from the fact that calling the line 'Part A' implies there will be a Part B, acknowledging a plan, the current plan is to use the 'Part A' leg as a match for federal funding for the extension to Uptown. The federal funding process will push construction back several years. The choice then becomes, would we rather have Part A in 2011/Part B in 2013, or Part A and B in 2013? As the Streetcar will create economic development and as inflation will add millions to the cost of construction, there is no reason to wait.

You state, "it's going to take too long" and ask, "how long will it take to put in 'Part A' of the Streetcar plan?" The answer is about 3 weeks per block. During this time the sidewalk will stay open and only one travel lane and one parking lane will be closed. Each block will be done individually, so the disruption will be minimal. This is a comparable amount of time to replacing the sidewalks in a neighborhood business district.

You also have numerous concerns about improving Metro service as a counter argument to building the Streetcar. However, both Metro improvements and the construction of the Streetcar should be undertaken as part of a regional transportation plan that includes light and commuter rail, streetcars connecting Cincinnati's neighborhoods with Downtown and each other, and expanded bus service funded by and serving all of our communities.

Metro can and should be improved, but the funding sources of the Streetcar are not the funding sources of Metro, and building the Streetcar will not divert funds from Metro. The Streetcar will be primarily funded by TIF, capital funds, and private donations. None of these funding sources are currently used in any significant capacity by Metro. In reality, funding the Streetcar will increase Metro's funding, allowing it to provide better service.

Metro is primarily funded by the income tax of the City of Cincinnati. Although the City, with a population of around 332,000, is the only major local funding source of our bus system, Metro serves the entire county of 845,000 people. Cincinnati alone, among the 49 jurisdictions of Hamilton County, funds metro with dedicated local revenue streams. The County does provide pass through funds from federal agencies. Some argue that since people who live in the balance of the county pay much of the income tax, it is proper for the City to fund bus service throughout the County. This argument ignores the fact that Cincinnati has exclusive control over how to spend its income tax receipts, and other jurisdictions, such as Blue Ash, collect income tax revenue from all over the county but exhibit much less altruism, nor are they expected to do so.

If Metro wants to expand its service, it needs to expand its revenue sources. One way would be to expand the demographics that use public transportation, which would make the passage of tax levies to support the system more likely. The Streetcar will attract riders of choice, expanding the ridership base and introduce many people unfamiliar with public transportation to its benefits.

Another way would be to increase the funding from outside the City. This should be pursued regardless of the Streetcar.

As the primary funding source of Metro is the City's income tax, increasing economic development in Cincinnati will increase Metro's budget. You acknowledge that the Streetcar will bring "lots of economic development." This economic development will create new jobs, bring new residents to under-utilized areas (OTR's population is around 15% of its peak and contains hundreds of vacant buildings that can be rehabbed before a single resident is displaced), and increase property values.

All of this economic development will increase the funding available to Metro, while failing to build the Streetcar will not increase the funding available to Metro because the funds identified for the Streetcar are not funds Metro uses, nor is there any indication they will be made available to Metro. Failing to build the Streetcar will derail public transportation planning for years to come, and further reinforce the 'Cincinnati Complex'—that we are a city unable pull off big projects.

I think we both agree with the premise that public transportation needs to be increased in Cincinnati to create economic development, serve those who are too young, old, poor, or disabled to operate a automobile, decrease pollution and CO2 emissions, and make the city a better place to live. Metro and the Streetcar are two important tools for achieving that vision.

The Cincinnati Streetcar is way to serve the entire City of Cincinnati. It will first connect the downtown basin with the riverfront. It will then be expanded to connect Cincinnati's neighborhoods with Downtown and each other. The resulting economic development will provide greater revenue streams for Metro, turn vacant properties into tax producing ones, and due to massive economic development, increase the taxes flowing into the City's coffers, allowing increased public safety and economic development spending in Cincinnati's 52 neighborhoods.

The Cincinnati Streetcar can be constructed quickly, it will support the investments the City has made and will make, it will generate economic development in the urban core, it will stand as an example of public transportation by exposing many people who have no experience with rail to a modern streetcar system, and, to put it simply, it will make Cincinnati a better place.


Brad Thomas

Friday, August 22, 2008

This Weekend: Brew HA-HA

This weekend promises to be filled with plenty of great things to do throughout the city. The Cincinnati USA Brew Ha-Ha will be taking place Friday and Saturday night at Sawyer Point from 5pm to midnight on Friday and 4pm to midnight Saturday night. Brew Ha-Ha is a one-of-a-kind event that brings together great comedic acts and a wide variety of beers to sample.

There will be 50 comedians including Pauley Shore, Adam Hunter and Pat Goodwin, and over 70 beers to sample and taste. One of the best parts about this event is that portion of the event's proceeds will be donated to the Over-the-Rhine Foundation.

Entry: FREE
Tickets are $1 each
Beer sample: 1 ticket
Beer full serving: 4 tickets

View the entire list of comedians and time slots HERE!

View the entire list of beers and stand numbers HERE!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A view inside the famed Emery Theatre

The Emery Theatre has seen better days. Originally constructed as an auditorium for the Ohio Mechanics Institute, it was later home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra until they moved to Music Hall in 1937. The theatre was even compared to Carnegie Hall by Leopold Stokowski, and is condiered an acoustically pure venue.

There have been recent efforts to restore this gem. The most recent of which was an outing by Give Back Cincinnati to help clean up the venue. This enabled some new people to get inside the treasured theatre for the first time in many years. You can get more great historical information, on the theatre, at UrbanUp. You can also view more photos (14), like the one here, on the Emery Theatre page there.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cincinnati's auto-dependency and how to improve

Cincinnatians, like many people in America, are stuck in their cars. We were a nation that developed in a dense, walkable fashion (see East Coast and most Midwestern cities). As the industrial revolution took hold cities increasingly became places synonymous with disease, overcrowding, pollution, and overall poor living conditions. Throw in a few skewed federal policies (The American Dream, Eisenhower Interstate System, Urban Renewal) and you have yourself a rapidly changed nation.

So over the years we have continually built our cities to be more like machines rather than the living/breathing places they ought to be. All of a sudden public right-of-ways were no longer the public domain, but rather the cleared land for fast/efficient vehicular travel. Established neighborhoods made way for new interstates and 'The American Dream' of everyone owning their own suburban dwelling, away from the troubles of the inner-city, became firmly implanted in the minds of every American.

In 2000, over 81% of commuters in the Cincinnati region's 5 largest counties (Hamilton, Butler, Clermont, Warren, Kenton) got to their job by driving alone. Public Transportation accounted for a mere 3.2% which wasn't much higher than the 2.7% that worked from home. Hamilton County predictably finished as the most diversified county in terms of means of commuting, but even its numbers were nothing to write home about.

Breakdown of the Cincinnati region's 5 largest counties - Graph by UrbanCincy, data from U.S. Census

I expect that these numbers will look a little different with the 2010 Census data, but I also don't expect it to be dramatically different. As oil prices have soared, inner-city school districts improved, crime plummeted, and overall quality of life improved...our public transportation system has lagged behind. Similarly things like carpooling/ridesharing and walking/biking, that can see improved participation through relatively inexpensive measures, have also not seen much change/improvement over the past 8-10 years.

Part of the answer could be the proposed streetcar system, an improved bike/scooter infrastructure, possibly a light rail system, expanded bus service with new/innovative programs (real-time arrival information) that make the system easier to use. All of these must be done and more. Another item that I propose is that businesses/institutions offer financial incentives for their employees to bike/walk, bus (transit), or carpool to work.

This can be done relatively cheaply and could potentially have a major pay off. As we continue to improve our city/region we can not afford to forget about our transportation system and habits. We can only be as strong as our weakest link, and this is an area that has long been ignored.

Read my full proposal for a Walk/Bike, Bus, Carpool to Work incentive program HERE!

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In addition to the monthly challenge the newsletter will let you know about upcoming events, provide green product reviews, define green terms, remind you of the most popular ideas and articles from the regular Live Green blog, and more.

Sign up for Live Green Cincinnati's monthly greenED challenge news here!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Regionalism in Cincinnati

Guest Editorial by Steve Johns, Executive Director of Citizens for Civic Renewal

It is not very often that the Cincinnati Enquirer does a story on regionalism. To get more than one on the same day – now that is impressive! The Enquirer identified how the Greater Cincinnati region’s fire service is broken due to gaps and overlaps in fire coverage. Fire departments in the region are unevenly spread, leaving many areas heavily overlapping each other, while some are not as covered as they should be. This would make one think that a more regional fire department could more efficiently provide fire protection to the region.

With the economy slowing down, communities are looking for ways to cut costs. Merging certain fire departments that are redundant in location can increase efficiency without compromising the service and response times. Fire department consolidation is beginning to pick up momentum. For example, CCR has been working with the Village of Mariemont on merging its fire department with the Little Miami Joint Fire and Rescue District (part of Columbia Township, the Village of Fairfax, and the Village of Newtown). The fire chief of Mariemont is nearing retirement and the two current fire stations are almost a stone’s throw away. The merge opportunity coincides with the construction of a new fire station in the near future. Other communities have already taken this initiative and merged fire departments, such as Indian Hill-Madeira and Deer Park-Silverton.

In the current climate where regional cooperation or shared services can elicit a knee jerk reaction, opportunities like retirements, new local leadership, or financial stress still are the primary catalysts for change.

But that’s not all! There are some other major catalysts for “common sense” mergers. In the last biennial budget bill, the State of Ohio created a fund that jurisdictions can use to complete studies dealing with local government efficiency. The Government Efficiency and Cooperation Project (GCEP) has applied for these funds through the Center for Local Government a non-profit organization designed to improve public service delivery. The Center wants to study the possibility of sharing local government services around Tax Administration, 911 Communications, Public Health, Heavy Equipment Maintenance and Use and Building Code Enforcement. Mariemont (with assistance from CCR) also applied for these funds to finalize studies dealing with the fire department merger with the Little Miami Joint Fire and Rescue District.

Other efforts are underway to give this entire movement lasting staying power. The Ohio Commission on Local Government Reform and Collaboration is a fifteen-member group that was created by House Bill 562 Section 701.20. The Commission will not only look at ways to restructure and streamline local government but examine the services that are better provided at state or regional levels and even considering legislative changes to enable efficiencies and cost savings. At the regional level, Agenda 360 is looking for ways to take the work of GCEP beyond Hamilton County and into Butler, Clermont and Warren Counties.

Regionalism truly is picking up momentum in Greater Cincinnati and the potential benefits are huge. Rightsizing the number of engine companies in Hamilton County is estimated to save $21 million just in equipment costs alone. Applying these savings to rebuilding local infrastructure or lowering tax rates can make us more competitive both locally and regionally with the rest of the world.

In October 2004, Steve Johns became the Executive Director of Citizens for Civic Renewal – a ten year old non-profit dedicated to empowering citizens and serving as a catalyst for civic action in Greater Cincinnati. Steve has previously worked for planning agencies in Maryland, Ohio, Alabama and Texas. Overtime Steve has become more and more interested in public relations’ role in engaging citizens and challenging them to create plans for the future.

Steve counts as one of his greatest accomplishments the Electronic Town Hall Meeting held for Hamilton County’s Community COMPASS (Comprehensive Master Plan And StrategieS) where over 1,000 people participated in an all day strategic planning meeting. Steve now lives in Hyde Park with his wife, Kristen and two daughters.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Historic Enquirer Building to See New Life

The historic art deco style Enquirer Building, built in 1926, has seen better days. What used to be home to Cincinnati’s daily newspaper until the 1980’s, is now a class “C” office building with an abysmal 16% occupancy rate.

With nearly three decades of hard times, the “Grand Lady of Vine Street” is ready for her makeover. In May 2007, Middle Earth Developers (MED) purchased the building with plans to renovate and develop the historic structure into a mixed-use building consisting of apartments, office and retail space, and parking. Thanks to some historic tax credits and private financing the $37,399,000 project is now ready to move forward, with a projected completion date of Mid-2009 (office) and May 2010 (apartments).

Retail space will remain at street-level, 53,400 sf of office space will take up floors 2-3, and 152 apartments will take up floors 4-14. 170 parking spaces will also be made available by retrofitting the basement mezzanine levels (previously held 10-ton printing presses) into a 3-level private parking garage.

Glenn Kukla, partner of MED, says that there will be a mix of studio, 1br, 1br/1 den, and 2br apartment units. These units will boast features such as free/dedicated wi-fi access, stainless steel appliances, washer/dryer hookups, hardwood/polished concrete floors, lofted kitchen and bathroom areas, and private parking.

While the project has lots of amenities, Kukla states, "the biggest amenity by far is that the building is a half-block away from the newly renovated Fountain Square." The building will also be modified to include a new rooftop deck, clubhouse and fitness facility next to the rooftop deck, public conference room and business center, and coin operated laundry/vending facilities.

All images provided by Middle Earth Developers

Monday, August 11, 2008

Over-the-Rhine Revisited: Designing Infill for Historic Districts

On Thursday, September 4th, the Mercantile Library will be hosting an informative session regarding Over-the-Rhine and the challenges facing new development in the historic neighborhood. Over-the-Rhine Revisited: Designing Infill for Historic Districts will be held at 5:30pm at the Mercantile Library (GoogleMap).

The session is a continuation of discussion that started at the January 2008 charrette and is being hosted by AIA Cincinnati, Architecture Foundation of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Preservation Association, Mercantile Library, and the Over-the-Rhine Foundation.

Light refreshments will be served , but reservations are required. The session costs $8 for members and $10 for non-members. You can make reservations by either calling 513.621.0717 or by emailing

Images from Architecture Foundation of Cincinnati -


That is roughly the valuation of current and proposed construction projects in Cincinnati's urban core (Downtown, OTR, parts of Nky's riverfront, Mt. Adams, parts of Uptown). The area is roughly 6 square miles that includes hilly terrain, a mighty river and is the heart of a 2+ million person metropolitan area. That averages out to roughly $574-million worth of investment per square mile.

Projects highlighting this list are The Banks, Cincinnati Riverfront Park, Queen City Square, SouthShore, Ovation, and the Cincinnati Streetcar. In addition to those big projects, the list is filled out by a potpourri of rehab and infill projects that would tickle the fancy of any urbanite.

While you simply can not project development valuations as a signal of a city's success or failure, it is hard not to be impressed by the shear amount of activity going on now and in the coming months/years. It is not often that a Midwestern city sees this kind of activity, and it isn't something Cincinnati has seen happen in many decades.

*Note that this list does not include projects going on in the East End, West End, Dayton, or Bellevue.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Support the Know

There is a fun opportunity coming up that will help a local non-profit arts organization. Kona Bistro, in Oakley, will be hosting the Know Theatre of Cincinnati on August 27th as part of a weekly fundraiser (see Community Nights) that starts at 6pm and lasts until 9pm.

The Know Theatre of Cincinnati describes itself as, "Just left of off Broadway" in terms of their productions. The theatre is also one of three theatres (Ensemble Theatre & New Stage Collective) along a 3-block stretch in Over-the-Rhine. A stretch of theatres that I consider to be Cincinnati's off Broadway district.

The Know needs support though, and what better way than by going to the very cool Kona Bistro (GoogleMap) and enjoying some great food, drinks, and conversation? There will also be a raffle where you could win free tickets, subscriptions, and more for the Know Theatre's 2008-2009 season.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gotta love the 'Tazz'

The former Lange Jewelers location has opened up an opportunity for a new business. Tazza Mia is where "Fresher Coffee Meets Better Food." Their second location (GoogleMap) opened last week (7/31) and owner Bob Bonder described the spot as a great location, a location so great that it was the lure in bringing his local business to Downtown.

Tazza Mia boasts their fresh coffee, and when they say fresh...they mean fresh. They get the raw coffee (aka green coffee...because it arrives in a green color) shipped to their West Chester store direct. Once it arrives they roast it on site and Mr. Bonder delivers the roasted coffee down to the Downtown store every 2-3 days. So while most places brag about their coffee being only 2-3 weeks old, Tazza Mia is talking 2-3 DAYS.

The store has a great atmosphere, with great presence at street level (on Vine), interior access from Tower Place, and a really cool lofted second level that I had no idea was there. The second level offers a great place for casual meetings, reading, relaxing, etc. When you go you absolutely need to try their Pot Roast Panini or their Belgian Waffles (straight from Taste of Belgium at Findlay Market). Once you try their super fresh coffee and fantastic food at their great/new location, you'll be saying to yourself..."I love the Tazz."

Store Hours:
M-F -- 6am - 6:30pm
Sat -- 8am - 5pm
Sun -- 9am - 2pm
Tazza Mia on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 4, 2008

Point A to Point B - How UrbanCincy readers get to work

Not a big surprise here from July's poll. The majority of UrbanCincy readers commute to work by car (47% of 327 total respondents). A strong response came from those who walk and/or bike to work, as well as those riding the bus for their means of transportation. Combined those two categories made up for roughly 32% of the total responses.

That actually is a better breakdown than I expected, and to top it all off there were 14% of you who selected the 'insert rail here' option. So if you really break it down as car vs. alternative transportation then there was actually a pretty decent response. The comparison would then be 47% (156 total votes) to 46% (155 total votes).

How did you vote, why did you vote the way you did? Most importantly what do you see as an important tool to help tip the scales even further and get people out of their cars? I think the streetcar is an important first step that will further reduce the need for an automobile in the urban core. For commuting purposes light rail needs to be considered again, and soon.

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