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Friday, February 26, 2010

Final Friday tonight in Over-the-Rhine

Tonight is Final Friday in the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. The monthly event is a celebration of the neighborhood's rebirth with more than 30 participating artist galleries and merchants. Those attending enjoy dozens of free art galleries and venues displaying the work of local artists. Neighborhood merchants will also have special deals, food, drink, music and more.

Starting at 5pm tonight, the free gallery hop will feature dozens of destinations each offering their own unique atmosphere and attractions. At 13th & Vine streets, Joseph Williams Home will have free food and drink, and will also allow guest to tour one of the remaining units in Trideca Lofts above.

Just a few doors down, Senate will be open offering up its craft cocktails and gourmet street food. It has also been rumored that Cafe de Wheels will be setting up shop outside of Outside on 12th Street starting at 5:30pm.

Over on Main Street you'll find most of the art galleries in addition to two of the neighborhood's newest merchants - Original Thought Required and Atomic Number Ten. Also be sure to check out the famous Pendleton Arts Center between 6pm and 10pm. The PAC (map) boasts more than 200 artists - the largest collection of artists living under one roof in the world - and offers breathtaking views of historic Over-the-Rhine and Downtown.

Final Friday photo by 5chw4r7z.

Mural hunting in Cincinnati

I can assure you that this will be the last of the Shepard Fairey-related content on UrbanCincy for some time. You went to the opening night party, you read the controversial review, and now you can plot out your mural hunting adventure of Fairey's murals around town.

Leading up to his first museum retrospective, Fairey installed seven murals around town (2 in Northside, 2 Downtown, 2 in Over-the-Rhine, and 1 in Pendleton) that reflect some of his work that can be seen inside the walls of the Contemporary Arts Center. These murals vary in size, meaning and placement, and until now, those looking to find the murals were largely on a hunt trying to find the mysteriously placed seven murals.

The mural journey is a fun way to spend an afternoon without spending a single cent (transportation costs aside). And while the mural locations may no longer be a mystery, it is still fun to try to find the little messages left behind by the Fairey crew near each of their designated mural locations.

Beyond the murals themselves it is interesting to see how they react with the surrounding urban environment. The E. 14th Street mural is placed next to graffiti in the adjacent alley which presents an interesting dichotomy. The mural on the side of Arnold's Bar & Grill, on the other hand, peeks around the corner of the alley onto 8th Street as if it's trying to get your attention and draw you nearer for its message.

Also of interest is how people react to the often provocative murals. Many seem to be going mural hunting and specifically seeking out the art installations, while others are simply passing by and are surprised by the unexpected display. Most stop and pause, others look more closely, but all seem to be interested in the new element interjected into their neighborhood, place of work, or destination. And in the end no matter what you think about Fairey or his work, isn't this what we look for in art?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tie-Dye Ball This Friday

Looking for something a little different to do this Friday evening? Look no further than The Redmoor in Mt. Lookout Square for the Tie-Dye Ball which features two of Cincinnati’s longest running bands dedicated to playing the music of the 1960s. Not only should this evening be a step back in time, but it also benefits a great cause which is the Cincinnati organization, Play it Forward.

Play it Forward was founded by Gary Burbank, known famously for his stint on 700 WLW as the afternoon drive time host. Gary has many more passions in this world, one of which is music and so he helped found Play it Forward back in 2008. This organization attempts to help musicians in need by getting their story to the media as well manage an investment fund that will give them assistance in times of catastrophic need.

Doors open at 8pm this Friday night, with The Spookfloaters taking the stage at 9pm. Following at 11pm is Jerry’s Little Band. Both bands feature music from the likes of The Grateful Dead, Phish, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan and to fit with the theme of the evening party goers are encouraged to wear their best tie-dye shirts as well as beads and their best dancing shoes.

In addition to the music Play it Forward will have some of their items for sale including the piece of Cincinnati history that is The Ludlow Garage Project Volume One CD, Ludlow Garage T-shirts, and the Play it Forward compilation CD. Additionally, there will be a raffle featuring many items donated by local businesses.

So, if you’d like to relive your past, or just take a step back in time, pony up $10 and check it out. With a portion of the proceeds benefiting such a great cause it’s hard not to want to crash the gates like they did back in 1969 at Woodstock.

Is Main Street getting its groove back?

You remember the northern stretches of Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. The downtrodden, turned entertainment district, turned tech zone, turned entertainment district again, turned gallery space, turned neighborhood again eastern area of historic Over-the-Rhine that has as much potential as any.

The reasons behind these tectonic shifts could be debated endlessly - neighborhood demographics, investors, perception, mega-events, etc. But as the Gateway Quarter continues its creep onto other unassuming portions of Over-the-Rhine south of Liberty Street, the once premier street in OTR for neighborhood rejuvenation seems to be sitting pretty once again...especially when you add in the fact that a new casino employing thousands of workers (temporary and permanent) will be opening just a couple blocks away attracting tens of thousands of more visitors to the neighborhood each year.

Part of this most recent shift began a year or so ago when the dependable Over-the-Rhine developers worked some of the magic on Main Street that they had on Vine Street. New residents began moving in, and the ripple effect officially began anew for Main Street.

Main Street resident James Marable was able to not only set roots there, but he was able to realize a life-long dream when he opened Original Thought Required - a new street wear boutique. Across the street from Marable's shop, Katie Garber decided to open an eclectic vintage shop called Atomic Number Ten.

The new shops join ever-establishing neighborhood icon Iris Book Cafe serving as the requisite coffee shop and third place for this corner of OTR. Also in the mixture of new businesses and residents are new nightlife destinations looking to rightfully reclaim some of Main Street storied nightlife past, while also trying win big on an early casino bet.

Original Thought Required street wear boutique [LEFT], and Atomic Number Ten vintage shop [RIGHT]. Photos by Randy A. Simes.

Longtime Over-the-Rhine resident, neighborhood advocate and Main Street enthusiast Michael Redmond is especially excited about the prospects of the casino for entertainment destinations along Main Street and nearby areas. Redmond is part owner of Neon's Unplugged that will be opening this spring just off of Main Street, and while the casino didn't directly make the decision on reopening the legendary establishment, Redmond said that it certainly got the ball rolling a bit faster.

A bit more directly casino related, the Fries brothers will be opening Jack Potts Tavern this spring in the former Jefferson Hall space along Main Street which is playfully named after Paul Fries' son and inspired guessed it...the new casino opening just blocks away in 2012.

Will the latest transition of Main Street that is a hybrid of the Main Streets of past finally be the way to a sustainable business and resident future, or will the historic street be looking for a new vision another five years from now? While this much may be unclear, it is always a good idea to diversify your investments, and dare I say, hedge your bets.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hamilton County "well-positioned" for future growth and prosperity

Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper gave the second annual State of the County Address on February 18. In that address, Commissioner Pepper recapped what was accomplished and experienced in a difficult 2009, and what the County needs to do to be successful in 2010. You can watch the State of the County Address yourself, or you can read through a brief summary below.

  • With record decreases in sales tax receipts (7.5%), property sales and transaction revenues (42% since 2007), and interest earnings (50%), Hamilton County was forced to make tough decisions to balance its budget and shave off 22% ($60 million) of its overall costs and back to 1998 levels.
  • Making job creation and retention a top priority, Hamilton County officials were able to create more than 50 economic development projects and create or retain 13,000 jobs.
  • The balanced budget without adding any additional tax burden on the citizens earned Hamilton County high marks in Moody's credit rating.
  • The County's free foreclosure counseling program has saved 2,175 homes from foreclosure and 985 in 2009 alone...thus saving the County from an estimated $50 million in lost property value.
  • The County's new prescription drug discount card was used 17,000 times in the first year and generated savings of 21.17% for its users resulting in $200,000 of savings.
  • Of Ohio's six largest urban counties, Hamilton County has the lowest property tax as a percentage of income, and is tied for the lowest sales tax.
  • Hamilton County's SuperJobs center linked 2,200 people to jobs and provided job training to 660 youth in the community. New training programs are focusing on health care, construction and green job industries.
  • Public Safety takes up 70% of the County's budget.

Shepard Fairey Retrospective Review

You can be certain that fans of ABC’s Lost will be found in front of their televisions on May 23rd, as the labyrinthine TV fantasy/sci-fi/adventure show wraps up its six-seasons-long narrative. Lost diehards are desperate for a conclusion that will bring closure to and make sense of countless loose ends that have frayed into an ever-more-complex knot of high-minded mysticism and philosophical allusion; anything less than an airtight explanation might suggest that the previous six years of their lives could have been better spent.

Personally, I hope that creators Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse have both the stomach and sense of humor to play a practical joke of epic proportions by tying everything up in a neat little package with a card that reads “It was all a dream.”

Locally, the ongoing Shepard Fairey retrospective at the Contemporary Arts Center has made a splash with its own cocktail of ambitious subtexts, and I had the chance to follow the buzz and visit the show on Sunday of its opening weekend, with free admission offered as part of the Fine Arts Fund Sampler Weekend. I admired the boldness and the commitment of the artist to his purpose, as well as much of his technique, particularly in his large-scale murals: weathered textures and patchwork patterns abound.

The vast majority of the work in the two-floor exhibition belonged to Fairey’s on-going “Obey Giant“ project, done in service of one goal: to create a complex art-you-live aesthetic that changes the way audiences look at the rest of the world. Lofty stuff… yet, I could never shake the suspicion that there was far less going on intellectually than Fairey would have us believe.

Crowds outside the CAC for the Shepard Fairey opening night party - photos by Jeremy Mosher.

Premised on a head-scratching concept -- that a sticker of Andre the Giant that doesn’t appear to sell anything will make the public question the images around them -- Fairey has subsequently cited existential philosophy (in this case, Phenomenology) as the underpinning of his work, essentially evading explanation instead of offering clarification. As with Lost, rather than resolving tenuous connections between images or occurrences, we’re told to just keep digging deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole: the truth is there, have faith. What truth? And why not share it here? For that matter, when is Shepard Fairey? Well, you got me. But, if the meaning of a statement is elusive, it doesn't necessarily make the statement meaningful.

No, by invoking the terms “propaganda” and “dissent,” by using an Orwellian poli-speak in posters and incorporating an ever-widening range of historical and philosophical allusions, the Fairey retrospective merely trades in Big Ideas without really committing to any. It’s all sizzle, and the promise that maybe there is a steak in there if you look hard enough and can talk yourself into it. Ultimately, the work on display is far less nuanced than the politically- or commercially-charged imagery Fairey wants to call into question: neither as sneaky nor as clever as proper propaganda. “In lesser gods we trust?” Puke.

The line to get into the CAC wrapped around the block along Walnut Street - photos by Jeremy Mosher.

Still, if Fairey’s work is reductive and far less subversive than it aims to be, it remains extremely topical, and I’m thrilled to see the CAC book such a timely and interesting show: it’s the artist like Fairey that can move the arts into the fore of a city’s consciousness. Afforded the chance to see these much-talked-about, widely-popular works from our own day, I can’t recommend strongly enough that Cincinnatians take a visit to see what all the fuss is about.

But once you’re there… don’t believe the hype. If you look too hard for a satisfying explanation for the island, the jumps through time, and whatever else happened after I gave up on a game that couldn't be bothered to come up with any set rules, you might just make your head hurt.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Great American Tower Photo Update

Great American Tower will soon become Cincinnati's tallest high rise building at close to 700 feet in height. The building has officially been topped out, but is still awaiting its grand crown that will push the tower over Cincinnati's historical tallest building - Carew Tower. These recent photos (click to open larger versions in new window) taken by Jake Mecklenborg show the progress and prowess of Great American Tower.

Looking west, Great American Tower dominates the skyline [LEFT]. Great American Tower looms over the billion dollar mixed-use development known as The Banks [RIGHT].

Cincinnati receives $712k to reconfigure Galbraith Rd Interchange

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has awarded a $712,500 grant to Cincinnati for the design of a new exit ramp on Interstate 75 at the existing Galbraith Road interchange. The project is a small component of the much larger multi-billion dollar effort to improve safety and add capacity to one of the nation's worst stretches of highway for commuters.

The grant money will fund the elimination and replacement of the current left hand exit with a new right hand exit along northbound I-75. Project officials early on had suggested the elimination of the left hand Galbraith Road exit (map) altogether without a potential replacement. This proposal was met with great opposition from nearby residents and business owners who rely on the interstate access.

“This project will make for an easier commute and improve safety on Interstate 75," said Representative Steve Driehaus (D-OH). "In addition, the funding will stimulate our local economy and create jobs."

Galbraith Road Interchange photograph by Larry Stulz

Monday, February 22, 2010

Meatless Mondays: Getting Saucy at Riverside Korean Restaurant

"What's in this incredible sauce?" I innocently asked the waitress. In response, she threw her head back and cackled the way people do when they know something but have no intention of letting you in on the secret. Clearly, it was going to take more than a sweet smile to get this woman to talk, but more on that later.

The dish I was asking about was the Mae Un Du Bu Bok Um ($14.95) at Riverside Korean Restaurant – a tofu and vegetable stir fry that had me reeling from the first bite.

"Reeling?" you ask. Yes, if that's what you would call me clutching my heart and repeating the word "wow" over and over again. My husband ordered the Dolsot Bibim Bab ($15.95), a popular rice and vegetable entree that's served in a hot, stone bowl and topped with a fried egg at the last minute. His food was delicious, but it was the stir fry that had me threatening to storm the kitchen so that I might steal the recipe.

Mae Un Du Bu Bok Um dish from Riverside Korean Restaurant - photo by Courtney Tsitouris.

First of all, the food looked as beautiful as it tasted. A stack of perfectly julienned vegetables – pan-fried and obviously lovingly cared for -- wrapped around each other in a glistening, messy swirl of color. The tofu was so soft it looked more like melted cheese than a soy product.

And then there was that pool of sauce. The sauce whose recipe I tried to weasel out of the waitress, the sauce I'd probably eat on my breakfast cereal if I could. It entrenched the fried cabbage, long hot peppers, and vegetables with sweetness first and then heat.

People who write about food love to talk about umami, the mysterious fifth taste said to be found in many soy sauce related dishes. I've never been one to notice, but in this sauce, the savory sensation overwhelmed me in a lingering, almost haunting manner.

Banchan sides from Riverside Korean Restaurant - photo by Courtney Tsitouris.

I proved to be a particularly poor dining companion when the banchan arrived. The half dozen or so complimentary small bites were, as my husband tried to tell me, meant to be shared alongside the meal. But sharing was difficult when the sweet, honey potatoes melted so quickly in my mouth and the spicy kimchi was so finger-licking good. Each one, more visually sophisticated than the next became a carnival of flavor and a fun counterpoint to the main course.

After all of our plates were empty and our bellies were full, I thought I'd give it another go with the waitress. "So, this is a soy based sauce, right?" I asked her in a hopeful tone. "Yes," she said, "soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and some other ingredients." Her voice trailed off as she made way back to the kitchen. I guess that was going to have to do for now.

Riverside Korean Restaurant is at 512 Madison Avenue in Covington (map). Make reservations at (859) 291-1484.

'Meatless Mondays' is a new series on UrbanCincy that explores one of the recommendations of CIncinnati's Climate Protection Action Plan (aka Green Cincinnati Plan) - try to go meatless one day a week. UrbanCincy's 'Meatless Mondays' series is written and photographed by Courtney Tsitouris who is a cook, designer and author of, a blog about dining in and dining out in Cincinnati.

Riverside Korean on Urbanspoon

Once and Always A Stakeholder

The party line was this: I moved back to Cincinnati because my freelance work was rarely based out of New York City -- counter to my expectations when first striking out as a self-employed writer and video producer -- so I had an opportunity to finally get away from Gotham’s pound-of-flesh rents. Hello, profit-margin, right?

Truly, the full answer defied the time-limits of polite cocktail-party conversation. Every city in the country offered a lower cost-of-living and a healthy handful promised opportunities to share my life with good friends and family. But only one city had gotten into my blood.

Large crowds gather outside the CAC to get in to the Shepard Fairey opening night [LEFT]. Great American Ball Park is the home of the nation's oldest professional baseball team the Cincinnati Reds [RIGHT]. Photos taken by Jeremy Mosher & Randy Simes.

A recent Vanity Fair article written by A. A. Gill explored the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY, and opened with an offhand dig at Cincinnati, saying that “it's not in the nature of stoic Cincinnatians to boast, which is fortunate, really, for they have meager pickings to boast about.” Gill is of that breed of lazy sensationalists more concerned with eliciting reaction than approaching a nuanced -- even intimidating, surely -- mental space, and this line, casually flippant, and really, totally extraneous to the rest of the story, served his aim. Picked up by blogger Katy Crossen earlier last week, Crossen challenged local bloggers and Twitter-followers to boast why they are proud of Cincinnati. And the responses began to pour in, detailing everything from the Zaha Hadid-designed Contemporary Arts Center to the world’s first professional baseball team.

Me? When I first moved to New York for college, I was often asked to describe Cincinnati, and I came to rely on a fond but accurate snapshot: “Big city amenities; Small-town feel.” We account for ten Fortune 1000 companies -- including 75% of Ohio’s entries in the Top 100 -- but we value our neighborhoods, and local religious roots have connected millions of people through Catholic schools. Introduce me to anyone from Cincinnati and give us ten minutes together, I would say, and we’ll come up with at least one mutual acquaintance.

Seven years into my New York adventure, I loved being able to indulge in all of my passions, fed by the culinary offerings, the public transportation, the neighborhood movie theaters, and the vast comedy scene. But I was suddenly disappointed to realize that nearly a decade on, the emotional connection to my surroundings had only grown so deep. Perhaps the size of the city was responsible, but I was struck by an epiphany that the things tying me and my peers to New York were most often cultural and career opportunities. Friendships were nice, but the relationships weren’t the priority or the motivating factor for residence -- even if social opportunities were.

I would argue that even with amazing museums, pro sports, and an emerging cultural scene, community remains the Queen City’s defining trait. And I would suggest that beyond the interpersonal relationships that grow so strong here, our defensiveness derives from our relationship to the city itself. Cincinnati, the whole intangible idea of it -- the people, plants, buildings and backstory -- functions like a family in a way that other cities with more transient populations don’t. It’s only natural for a person to defend his home, as an affirmation of his life choices, if nothing else; our relationship to Cincinnati is, I think, more complicated and more rich. We love it even when it frustrates us. We shape it, even as we are shaped by it.

The sun sets on my time in New York City [LEFT], and I start my journey anew in the city I love [RIGHT]. Photos by Jeremy Mosher & Randy Simes.

And I think that’s the difference: because Cincinnati is inhabited and led by homegrown folks probably more than any other city our size or bigger, a sort of mutual osmosis goes on. A Cincinnatian owns a stake in this city; woe to those who aspire only to rent it for a few convenient years. Yes, new residents have been known to be intimidated initially, but they can still become part of the family, part of this wholly unique place and experience, if they’re willing to put up with -- and occasionally revel in -- the quirks and foibles. (We wouldn’t let a family member bring a new spouse into the herd without doing due diligence, right?) Cincinnati will look out for us. It will give us the opportunities to outgrow it, but never let us forget where we came from. It will welcome us back, even if we feel the need to leave the nest for years at a time.

Returning from a business trip to the far side of the Atlantic last weekend, I had a layover in New York. Few things in this world are breathtaking like a banking bird’s-eye view of Manhattan at night, but as I picked out landmarks from my vantage high above the city I had long called my home -- and meant it -- I recognized something new: that I am thrilled to be living in Cincinnati again. Do I miss life in New York? Certain elements, yes. But given a choice, give me family, evolving but ever-loyal, sitting proudly on this big bend in the banks of the Ohio.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hive13 brings hackerspace to Cincinnati

Hive13 has been settling in to their versatile Camp Washington space where the growing group has brought Cincinnati its very own hackerspace to life. This past Saturday the group hosted a party and open house where Soapbox Cincinnati was able to get a glimpse inside.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Senate opens today in the Over-the-Rhine

Many Cincinnatians can now begin to understand the long journey that most candidates go through to get to Senate. The hotly anticipated new gastropub opens in the Gateway Quarter today and by all accounts it should live up to the high expectations that the Cincinnati community has set for it.

UrbanCincy was invited to a preview event earlier this week and while the food and drinks were only samples of what Senate promises to offer going forward, the glimpse we got at the atmosphere made the trip very worthwhile. With simple lines and candle light, the sense one gets when walking in the door is both comforting and sophisticated at the same time. All in all, the room is relatively small but very warm and welcoming, as are the large windows along Vine Street that will be opened in warmer months.

Senate joins Lavomatic in the ever-changing and growing Gateway Quarter district of the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Be sure to go down and check out what Senate has to offer this weekend...maybe even drop by on your way to the Shepard Fairey opening night party at the CAC.

Senate Menu photograph by Julie Niesen.
Senate on Urbanspoon

Shepard Fairey debuts exclusive Cincinnati works tonight

Shepard Fairey has already made an impactful and lasting impression on Cincinnati. Tonight the contemporary artist will be at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) for the opening night of his first museum retrospective and will display an "extensive exploration" of his 20-year career.

The retrospective is mounted in two parts - one at the CAC itself, and the other can be seen in several locations around the city in the form of mural projects. The CAC galleries will have around 250 pieces of Fairey's work displayed ranging from his Andre the Giant piece to his iconic Obama HOPE image. Most notably though Fairey will display his brand new mural custom-made for the CAC's prominent lobby space.

Fairey has also released an exclusive screen print (right image) of the world famous Zaha Hadid-designed Contemporary Arts Center which has been described as "the most important new building in American since the Cold War" by the New York Times. The limited edition screen print is available for purchase at the CAC.

The opening night celebrations will take place tonight at the CAC from 6pm to 11pm and include a cocktail reception, discussion with Shepard Fairey, and an opening party which will feature a DJ set by Shepard Fairey himself. The opening party is free and open to the public starting at 8pm.

Shepard Fairey works on his mural in downtown Cincinnati [LEFT]. A view inside the CAC's lobby from the street of Fairey's new custom-made mural for Cincinnati [RIGHT]. Shepard Fairey photographs by Thadd Fiala.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tour of The Banks - February 2010

Earlier this month just a few hours before a February snow blanketed the Cincinnati area, UrbanCincy was invited on a hard hat tour of The Banks construction site. The event was hosted by Messer Construction as a way to get show off some of the recent progress made along the Ohio River. News was recently made about vertical construction starting above ground, but Messer has been diligently plugging away at the “dirty” work of the project for quite some time now.

As we went through the safety briefing, we were told that the project now stands at over 160,000 hours worked without a lost time accident which was clearly something of which the group was very proud. They have very strict controls in place to help ensure that all the workers are safe and able to put forth their fullest effort, and made sure we followed all their rules as we entered the work site.

After the briefing it was time for a tour, and while our photos from the trip will likely better show you the story of what we saw, the best way to describe this project is BIG. While that is probably evident if you drive by the site, it took on a whole new meaning as we walked around inside the garage.

Once everything is complete, there will be seven acres of parking and you will be able to go in at Paul Brown Stadium and emerge at Great American Ballpark. The best part of course is that these garages will be topped off with development and green space which give it a great multi-use functionality. For perspective, a similar (and much grander) project would be Boston’s “Big Dig.”

The other part of the story that became a bit clearer upon our visit was the difference between The Banks and Central Riverfront Park. While they share much of the same infrastructure, project manager Dave Prather was able to help draw a picture about what the park will offer. If you go past the site these days you will be able to see where the garage stops and everything south of that will be the park, while everything north is considered part of The Banks. According to Mr. Prather, Phase I remains on track with an expected opening in April of 2011 which includes the Moerlein Lager House.

Enjoy the pictures, some of which were taken by Jake Mecklenborg. Messer seemed interested in making these hard hat tours a regular event, so stay with UrbanCincy for more developments as progress on The Banks continue.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

This Week in Soapbox - 2/16

This Week in Soapbox UrbanCincy has the following six stories that you must check out. Read about the changes happening in OTR's Gateway Quarter, AIA's Broadway Commons casino charrette, the new Twin Bistro in Covington, Daisy Maes Market's new healthy program, Cincinnati's ongoing urban planning, and the sustainability efforts in Cincinnati as led by UC.

If you're interested in staying in touch with some of the latest development news in Cincinnati please check out this week's stories and sign up for the weekly E-Zine sent out by Soapbox Cincinnati. Also be sure to become a fan of Soapbox on Facebook!

TWIS 2/16/10:
  • Shaking things up in the Gateway Quarter of Over-the-Rhine - full article
  • AIA to lead Broadway Commons casino charrette - full article
  • Twin Bistro opens restaurant in heart of Covington - full article
  • Daisy Maes Market brings on Healthy Breaks - full article
  • What is Cincinnati's best laid plan? (feature story) - full article
  • Sustainability 101: UC Heads the Class (feature story) - full article

Where would they all park?

Metro, the non-profit that operates Cincinnati’s bus system, is facing a budget deficit of $16 million in 2010. To preempt this crisis, officials in December elected to reduce service on virtually every route, and eliminate some routes entirely (new schedules). Many Cincinnatians values Metro's presence because it is a critical service for residents and visitors alike, but some remain hard to convince.

Metro's important role in Cincinnati goes beyond the obvious. For example, there simply is not enough parking downtown to eliminate bus service. If Cincinnati were to eliminate Metro entirely, the city would need 127 acres of additional parking.

According to Carter Dawson, the group that is managing The Banks development on the riverfront, 85,000 people work in downtown Cincinnati, and according to Metro, 20 percent of them commute using the bus. Therefore, 17,000 people ride to bus downtown to work each day. The amount of space needed for each parking space is estimated at 325 square feet after factoring in space needed for access lanes. As a result, Cincinnati would need to add more than 5.5 million square feet of additional parking space, or about 127 acres.

The land area bounded by 3rd Street, Race Street, Central Parkway, and Sycamore Street is about 130 acres (map created here).

Cincinnati simply cannot afford to throw away 127 acres of prime real estate. Not only does downtown hold some of the region’s most lucrative businesses that would have to go elsewhere, but the tax revenue lost by this displacement would be catastrophic as well. In addition, roadways would need to be expanded to accommodate the increased traffic, stealing even more valuable downtown space. Residents would also be displaced, taking with them the income tax revenue on which the city relies. Cincinnati cannot afford to eliminate Metro. Instead, policymakers ought to be seeking ways to bolster this community asset.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Know Theater’s “Add1ng Mach1ne” musical a haunting hit

The Know Theater of Cincinnati’s third production of the 2009-2010 season, Add1ng Mach1ne: A Mus1cal opened Saturday to a sold out crowd. A re-imagination of Elmer Rice’s 1923 play, the musical makes tremendous use of the theater’s unique space by placing the audience on three sides of the stage, allowing the actors to freely roam the aisles, and situating the ensemble behind the stage but within view.

Slowly building into a melodic cacophony of numbers, the musical’s first piece immediately grabs the audience’s attention with its monotonous and hypnotizing trance. Playing off the theme of repetition, the musical captures the banality of Mr. Zero (played by Robert Pavlovich), whose only excitement comes in the form of the temptation of a beautiful young co worker (played by Liz Vosmeier).

After brilliantly depicting the essence of Mr. Zero’s mundane employment, the musical explores themes of appearance and superficiality, technology and obsolesce, predictability and sudden change, and crime and justice.

Add1ng Mach1ne runs through March 6. Tickets are only $12 for each show this season thanks to the generosity of the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr. US Bank Foundation. Tickets can be purchased online, or by calling the Know Theatre box office at (513) 300-5669.

Before the show, grab a drink with friends at the theater’s great bar, or visit Senate which opens Friday, February 19! Parking around the Know Theater (map) is abundant, but several bus lines eliminate the need to drive entirely. Check out Metro’s trip planner, and input "1120 Jackson Street" as the destination.

"Robert Pavlovich as Zero" photo by Deogracias Lerma

New parking restrictions added to MLK Drive

Parking just got a little tougher for students at the University of Cincinnati. Traffic Engineers from the City's Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE) have now eliminated on-street parking during rush hour commutes along Martin Luther King Drive heading between Woodside Drive (entrance to Burnett Woods) and Clifton Avenue (map).

Martin Luther King Drive between Woodside & Jefferson removed on-street parking completely when the street was repaved [LEFT]. Martin Luther King Drive between Woodside & Clifton now has rush hour on-street parking restrictions [RIGHT]. Photography by Jake Mecklenborg.

The westbound stretch of roadway has been precariously without parking meters and is one of the most sought after off-campus parking locations for students at UC's College of Business and College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning. While the eastbound side does have parking meters, the rates are extraordinarily low and are not on pace with nearby parking rates on-campus, in Burnett Woods, on other off-campus streets or garages.

The move comes after the City completely removed on-street parking from the both directions of MLK Drive between Woodside Drive and Jefferson Avenue, and is seemingly part of the larger effort to grow MLK Drive to a much more auto-oriented street than is currently present.

DOTE officials state that the new parking regulations are intended to "improve traffic flow" and "reduce traffic accidents" along the six-lane stretch of roadway. The new regulations prohibit parking eastbound on MLK Drive Monday through Friday from 6am to 9am and westbound from 3pm to 6pm.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tap dancing with effective content-neutral billboard regulations

Two years ago Cincinnati City Council member Chris Bortz proposed that the City should more intensely regulate advertising benches seen placed along Cincinnati's sidewalks. The intent of Bortz's effort was to clean up the city's streets by ridding them of these often unsightly bench billboards that bring in around $900 a year per bench.

After Bortz's proposal took effect the City removed some illegal bench billboards that were not properly permitted and paying the $30/year fee to the City for using the public right-of-way. With more than 1,000 of these benches located across the city there is a huge revenue opportunity being missed.

The problem is that these bench billboards are often not well maintained and create an unappealing aesthetic where they are located. Many of the benches located near bus stops tend to collect trash which then must be managed by the City. When Bortz discussed the issue in 2007 he stated that he would like to see the benches replaced with "rod iron" style benches that would help clean up the appearance around bus stops and the city's neighborhood business districts.

Bench Billboard photograph by Jake Mecklenborg

The issue is one that closely aligns with First Amendment rights, but a recent Federal Court decision that found a new right-of-way encroachment ordinance in Covington constitutional gives the issue new life. The court ruled that Covington can regulate items such as advertising benches, vending machines, and newspaper stands to meet certain size and aesthetic standards.

"This is a great step in the right direction that helps the City reduce sign pollution and encroachments in the public right-of-way," said Covington City Manager Larry Klein. "The ordinance allows the City to continue its beautification efforts, and ensures that the public can traverse City sidewalks safely."

Local governments can carefully craft content-neutral without the fear of acting unconstitutionally. When doing so the government must regulate in a way that does not involve the suppression of speech and violate the First Amendment. The government must also illustrate that the law serves an important objective (like aesthetics according to the Covington ruling) and is crafted in a way that allows for alternative means of communication.

Cincinnati should regulate bench billboards and other items placed in the public right-of-way more heavily. At the very least the City should charge more for the use of their valuable real estate to capture a greater revenue stream. Policies that move Cincinnati forward in such a direction could steer the way for more aesthetically pleasing benches and newspaper stands, and help accomplish the very things City Council member Bortz outlined in 2007.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

'Today' mixes beauty of the city and music

'Today' is a video that features beautiful HD cinematography of Cincinnati. The video shows a number of Cincinnati landmarks, the city's many beautiful parks, and a variety of cityscapes. This is all shown with a unique concert-style performance by University of Cincinnati students. Be sure to watch the entire video as the transitions in the song make for interesting transitions in the cinematography.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Celebrate Mardi Gras at Findlay Market this weekend

This weekend you can kick off the Mardi Gras spirit a little early, Findlay Market style. The Market is getting their Fat Tuesday on this Sunday with the 4th Annual Mardi Gras Merchant Spirit Contest. The event will feature competitions among the merchants of Findlay Market for most creative stand decoration, costumes, and overall spirit of the Mardi Gras.

The panel of judges (Eric Vosmeier and Alexandra Kesman from the Know Theatre and Ballet Tech's Marvel Gentry Davis) will pick the first and second place winning stands. The first place winner walks away with $200, a Mardi Gras trophy, and tickets to the Know Theatre. Second place will receive $100. The winners of the stand contest will be announced at 11:30 am, just before the crowning of the Mardi Gras King and Queen. This will happen at the Market tent across from Market Wines.

There will also be live music from several bands, a Mardi Gras Parade, beer, face painting, and a low-land seafood boil sampling starting at 12:30pm. Taste of Belgium will also be getting into the Mardi Gras spirit with a special set of savory Shrimp & Grit Waffles available this weekend only - creating a truly unique Cajun-Belgian experience.

"We incorporate sharp cheddar, coarse corn grits and loads of cayenne pepper into our waffle dough," said Taste of Belgium owner Jean-Fracois Flechet. "We then top the waffle with cocktail shrimps sauteed in olive, garlic and white wine and freshly chopped green onions and cilantro to cool you down."

The 'Cajun waffles' will be available on Saturday and Sunday for $6.50, and will can also be purchased in packs of four for just $14. Due to limited supply, those interested in purchasing more than a few grits waffles are instructed to call the store ahead of time at (51) 381-3280 due to limited supply.

Mardi Gras at the Market is this Sunday, February 14 from 10am to 4pm. Findlay Market (map) is open year-round Tuesday through Sunday. Even if there's snow on the ground, Findlay will still be open (barring a level 3 snow emergency). There's plenty of free off-street bicycle and automobile parking and is easily accessible via Metro bus routes 46, 64, 78, 6, and 17 (plan your trip now).

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland denounces "cheerleaders for failure"

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland discusses the $400 million that the state received for passenger rail start up service on the proposed 3C Corridor. In the impromptu interview in the halls of the statehouse, Governor Strickland denounces those he calls "cheerleaders for failure," and emphasizes how important this money is for Ohio and the state's future.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

'Have a Heart for Haiti' critical items collection - 2/14

On Sunday, February 14 Metro is challenging Cincinntians to fill one of the transit authority's new articulated buses with valuable items that can make a positive impact for those struggling to recover from the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12.

Metro officials will be collecting non-perishable food items, personal care items, cleaning products, first-aid supplies, bottled water, and summer clothing (new clothing only is requested). Matthew 25: Ministries, a local non-denominational organization working to help the needy, will also be collecting cash and check donations that will be distributed to those in need in Haiti.

'Have a Heart for Haiti' will take place at the Hyde Park Kroger (map) from 12pm to 6pm on Valentine's Day.

Haiti earthquake damage photo from Matthew 25: Ministries

Broadway Veterans in Concert at The Carnegie - 2/18

On Thursday, February 18 a unique trio of Broadway performers will take the stage to perform a "romantic, cabaret-style" evening of musical theatre at The Carnegie's famous Otto M. Budig Theatre.

The performance begins at 7:30pm and will feature Teresa De Zarn, Mark Hardy, and Jessica Hendy on stage at the same time in a truly unique and rare performance. Between the three of the veteran Broadway performers they have taken curtain calls in premeir Broadway productions such as "CATS," “Aida,” Titanic,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “A New Brain,” “The Secret Garden” and “Les Miserables."

"Teresa, Jessica, and I are thrilled to be coming together to sing this music we love in such a warm performance space," said Hardy. "Though we all spent years in New York working in the theatre, we all had to move to Cincinnati to get to work together."

The show itself will feature romantic golden age selections from composers Cole Porter and George Gershwin, and will also include songs from several productions currently on Broadway. According to production coordinators, the three performers are also going to be playing off of each other with frequent duets and trios, offering up humorous stories from their audition experiences, and share rare music from shows that never got past the developmental stage.

It’s a pleasure for me to get to work with them – as well as pianist Mark Femia – and rehearsals have been so much fun that it certainly doesn’t feel like work. "It will be an evening of diverse songs and stories with classics as well as newer material. The thing about great Broadway songs is that they never age; some of the older songs feel like the freshest.”

Broadway Veterans in Concert is a one night only performance, so be sure to get your tickets ($15 to $18) early by visiting The Carnegie Box Office (map) Tuesday through Friday from 12pm to 5pm, calling (859) 957-1940, or by ordering online.

Interior photo from The Carnegie taken by elycefeliz.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Prohibition Resistance Tour and dinner - 2/16

On Tuesday, February 16 the Over-the-Rhine Foundation and Brewery District are hosting a tour of Cincinnati's famous brewing history followed by a five-course wild game dinner at Arnold's Bar & Grill.

Crown Brewery photograph by Ronny Salerno - view more of his brewery photographs here.

The tour will start at Arnold's (map) at 5:30pm where buses will take groups around to two of Cincinnati's former breweries in historic Over-the-Rhine. At the Kauffman Brewery tour-goers will learn about Cincinnati's beer barons and have the opportunity to explore the underground lagering cellars deep beneath the building. From there tour-goers will be taken to the former Crown Brewery where they learn about Prohibition's devastating impact on Cincinnati breweries and be the first members of the general public to visit the newly discovered lagering cellars and tunnel beneath McMicken Avenue that have been sealed off for 50 years.

After the brewery tours, the group will return to Arnold's for a five-course wild game dinner where each course will be paired with a different beer. There will also be a special guest speaker discussing Over-the-Rhine and, of course, beer.

Organizers expect everything to be wrapped up by 9pm. Tickets are $95 and include everything for the tour, appetizers, five-course wild game dinner at Arnold's, and beer. Tickets can be purchased online, and $80 of every ticket is tax-deductible and goes to support the Over-the-Rhine Foundation and Brewery District.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cincinnati looking to woo Lions Clubs International leadership

Cincinnati is one of five finalist cities across the world competing to land the Lions Clubs International 2015 convention that will bring with it an estimated 25,000 to 36,000 hotel room nights and an economic impact between $7.4 and $10.5 million.

Cincinnati is currently competing against Boston, Tampa, Honolulu and Manchester, England for the five day event in July 2015. The winner will be announced this April by Lions Clubs International.

“Reaching finalist status to host Lions Clubs International is a tremendous accomplishment in itself. They have narrowed their search to five great cities, and we are right up there with other top-shelf destinations,” said Dan Lincoln, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Lions Clubs International's leadership is in Cincinnati now and will be touring the venues and hotels that would play host to the convention. During their three-day stay, Lions Clubs International leadership will meet with a variety of business and civic leaders in the Cincinnati region, and evaluate potential parade routes for the 2015 event. As part of the visit, Cincinnati leaders will present Lions officials with more than 5,000 pairs of eyeglasses that have been collected from throughout the region.

“This is particularly exciting given the recent selection of Cincinnati USA to host the World Choir Games in 2012," said Lincoln. "We are succeeding in showing the nation and the world that Cincinnati USA is a welcoming, exciting and memorable destination prepared to host major convention groups.”

Dinner options expanding in downtown Cincinnati

Over the course of the past month or so, Cincinnati's urban core has seen a nice expansion in the seemingly always desired dinner options, especially as it relates to dining during the week. This is definitely a most welcome development as many places tend to cater to the business lunch crowd, only to then shut their doors on the people that live in the city.

More evening options as it relates to dining should be in direct correlation with the amount of people that are living downtown and in the larger urban core (including Nky). The development is not surprising, but is most welcome by residents.

A few of the openings and additional hours include the following:

  • Its Just Crepes has opened a second location at 151 West 4th Street.
  • Mr. Sushi recently opened in the 580 building along 6th Street in the Backstage District.
  • Mayberry, the well documented creation of Chef Josh Campbell, recently expanded their hours to include dinner options with hours lasting until 7pm now.
  • Another well documented establishment, Senate, will be opening on February 19 in the Gateway Quarter which will add yet another weekday dining option to downtown.

As the repopulation of our city center continues, there will be more and more options for residents to choose from as it relates to dining and other consumer based spending. These recent developments are definitely another step in the right direction as we work through a difficult economy and the winter weather months in Cincinnati.

The dinner table is set at Mayberry in downtown Cincinnati - photo by 5chw4r7z

Monday, February 8, 2010

Melt's new brunch offerings a smash hit

Due to an "overwhelming response" to Melt Eclectic Deli's new Sunday brunch hours (10am to 3pm), owner Lisa Kagen says that they will be increasing staff and prep, and plan on rotating the brunch menu on a monthly basis.

February's Sunday brunch menu includes vegan options like the Tofu Corquettes with creamy chipotle sauce, Smokey Roasted Tomatoes & Fresh Basil over Polenta cakes, and biscuits topped with vegan sausage "sawmill" style gravy and chives. Vegetarian options include the Huevos Rancheros (can also be made vegan), Veggie Bacon & Eggs Melt with mozzarella cheese and cage-free eggs on a ciabatta bun, and Spinach & Mushroom Frittata with smoked Gouda cheese.

Read the rest of Melt's Sunday brunch menu online here. Melt is located (map) in the heart of the Northside neighborhood business district. Bicycle parking is available nearby along with On and off-street for automobiles. Melt Eclectic Deli is also located on several Metro bus routes (plan your trip now).

Photo of Melt Eclectic Deli by Carrie Sloan
Melt on Urbanspoon

A Glimpse Into Our Future & 21c Hotel

When the person at the front desk closes with “… and make sure you check out our men’s bathroom. It’s just down the hall to the right of the big red penguin” you know you are in a unique place. And so began a recent visit, my first, to the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville. When the opportunity presented itself to stay a night 100 miles southwest, there was no more obvious choice as to where to stay for an evening. After all, as much as it was a glimpse into a unique place, this was a glimpse into the future.

When the 21c Museum Hotel announced late last year that they had purchased the old Metropole Hotel building from 3CDC in the Backstage District it marked the first new hotel in downtown Cincinnati in over twenty years. Located across from the Aronoff Center for the Arts and just next door to the Contemporary Arts Center, the historic building offers the ability to do many unique things which is right up the alley for 21c.

Penguins, penguins, and more penguins at the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville.

“3CDC approached us with the location, and it was pretty much a dream”, said CEO Michael Bonadies. And after experiencing the 21c firsthand, there is no question about that assessment. With 90 rooms in Louisville (the Cincinnati location is slated for 160), the 21c is likely to be classified as a boutique hotel given its size. It is however, so much more.

“Our goal is to be a part of the community and really be one of the cultural centers of Louisville,” Bonadies said and their approach is right in line with that vision. With 90 percent of their food and beverage revenues at Proof on Main coming from local residents, their strategy is clearly a resounding success. Additionally, they host shows and events quite frequently to keep the locals coming back time and time again.

The first ground floor and the level below are filled with art and exhibits that are rotated semi-annually including quite a few rooms that are big enough to hold an entire collection from an artist. On a tour we were told that this is a focus for 21c so that the patrons can get a full picture of what the artist was going after. One example was the Faces of Fooshegu which was a dynamic collection of twenty portraits of the people of Tamale, Ghana. This exhibit, among quite a few others at 21c was done by local Louisville artists.

Artwork fills the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, and will certainly do so in Cincinnati as well.

“21c reflects Louisville” said Mr. Bonadies, “and the Cincinnati location will reflect Cincinnati.” The Louisville location was opened in 2005 and the goal is to have the Cincinnati 21c open in 2012. There are a few other things coming in 2012 for Cincinnati's urban core, and this is yet another piece to our wonderful puzzle.

One may ask where the vision for something like 21c comes from, which also is planning an Austin location. According to Michael, owners Laura Lee Brown and her husband Steve Wilson have a passion for the farmland of America and want to make the urban centers a place where people work, play and live.

"They are doing their part to prevent urban sprawl and in turn protect the farmland they care about," said Bonadies who also stated that aside from their passion for farmland, they have a passion for art as most of what is shown at 21c is a personal reflection of their tastes.

Just down the hall and to the right, you'll find the big red penguin and the famous men's restroom at the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville.

“There is art around every corner. Enjoy your stay,” Bonadies said, and he could not have been more right. 21c Museum Hotel is visually stunning, thought provoking, fun, and quite impressive, and that is all before you get in the elevator to go to head upstairs to your room. The rooms themselves are stylish and modern with an artistic touch that is all their own. As for the men’s restroom in the lobby, you will just have to go down to Louisville to see it for yourself. It's just down the hall and to the right of the big red penguin.

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