Priorities for the NBD and for the Coalition’s Member Organizations

Westwood Coalition members and the boards of the organizations that make up the Coalition met on July 7, 2015 with four purposes:

  1. Very briefly share each organization’s purpose or scope and a high level look at its current focus, goals, and objectives
  2. Briefly highlight each organization’s assets
  3. Identify tasks that should happen in the near future to move forward with the revitalization of the historic neighborhood business district
  4. Identify possible cross-organizational, task-oriented groups to work on the tasks and bring their recommendations to the Coalition

Here is a brief summary of each organization’s purpose and areas of focus as well as their identified assets, as described by heads of the various groups. These notes are not comprehensive. Any questions should be directed to the organization’s leadership.

Westwood Historical Society

Westwood Historical Society is focused on education and research regarding Westwood’s history. It seeks to uncover local history. Its membership includes many people who don’t live in Westwood. While it researches buildings, it is not renovation-oriented. It has a newsletter and presents programming regularly. Westwood Historical offers a home tour every two years and has been engaged in projects related to the Bell Building and the Gamble House. Its assets include the deep, collective knowledge of WHS members; its ties to Westwood people, buildings, and history, along with its connections to the broader community of people and organizations interested in Cincinnati and other local history; and its wealth of historical information and archives about the past of the historic business district and Westwood, generally.

WestCURC

Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation is business- and development-focused. It is engaged in the nuts and bolts of the neighborhood business district redevelopment, including the recent City approval a community entertainment district. Another project is related to property acquisition and redevelopment on Bracken Woods Lane.  WestCURC has a depth of knowledge and experience in technical matters, provides consultation for area businesses, and works to align resources and people.  Its assets include strong, effective communication with city offices and local organizations, skill in networking and process, a deep understanding of the city’s processes and mechanisms, grant writing, and community engagement.

Westwood Civic Association

WCA is Westwood’s community council, representing the concerns of Westwood to the city and providing a forum for discussion of neighborhood issues. It reviews zoning and building code issues and offers input on variances and liquor applications. It takes a lead on public safety issues and communicates about local happenings. It is currently focusing its attention on outreach and membership growth, reformatting its newsletter and developing policy around communications, providing input on the land development code, zoning and building code violations, chronic nuisance and public safety, and reviewing its bylaws. Assets include a long-standing focus on civic responsibility, public safety, zoning, beautification, and serving as a voice for the neighborhood.  It has strengths in grant writing, relationships and networking with the city, marketing & design, data analysis and project management, and the community gardens and other beautification.

Westwood Works

Westwood Works is a connector, seeking to connect passion, resources, and people. Works is  an asset–based community development organization that celebrates the Westwood community. It advocates for a positive, collaborative, and meaningful approach to community building. Works is known for its leadership in events and celebrations like the beer gardens, Westwood Art Show, and Deck the Hall. It is also strong in information sharing and promotion of other Westwood organizations and events.  Westwood Works recently hired an executive director to leads its fundraising efforts.  Works’ current areas of focus include activating the grounds of Westwood Town Hall with programming and bringing people together by building, organizing, and connecting. It’s sometimes referred to as the “gateway drug” to community engagement in Westwood.

Identified Tasks

Groups of participants identified a number of tasks related to historic neighborhood business revitalization: tasks appropriate to local people and their talents and tasks that are reasonable to accomplish, at least in part, in the coming year. The identified areas of focus are listed here. Next, the Coalition will refine the task list and review the names of people suggested for engagement in this work and will contact them in the coming month. We also welcome suggestions and self-nominations. Just email us. We will also ask if anyone is working on any of the tasks already, if anyone has information relevant to the task, and how to facilitate information amongst the groups.

  1. Develop a shared master calendar and a plan for the promotion of Westwood events (already in progress)
  2. Develop a plan for the strategic placement of events and develop plans for several new events in the historic business district, including Westwood Town Hall.
  3. Conduct a market study and steps related to phase 1 activation. Expand the catalog of sites in the historic business district, noting current zoning for each and any opportunities.
  4. Develop the narrative, a brand, and a marketing/media strategy for the historic neighborhood business district. Share existing Welcome to Westwood information for new residents.  Once branded, create a banner to promote the business district.
  5. Develop an outreach plan for the business district, for connections with business owners, investors, churches and other organizations, and realtors.
  6. Develop an infrastructure plan for the historic business district to address lighting, sidewalks, and streetscape, public safety, town hall grounds, play space, clean up and beautification, and free wifi.

We will post more information about these focused task groups as they are refined and established. Thank you for your interest at the Westwood Coalition, its represented organizations and businesses, and engaged residents take the neighborhoods priorities and vision and give them life to revitalize Westwood’s historic neighborhood business district.

Redevelopment Update Notes from June 30 Meeting

Mary Jenkins (Coalition facilitator) and Elizabeth Bartley (WestCURC executive director) gave an hour-long update on Westwood historic business district revitalization for an audience of forty attendees at WUMC on June 30. A Q&A session followed. Developments over the past six months are significant and the plans for the next year will lead to tangible results.

Mary Jenkins welcomed attendees and introduced the Westwood Coalition and its members, followed by highlights of the Coalition’s recommendations and work for the benefit of first-time attendees. She then noted that the point of the evening’s meeting was to see forward movement toward the emergence of phase one of a vibrant, thriving neighborhood business district (NBD), thanks to the steps taken in recent months to move forward the community’s vision and preferences for the NBD.

She then introduced Elizabeth Bartley who started by emphasizing that WestCURC’s role is to help the neighborhood implement its vision. Her accompanying presentation slides are posted here. Ms. Bartley listed the Westwood Coalition’s recommendations for the Bowtie option. The Bowtie, you’ll recall, seeks to link the point on Town Hall grounds and the triangle at Harrison & Epworth Avenues together (two points or triangles making up the bowtie) in order to create a focal point for the neighborhood, improve pedestrian safety, and improve traffic flow. As the Coalition recommended, the Bowtie is intended as one key element, the center, of revitalizing the business district by tying its landmark buildings, historic character, public spaces, and businesses together. The other primary recommendation of the Coalition is a cohesive look and feel for the NBD to include streetscaping, signage, lighting, and more. Ms. Bartley reminded us of a comment by Kathleen Norris, a speaker at a previous Coalition meeting, cautioning Westwood to focus on one block at a time, one segment of the NBD, because (1) there would never be enough money and energy to do it all at once and (2) success in one segment of the NBD will attract interest and development in the rest of the district.

With that review complete, Ms. Bartley turned our attention to the developments over the past six months. It is fair to say that many of these developments, if not directly the result of a Coalition effort, are partially attributable to the revitalization process and the sense of possibility. A quick recap of the work in progress:
Madcap Puppets has been successful in its fundraising for renovation of the Bell Building. It expects to start construction on mechanical systems this summer and to move its current Glenmore operations into the new building soon with performance space ready in early 2017.
Bridgetown Brewing continues to work on the permitting process to bring its Line 21 brewery into the KS Designs building.
Muse Café, an initiative by Westwood residents, is developing its plans to open in the NBD later this year.
Faces Without Places, a program to help children living with homelessness, opened recently and is generating positive press.
The Firehouse is in transition from the City to WestCURC, which will issue a Request for Proposals to prospective family-friendly restaurant tenants.
Town Hall: WestCURC is in conversation with the Cincinnati Parks and other city departments about activating the grounds for multiple uses, including its green space, in line with community preferences.
A Community Family Arts & Entertainment District was approved by the City on June 24 and goes into effect in late July. This will attract dining establishments interested in lower cost liquor permits.
Sontag Cleaners building may not need extensive environmental remediation so redevelopment of that property may be feasible.

Next, Ms. Bartley described the intended outcomes of Phase 1 of the redevelopment efforts, done in conjunction with the Coalition and with city departments, which includes design development for:
• Redevelopment and activation of the city park on Town Hall grounds
• Closing Urwiler on its north side at the intersection with Harrison and Epworth
• Traffic engineering and streetscaping at the triangle at Harrison and Epworth
• Reprogramming and expanding uses of Westwood Town Hall by the Recreation Commission

The presentation shows more cost detail but, in a nutshell, the design development, with completion anticipated by summer 2016, is estimated at $485,000. That covers the design and planning work to get the above projects shovel ready by next fall. The implementation itself (construction and related costs of building) are estimated to cost about $7,554,000. Ms. Bartley noted that the City’s approved budget includes $250,000 for the design development work on the park property at Town Hall. She commented that the City and Westwood are enjoying a positive, outcomes-oriented relationship.

Given these expenses, fundraising continues to be a chief priority. WestCURC continues to work cooperatively with the Coalition, business owners, and the other community and regional associations as it seeks to help implement Westwood’s plans. It has established monthly business owners meetings to provide good counsel and to support an expanded sense of community amongst businesses.

Next, attendees made comments and asked questions, noted here:

Q. Will Phase 1 include the Triangle at the intersection of Harrison and Epworth?
A. The implementation will come later. The basic design has been developed but it will require more specific planning with Traffic & Engineering and others.

Q. Does WestCURC still plan to put a pizza restaurant in the former firehouse, in competition with Henke Winery?
A. WestCURC will issue an RFP. The pizza restaurant is still a possibility but there may be other proposals. WestCURC will look for a mix of good financials and good fit. While we all hope for complementary products and services in the NBD, some competition is healthy.

Q. Has a meeting been held with residents on Junietta Ave about the firehouse?
A. WestCURC invited all 22 households to a meeting to discuss its plans and invite input. Eleven households participated. It was a positive meeting with useful input about the desirability of a family-friendly restaurant and other questions and suggestions.

Q. Earlier at Coalition meetings, there had been discussion about aging in place and the benefit of planning for this approach, in order to facilitate Westwood residents’ desire to stay in the community. Is anything happening with that?
A. Not deliberately at this point, but that is an important consideration and it’s certainly not off the table. WestCURC could offer some housing strategies later on and businesses and programming should consider this demographic.

Q. Mayor Cranley mentioned a beer garden and a building on Town Hall grounds last year in his State of the City address. What has come of that?
A. While there is still serious consideration to some sort of pavilion on the grounds to support events, it may not take the form of a full-scale building.

Q. How were the aforementioned costs calculated?
A. Jeff Stine from DOTE addressed this, noting that costs for park development are based on a $40/sq. ft. cost consistent with current parks projects and the streetscaping, demolition, and construction costs are based on $450/linear foot, consistent with current similar projects. City departments and landscape architects have helped with these estimates.

(Other questions about the brewery, Madcap, and timing were addressed in context above.)

Mary Jenkins wrapped up the session by describing two additional developments: First, boards and business owners of Coalition member organizations will gather on July 7 for three purposes: (1) name our missions and priorities, (2) identify particular tasks associated with redevelopment that the community can address over the coming year, and (3) identify the specific people across our community and organizations who would be excellent assets to get those tasks accomplished, by way of recommendations to the Coalition. Second, the Mayor recently announced a proposal for a parks levy. If approved by voters in November, it would include $6M for the redevelopment of the business district, specifically focused on the Town Hall and its grounds and the Bowtie / Triangle at Harrison and Epworth. The Coalition is not taking a position on the levy. It encourages residents to review the details of the proposed levy.

Following next week’s Coalition meeting of its member organizations’ leadership, we will post an update.

Community Update June 30, 2015

The Westwood Coalition invites you to an update on the goings on with plans to revitalize Westwood’s historic business district. Join us on June 30, 2015 at 7 pm in the Epworth Room at Westwood United Methodist Church. There are developments around “phase 1”, which includes the area from the intersection of Harrison & Epworth to the intersection of Harrison & Montana, around Town Hall grounds. Join us and get a close look at the ongoing process to act on the recommendations this neighborhood has made. Coalition_community_meeting_June_30_2015_announcement

Implementing the Vision

The Westwood Coalition invited business owners from the historic neighborhood business district (NBD) to a presentation and Q&A session on April 23, 2015 at Westwood Town Hall. Elizabeth Bartley, executive director of the Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (WestCURC), was the invited speaker. Members of the Westwood Coalition offered comments and engaged in discussion as well.  The focus of Ms. Bartley’s remarks, supported by these slides, was the implementation of the community vision for the NBD, as proposed by the Westwood Coalition.  She pointed to several of the key Coalition-led steps over recent years, including the community’s shared vision, adoption of the form-based code, and selection of the triangle-bowtie option. (Readers are invited to review the linked posts on this site for more information on these developments, in addition to other posts.)

Next, Ms. Bartley mentioned a number of developments in the NBD indicative of forward movement by people with a belief in the neighborhood and with the vision and capacity to move plans forward.  She named Mayor Cranley’s interest in programmed space on the town hall grounds, Bridgetown Brewing’s brewery plans, WestCURC’s imminent acquisition of the firehouse for use as a family-friendly restaurant, discussion of a café and/or coffee shop, Faces Without Places coming into the NBD, and the possibility of redevelopment of the Sontag Cleaners building without extensive remediation of the site.

Then the presentation turned to work in progress by WestCURC that is focused on the area immediately around Westwood Town Hall, or the southern section of the NBD.  Ms. Bartley showed a concept drawing that showed event space in the park surrounding Town Hall to program and activate that area. She also spoke of the Coalition’s recommendation for cohesive streetscaping throughout the NBD, continued Transportation & Engineering review of the possibility of closing off the west section of Urwiler, and programming Town Hall to meet wider community needed and to restore its historic character.

The design development phase for the work mentioned above is estimated to cost $500,000 (Triangle development plan analysis and overall design development), while the build phase for this same area is likely to cost $6,000,000.  These expenses illustrate the need to concentrate efforts in one section of the NBD first as well as the desirability of, and reality of the need for, both public and private development partnerships. Ms. Bartley mentioned a number of free and low cost planning resources employed already in Westwood, then describing and sharing the summary that WestCURC submitted in April to the Neighborhood Business District Improvement Program (NBDIP).

The NBDIP peer review process will include a tour of the NBD in May 9, followed by presentations from May 18-20, with announcements of awards in June.  WestCURC is inviting letters of support for the proposal.  Interested residents, business owners, and organizations should contact WestCURC for more information.  Organizations represented by the Westwood Coalition are invited to review and comment on WestCURC’s NBDIP application.

Following the presentation, Ms. Bartley, Westwood Coalition members, and attendees engaged in a brief discussion.  Comments and questions included the following:

  • WestCURC’s acquisition of the firehouse and its plans for opening a restaurant (WestCURC will issue a Request for Proposals for a family-friendly restaurant.)
  • Madcap Puppets’ timing for occupying the Bell Building: Fall 2015 for use of the building for offices and workshop space and a year later for the theaters
  • The need for coordinated marketing and promotion of the NBD to heighten its visibility and attract prospective residents, developers, and shoppers
  • A desire to see more of the franchise or corporate businesses engaged in these discussions
  • A suggestion to have monthly NBD business owners’ breakfast meetings
  • A nod to the plans for a cohesive look to the NBD, even while accomplished in phases
  • WestCURC’s offer of free business resources and advisors to Westwood’s business owners
  • The benefits of city support, including Council, for Westwood’s revitalization
  • How quickly will this happen? This initial phase is possible by summer 2017 with an aggressive strategy to attract funding and conduct the planning and development.
  • People are eager for visible change. We’re reminded that OTR developments were in the works for fifteen years.  Although Westwood’s NBD is not of that scale, it does take time.

Thanks for your interest in these presentation materials and notes.  Please contact the Westwood Coalition or Elizabeth Bartley for more information.

Westwood Revitalization on WVXU Today

WVXU 91.7’s Cincinnati Edition will feature a conversation today about Westwood’s revitalization and, specifically, Polk Laffoon IV’s Cincinnati Magazine March 2015 article, “Cracking the Code.” The 1:30 pm interview and call-in show will feature Mr. Laffoon and WestCURC board president John Lewandowski discussing the article and the recent efforts in Westwood to redevelop the historic business district based on residents’ input.

Listen to the recorded program at http://wvxu.org/post/revitalization-westwood-under-way-our-guests-share-how-happening

From WVXU’s website:

The revitalization of Westwood is under way & our guests show how that is happening.

Cracking the Code: Cincinnati Magazine, March 2015

Cracking the Code: Cincinnati Magazine, March 2015

Notes from Feb 18, 2015 Coalition Community Meeting

The Westwood Coalition hosted a community meeting on February 18th to share Coalition work of the past few months and to invite perspectives from Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation’s (WestCURC) executive director Elizabeth Bartley on the work ahead related to the redevelopment of the neighborhood business district (NBD). After welcoming 40+ attendees on a cold night with plenty of competition for their time, Mary Jenkins, the Coalition’s facilitator, reviewed the recommendations that the Coalition made in October, including the adoption of the Triangle/Bowtie option, corollary improvements on Town Hall grounds and throughout the historic business district, and a planning process for the implementation of the improvements. She also highlighted the foundation upon which those recommendations were made: the community process that identified the NBD’s strengths and opportunities, challenges and threats, as well as residents’ goals, such as a walkable, attractive business district, retail shops, a civic or green space, nearby parking, and options for gathering and dining.

Next, Ms. Jenkins described an asset mapping process that the Coalition has been conducting, to identify each Coalition member organization’s and businesses’ assets, including personnel, expertise, materials, facilities, constituents, networks, and economic power, all with the intent of connected these assets well to the projects that lie ahead to redevelop the NBD effectively. She described the asset identification as preparatory for achieving the goals set by the community which are big and complex.

Then Elizabeth Bartley, WestCURC’s executive director, the chair of this year’s Cincinnati Neighborhood Summit, and a cofounder of a research group on Sustainability, Culture & Place, spoke about the multifaceted, complex process before the Westwood Coalition and WestCURC now. She also noted that the city has held up Westwood’s community engagement process as an excellent example. Ms. Bartley spoke to a number of positive developments in the NBD including businesses at the Ruehlman building as newer anchors, the Line 21 brewery planned for part of the KS Designs building, the WestCURC acquisition of the historic firehouse, Madcap Puppets’ theater plans for the Bell Building, and forward movement on a proposal for a community arts & entertainment district. She also highlighted Westwood Town Hall and its grounds as a locus of activity and a desirable ongoing center of civic and community life, despite recent stints on the chopping block, as evidenced by Mayor Cranley’s suggestions for the grounds during his State of the City address in the fall and by recent programming on the property. She described Town Hall as a destination and part of the vision, not just the backdrop on a postcard of Westwood.

Ms. Bartley referred to her effort to understand the means by which to effect change in a NBD, including city processes and engagement with a coalition of city representatives to negotiate and plan. She also mentioned other prospective partnerships and resources like the Port Authority, the Community Building Institute (CBI), the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and others, as we seek to grow our expertise and insight. WestCURC is working with CBI to map out steps and identify opportunities as both WestCURC and, more broadly, the Coalition, line up the work plan for the months to come, to tie WestCURC’s work into Coalition plans, and to engage community assets.

Next, attendees asked questions and made comments. One attendee mentioned newer businesses as assets, in addition to the landmark buildings and businesses identified by the community earlier. Another person asked about a market study. Ms. Bartley described that as a critical next step to collect data to inform and support development that meshes with community desires and that will be successful and sustainable. An attendee spoke to the value of community education in a civic space. A question was asked about the community entertainment district footprint. The speakers noted that it is proposed as the same as the form based code area in the NBD. Another attendee asked for information about the status of Bridgetown Brewing’s building project. The speakers commented that they seem to be in the building permit phase and directed people to the Facebook page for updates.

A participant commented on the perceived need for more parking. Ms. Jenkins noted that current NBD parking lots are generally underused but said that attention to evolving parking needs is necessary and will be addressed, in part, by the traffic flow changes associated with the triangle. An attendee asked about WestCURC’s access to developers. Ms. Bartley and Ms. Jenkins commented on the ways that development will occur: planned development that we would market and recruit, development that happens organically through the interest of property owners and developers, and the development that happens when unexpected opportunities surface.

An attendee asked about market constraints or capacity for businesses. Ms. Bartley commented that there is ample room for and interest in business development in the NBD and noted that the market study would help with a more concrete sense of the particular needs and capacity. Lastly, another participant remarked on the changes in progress already, calling it an improvement to the quality of life in Westwood. She asked about the business owners’ perspective on the revitalization plans. Tom Bonhaus, a Coalition member and business owner in the NBD, remarked that the energy is very positive, that there are a few detractors, but that generally, business owners are eager to have more eyes on the street and to see these possibilities and community wishes come to fruition.

In closing, Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Bartley described the work phase now as complex, dependent on connections and expertise, and not likely to result in immediate tangible, physical evidence of development. They asked attendees to be encouraged by the work in progress and to offer their expertise, ideas, and contacts to the Coalition and its member organizations.

Business District Developments: February 18

The Westwood Coalition invites you to a community meeting on February 18.  We’ll share an update on developments since our report and recommendations in the fall and take a look ahead — what we and our represented organizations are working on now and what our next steps are for the business district revitalization.  Curious?  Want this update?  We’ve had many people asking us what’s next.  This will be a great chance to hear from Coalition representatives and special guest Elizabeth Bartley, Executive Director of the Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 from 7:00-8:00 pm

Westwood Town Hall, lower level, at 3017 Harrison Avenue, Cincinnati, OH

Street parking is available nearby, as are lots on Harrison at Urwiler and on Montana at Harrison.