Mayor Unveils Revitalization Budget Proposal

At a press conference today at Westwood Town Hall, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley announced his plans for a budget proposal for neighborhood revitalization, noting that public safety is enhanced by robust economic development. Among the $10M in projects the Mayor announced this morning are significant enhancements to Westwood’s Town Hall Park and the expansion of Gaines Memorial Triangle at the intersection of Harrison, Epworth, and Urwiler Aves, an allocation of $4M.  This project is part of the Westwood Coalition’s recommendations for the revitalization of the historic neighborhood business district and supported by Westwood Civic Association, Westwood Historical Society, WestCURC, and Westwood Works.

Joining Mayor Cranley at the press conference were Vice Mayor David Mann and Councilmember P. G. Sittenfeld who both spoke in favor of the budget proposal. Mayor Cranley commented on the deep community engagement in Westwood, led by the Coalition, and similar efforts in West Price Hill and College Hill. He noted that councilmembers campaigned on the notion of putting money back into and strengthening neighborhoods and that this commitment will make good on those promises. The revitalization planning process in Westwood started in earnest more than five years ago, on the shoulders of years of work by individual organizations. In fact, Councilmember Christopher Smitherman urged community organizations to work cooperatively on redevelopment initiatives, resulting in formation of the Coalition. Calling attention to the deep, sustained neighborhood efforts, Mayor Cranley commented today that,

“The vast majority of these projects have been on the planning table for a long time, but they lacked resources to get them done.”

The Westwood Coalition recently hosted a session with Parks officials and MKSK, the landscape architecture firm developing the plans. Conceptual drawings and notes are posted here. Public comments are welcome and another public session will be offered as plans continue to take shape.

For more on today’s announcements, see coverage in the media, including Cranley calls for $10 million in neighborhood boosts (Fox 19), Morning news and stuff (City Beat), Mayor Rolls Out First Of Several Changes To Proposed Cincinnati Budget (WVXU), and Some Cincinnati neighborhoods could get big boost under mayor’s budget plan (WCPO).

Town Hall Park Design: Input Requested

On Monday, May 9th, the Westwood Coalition hosted a community meeting to provide an update on revitalization progress and to welcome a presentation from MKSK and Cincinnati Parks about preliminary design plans for the Westwood Town Hall park. Approximately fifty residents attended and had the opportunity to ask questions and offer input. This post serves as a summary and an invitation to comment. Here are the slides that were presented at the session.

Once you’ve looked over the notes and the slides, your comments are most welcome. Send your comments and include your name (optional) and your overall impressions, preferred comments and features, and ideas that you would like to see explored further. You are also welcome to contact the Westwood Coalition with your suggestions and comments.

Mary Jenkins, Coalition facilitator, kicked off the meeting by introducing Coalition representatives and identifying some of the tangible signs of development in the historic neighborhood business district, including announced new businesses with a retail presence in the district: Necessities Market, Muse Cafe’, the firehouse restaurant, Carriage House Press, and a brewery in the works. She also noted that the focus tonight on the park is done in the context of the community-driven revitalization effort that includes the length of the business district from the Cheviot-Westwood line to Kling Ave. She then introduced Elizabeth Bartley, executive director of WestCURC who noted the importance of marrying the park design to the rest of the business district. She welcomed presenters from MKSK Design, Darren Meyer and Clete Benken and, from Cincinnati Parks, Steve Shuckman.

Mr. Meyer presented initial design parameters for the park at Westwood Town Hall. He noted core park features like landscaping, including particular memorials and trees, and the history and heritage of the area. He commented on the importance of the park offering features to support programming on the site like community events, recreation center programs, and casual or passive use. Mr. Meyer also cited the need for the park to help to calm traffic around it and integrate with the adjacent properties for flow and design.

Next, the speaker identified a number of core features and amenities of the park, including:

  • community events
  • outdoor dining
  • family events
  • a complementary relationship to the wider area
  • opportunities for play and the availability of playscapes
  • water
  • artistic elements
  • gardens and trees
  • lighting
  • streetscaping
  • parking
  • reasonable maintenance and operations
  • fluid movement through the space

Mr. Meyer commented on the bowtie, that tip of the park at Harrison and Epworth and the triangle that faces it at Harrison, Epworth, and Urwiler, pointing to the opportunities for tying the spaces together cohesively as recommended by the Coalition, thus creating a series of public spaces and opportunities for people to come together in both areas. He mentioned an urban games area (think cornhole), seating, and performance space. (Again, see the presentation for the accompanying detail and designs.)

Next, Mr. Meyer highlighted best practices and examples of park space like Washington Park in Cincinnati, Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh. and Bryant Park in New York, noting some of the good design principles and features in those parks.  He commented on the Town Hall park as the front lawn to the business district and noted that the intersection at Harrison and Epworth could include specialty paving to help with flow, a cue to motorists, and to create visual connectedness of the two spaces.

Mr. Meyer then walked attendees through three concepts for the design (see the presentation for specifics). He remarked that all three concepts contain similar approaches to parking on-site, relocated to the Epworth side of the building and treating parking as a multi-function space that could be used for other purposes, too. There would be 10-15 parking spaces, acknowledging the need for accessibility, drop off, and deliveries.  Each concept shows a creative play area for children on the Epworth Ave side as that has the least traffic. The property includes a 10-12 foot drop, creating a slope that would probably be flattened for better use.  With Concept A, you will note event space and playspace, recreation programming areas, seating, and a games area. In Concept B, we can see an arcing walkway that serves as a promenade and a place for food trucks and vendors. The corners feature signage and public art. It also features a sidewalk that enters the park instead of the traditional treelawn and sidewalk design. There is the possibility of a small urban dog park on the site. In Concept C, note the arcing, terraced ampitheater, movable tables and chairs, space for recreation programming, and games.

The speakers then took a number of questions and comments from attendees before inviting one-on-one discussion and use of comment cards. Asked about property acquisition for the bowtie at Harrison and Epworth, Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Bartley noted that the acquisition of private property was not proposed or recommended by the Coalition and is not part of the design for the space. In response to a question about process for design selection, Mr. Shuckman and Ms. Bartley responded that it would involve community input, Department of Traffic and Engineering input, and a review of budget, functional, and technical elements. All of this will be synthesized and then come back to the Coalition and the community for feedback. The intent is to have  the plan developed within a few months.

Regarding parking, there are currently 14 spots. The preliminary plans call for approximately the same number, moved to the side and supplemented with on-street parking  as well.  Several people commented positively and negatively about a dog park, some noting that it would require a barrier or fenced off area and other commenting that it would bring people together and make better use of the back of the property. There was a positive comment about the green space and valuing the plantings but a corresponding question about maintenance. The speakers noted that the design was taking into account existing plantings that are assets as well as maintenance, including irrigation, but that this remains a matter for possible private-public partnership. Asked about child play spaces, the speakers noted that they are leaning towards playscapes and creative play and away from traditional playground equipment and barriers. The speakers remarked that a cafe’ or concession space, possibly operating out of the lower level kitchen, is an option. An attendee noted that Mr. LaRosa made the Broadbeck performance area possible and might be involved in planning for a new performance area or for performance series sponsorship.

A comment was made about the value of walkability and the connections between spaces in the business district, including the transition from the park to Madcap Puppets to the triangle. The speakers noted that the intent is a visual connection and the drawing shows a concept as an option to tie Madcap to the park and connect it. One attendee commented on this park’s value as an urban park in the heart of the business district and encouraged people to embrace that concept, welcome the blending of urban and park spaces, and hope for increased pedestrian traffic in the area.

Additional comments are most welcome. Thank you to all who attended and to all of the residents who will review the concepts and analysis that we have posted. Again, please send your comments to the MKSK representative and speak with any member of the Westwood Coalition. Please include your name (optional) and your overall impressions, preferred comments and features, and ideas that you would like to see explored further. It is the Westwood Coalition’s goal to see this park design evolve in harmony with and in support of the community’s vision for the business district.

Lastly, Coalition representatives noted that it has several groups of well-qualified residents working on placemaking, infrastructure, positioning, and networking for the whole of this neighborhood business district. More about that in a post this coming week.

 

Community Input on Town Hall Park Design Ideas

The Westwood Coalition for the Revitalization of the Historic Business District cordially invites you to a community meeting on Monday, May 9, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. in the parlor of Westwood Town Hall so we can learn more from Cincinnati Parks about initial design ideas for the Westwood Town Hall park grounds and offer input. We will also briefly address plans for the intersection of Harrison, Epworth, and Urwiler, infrastructure, generally, and the evolving work of branding and positioning the historic neighborhood business district. If you cannot attend, you will find a summary and images on this website next week.

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.