Gaines Triangle, Urwiler Av from Epworth to Harrison

The Westwood Coalition held several heavily attended community meetings 2014 about concepts for a “Westwood Square”. Out of that process came recommendations and plans for Gaines Triangle, or what we’ve referred to as the “Bowtie”. The Bowtie is the tip on Town Hall park grounds at Harrison and Epworth Aves and, across the street, Gaines Triangle, the two triangular shapes making up the Bowtie. You can read the Coalition’s full report at  and summaries of community meetings here  and here and here and here and here or just read through many of the blog posts on the Coalition’s website. You would probably also be interested in the latest architectural drawings and information.

Recently, a resident of Urwiler Ave expressed concern about the closing of the little stretch of Urwiler that runs between Harrison Ave and Epworth Ave. It is temporarily closed this summer for Pop! Goes Westwood and is proposed for permanent closure for the expansion of Gaines Triangle. Note that Planning Commission approval for a permanent closing is required.  The Planning Commission process is open to the public.  Whether or not you can attend the Planning Commission hearing (unscheduled as of this writing), all letters of support and opposition will be presented to the Planning Commission for their consideration.

As part of the Urwiler street closure process, letters and post cards were sent to many properties affected by the changes. This detail is provided by the Department of Traffic & Engineering.

  1. On the east side of Harrison, all properties received mailings on Montclair and Urwiler from Harrison to Hazelwood.  All properties on Epworth also received mailings from Harrison to just north of Montclair, and on the east side of Harrison from Epworth to Montclair.  Since Hazelwood and McFarlan residents have alternate routes, they were not considered for the mailings as being “directly impacted”.
  2. On the west side of Harrison, all properties received mailings on Urwiler from Boudinot to Harrison, on Stathem from Montana to Harrison, on Junietta from Stathem to Epworth, and on Harrison from Epworth to Stathem.  Adjacent corner properties were also included on Montana, Boudinot and Epworth.

An initial letter was sent dated November 18, 2015, and a follow-up letter was sent to those that had not responded dated January 20, 2016.  The Department of Traffic and Engineering received responses from nearly 50 percent of all addresses after the two mailings.  Approximately 80 percent were in favor of the changes on both sides of Urwiler.  This overall number in favor of 40 percent is close to that required for street calming, which is essentially the work of the small island.  This approval is not high enough for the work on the west side of Harrison, which is a full closure and requires 75 percent approval.

In the coordinated report process, only Fire had an objection, and it was related to the full closure on the west side of Harrison.  The Fire Department does not object at all to the closing of Urwiler between Epworth and Harrison Aves.

You are welcome to comment here (we review comments before posting to filter out spam) or email revitalizewestwood@gmail.com or talk with any representative to the Westwood Coalition. We will announce any future Coalition meetings on our website regarding Gaines Triangle, Town Hall Park Grounds, Planning Commission hearings involving the Bowtie area, and other matters of interest to the Coalition’s work on the revitalization of the business district.

 

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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 Recommends a Triangle and Related Improvements

The Westwood Coalition submitted its approved recommendations to city officials today, including the adoption of the Triangle option, pictured here, corollary improvements on Town Hall grounds and throughout the historic business district, and a planning process for the implementation of the improvements.  As we wrote in the transmittal letter to the Mayor, City Council, and department heads, we “…highlight the deep and wide participation of Westwood residents who have engaged richly in discourse about place making and the economic vitality of our neighborhood.  We look forward to working with [the city] over the coming years as we bring these recommendations to life.”  We also benefited from expert opinion that reinforced community insights and offered important perspective.  After months of research and community input, the Coalition is very pleased to have the approval of community groups and residents.

Now, our participating groups are rolling up sleeves to move from vision to planning to reality.  The Triangle, and other improvements along Harrison Avenue between Kling and the Cheviot line, will take more planning, public-private partnership, funding, and time, but we are well on our way.

The Triangle at the Intersection of Harrison, Epworth, and Urwiler Avenues

Westwood Triangle

Westwood Triangle

 

Report and Recommendations Regarding a Westwood Square

The Westwood Coalition has issued its report and recommendations regarding a Westwood square. As the report notes, “[t]his report summarizes the Coalition’s community-focused review process and feasibility study devoted to the concept of a “Westwood Square” and makes recommendations based on input received. The Coalition, as part of its outreach, worked closely with representatives of the City’s Transportation and Engineering Department to examine a number of potential options for a Westwood Square for presentation to neighborhood organizations, businesses, and residents. Options in conceptual form were developed by City staff, with consideration for traffic, safety, function, and general feasibility. The Coalition then coordinated a series of public meetings in Westwood, with representatives of the City’s Transportation and Engineering Department in attendance, along with other City staff and outside development experts. The purpose of the meetings in Westwood was to gain insight into residents’ opinions, on which this report’s recommendations are based.”

The recommendations are made to the four organizations that have representatives to the Coalition. Once those organizations respond, the Coalition will share the responses and next steps, which will include a formal set of recommendations to City officials.

Which option or variation is recommended, you ask? It’s the Triangle option, for a number of reasons, detailed in the Coalition’s report and recommendations. It’s important to emphasize, though, that the recommendations include corollary and complimentary development along Harrison Avenue throughout the neighborhood’s historic business district and on the grounds of Westwood Town Hall. We hope that you will read the full report for the context and the details. (It’s only four pages long.) Please offer any comments here or via revitalizewestwood@gmail.com or to any of the four organizations.

Economic Baseline and Potential Impact: Moving Forward

On April 16, the Westwood Coalition hosted a community meeting. Guest speakers Elizabeth Bartley and Kathleen Norris gave the engaged audience a lot to consider about the current state and potential revitalization of Westwood’s historic business district. Slides from the presentation appear in the previous post. The Coalition welcomes comments on this post or via email at revitalizewestwood@gmail.com.

Ms. Bartley (School of Planning, University of Cincinnati) offered a research-based presentation on the business district and Madcap Puppets as catalyst for revitalization. She started with demographics of Westwood, including declining population, slow growth in property values, and a hollowing out of the middle class. Then she noted that this is not an unusual set of circumstances and asked what Westwood will do with its assets and opportunities. Next, Ms. Bartley answered “who is Westwood?” with a number of facts:
– Westwood has a sizeable concentration of families and people in their productive or working years.
– There are more marrieds with children, fewer singles, and fewer elderly than Cincinnati generally.
– In 2010, the median Westwood property value was $115,162 while Cincinnati’s median was $129,700.
– Westwood has a larger concentration of affordable housing that’s not in decline.
– In the area surrounding the historic business district and in Westwood, generally, there is quality housing stock.
– An inventory of businesses in the historic neighborhood business district shows speciality businesses, solid services, and regionally known and attractive businesses, many of which are locally owned.

Next, Ms. Bartley noted the benchmarking for revitalization, including:
– Community and stakeholder participation and investment
– Public and private partnerships
– Retail trade
– Catalysts like Madcap Puppets
– Pride of place

She noted that the Westwood Coalition has generated very strong community engagement, now acknowledged by city officials as a model of civic engagement. She pointed to the strong public-private partnerships, as evidenced by the Coalition and city planning processes, the organizations and businesses participating in the Coalition, and, notably, the city and private funding of Madcap’s renovation, with City Council’s commitment of $500,000. Ms. Bartley pointed to the long-time pride of place and neighborhood activation evident in recent years, commenting on the visible, vital sense of place.

Next, Ms. Bartley discussed the potential economic impact of Madcap Puppets as it brings 40,000 people a year to Westwood. Consumer spending associated with arts and cultural venues is $26 per person for locals and $40 for non-local visitors. This is in addition to spending specifically related to the venue, like ticket sales. This means that Madcap is expected to bring $1.2M in spending per year to Westwood’s historic business district. Ms. Bartley went on to note that Madcap performances will largely beout on the weekend and that new businesses will be needed to meet event attendees’ needs. She also pointed out the tax revenue associated with the anticipated growth in business activity.

Then Ms. Bartley briefly discussed the importance of the Coalition’s revitalization strategy, based on the neighborhood’s strengths and character and informed by the community’s answers to the questions “who are we?” and “what do we want?” She gave attendees food for thought including the importance of the gateways into the business district and the critical importance of focusing on the middle zone (or Main+Main) first. Ms. Bartley ended her remarks with points about the character of the historic business district: the civic heart, a walkable, compact area, good storefronts, good attractor businesses, and gaps and vacancies as opportunities.

Next, Kathleen Norris of Urban Fast Forward spoke about the way forward. She asked a number of attendees what they want from this meeting and from revitalization. Comments included a better sense of the timeline, safer streets, reductions in evidence of drugs, more police presence, people out on the street and shopping and socializing. concerns about failing businesses, and concern about the Heartbeat Motors building.

Ms. Norris pointed out ways to address the noted concerns, including traffic flow, eyes on the street, and busier shops. All of this will reduce robberies and burglaries and will strengthen community. She emphasized that change won’t happen overnight and will require ongoing engagement. She, too, spoke of the importance of a plan, but cautioned that the community shouldn’t take forever; a lot of the groundwork has been done.

Ms. Norris referred to Madcap Puppets as an anchor organization and encouraged attendees to see revitalization radiating out from there. She noted that the Coalition and businesses should understand who those 40,000 Mapcap visitors are and plan for them. Further, she commented, a business cannot thrive on weekend business alone, so she challenged attendees to use our own business district. Ms. Norris cited the competition from the Cheviot restaurant and bar district and shops and big box stores on Glenway but she emphasized that this neighborhood can support its own business district and approach. She commented on the benefit of volume and competition, remarking that, for example, Henke Winery would benefit from two more restaurants in the area.

In response to a question about the causes of negative impacts on neighborhoods like this one, Ms. Norris cited the historic shift to suburbia and the automobile. She noted that crime follows; it doesn’t lead. She also pointed to the trend away from suburbia and to urban centers and neighborhoods, preferred by young professionals.

Next, in response to a comment about problems caused by movement of residents from Over-the-Rhine to Westwood, Ms. Norris remarked that every neighborhood thinks it has riff-raff and it’s not a direct correlation, in any case. She encouraged Westwood residents to look to positive drivers and make community-building decisions, avoiding narrow-mindedness and futile dwelling on the past. She said that it’s not an unmovable issue and encouraged attendees to work on it in positive ways. She also remarked that Westwood has fewer young people than Cincinnati, generally, which she described as doom if the middle age demographic remains predominant. She pointed to young professionals and said that’s exactly what Westwood wants — young people who want to make a home in Westwood and who are engaged and community-minded.

Next, Ms. Norris pointed to Westwood assets, saying that we have a catalyst, space, tools, capacity, and community redevelopment and asset organizations. Illustrating her point with a story, Ms. Norris commented that a community has to support the heart of its neighborhood. She encouraged residents to be clear about what it wants, as has been happening through the Coalition’s efforts.

An attendee asked for clarification about housing values, noting the 2010 census data, and commenting that the values continued to decline. Ms. Bartley noted that for the purpose of Madcap’s economic impact study, the 2010 data are important for baseline.

In response to a comment about Westwood’s strategic plan, the speakers clarified that a neighborhood-wide strategic plan is different from a revitalization plan for a specific business district and requires a different approach.

An attendee spoke of her dislike for the form-based code and commented on the Ruehlmann building, expressing concern about some tenants.

Ms. Norris commented that neighborhoods were ignored, nationally, for fifty years while the suburbs flourished. She emphasized that it will take time, collaboration, and effort for the business district, and urban neighborhoods, generally, to turn around. She pointed again to the importance of welcoming young professionals, families, and the elderly to Westwood, noting that the value of properties in Westwood is attracting professionals.

An attendee asked about mechanisms for attracting private funding. Ms. Norris and Ms. Bartley both pointed again to the importance of a revitalization plan, such as those in the works in Westwood now. Ms. Norris pointed to the recent commitment of $500,000 by the City of Cincinnati to Madcap Puppets, as part of a public-private funding partnership. She commented on the Westwood Coalition’s commitment to and active engagement in revitalization planning, noting that one can see positive momentum in Westwood and remarking on the work Westwood has done to express what it wanted for its neighborhood business district and gaining more neighborhood control, as a result.

A question about the old firehouse at Epworth and Junietta prompted an introduction of Gerald Fortson from Cincinnati’s Trade & Development department. He announced that the City is on the verge of issuing a Request for Proposals that includes criteria intended to show respect for this historic building in the heart of the neighborhood business district. Further, Mr. Fortson noted that Westwood Historical Society and Westwood Civic Association have been invited to have a representative review proposals for the firehouse.

Remarking again that revitalization takes time, Ms. Norris illustrated this point by offering the example of Over-the-Rhine where it took three years and buckets of money to develop thirty five residential units and eight or ten stores. An attendee who is a real estate developer noted that there is tremendous value in a rising market.

Ms. Norris ended her remarks by saying that the important thing to keep in mind is that Westwood got into the revitalization mix several years ago. This progressive movement is creating momentum and moving Westwood forward. She urged the Coalition and the community to go after what it wants and to recruit strategically.

Council Vote Delayed on Form-Based Code for Westwood

The recommendation to approve the application of the Cincinnati form-based code to a portion of Westwood around the historic business district was on the agenda for today’s City Council meeting. However, Mayor Cranley chose to table the issue until next week’s meeting, at which time, per Council rules, it must be addressed. You may recall that on Monday, February 10, the Neighborhoods Committee of City Council voted to recommend the Westwood application of the form-based code. Per Council rules, that vote meant that the issue was to be voted on by the full City Council this afternoon but the Mayor, who sets the agenda, decided to delay. The Westwood Coalition will monitor developments and share them here.

The Cincinnati City Council will next meet on Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. in Council Chambers, Room 300, City Hall, 801 Plum St, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

Westwood residents are welcome to continue submitting expressions of support for Westwood’s application of the form-based code and for revitalization, generally, to all City Council members via this email address: CityCouncil@cincinnati-oh.gov

Neighborhoods Committee Votes to Recommend Westwood Application of FBC

Following a presentation by city planner, Alex Peppers, and Q&A between Neighborhoods Committee members and Mr. Peppers, sixteen speakers spoke to the matter of the application of the Cincinnati form-based code to the area surrounding Westwood’s historic business district. Twelve people spoke for the proposal and four against. The December unanimous recommendation of the Planning Commission and today’s vote of support from the Neighborhoods Committee is a testament to the extensive research and community engagement around this issue and revitalization, generally. Voting for the recommendation: Mr. Mann and Ms. Simpson. Voting against: Mr. Flynn. Mr. Flynn did remark that his concerns were not with the proposal for Westwood; rather, shortcomings he identified in the form-based code in terms of accessibility language. Mr. Mann urged him to propose, or work with the city solicitor to recommend, improved language regarding accessibility. To be clear, any building would have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The recommendation goes next to City Council at its meeting on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. There will be a half hour period for citizen input on this and any other matter immediately preceding the council meeting.

The Coalition thanks supporters who took the time to voice support for the recommendation by email, letter, and in person.