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.

Advertisements

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

 

Connecting Dots and Comments

Over 110 people attended the Westwood Coalition’s June 12, 2014 community meeting. Some attendees left after the presentation portion and only fifteen people handed in comment sheets that night. However, more responses have come in via email and the website. An accompanying document provides more detail.

A preliminary glance at the comments and the dots demonstrates that Option 1, No Build, is undesirable. Options 3 and 5 got high marks. Option 3 has a low number of negative votes*, as indicated by the 0-1 and 1-2 columns. Option 5 has more negative votes than Option 3 but not by many. Both Options 3 and 5 have comparable numbers of positive votes, as suggested by the 3-4 and 4-5 columns. While we will continue to assess this input, it seems to indicate the compelling vision expressed by these options and attendees’ interest in significant change in the business district.

Note that Options 1 and 6 received twice as many negative votes as any other option (as defined by the two left hand columns, 0-1 and 1-2). Option 6 has 100 more votes than any other option, suggesting voting anomalies. The exceptionally high number of positive votes, completely out of line with the total possible votes that option could have received, supports this judgment even if exaggerated to some extent as others were. Voting irregularities, as witnessed by a number of people, included pooling stickers amongst attendees, putting multiple stickers in a section, and ignoring the criteria. Any reasonable person would point to this as a bold and crude attempt to sway the vote.

Setting aside Option 6 for a moment, given the voting anomalies, and averaging Options 1-5, there was an average of 330 votes per board. Each person was given six dots per board (36 in all), suggesting that 55 people cast votes. We understand that this is not accurate but it provides a baseline. Now consider Option 6: 436 votes were cast, a 31% increase over the other options, suggesting that 72 people voted. There are 272 votes on Option 6 just for columns 0-4. Remaining consistent with the experience of the other boards (330 votes each), the column labeled 4-5 would have gotten only 58 votes, not the actual 164 dots. Suffice to say, the voting irregularities on Option 6 must be considered in context and with the narrative remarks that are submitted.

Further, an analysis of all comments received to date demonstrates strong interest in Options 4, 3, and 5, in descending order, and limited support for Options 6, 1, and 2, in descending order, when considering respondents’ stated preferences in emails, on comment sheets, and via the website.

What remains is very significant community interest in a Westwood Square and a dramatic change at that. The Coalition will need to review this report and the community comments before making a recommendation, but shortening the list to two or three options is fairly straightforward and the subject of discussion at an upcoming Coalition meeting. Please see the accompanying document for more detail.

*“Votes” is used in this document to indicate meeting attendees’ assessment via dots on a criteria chart but should not be construed as a firm vote since the Coalition continues to receive comments and gather analysis. Also, “voting” irregularities skewed this process and, thus, it must be taken with a grain of salt.

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.

April 16: Current State, Necessary Conditions, Impact

As announced previously, the Westwood Coalition invites residents to a community meeting on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. at Westwood Town Hall. We will take a look at the current state of the historic business district and the conditions necessary for vitality and development. With presenters Elizabeth Bartley (School of Planning, University of Cincinnati) and Kathleen Norris (managing principal, Urban Fast Forward), we’ll look at the historic business district’s current and potential community and economic activity, the importance of place, the promise of public-private partnerships, and moving from here to there.

Also, note that in late May, the Coalition will host a community meeting focused exclusively on gathering community comments on the Westwood Square as the feasibility study moves forward. Watch for that announcement shortly!

Form Based Code Myths and Realities

The Cincinnati Form Based Code and, more specifically, its anticipated application to Westwood’s historic business district, has spawned some misconceptions or myths.  The Westwood Coalition offers our neighbors this two page list of myths and corresponding realities.  We hope that you will take a look, read more deeply in our Further Reading section, and share this information with friends and neighbors.  Feel free to email the Coalition with questions and comments.   Here is the list of Form Based Code Myths and Realities.

Mark your calendar, details forthcoming:  The next Westwood Coalition community meeting will be the evening of December 2, 2013.

 

Do You Plan to Attend the July 27 Community Meeting?