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.