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.

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Westwood Square Meeting Notes

Mary Jenkins, Westwood Coalition facilitator and representative of Westwood Civic Association to the Coalition, welcomed attendees, numbering over 110 people. She introduced Coalition members, thanked staff from the Westwood School, and covered housekeeping items. Ms. Jenkins described the meeting as a presentation to be followed by community input, focused wholly on the Westwood Square concept. Next, she reviewed the origin of the Westwood Square: an idea generated originally through community engagement in design charrettes following identification of neighborhood business district (NBD) strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The City allocated $10,000 for a Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) feasibility study. The design charrettes identified criteria for a Square which were validated through the Westwood Coalition’ community meetings over the past year. The June 12 meeting was an opportunity for DOTE staff and the Westwood Coalition to report on the study and invite community response.

Ms. Jenkins then described the intent for the evening: a DOTE-led look at six options, including no build and the original conceptual drawing shown in the media, followed by an assessment by residents of each of the options, based on identified criteria. She made several points before launching into a review of the criteria:
• Parking: None of the options would resolve the perceived parking shortage in and of itself. Parking will be addressed as part of an emerging multi-faceted plan for the NBD.
• Property: Neither the City nor the Coalition is promoting or planning to take property by eminent domain. Businesses in our NBD are treasures and people’s livelihood. The discussion about the Square is a consideration of future conditions and opportunities for the neighborhood and its businesses.
• Process: Westwood residents are driving the conversation. The City is contributing professional expertise. Residents are contributing knowledge and passion.

Ms. Jenkins briefly highlighted the conditions that the community is seeking to improve, and the desired attributes, in the NBD and specifically at the intersection of its Main + Main, or the heart of the NBD. These issues have been discussed and affirmed in various meetings and in the Coalition’s report in fall 2013.

Concerns
• Parking
• Public Safety
• A need for businesses more suited to the community’s preferences and needs
• Low business retention and vacant storefronts
• Limited places to socialize like restaurants, coffee shops and pubs
• Traffic volumes and speed

Desired Attributes
• A walkable, attractive business district
• Retail stores that offer a variety of consumer products and services with some emphasis on regional or independent shops
• A public or civic or green space
• The availability of nearby parking
• A number of options for casual and more elegant dining

Next up: Martha Kelly and Jeff Stine of Cincinnati DOTE co-presented on the six options considered during DOTE’s feasibility study which considered not only the viability of the conceptual drawing that has been in the news, but also several other possibilities given the opportunities and challenges of the NBD’s traffic and street configuration:

Ms. Kelly walked attendees through the criteria, detailed on the accompanying presentation. They include Safety, Neighborhood Quality, Economic Impact, Schedule/Coordination, and Cost. Each criterion has a number of components; for example, safety involves vehicular and pedestrian safety and other factors. Ms. Kelly explained that personal safety includes reducing places where a person might hide as well as crossing safety. She noted that the ability to get around the NBD includes bicyclists, pedestrians, drivers, and includes not only convenience but also reduced confusion.

Next, Ms. Kelly remarked that the creation of space should be considered in terms of its utility – whether usable, programmable space or simply green space, noting that individuals will have their own sense of preference based on perception of what benefit the space brings and how it might be maintained. In commenting on economic impact, Ms. Kelly pointed out that revitalization requires the community to ask if the investment in the Square creates conditions for economic sustainability. Commenting on parking, Ms. Kelly noted that some of the options make space for on-street parking but there should be opportunities for off-site parking as well, as demonstrated by some of the options. She cited traffic flow that is relatively light along Harrison as compared to ten years ago.

In terms of the construction process, Ms. Kelly commented that DOTE considers schedule, coordination, and cost, not among the criteria for the June 12 meeting. Some costs of a square such as this, like lighting and green space maintenance or programming, continue on beyond the life of the project itself, and are costs sometimes borne by business owners and local organizations. She noted that construction in phases is often possible and, depending on the project, can have short- and long-term impacts and benefits.

Before reviewing each option, Ms. Kelly noted that DOTE is open to variations and ideas and asked that comments come through the Westwood Coalition at revitalizewestwood@gmail.com or on its website. She commented that the $10,000 feasibility study funds are spent, but that DOTE could consider some changes to the maps and can address questions.

Please note that these descriptions are best viewed along with the images, and their context, in the presentation at https://revitalizewestwood.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/westwood-square-june-12-2014.pdf.

OPTION 1: No Build
As its name suggests, the No Build option involves no major reworking of intersections or traffic. However, this option could still create more welcoming gateways at either end of the NBD (like Montana & Harrison and Boudinot & Harrison) and make some modest improvements to the Main + Main at Harrison / Urwiler / Epworth. Further, there are opportunities for streetscaping, individual business or property improvements, signage coordination, lighting enhancements, bollards, and cooperative planning and cohesiveness. She noted the current long pedestrian crossings, pedestrian and traffic confusion, and sharp lefts at this intersection.

OPTION 2: The Original Small Square
Option 2 is the conceptual drawing that has appeared in the media and on the Coalition’s website. Depicted now in the slides to scale, it is 42’Wx144’L. It is surrounded by pavers and a 6’ sidewalk and includes a 22’x124’ grassy area. It meets the requirement of green space and might be landscaped or hardscaped but its year-round use should be considered. In the original drawing, on-street parking was shown, which would not be possible with turning angles for trucks. There could be confusion with close intersections and a mid-way pedestrian crossing would be needed. New development opportunities would exist between Henke Winery and the Square, with space facing the Square and a nice view pattern to the landmarks in the vicinity.

OPTION 3: The Large Square
This option includes a 148’ square. The intersection is smaller. It would require some building acquisition on both sides. There are opportunities for small development. It maintains the focus on the Main + Main. The space is sufficiently large as to suggest opportunities for programming the space, whether businesses or a center of community activity. It simplifies the intersection and maintains much of the area around the Square. The gateways to the NBD support this Square as its center. It reinforces the residential feel around the Square and creates an improved flow for traffic through the area.

OPTION 4: The Triangle/Bowtie/Mirror
This option would require acquisition of the old service station at the intersection. It would work well in tandem with a redeveloped performance space on the end of the Town Hall grounds. It creates a powerful presence. One of the spaces could be hardscaped while the other could be landscaped or green space. It ties the two spaces together and creates opportunities for programming and development. It would involve closing off Urwiler. Parking would be gained and additional parking will help to slow down traffic and aid in street calming. There are significant opportunities for the interaction of businesses with the space. Crosswalks would be simpler and could allow for alternating times for pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

OPTION 5: Central Harrison Square
This option creates a square such as the ones in Oakley or Hyde Park. Two paver areas would be flush with the street and the center space measures 60’Wx232’L, creating 13,204 sq. ft. There are significant development options and landscaping opportunities. Existing buildings along both sides of Harrison would be demolished under this option, creating new development area. It is the equivalent of four Bell (Madcap) buildings on one side and seven on the other, to give a sense of scale. Outdoor seating, cafes, and more are possible. It would impact residential properties as well, to create traffic flow and parking. Elder Alley would be vacated. The intersection is substantially improved and travel around the Square is reasonable. Angled parking would require even more space; this image depicts parallel parking.

OPTION 6: Town Hall Rotary
This option makes Town Hall the focal point, rather than the identified Main+Main. It creates a traffic flow via a rotary around Town Hall and highlights green space as the programmable area. Parking could be removed from the Town Hall grounds, moving it along the street. It is 2.4 acres, or 100,000 sq. ft. Development opportunities exist at the historic firehouse and some surrounding residential and commercial areas. Additional work would be possible at the Harrison/Urwiler/Epworth intersection. The main feature to consider is traffic flow from Montana. This option requires a one way rotary around Town Hall. It creates some concerns about traffic weaving as a driver enters the rotary from one point and wants to exit the rotary on the opposite side.

The six criteria used by attendees on June 12 are a condensing of the more extensive criteria shown in the accompanying presentation. They do not include cost or construction factors.

Criteria
1. Reduce speed / calm traffic while accommodating traffic
2. Define the neighborhood center, sense of place, usable civic space
3. Increase green space
4. Improve intersection safety
5. Improve pedestrian safety / connectivity
6. Foster economic development, provide business development potential

Attendees then went into the foyer and reviewed the six images, talking with friends and neighbors and asking follow up questions. Each person received 36 dots to apply to charts listing each option and the six criteria under consideration. Details of that process and the distribution of dots and comments will be added to this site this week.

Westwood Square June 12 Community Meeting

 

 

Square, triangle, rectangle, circle — we won’t know the final shape or size until a couple of things happen.  First, the Westwood Coalition invites you to a community meeting on Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. in Westwood School’s auditorium (2981 Montana Avenue, at Harrison & Montana – enter on the side facing Westwood First Presbyterian Church).  We will review the criteria for the Square (or triangle or circle…), already identified through neighborhood design charrettes and community meetings over the past few years, and then look at and provide input on several iterations of the Square as part of Cincinnati Department of Transportation & Engineering’s feasibility study.  Attendees will consider the criteria and apply them to each of the draft versions, providing comments and asking questions.  See you on June 12!  There is limited parking on site, with more parking on surrounding streets and Metro bus service.

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