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.

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Notes from Feb 18, 2015 Coalition Community Meeting

The Westwood Coalition hosted a community meeting on February 18th to share Coalition work of the past few months and to invite perspectives from Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation’s (WestCURC) executive director Elizabeth Bartley on the work ahead related to the redevelopment of the neighborhood business district (NBD). After welcoming 40+ attendees on a cold night with plenty of competition for their time, Mary Jenkins, the Coalition’s facilitator, reviewed the recommendations that the Coalition made in October, including the adoption of the Triangle/Bowtie option, corollary improvements on Town Hall grounds and throughout the historic business district, and a planning process for the implementation of the improvements. She also highlighted the foundation upon which those recommendations were made: the community process that identified the NBD’s strengths and opportunities, challenges and threats, as well as residents’ goals, such as a walkable, attractive business district, retail shops, a civic or green space, nearby parking, and options for gathering and dining.

Next, Ms. Jenkins described an asset mapping process that the Coalition has been conducting, to identify each Coalition member organization’s and businesses’ assets, including personnel, expertise, materials, facilities, constituents, networks, and economic power, all with the intent of connected these assets well to the projects that lie ahead to redevelop the NBD effectively. She described the asset identification as preparatory for achieving the goals set by the community which are big and complex.

Then Elizabeth Bartley, WestCURC’s executive director, the chair of this year’s Cincinnati Neighborhood Summit, and a cofounder of a research group on Sustainability, Culture & Place, spoke about the multifaceted, complex process before the Westwood Coalition and WestCURC now. She also noted that the city has held up Westwood’s community engagement process as an excellent example. Ms. Bartley spoke to a number of positive developments in the NBD including businesses at the Ruehlman building as newer anchors, the Line 21 brewery planned for part of the KS Designs building, the WestCURC acquisition of the historic firehouse, Madcap Puppets’ theater plans for the Bell Building, and forward movement on a proposal for a community arts & entertainment district. She also highlighted Westwood Town Hall and its grounds as a locus of activity and a desirable ongoing center of civic and community life, despite recent stints on the chopping block, as evidenced by Mayor Cranley’s suggestions for the grounds during his State of the City address in the fall and by recent programming on the property. She described Town Hall as a destination and part of the vision, not just the backdrop on a postcard of Westwood.

Ms. Bartley referred to her effort to understand the means by which to effect change in a NBD, including city processes and engagement with a coalition of city representatives to negotiate and plan. She also mentioned other prospective partnerships and resources like the Port Authority, the Community Building Institute (CBI), the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and others, as we seek to grow our expertise and insight. WestCURC is working with CBI to map out steps and identify opportunities as both WestCURC and, more broadly, the Coalition, line up the work plan for the months to come, to tie WestCURC’s work into Coalition plans, and to engage community assets.

Next, attendees asked questions and made comments. One attendee mentioned newer businesses as assets, in addition to the landmark buildings and businesses identified by the community earlier. Another person asked about a market study. Ms. Bartley described that as a critical next step to collect data to inform and support development that meshes with community desires and that will be successful and sustainable. An attendee spoke to the value of community education in a civic space. A question was asked about the community entertainment district footprint. The speakers noted that it is proposed as the same as the form based code area in the NBD. Another attendee asked for information about the status of Bridgetown Brewing’s building project. The speakers commented that they seem to be in the building permit phase and directed people to the Facebook page for updates.

A participant commented on the perceived need for more parking. Ms. Jenkins noted that current NBD parking lots are generally underused but said that attention to evolving parking needs is necessary and will be addressed, in part, by the traffic flow changes associated with the triangle. An attendee asked about WestCURC’s access to developers. Ms. Bartley and Ms. Jenkins commented on the ways that development will occur: planned development that we would market and recruit, development that happens organically through the interest of property owners and developers, and the development that happens when unexpected opportunities surface.

An attendee asked about market constraints or capacity for businesses. Ms. Bartley commented that there is ample room for and interest in business development in the NBD and noted that the market study would help with a more concrete sense of the particular needs and capacity. Lastly, another participant remarked on the changes in progress already, calling it an improvement to the quality of life in Westwood. She asked about the business owners’ perspective on the revitalization plans. Tom Bonhaus, a Coalition member and business owner in the NBD, remarked that the energy is very positive, that there are a few detractors, but that generally, business owners are eager to have more eyes on the street and to see these possibilities and community wishes come to fruition.

In closing, Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Bartley described the work phase now as complex, dependent on connections and expertise, and not likely to result in immediate tangible, physical evidence of development. They asked attendees to be encouraged by the work in progress and to offer their expertise, ideas, and contacts to the Coalition and its member organizations.