Final Schematic Plan for Town Hall Park and Gaines Triangle

At a community meeting hosted by the Westwood Coalition on Monday, October 3, 2016, representatives of Cincinnati Parks and MKSK, landscape architects and urban design firm, showed residents Final Schematic Plan for Gaines Triangle and the park grounds at Westwood Town Hall. As Steve Shuckman, Parks Division of Planning and Design, noted, “The plan has evolved and gotten stronger with community input.” Area residents, the Coalition, and a project advisory council that includes Westwood residents all participated in the design and feedback process. Last month, the Park Board approved the draft plan, as did the Coalition, the latter noting a few areas of ongoing community discussion.

Clete Benken, MKSK, described a rich design process that included a dozen meetings, a study of the existing property, and listening. He noted that the design focused on the Coalition and community’s quality of life and economic development goals and residents’ hopes and dreams for the area. He described the project’s design parameters and the goal:

Create a community gathering place, a park which is the focal point for the neighborhood and catalyst for development, and a distinctive setting for historic Westwood Town Hall.

Mr. Benken cited some of the parameters: an inviting, multi-functional, multi-use space, with more flexibility than exists currently.  The planners sought to develop parking, open spaces, signage, plantings, and so on consistent with the direction set by prior community planning and in cohesion with plans for the business district, generally. The plan places value on open lawn spaces and visibility, seating, play space, flexible use, recreational programming, art, pedestrian flow and safety, and historic features of the property. The design team worked with the Department of Traffic and Engineering on pedestrian movement and crossings and Recreation on the recreational programming of the grounds. Parking and drop off is shifted to the west side of the building which opens up space for an amphitheater and play area and provides more accessibility. The team has had preliminary discussion with Recreation for possible retrofitting of lower level space to accommodate food service.

Next, Mr. Benken showed perspective views from various angles, included in the Final Schematic Plan slides. He commented on the planned children’s play area, its increased visibility, and the openness of the front lawn. The drop off space can be dedicated to food trucks during a festival, for example, with ample space for vendor booths for events like the Westwood Art Show. An inventory of the site’s trees was made and the planners indicated their intent to retain all of the contributing trees and the “must keeps” because of their health and value (specimen trees, shade, etc.) Noncontributing or diseased trees, or trees nearing the end of their life cycle would come down but the plans call for adding far more trees than would be taken out, with an eye toward a good urban canopy, carbon capture, and shade. Mr. Benken noted that signage on the corners of the site would be lower and elegant, without obstructing sight lines or being too commercial.

And he showed the plans for Gaines Triangle at Harrison and Epworth, with its flexible seating and shade trees, pointing to the efforts to tie the spaces together, including conceptual drawings for adjacent properties like Madcap Puppets and the WestCURC parking lot.  He did say that, while the City could not fund enhancements to the private properties, it can work with businesses on common design elements and goals. Curbing and decorative pavement material would visually link the areas and give the sense of a shared space, evoking the Coalition’s recommendation to mark this intersection as the center of the business district, our Main + Main.

There will be two more phases of design, to flesh out details, before the project goes out to bid. This will include the detail of drinking fountains, benches, seating, signs, information kiosks, and art. $4M has been appropriated by the City for this project. The construction is expected to begin in spring 2017 with completion in four to eight months, weather dependent, with possible final plantings in spring 2018.

A dog park is planned for the side of the park property facing Montana Ave and Westwood School. It would be a double-gated fenced area with hard surfaces to facilitate maintenance of the site. Reasons for the dog park include activation of a relatively remote area of the site with year round use and socializing by dogs and people.

A question was raised about maintenance of the grounds, including the dog park and the gardens. Mr. Shuckman noted that the maintenance costs study is about one week from completion and does take into account current maintenance costs of the park. He noted that he hopes the community will help with planning for maintenance, including, for example, the gardening done now by volunteers as a Westwood Civic Association initiative. Henry Frondorf, Coalition facilitator, remarked on a poll that the Coalition initiated, demonstrating a negative response to the inclusion of a dog park. Another survey suggested a positive response to a dog park. Comments seem primarily associated with maintenance concerns, which were somewhat alleviated by Mr. Shuckman’s description of the material planned for the surface. Other concerns included availability of yards and a nearby dog park and a commitment to dog play over children’s play space. Still, the dog park is in the plans and is not expected to negatively impact mature trees or create a maintenance problem. MKSK’s Clete Benken commented that dog parks develop a park’s patronage, activity levels, and safety.

A resident inquired about the playground area and whether it would be contained. The speakers commented on the playscape which will spark imaginative and challenging play. It is fairly small and would not be fully fenced, relying instead on perimeter landscaping and low walls. Several people commented that it seems small, perhaps too small. There was positive response to the play area in the heart of the park.

Another attendee noted the historical features of the site, including the veterans’ memorial, the tree planted in Sgt Eric Sierra’s memory, the Ohio historical marker, and the section of rail. All are being incorporated into the plans and retained because they are special to the community and the site. An attendee mentioned the Broadbeck Performance Pavilion, noting that Mr. Broadbeck saved the Westwood Town Hall building when its future was threatened. This plan development provides an opportunity to honor people especially important to the history of the site and the surrounding area.

Asked about interactive water features, Mr. Shuckman indicated early interest in including water but said that the maintenance and budget made it impossible, describing this as an unfortunate loss.

In response to a question about parking on the site, the speakers noted that the number of spaces is the same but it is safer and also more convenient for drop off as planned. They noted that the intent is to preserve parking for accessibility and convenience but not at the cost of dominating the site.

One resident inquired about the plans for the decommissioned firehouse and its link to the park grounds. WestCURC will bring a restaurant to the firehouse and is working on those plans in the context of neighborhood development and in alignment with the park site.

An attendee remarked that the stationary exercise equipment, like that in place at Harvest Home Park, or parcours workout stations could be a very attractive addition to the site, particularly given concerns about health.

Residents commented on infrastructure issues in the immediate area, such as lighting, trees, and sidewalks. Henry Frondorf, Westwood Coalition, noted the Coalition’s Infrastructure Committee, is addressing a cohesive plan for streetscaping and all that it entails. The speakers remarked that lighting is important around the park and they are working to eliminate dark spots. The parking lot along the west side of the building will be illuminated. A nearby property owner urged Parks to include perimeter trash receptacles to cut down on littering. The dumpster will be enclosed and located on the Epworth side of the property. Access to the Town Hall will be largely unchanged. The current door will continue to serve as the main entrance with an accessible entrance at the lower level and ADA compliant walkways.

If readers have comments and questions, they’re encouraged to comment here or email the Coalition. Steve Shuckman of Parks Planning and Design also welcomes comments. Once again, here is the presentation that accompanies this post.

The Coalition has been working on placemaking, infrastructure, and positioning work for the entire business district and will share more on that work in the months to come, as well as reports on this website regarding the timeline for the park grounds and Gaines Triangle construction. Thanks to all who made time to attend the presentation on October 3.

 

 

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Town Hall Park: Dog Park Option

The Westwood Coalition would love to gather additional perspectives on one aspect of the current plans for the Westwood Town Hall park grounds. The plans include a small dog park on the side of Town Hall grounds along Montana Avenue, across from Westwood School. Earlier community input showed mixed support so we’d like to check one more time before the Coalition submits its perspective on this issue. Here’s a one question survey. Please let us know over the next few days. The poll expires in one week. Share with your Westwood friends and neighbors.

Mayor Unveils Revitalization Budget Proposal

At a press conference today at Westwood Town Hall, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley announced his plans for a budget proposal for neighborhood revitalization, noting that public safety is enhanced by robust economic development. Among the $10M in projects the Mayor announced this morning are significant enhancements to Westwood’s Town Hall Park and the expansion of Gaines Memorial Triangle at the intersection of Harrison, Epworth, and Urwiler Aves, an allocation of $4M.  This project is part of the Westwood Coalition’s recommendations for the revitalization of the historic neighborhood business district and supported by Westwood Civic Association, Westwood Historical Society, WestCURC, and Westwood Works.

Joining Mayor Cranley at the press conference were Vice Mayor David Mann and Councilmember P. G. Sittenfeld who both spoke in favor of the budget proposal. Mayor Cranley commented on the deep community engagement in Westwood, led by the Coalition, and similar efforts in West Price Hill and College Hill. He noted that councilmembers campaigned on the notion of putting money back into and strengthening neighborhoods and that this commitment will make good on those promises. The revitalization planning process in Westwood started in earnest more than five years ago, on the shoulders of years of work by individual organizations. In fact, Councilmember Christopher Smitherman urged community organizations to work cooperatively on redevelopment initiatives, resulting in formation of the Coalition. Calling attention to the deep, sustained neighborhood efforts, Mayor Cranley commented today that,

“The vast majority of these projects have been on the planning table for a long time, but they lacked resources to get them done.”

The Westwood Coalition recently hosted a session with Parks officials and MKSK, the landscape architecture firm developing the plans. Conceptual drawings and notes are posted here. Public comments are welcome and another public session will be offered as plans continue to take shape.

For more on today’s announcements, see coverage in the media, including Cranley calls for $10 million in neighborhood boosts (Fox 19), Morning news and stuff (City Beat), Mayor Rolls Out First Of Several Changes To Proposed Cincinnati Budget (WVXU), and Some Cincinnati neighborhoods could get big boost under mayor’s budget plan (WCPO).

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.

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.

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.