10 New Project and Policy Concepts From UrbanCincy

Urban Cincy founder Randy Simes offers 10 forward-thinking concepts to aid the region today and in the future.

Mar 25, 2015 at 10:30 am

1. UC campus streetcar extension

Now that Phase 1a of the streetcar is underway, debate has broken out about whether, and when, to begin the next step. Simes has some very defined ideas about what should come next for the controversial transit project. He would extend Phase 1b of the streetcar to run through the middle of the University of Cincinnati’s main campus. The concept would run the streetcar down UC Main Street, starting at McMicken College and hitting major destinations in the center of UC’s campus, including Nippert Stadium, Fifth Third Arena, Tangeman University Center, Steger Student Life Center and the Recreation Center. The central campus stop would provide a way for non-students to get into the heart of campus without a car and also allow students living in the surrounding areas served by the streetcar to hop on and take it onto campus.

“I suspect this would have much higher ridership than running the streetcar around the periphery of UC’s megablock,” Simes says.

2. New arena concept

It’s safe to say Cincinnati needs a new arena. Last year, the Republican Party eyed Cincinnati for its 2016 national convention, a huge score for any city. One of the main reasons the GOP didn’t come? U.S. Bank Arena is aging and insufficient for major events. Simes suggests Cincinnati build a brand new arena adjacent to Horseshoe Casino to be the new home for the University of Cincinnati basketball team, Cincinnati Cyclones, Cincinnati Rollergirls and all other existing events held at U.S. Bank Arena. A state-of-the-art arena would be conducive for casino operators to program additional events like boxing matches. A positive side effect would be freeing up the land where U.S. Bank Arena sits to be redeveloped as essentially another phase of The Banks.

“Adding UC to the puzzle helps make the finances better,” Simes says. “It reduces the public financial burden and adds more constituents — more people with skin in the game to help make it a better project in the end.”

3. Downtown residential development plan

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that more people want to live downtown. Rental prices are rising with demand and construction hasn’t been able to keep up. The city could alleviate this problem by leveraging two large and underutilized areas for the creation of 1,000-2,000 new residential units. Simes suggests clustering four- to six-story buildings on the lots to the north and northwest of City Hall and building a separate cluster of three to five residential high-rises on the parking lots to the north of P&G’s headquarters. Neither site would include much retail, thus providing thousands of new customers for existing retail corridors the city hopes to bolster such as Race Street.

“It has become painfully clear that we are not building enough housing supply to meet demand for center city living,” Simes says. “In order to meet those demands and prevent runaway price increases, now is the time to go big and develop thousands more units.”

4. MetroWest

Cincinnati has some areas where it doesn’t make the best use of what it has, and MetroWest is a great example. Simes says the former Queen City Barrel site could be redeveloped as a mixed-use working class extension of Lower Price Hill. Lower floors of buildings could be used for light industrial purposes, while multiple floors of housing could be developed above it. Seattle pioneered the zoning regulations to allow for such mixing, and the concept is mostly seen on the West Coast. The idea would be a nod to the historical past of a working class neighborhood that was wiped out by I-75 and urban renewal efforts that created Queensgate.

“This concept would also create space for jobs and aligns with the GO Cincinnati recommendations,” Simes says, “while also respecting the desires of the adjacent Lower Price Hill community that has been subjected to far too many environmental justice issues over the years.”

5. New river crossings

Recent mudslides along Columbia Parkway were a pertinent reminder of how difficult it can be to get in and out of downtown from the East and West sides. And crossing the river from these neighborhoods can be just as painful even during normal commutes. Simes suggests building two new bridges to Northern Kentucky — one each on the East Side and West Side — to improve mobility and access for the region. Columbia-Tusculum would connect with Dayton, Ky., and a bridge from Delhi would offer quick access to Northern Kentucky near the airport. The bridges would be relatively small and include bike lanes and sidewalks.

“From Delhi, as the crow flies you’re eight minutes away from the Northern Kentucky airport,” Simes says. “As the road curves, you’re about 40 minutes from it, which is pretty outrageous.”

6. Regional inclusionary housing policy

Cincinnati is still more affordable than a lot of major cities, but there is an alarming gap between the number of affordable units available and demand for low-cost housing, especially in certain high-demand neighborhoods. Simes believes the city should assign a specific number of affordable units, as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to each community based on its share of the regional population. Communities could choose to either provide that number of housing units or pay a penalty on a per-unit basis to another community that takes on their share.

“If Indian Hill decides it doesn’t want to have any, they can pay a per-unit rate annually into a fund that would go into the community that takes on the burden from them,” Simes says. “For communities in the suburbs to ignore the issue and say, ‘Hey, that’s not our problem,’ I think that’s pretty shortsighted.”

7. Elimination of minimum parking requirements

The city should allow the free market to determine what is actually required in terms of parking, Simes says. In particularly sensitive areas, like Over-the-Rhine, there could be a secondary consideration that puts a parking maximum in place as to avoid the negative impacts parking causes for historic neighborhoods. Simes also believes parking structures above ground should be prohibited uses in OTR because they’re disruptive to the historical character and context of the neighborhood.

“Parking requirements are a bureaucratic nightmare for small businesses,” Simes says. “3CDC could buy those units and put them in places that would exceed the maximums.”

8. Regional rail and airport

Most cities in the world are an hour or more away from an international airport, though many are connected via high-speed rail. That’s not the case around here: Cincinnati, Dayton, Lexington and Louisville are all served by individual airports. Were the region to be better connected via commuter rail, CVG has the infrastructure to serve the entire region. Similarly, Simes says Cincinnati-area light rail offers an opportunity to drastically improve arterial streets within the city. Streets carrying light rail can be redesigned in a way that makes them safer for all modes of transportation while breathing new life into rapidly aging, auto-oriented commercial corridors, he says.

“By running light rail along roads like Glenway Avenue, Winton Road or along the Wasson Corridor,” Simes says, “you give light rail the chance to succeed and for it to improve the communities around it.”

9. Regional cultural facilities tax

Last year’s drama over the so-called “Icon Tax” forced arts supporters and historical preservationists to make some tough decisions. And when the dust settled, voters were only able to approve the funding of renovations to Union Terminal after County Commissioners booted Music Hall out of a $280 million plan floated by the Cultural Facilities Task Force and supported by the city. In order to create a reliable stream of supplementary revenue for these regionally important assets — and to avoid separate campaigns that require support and resources that are duplicated — Simes suggests enacting a tax to specifically support attractions like Union Terminal, Music Hall, the Cincinnati Zoo and other museums. It would be important, he says, for such a plan to include a short-term measure that would restructure the stadium debt and do away with the stadium sales tax altogether. Accelerating the payments on the stadium debt would save considerable taxpayer dollars, and the short-term measure could fade away with only the regional cultural facilities tax remaining.

“If the region was able to come up with a list of cultural assets it would like to see supported you could then put it on the ballot,” Simes says. “Adding the stadiums to the deal with a provision to accelerate their debt payments would just be icing on the cake.”

10. Anti-poaching agreement

In 2011, Cincinnati used city and state tax incentives to convince Fortune 500 pharmacy company Omnicare to move its corporate headquarters and more than 500 jobs downtown. Cincinnati’s gain was Covington’s loss, however, and the $8 million taken home in tax incentives essentially for crossing the river did not create any new jobs, costing both sides in the long-run. Simes says municipalities should agree to stop offering tax incentives for businesses moving from one part of the region to another. When a company is awarded tax incentives to move across a municipal line — from one state to another or even one county to another — it does so on the taxpayers’ dime.

“I’d argue it’s actually a drain on the region to pony up more and more public incentives for these companies to continue to do business as usual,” Simes says.

Find more information on these and other project and policy proposals at urbancincy.com.