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Cincinnati: Downtown: Fort Washington Way Cap Project

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I think the festivals should ultimately move to Mehring Way and Smale. They can stretch it out and have all the booths face the park from the north side of Mehring, and allow people to utilize to park to eat/drink/sit/etc. You could get creative and incorporate stretches of Vine and Freedom, as well. The caps, if built, should definitely add more density to the core rather than even more green space - Smale and Sawyer Point provide enough of that already, IMO.

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I think the festivals should ultimately move to Mehring Way and Smale. They can stretch it out and have all the booths face the park from the north side of Mehring, and allow people to utilize to park to eat/drink/sit/etc. You could get creative and incorporate stretches of Vine and Freedom, as well. The caps, if built, should definitely add more density to the core rather than even more green space - Smale and Sawyer Point provide enough of that already, IMO.

 

Was talking to a coworker about this and I tend to agree, but if you use Smale - couldn't you see it getting trashed? If there's rain, the grass becomes mud. Even without the rain, Oktoberfest's clientele don't exactly leave the area very pristine in the morning.

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The FWW caps are a conundrum. It would be kind of unusual to subsidize so heavily (I think caps are estimated at $80 million) any small scale residential development that could fit there and also be a weird location for residential period with the highway underneath. There doesn't seem to be huge demand for office. Leaving it a park or plaza for the festivals would be great for when they are in use but would run the risk of inactivity when not in use. Such a spot would require active programming to draw people in and we already spread ourselves pretty thin doing that with other areas in the city.

 

 

In the Oktoberfest thread, I suggested that we build a 1 story building on the caps, which would be filled with retail and add to the street-level activity, and put a green roof on top which would provide a location for biergartens for events like Oktoberfest.

 

This is a really original idea that would solve the problem of being "dead space" when there is no festival going in but I wonder how this would effect a retailer during a festival especially a week or more extended Oktoberfest which I see being discussed in Facebook.


www.cincinnatiideas.com

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The FWW caps are a conundrum. It would be kind of unusual to subsidize so heavily (I think caps are estimated at $80 million) any small scale residential development that could fit there and also be a weird location for residential period with the highway underneath. There doesn't seem to be huge demand for office. Leaving it a park or plaza for the festivals would be great for when they are in use but would run the risk of inactivity when not in use. Such a spot would require active programming to draw people in and we already spread ourselves pretty thin doing that with other areas in the city.

 

I think you just summed up the biggest problem with the caps. Why would we spend $80 million to build them when we could use that money building out future phases of The Banks, or providing loans or grants to encourage development on empty parking lots downtown? Those things are much higher priority IMO than building the cap. I understand that FWW serves as a subconscious barrier between The Banks and Downtown/OTR, but with the streetcar, that is minimized.

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I understand that FWW serves as a subconscious barrier between The Banks and Downtown/OTR, but with the streetcar, that is minimized.

 

The streetcar most definitely helps fight that perception, but I think just having The Banks/Smale active in general helps too. 2nd Street used to be a dead zone before the streetcar, Banks, and Smale. Aside from Reds games or Bengals games, the only pedestrian activity seemed to be monthly parkers heading to the garage. All the landscaping and infrastructure was starting to look a bit grimy too.

 

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I think the biggest hurdle to the caps is who would fund them? City? County? Joint effort amongst Federal grants?

 

Didn't the County apply for grants from the Americana Recovery and Reinvestment Act only to be denied?

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How definite is the $80m figure? That cost is the key (in my mind) for figuring out how worthwhile it is.

 

When there is still so much empty space at The Banks, it seems unlikely that the Caps would make any sense from an investment perspective.

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$80 million is a big price tag, but the city would almost surely not cover much of that cost itself. Pittsburgh was just awarded a very large TIGER grant to fund a cap there. We'd have to take a similar approach, I'd guess. Meaning that we would probably have to closely look at the metrics the Feds consider for awarding funding when deciding what the caps get used for and what is built on top of them.

 

The talk of using $80million for any number of projects ignores the fact that these caps would have to be funded through a combination of funding sources. Reminds me of the false narrative around allocating streetcar money to other things. Surprising to see that type of conversation on this forum.

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Cincinnati keeps applying for TIGER grants ... for the new Cincinnati State overpass. If we would have applied for money for the FWW caps instead, who knows, we may have won.

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The talk of using $80million for any number of projects ignores the fact that these caps would have to be funded through a combination of funding sources. Reminds me of the false narrative around allocating streetcar money to other things. Surprising to see that type of conversation on this forum.

 

I see your point, but there's a difference with the streetcar that already had specific commitments that could not be redirected. The caps do not have any funding commitments. Cities only have so much bandwidth to take on projects, and there are only so many funding sources out there. If you are asking for state, federal, and philanthropic dollars for one project, you are probably avoiding or limiting the request for others.

 

That said, I'm hoping the caps will one day become a priority and can get done.

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Cincinnati keeps applying for TIGER grants ... for the new Cincinnati State overpass. If we would have applied for money for the FWW caps instead, who knows, we may have won.

 

The caps would certainly be a better use of TIGER funds than that ridiculous Cincy State ramp project that no one wants or asked for.  If we had a better mayor, we could be applying for TIGER grants for phase 2 of the streetcar, but alas...

 

The talk of using $80million for any number of projects ignores the fact that these caps would have to be funded through a combination of funding sources. Reminds me of the false narrative around allocating streetcar money to other things. Surprising to see that type of conversation on this forum.

 

I see your point, but there's a difference with the streetcar that already had specific commitments that could not be redirected. The caps do not have any funding commitments. Cities only have so much bandwidth to take on projects, and there are only so many funding sources out there. If you are asking for state, federal, and philanthropic dollars for one project, you are probably avoiding or limiting the request for others.

 

 

That's true, there is always going to be a tradeoff involved with pursuing a project that requires public funding.  I was referring more to the point that TIGER grants, state funds, etc. can't be diverted to private development projects on surface lots.  The city's contribution to the project could be allocated elsewhere, to be sure, though.  Pittsburgh's cap project was funded through $19 mil in TIGER grants, and 7.5 mil from state and local funding.  I've seen the split between state and local shares of funding somewhere, but I'm too lazy to spend time looking for it.  Let's assume the local share is half.  That's only ~3.5 million, which is a really feasible amount for a city like Cincinnati to raise for such a project. That's what I was getting at in my original post; the notion that there is a pot of $80 mil that could either be allocated to the caps or other projects throughout the city is simply not true.  If Pittsburgh is the funding model, the more accurate discussion would be if a few million dollars is better spent on a couple development projects, or as a way to leverage state and federal funding for the freeway caps.

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There's been a newfound energy by Hamilton County to cap Fort Washington Way.

 

Todd Portune has been involved in this. Pittsburgh was recently awarded $19 million for a similar project in Downtown. County officials estimate that the cost of a single deck would be $25 million. As noted below, from the linked Enquirer article, they would want to develop on top of the deck to help finance future decks.

 

County officials, though, say they will try a go-it-slow approach by asking for only about $25 million, enough to cover the first of the four decks needed. The goal would be to develop the land atop the first deck and use the tax revenue generated from those developments to bankroll work on the next deck, and so on, until all four are complete.

 

Personally, I want the center two decks to be made into park space that can be utilized for various events, and the two outlying decks to be used for development. I think the most logical deck to start with would be the one between Main and Walnut by Great American Ballpark and right on the streetcar route.

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This is actually a really pragmatic plan to spur financing for future caps.

 

I wonder how they are going to assemble the match for the grant.


“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

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These really need to be fully developed. There's zero need for more park space down there. I see essentially zero point in spending that money to cap FWW if it's just for more park space. That won't help knit The Banks into Downtown and it will add to an already large amount of park land in the areas. Smale is gorgeous but it's massive. Even there I think there's more than necessary and that above the garages should be purely development opposed to park space. But that's another point.

 

I really hope they push for this. And it's not just more talk.

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Also, the roof of any low-rise flat-roofed building on a cap will be visible from the slopes down from 4th.  So new construction needs attractive roofs, be they flat or gabled or whatever.   

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If you did buildings with one story bases, and 3 story courtyard shaped buildings above that covered all four caps you could fit approximately 600-650 units on top. Even if you left the two central caps partially open, by only building smaller buildings that fronted Walnut and Race, leaving an open plaza space on both sides of Vine you could still fit almost 400 units and still provide some open space to be used for Oktoberfest or whatever. Personally I agree that there is plenty of open space along the riverfront already and all four caps should be fully developed, my only question is what can you do with all that first floor space?  Retail, parking, more residential? Thats a lot of space on two very wide non-pedestrian friendly streets. The sides that face the North/South streets could be retail but the 2nd and 3rd street frontages would be difficult to fill; see phase two of the Banks and it's block long blank wall along 2nd.

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Now that 2nd and 3rd is the new location for big festivals, I'm more in favor of a plan that includes some amount of plaza space on the caps. It would be a really interesting compromise if you covered the caps with a 1 or 2 story retail space, and put a public plaza on top of that. You would still get street level activity year round but also have additional space for the big festivals. Alternatively the rooftop patios could be used for a restaurant dining space or biergarten.

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I think the caps create a really interesting opportunity to create a unique public space in Cincinnati that we won't get again. I understand the Riverfront Park is close, but I think a large park space on the caps could be advantageous to Cincinnati and also help connect The Banks to the rest of Downtown. There's already an abundance of retail/restaurant space available at The Banks and in OTR (as well as Main and Walnut along the streetcar route). We aren't in any kind of shortage for areas to redevelop (empty storefronts, parking lots, etc).

 

Creating parks on the caps would create an versatile space we could use for Opening Day, Oktoberfest, Taste of Cincinnati, etc. I think creating a Munich-style Oktoberfest on the caps would be cool. You could still block off the surrounding streets, but adding tents to the caps that are sponsored by breweries (Sam Adams, Rhinegiest, etc) would be awesome. It could still be a usable public space when there aren't big events. I just don't see the huge demand for additional retail/restaurant space there when The Banks hasn't exactly excelled at attracting tenants.

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Why can't we do literally every single one of those things in Smale? There's space for it. And building $100 million worth of infrastructure with the idea that it'll be useful for a handful of weekends per year and then sit as an excessive amount of open space every other time seems backwards to me.

 

You can design buildings that meet the ground nicely and create street interaction without the ground levels being filled with retail. There is a once in a lifetime opportunity to connect the riverfront to Downtown's fabric with these caps. Open space would very likely not achieve that here.

 

It would also present zero opportunity to create revenue from the caps and, in my opinion, cheapen the massive investment made to create Smale.

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I agree, keeping the caps plain plazas for a few weekend festivals makes no sense.  But at the same time, large apartment blocks would require parking garages in the center, and those garages would be more expensive than normal garages because they'd have a much wider span between pillars. 

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I think over-saturating the market for retail and restaurant space makes no sense. The Banks still has a bunch of vacant retail space. Adding more retail space is not going to help. And I find it hard to imagine a development with no interaction with the street grid exhibiting a positive effect on the neighborhood. It wouldn't make it any more walkable or enjoyable when crossing FWW.

 

And just because the caps could be designed to accommodate Oktoberfest, Taste, etc doesn't mean that it would only be used for that.

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But why is retail or restaurant space the only thing that can interact with the street? Hotels have very active entrances, workspace could be located on the ground level, something like WeWork could be setup in a street level spot, residential amenity space could be located on the street level, etc. There are a lot of options that wouldn't add to a glut of retail space in that portion of Downtown.

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Yeah my hunch is that street level office with extended stay hotel above could work.  The other very obvious thing is if someone came forward and funded a big new art museum or other type of museum. 

 

 

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At the same time I COULD see some sort of super creative indoor public space which occupies the site but has programmable elements on top/around it. A large interior winter garden that occupies a large courtyard space within the blocks and is linked together and ringed with residential development could be super interesting, provide a large public space, and still allow development. And it could be something really noteworthy architecturally that would call attention to the project and build excitement and greater support. Could be an offset of Krohn or something.

 

Edit: Something like this where there's a long bar that's public that occupies the centers of the blocks and has development along the long edges of the blocks.

 

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Office space would work well here. You'd have big floor plates with huge clear spans - office tenants love that. If the county/feds pay for the caps/foundation, a spec office building could be built with white boxed interiors very cheaply. It doesn't really need to be tall - something 4 stories or so would work perfectly. Parking isn't really a problem as most downtown office workers still walk at least a few blocks from lots/garages to their workplaces.

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I was thinking about the caps on my bus ride home today (and felt like procrastinating instead of studying) so I put together a quick drawing of what I would like to see. Instead of having all open park space (which is a waste of money and real estate) or having the whole thing covered in big flat buildings (which wouldn't liven up the street or help connect downtown to the banks) why don't we do a mix of both? From above it looks like a zipper, with interlocking "teeth" shaped buildings where park space opens up to a promenade along the center which would provide public space. I show the park space lifting up in the middle to allow an access alley/drive underneath to accommodate trash pick up, deliveries etc. for the buildings above as well as the retail or office storefronts on either side. Where the park opens up to 2nd and 3rd street frontages a 20' gap would be provided to allow people in, but also allow it to be closed off/access controlled when it needs to be. I think it could provide a very cool almost high-line-esque promenade in the city as well as provide multiple connections across the large blocks to help break them up visually and for pedestrian movement. When the large festivals like Oktoberfest occur, beer gardens and tents could be set up along the central promenade which would be approximately 50' wide between buildings.

 

For perspective the way I modeled this would allow for 102 units (@800sqft) per block on the upper three floors with ground level left open for retail or office. This would allow 408 units or equivalent space for offices to help pay for the subsequent blocks while also keeping some public open space.

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Edit: Something like this where there's a long bar that's public that occupies the centers of the blocks and has development along the long edges of the blocks.

 

 

So something like the Emery Arcade that predated the Carew Tower?

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Yeah, but taller and less of a structured environment and more of an indoor park. Winter gardens are becoming a much more common thing and it could be a really cool asset to have. I could imagine it being a really big draw if done properly.

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Keep in mind that only the two center blocks will be full blocks. The easternmost and westernmost blocks will only be half-blocks. That is what the current infrastructure would support. I also heard from a former mayor that there would still need to be a gap between the caps and the north/south streets (in other words, the entrances to these buildings could only face 2nd and 3rd streets) but I'm not totally sure that's accurate.

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These are sweet ideas and would really create a unique place for people to visit. But unfortunately one limitation of the setup is that a true highway cap is not possible. If I recall correctly Unfortunately it's set up so that a north-south opening to the highway below must remain in the middle of the two middle blocks, and the two blocks on each end can only accomodate a half deck.


www.cincinnatiideas.com

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Keep in mind that only the two center blocks will be full blocks. The easternmost and westernmost blocks will only be half-blocks. That is what the current infrastructure would support. I also heard from a former mayor that there would still need to be a gap between the caps and the north/south streets (in other words, the entrances to these buildings could only face 2nd and 3rd streets) but I'm not totally sure that's accurate.

 

Jinx! Buy me a beer

 

EDIT: this is different from what I was saying. I thought the gap had to be in the middle of the block


www.cincinnatiideas.com

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With the gaps, the decks remain decks.  If the gaps are closed, then the space becomes a "tunnel" and so requires mechanized ventilation and a host of FHA design considerations. 

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With the gaps, the decks remain decks.  If the gaps are closed, then the space becomes a "tunnel" and so requires mechanized ventilation and a host of FHA design considerations.

 

What is the maximum distance between gaps to not trigger the "tunnel" designation?

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$80 million is a big price tag, but the city would almost surely not cover much of that cost itself. Pittsburgh was just awarded a very large TIGER grant to fund a cap there. We'd have to take a similar approach, I'd guess. Meaning that we would probably have to closely look at the metrics the Feds consider for awarding funding when deciding what the caps get used for and what is built on top of them.

 

The talk of using $80million for any number of projects ignores the fact that these caps would have to be funded through a combination of funding sources. Reminds me of the false narrative around allocating streetcar money to other things. Surprising to see that type of conversation on this forum.

 

Trump's proposed federal budget, out today, eliminates TIGER grants. We squandered our opportunities to grab that money while it was available.

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