Good morning y’all. How are you? I’m feeling great today because I just polished off a 6,000-word draft for an upcoming cover story that you’re definitely going to want to read. That’s always a great feeling, and a short-lived one — soon comes the editing process. But let’s stay focused on the here and now, shall we, and talk about the news today.
Could $40 million in new development, including a sought-after grocery store, be coming to Avondale? It’s becoming more and more of a possibility. Developer The Community Builders is looking at expanding development plans associated with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods program, which seeks to improve individual and neighborhood-level outcomes in low-income communities. Developers and the Avondale Community Council and Community Development Corporation have received $30 million from that program, and by using that money to attract other investment have turned it into $100 million for development in the neighborhood. So far, that money has gone to rehabilitating existing structures, but it could soon be used to build new developments, including the so-called Avondale Town Center, a key mixed-use development including a grocery store Mayor John Cranley mentioned in his State of the City speech last year. The development is still in the planning phases, and no grocer has been selected yet, but so far 118 units of affordable and market-rate housing and 80,000 square feet of retail space are on the table as goals.
• More legal troubles could be in the works for the former officials from a local charter school in the West End. Former Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy Superintendent Lisa Hamm and Treasurer Stephanie Millard were implicated in the misspending of more than $500,000 in a 2013 special audit by the state. On Tuesday, State Auditor David Yost released another report saying the two misspent money even as that audit took place, opening up the possibility more charges could be filed.
I want to make a special note about this story. The Cincinnati Enquirer has called the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy a “magnet school” in at least two articles I’ve seen about it, including the one linked above. That doesn’t appear to be the case at all. Magnet schools are themed public schools run by local districts like Cincinnati Public Schools. (See also: the Department of Education's description of magnet schools.) Charter schools aren’t accountable to local school districts, even if they’re publicly funded. Part of the scandal around CCPA is that its controlling board, which is not the city’s Board of Education, didn’t approve the spending in question. The existence of that stand-alone board shows that CCPA is a charter, not a magnet. The school doesn't appear in CPS' magnet school listings, for instance, because it isn't a magnet under CPS.
Am I missing something? Correct me if you have more insight. In the meantime — why does the distinction matter? Because charter schools have had serious accountability problems in Ohio in the past few years, and we should call CCPA what it is — another charter school with lax oversight and a problematic power structure. To call it a magnet school is to saddle Cincinnati Public Schools with at least one more big problem it doesn’t actually have anything to do with. OK, sorry. Onward.
• Greater Cincinnati developer Jeffery Decker is facing a federal court filing over an insurance claim on a multi-million dollar mansion that burned down in Indian Hill in January last year. Decker filed a lawsuit asking Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to award his family millions for an insurance policy from Chubb National Insurance Co. The Decker family received an advance $700,000 payment on the insurance policy before the insurance company filed a counter claim asking for the money back after Decker’s phone records revealed he was at the house much later in the day on the day the fire happened than he initially claimed — up until about 15 minutes before smoke was reported on the property. Chubb is alleging that Decker misrepresented his whereabouts the day of the fire in his initial claim and therefore invalidated the insurance policy.
• The Ohio Democratic Party could endorse former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland in the state’s 2016 Senate race over primary foe Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. So far, the party has stayed neutral on the race, at least officially, though some high-level Democrats have asked Sittenfeld to bow out of the race. Strickland is the favorite, having garnered an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton and having the advantage of massive name recognition in the state that propelled him to take a nine-point lead over incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman.
• President Barack Obama yesterday called for an end to so-called "gay conversion" therapy in the wake of the December death of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn. Alcorn, whose given name was Joshua, committed suicide late last year after her parents barred her from getting gender transition treatments and instead took her to Christian-based counseling to try and convince her to give up her transgender status. The Obama administration's call to end the therapy method came in response to a Whitehouse.gov petition that received more than 120,000 signatures.
"We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth," the response reads. "As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."
• Finally — ah, the nostalgia. By the time I got around to hitting up Forest Fair Mall as a youngin, it was already a creepily empty shell that housed a Guitar Center, a food court with flickering florescent lights and not much else. Now there are discussions about revitalizing the hulking indoor mall in Forest Park, perhaps with a mixture of uses beyond mall retail. Sounds interesting, though honestly, I’m a bit more entertained by the creepy, zombie apocalypse vibe of the place as it stands. Hm. Do I smell a Walking Dead theme park opportunity? I think so.
Good morning y’all. Let’s get right to the news.
Are million-dollar homes coming to Over-the-Rhine? At least one of the city’s big movers and shakers thinks so. Reds owner Bob Castellini made that prediction last night during a speech at Music Hall for the Over-the-Rhine Chamber’s annual Star Awards, which spotlights the neighborhood’s growth and its business leaders. Castellini is on the board of 3CDC, the developer that is approaching $1 billion in projects completed in the neighborhood and downtown. He’s bullish on the idea that the once-neglected neighborhood will continue to see high-price new developments. He highlighted condos in 3CDC’s Mercer Commons development that have sold for more than $400,000 as one example of growing interest in high-end living in OTR. Following new development, median household incomes and property values have been going up in the historically low-income neighborhood in the last few years. That’s caused a lot of fanfare, but has also stoked fears about gentrification, apprehensions that came up again recently when a developer proposed $400,000 single-family homes in the neighborhood’s less-hyped northern area. Some advocates in the neighborhood say there isn’t affordable housing there.
• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is shifting gears in his campaign for U.S. Senate. Sittenfeld’s campaign manager Ramsey Reid has left the Democrat’s team, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Sittenfeld’s campaign says his departure was planned from the beginning and that a new campaign manager and other new hires will be announced shortly. Sittenfeld recently ramped up his team, hiring a spokesman, a finance director and a polling specialist in his underdog primary battle against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Strickland is a heavy favorite to win the primary. He’s garnered an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton and is currently polling nine points ahead of Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman. Sittenfeld has been steadfast about staying in the race despite pressure from some Democrats to bow out.
• If you need proof that the weather here really is a bummer and that you’re not just a big whiner, here it is. A new study by a popular meteorology blog called Brian B’s Climate Blog shows Cincinnati is ranked 5th in the country for major cities when it comes to dreary weather. The city tied for that… err, honor… with Cleveland and Lexington. Buffalo took the top spot, followed predictably by Seattle, Pittsburgh and Portland. The climate blog considered three factors in its rankings: total number of days with precipitation, total annual precipitation and total annual cloud cover. If you need more anecdotal evidence, just find your nearest window.
• A new bill in the Ohio House would allow concealed carry in the state without a license if passed. The bill, proposed by State Rep. Ron Hood of Ashville, has 20 cosponsors and support from State Rep. Ron Arnstutz, the second-most powerful Republican in the House. Lots of dudes named Ron are into this idea, which makes me think of the ultimate Ron. Anyway, the bill would do away with licensing and training requirements for those who want to carry concealed weapons, limiting concealed carry only to those below the age of 21 or people who aren’t permitted to have guns due to their criminal background or other legal reasons. Five other states, including Kansas, have already approved unlicensed concealed carry, and 10 more states are considering similar measures. Gun rights groups have applauded the bill, but opponents, including law enforcement groups, say it will make the state less safe.
• With bicycle commuting on the rise, both nationally and, I’m hoping, in Cincinnati, do we need better data collection practices from police when it comes to cyclist-car accidents? It seems that way, according to a study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The study, summarized in this CityLab post, suggests that most data collection methods used by public safety agencies around the country are outdated and don’t consider the differences between cars and bikes and don’t make allowances for the different situations in which the two could collide. Better data could lead to safer bike infrastructure, the authors of the study say.
• Finally, it’s almost becoming a sentence in which you can just fill in the blanks with the latest shooter and deceased. Michael Slager, a white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina shot an apparently unarmed black man named Walter Scott over the weekend. The police incident report says that Scott had the officer’s taser and that Slager feared for his life. But a video taken by a bystander contradicts all of that, showing Slager firing eight rounds at Scott as he ran away. After Scott fell to the ground, Slager appears to casually drop something next to him. More officers soon arrived, though none are seen administering the CPR the police report alleges took place. Scott died at the scene. The incident has drawn national attention and a murder charge for Slager — a rarity perhaps brought about by the graphic and shocking video taken by a witness.
The year 2014 was a great one for movies — a really, really good year. Sure, there were duds and bombs just like any other year, but there were seriously so many good films that it was tough to properly list off my favorites in a satisfying order. One of my favorites of last year was Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. The movie reminded me of two Agatha Christie movies from the 1970s, Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978), the latter of which is my personal favorite of the two.
Based on the mystery novel of the same name, Death on the Nile tells of Christie’s famous Belgium (not French) detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) as he investigates the murder of the beautiful newlywed heiress Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Jane Birkin) on the Egyptian riverboat S.S. Karnak. The mystery is made all the more difficult considering how everyone on board the ship hated her in one way: from the bitter and begrudged nurse Miss Bowers (Maggie Smith), whose family was ruined by the Ridgeways, to the exotic and eccentric novelist Salome Otterbourne (Angela Lansburg), who was threatened to be sued by Linnet for defamation. With the help of his friend Col. Race (David Niven), Poirot must track down the killer before the ship reaches its final destination.
In the Sidney Lumet-directed Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot was portrayed by Oscar-nominated actor Albert Finney. While Finney certainly did look the part of the famed detective, for me between him and Peter Ustinov, I have to go with the latter. The main reason is because Ustinov seems to fit the persona. Finney, while being a good actor, seemed to talk too fast and rushed through lines, while Ustinov took things slower and seemed much more like the intelligent private investigator who was motivated by morality attempted to keep more unlawful activities from happening. He also sports a splendid mustache, which is very vital to the character.
One reason The Grand Budapest Hotel reminded me of these kind of films was because of the all-star cast. Death on the Nile features Ustinov but also stars the aforementioned Maggie Smith (Prof. McGonagall in the Harry Potter series) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) but it also features Hollywood legend Bette Davis (All About Eve), George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), Olivia Hussey (1968 version of Romeo & Juliet), Mia Farrow (1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby) and one of my favorite character actors, Jack Warden (12 Angry Men). Speaking of Grand Budapest Hotel’s cast: I could totally see Ralph Fiennes portraying Poirot in a movie.
But what about the actual mystery in the movie? It is pretty interesting. Yes, it is a rather standard whodunit sort of scenario where they go through the list of suspects until they come to the final decision. But with the given scenario of everyone having a reason to hate her and the fact that anyone could have gotten to her, it does make you wonder. The result is something that I’m sure a lot of people won’t see coming.
It’s a real treat for anyone who loves a good murder mystery and enjoys the works of Agatha Christie.
One final similarity that this film has with The Grand Budapest Hotel: both won Best Costume Design at the Oscars.
Hey all! Upside today: The Reds won last night. Downside today: It’s really gross outside. Now that I’ve covered the perfunctory topical conversation points, let’s get on to the news, eh?
Investigations continue into a deadly drive-by shooting that happened over the weekend near the Walnut Hills YMCA. Seventeen-year-old Kelcie Crow died in that shooting and two other teens were injured. Police say a fight broke out at a birthday party at the Y, after which a white van drove by and fired at least 60 shots at the large crowd of teens. Police say they don’t currently have any suspects in the shooting. The shootings and Crow’s tragic death have drawn a lot of attention around the city, including from Cincinnati City Council. City Council Law and Public Safety Committee Chairman Christopher Smitherman vowed the city would find and bring to justice the perpetrators. He also placed some blame for the lack of leads so far on what he calls a “no snitching” mentality among some in the community.
• Over-the-Rhine based business accelerator The Brandery has announced a unique project with developer Urban Sites that will provide housing in the neighborhood for entrepreneurs coming to Cincinnati as part of the group’s yearly class of new startups. The Brandery has signed a lease with the developer for two buildings on Walnut Street with 14 two-bedroom apartments that will become a housing option for participants in The Brandery’s accelerator program, which connects young startups with funding, branding and design help as well as potential corporate clients. The accelerator’s fifth class wrapped up in October last year. Each year the accelerator accepts 10-12 startups from around the country and worldwide for its four-month program. About half of these companies stay in Cincinnati after graduating from the program, the group says. The apartments will be somewhat subsidized for participants, the group says, and are a way to meet the needs of entrepreneurs while they’re in town focusing on growing their businesses.
• Cincinnati’s Red Bike, a nonprofit bike sharing program that started last year, just got its first big sponsor. UC Health will pay to put its logo on the nonprofit’s bikes for three years, the hospital system announced yesterday. Red Bike is looking for other sponsors as it continues to grow. Currently, the bike share has 33 stations spread around downtown, Over-the-Rhine and uptown. An expansion in Northern Kentucky is planned as well. The bike share was kick-started last year by a $1 million grant from the city.
• At first, I thought this was just today’s weather forecast, but it turns out it’s a real thing. This summer, a Cincinnati street will turn into a giant waterslide for a day when Slide the City brings its 1,000-foot slide to Jefferson Avenue near UC. You can slide on the street, but it’ll cost you: )ne slide costs $20, three times will cost $35 and unlimited slides will set you back $60. But you also get a tattoo, a mouth guard, a bag and T-shirt with that. So yeah.
• Ah, my alma matter never fails to embarrass me at least once a year. Police at Miami University are investigating a slew of racist and homophobic graffiti in a residence hall there and have also discovered similar graffiti at two of the school's frat houses. You can read more about it at the link above. I'm going to go burn all the Miami spirit wear I own, though I actually bought it from a thrift store a few years after I graduated because it was super-cheap and I was broke.
• A nearby university wants to play host to one of the 2016 presidential debates. Wright State University in Dayton has applied to host a debate next year and is one of 16 sites vying for the opportunity. The school has played a role in presidential campaigns in the past. In 2008, Republican candidate John McCain announced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate at Wright State, and President Barack Obama has also campaigned at the school.
• Speaking of the election, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky officially announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Paul is vying with a crowded field of GOP contenders for the party’s nomination, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who announced his campaign a couple weeks ago, and others who have yet to formally declare their intentions, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. As we talked about yesterday, Paul has tried to distinguish himself by playing on the Libertarian legacy of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president several times himself. The younger Paul is trying to walk the line between his father’s rabid followers and the more traditional GOP establishment, where big donors and powerful endorsements are to be had.
Another area where Paul has distinguished himself from the pack is in presidential campaign merchandise. Please, please, please do yourself a favor and check out these hot items, including this Ladies Constitution Burnout Tee which, as the website says, is “soft and gauzy… wears well, looks great and sends the statists a message.” Yes. There’s also the NSA spycam blocker (a small plastic piece that slides over your computer’s built-in camera), the Real Rand Woven Blanket (for those times when you want to be all wrapped up in the warm embrace of something other than the nanny state) and something called the Rand Paul Bag Toss Game. I didn’t click on that one. Oh yeah, and you can also get an autographed copy of the constitution for a cool grand, which is probably the most libertarian product ever.
That's it for me. Tweet, email or comment with your favorite swag from a presidential contender — or to get my shipping address so you can send me the giant Rand Paul birthday card you're going to send me in November.
Over-the-Rhine's new three-level bar and restaurant, Taft’s Ale House — named for William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, former Supreme Court Justice and native Cincinnatian — opens on Monday, Red’s Opening Day, and will feature a variety of specialty beers, as well as an emphasis on tri-tip beef (cut from the bottom sirloin). Helmed by Cincinnati local Kevin Moreland, former brewer at Listermann/Triple Digit, and partners Dave Kassling, a New York restauranteur, and Dave Williams, a UC grad, the bar, which is located at 1429 Race St., inhabits a building that formerly housed the 19th-century St. Paul’s German Evangelical Protestant Church.
Moreland describes his first experience in the building as walking into complete disarray. He had to use the side doors on Fifth Street to get in and, after entering, he walked into “straight dirt” and looked up to see holes the size of office spaces in the ceiling. To save the church, which was on the verge of destruction, he contacted 3CDC. Through their partnership — 3CDC helped stabilize the building, which had been abandoned for almost 50 years — they were able to restore the building, emphasizing it's historical appeal and architecture. The structure still retains it's dramatically high 40-plus-foot ceilings, large, Gothic-style arch windows and former bell tower. But now, instead of parishioners, it can hold more than 200 patrons.
“Part of what’s going on in OTR is saving something that used to be there,” says Taft’s Ale House General Manager Keith Maloy. “It would have been easier for us to start from scratch and build a new place. It would have been easier to construct and less expensive, but we would have lost a lot of the charm that’s in this building.”
The building’s three levels essentially create three different environments depending on an individual’s mood. There is the main beer hall level, with picnic tables, bar games and TVs; a mezzanine level for casual dining; and then Nellie’s Tap Room on the lower level. Nellie's, named after William Howard Taft's wife, is more of a cocktail bar than a beer hall, though the drink menu is still beer-centric; Nellie's serves Taft brews with eight guest taps from local and regional brewers, plus wine and cocktails.
The entirety of the building's décor, with Rookwood tiles and assorted antique ephemera, is inspired by the William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Mount Auburn, Taft's boyhood home.
“As soon as you walk in Taft’s home, you see this kind of laid-out pattern of multiple colors," Moreland says. "I wanted that to be something as a key feature in our place, so we did it. We had some hand-cut tile made to match that pattern. … A lot of the furniture matches and the color of the wood as well.”
Moreland considers Taft’s Ale House to be a gift to the city, specifically to OTR. “I wanted to keep things here in the heart of OTR and try to work with our neighbors because they’re going to be our patrons as much as we’re going to be their patrons,” he says. And in terms of patronage, Moreland started by working with other local vendors, linking local products and businesses to his passion for creating unique and innovative craft beers.
Taft’s partnered with Maverick Chocolate in Findlay Market to create their Maverick Chocolate Porter, featuring Maverick's cacao nibs and roasted cacao husks. Moreland also incorporated Findlay vendor Dean’s Mediterranean's products into the Culebra Cut Coconut Brown, an American brown ale infused with toasted coconuts. And Taft’s Mooly Wooly Coffee Milk Stout is made with oatmeal, lactose and coffee that comes straight from Coffee Emporium.
“You can classify it however you want, but I classify beer by what it is," Moreland says. "There are these style guidelines that people like to follow, but I’m not that person. You can only brew so much IPA that tastes like everyone else’s IPA, so we have that but we wanted to spin it around.”
Other favorite brews include a Caribbean style ale — Nellie's Keylime Caribbean Ale —that focuses on key lime and coriander, and an IPA called Rookwood Mosaic, with mosaic hops.
With creative beer, comes a creative menu, so don't expect pizza or burgers at Taft’s Ale House. During his time studying breweries and pubs around the country, Moreland saw different variations of the same menu time and time again, but his discovery of tri-tip beef changed the game. And General Manager Maloy could not agree more. The restaurant trims and ages the steak for 21 days, massages it with a dry rub, chars it, smokes it over hickory chips and then bakes it.
“The tri-tip beef is great," Maloy says. "It’s a great cut of beef — we char it, smoke it. You can slice it thin and make a sandwich or cut it bigger like a traditional steak. We have interesting sides too: roasted vegetables, tater tots instead of french fries and sweet potato fries.”
Moreland and Maloy’s main focus is “marrying the [tri-tip] beef with the beer” while still making it affordable. They understand the importance of serving customers at a rate where it's cost-effective to come back. Sandwiches, like the Alehouse (tri-tip steak, onions, blue cheese and red ranch sauce) run between $7.50 and $10, while platters, which are served with mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted veggies and cornbread, are $17 (for grilled chicken breast) to $20 (for 12-ounces of tri-tip steak). A small kids menu features little steak and chicken sandwiches and chicken wings, served with tots. For vegetarians, there's a large selection of salads with housemade dressing.
The experience of the customer is an ongoing theme in the vision of Taft’s Ale House. Many restaurants could say the same, but Taft’s physical setup lends itself to attaining customer satisfaction. Quality, an experience, and being passionate about what you do is how Moreland describes their mentality.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself," he says. "I don’t feel like it’s real yet. I’ve learned a lot. I can tell you it’s been an awesome experience. Passion breeds success. The passion we’re putting into crafting great beers is incredible.”
Taft’s Ale House opens Monday, on Moreland’s birthday. The first 100 people to arrive receive a free Red’s-Cincy-W.H.Taft-inspired T-shirt along with a glass of First Pitch Pale Ale. As for the future, Moreland is already thinking about taking the brand national, hoping to bring “big dollars” back to the city’s hotels, bars, eateries and more. “That is my focus: putting Cincinnati on the map for great craft beers,” he says.
4 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Friday; noon-2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Sundry and Vice, 18 W. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine, facebook.com/sundryandvice.
All photos by Aaron Conway