The Water & Sewer Infrastructure Crisis: Potential Paths Forward

By Marianne Eppig and Samantha Dawson

Our nation and its legacy cities are facing an impending infrastructure crisis: water and sewer systems are failing and require reconstruction and modernization as soon as possible. Most of these water and sewer systems were built immediately following WWII, meaning that they are approaching the end of their useful life. In some places, the infrastructure is already beginning to fail, leading to water main breaks, housing floods, sewage overflows into the environment, and public health crises.

While the national bill to upgrade this infrastructure has been estimated at around $1 trillion, costs for addressing Ohio’s existing water and sewer system deficiencies are estimated to be around $20.84 billion, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

To meet federal clean water mandates, cities must find ways to finance these needed infrastructure overhauls in short order. So far, many cities around Ohio have been ratcheting up water and sewer rates. The city of Akron, for example, has increased rates by 71% in one year. Other cities around Ohio have raised rates between 30% to 50% or more within the last two years.

Graph-SewerRates-OEPA

Graph-WaterRates-OEPA

Greater Ohio Policy Center is currently looking into other financial tools that can be used to restore Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure systems. We will be discussing these tools with a panel of experts at our upcoming 2015 Summit on June 9th during the following session:

Finding Solutions to Ohio’s Water Infrastructure Challenges

Ohio cities, large and small, must address the critical behind-the-scenes challenge of modernizing their water and sewer infrastructure to avoid potential serious public health crises and environmental degradation, and to create capacity to attract and support businesses and residents.  However, Ohio’s cities are struggling to find ways to finance the complicated infrastructure overhauls needed to address these challenges, comply with federal mandates, and even support on-going maintenance. On this panel, experts will discuss the scope of these infrastructure challenges along with innovative financing approaches and sustainable solutions necessary for Ohio’s cities to function smoothly and accommodate regrowth.

We hope you will join us at the 2015 Summit! For more information about the Summit agenda and to register, click here.

Advancing Ohio’s Urban Agenda

In Ohio and around the country, real estate developers and investors are recognizing pent-up demand for and a market shift toward sustainable, walkable urban places. Despite this paradigm shift and change in market momentum, many local, state and federal policies currently in place distort development incentives and hamper efforts to create the development consumers want and that support strong local economies. Urban developers and real estate and land use experts can align to provide state and national policy makers with expert advice on current consumer demand and the many benefits of urban and metropolitan growth strategies.

At three forums hosted by the Urban Land Institute district councils in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, Greater Ohio Policy Center and the national non-profit LOCUS connected with developers from urban centers across the state to discuss the demand for sustainable communities. Here is what we learned:

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Waterfront Development Projects in Ohio’s Major Cities

By Octavious Singleton and Marianne Eppig

Ohio’s three largest cities—Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati—have devised strategic urban developments geared toward revamping their waterfronts, with aspirations of boosting local quality of life and economic growth.

Cleveland – Lakefront Development Plan

ClevelandPlan

This past June, Cleveland City Council approved legislation for its long-anticipated lakefront development project. The primary objective is to enhance accessibility of the city’s waterfront.

Dick Pace of Cumberland TCC, LCC, the developer, is expected to build about 1,000 apartments, 80,000 square feet of commercial office space, and 40,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space on 21 acres of the lakefront. The construction will occur in phases so that each section of the new development complements construction taking place in the downtown.

The plan capitalizes on existing anchor institutions, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Great Lakes Science Museum, and the Browns stadium, to attract visitors to the lake and leaves space for future development—such as hotels, restaurants, and shops—as the phases of the project advance over time. While the city is funding portions of the project with public funds, the hope is that private investors will be drawn to the area and develop along the lakefront once the infrastructure is in place.

To accommodate affordable housing, Pace said that local public servants, such as teachers and police officers, who wish to live in the neighborhood will be granted reduced rent. He also mentioned that the project will honor a Community Benefits Agreement that assures that Pace will employ local apprentices from Cleveland’s Max Hayes High School and give homegrown firms a chance to work on the project.

Cleveland’s lakefront development project is strategically devised to generate more revenue, attract businesses, promote exposure, boost local quality of life, and increase the volume of tourism in the city.

Columbus – Scioto Greenways Project

ColumbusScioto

Planning for the redevelopment of Columbus’ downtown riverfront has been underway for the past two decades, with exciting progress taking place within the last several years. In April of 2012, the City of Columbus and Franklin County—which are major land owners on the Scioto Peninsula—asked the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation to develop a strategic land use plan for the peninsula. The idea of the Scioto Greenways project was first introduced during the public process leading up to the generation of the 2010 Downtown Strategic Plan.

The Scioto Greenways project, which is estimated to cost $35.5 million and is being funded by numerous public and private partners, involves three primary components that will revamp the area around the river. Those three components are:

  1. removing the Main Street Dam,
  2. restoring the Scioto River channel, and
  3. creating 33 acres of new green space.

The Main Street Dam was removed in late 2013, restoring the natural flow of the river and improving the ecological systems and river habitat. The riverbanks and river channel are currently under construction, but once they are completed, they will provide new recreation options and the opportunity to build upon existing investments in the area through the creation of a stunning 33-acre greenway through downtown Columbus.

This project will better connect Downtown Columbus to the Scioto Peninsula and East Franklinton by expanding on recent park investment, creating links to the existing regional bikeway system, and catalyzing further private investment in the urban core.

Cincinnati – The Banks

CinciBanks

Downtown Cincinnati’s riverfront between the Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium is in the midst of a  transformation. The Banks development project is turning 18 acres of undeveloped riverfront land along the Ohio River into a dynamic mixed-use “Live, Work, Play” destination.

The Banks project is part of a riverfront strategic development plan that was originally unveiled in the ‘90s. The development will incorporate residential units, office space, as well as dining, leisure and entertainment venues and will connect Cincinnati’s downtown to the waterfront via a 45-acre Riverfront Park.

Atlanta-based companies Carter and The Dawson Company, along with their capital partner USAA Real Estate Company, have been leading the development as a joint venture since 2007. The City of Cincinnati partnered with Hamilton County to provide infrastructure for the site, including a multi-modal transit facility, parking garages, street grid improvements, and utilities.

In late 2009, Phase I construction began by adding luxury apartments and street-level restaurants that opened in 2011, and further street-level retail that opened throughout 2012 and 2013. Ongoing development, which will include more residential, retail, hotel and office sites, will be completed in phases throughout a ten to fifteen year time frame.

The project is expected to add around $600 million in investment and around 1,000 permanent jobs to the local economy, according to a recent study. Already, the development is attracting new national retailers and residents to Cincinnati, which demonstrates the power of waterfront redevelopment as an asset for local quality of life and economic growth.

The waterfront revitalization projects in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati are expected to increase property values, encourage private investment, and contribute to vibrant communities, while improving connectivity between these cities and their beautiful water assets.

Ohio Cities: Stabilize the Population Outflux by Attracting & Retaining the Millennial Generation

By Raquel Jones and Marianne Eppig

Between the years 1970 and 2013, the city of Cleveland lost almost half of its population. In fact, most cities in the region have also witnessed a decline in population. However, this recent trend seems to have less to do with the location and more to do with the layout of these cities. The most evident reason for this rapid decline may point to the fact that young, educated Millennials favor core cities, as opposed to sprawling communities.

According to research conducted by the Pew Institute and Urban Land Institute, Millennials are driving less than previous generations. However, the Millennials are not alone in this recent trend, as the Baby Boomers are also eager to take advantage of urban amenities and walkable communities. A key component to attracting Millennials to cities is the availability and quality of transportation options. According to a recent survey, “55% of Millennials have a preference to live close to transit” (Yung). With more than half of those polled in favor of such an option, it is obvious that the demand for a multimodal city is real.

One of the most compelling arguments supporting this growing rejection of a car-dependent society points heavily at the financial strain induced by the costly upkeep of a car. With gas prices rising and car loans becoming harder to obtain, and as Millennials find themselves buried in a heap of college debt, owning a car no longer seems to be practical. For this reason, many are shifting to urban areas, where there are multiple transportation options and where almost everything that could be wanted or needed is only a short distance away.

Population of Ohio's Cities Millennial Population in Ohio Cities Millennial Percentage of Population in Ohio Cities

In Ohio, we need to do more to take advantage of these trends and to continue attracting and retaining populations that are interested in urban living in order to strengthen the economies of these cities and their surrounding regions. Some of Ohio’s cities are seeing more positive trends–attracting a greater percentage of Millennials–but in the context of ongoing population shrinkage in all of our major cities except Columbus, it is clear that Ohio’s work is not done. The state’s ability to leverage market demand for inner city living and further incentivize—and remove legislative barriers to—infill development within its cities will help determine Ohio’s future prosperity.

Graduate Students Innovate Strategies for Rust Belt Revitalization

Rust Belt cities—like Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Warren, Youngstown, and Buffalo—have some of the most pernicious challenges facing urban areas today. Concentrated poverty, aging infrastructure, population and industry loss, swaths of vacant properties, and decades of underinvestment are just some of the issues confronting these cities. And yet, now more than ever before, these cities have an opportunity to attract new populations who crave vibrant places with character.

The question is, how do these cities strategically invest in their assets and tackle their obstacles to benefit from this renewed interest in urban living? How can they become great again?

As a graduate student in the City and Regional Planning program at OSU’s Knowlton School of Architecture, I started a yearlong independent study to attempt to answer these questions and to innovate solutions to Rust Belt city challenges. Twelve other masters students in the City and Regional Planning program signed up for the course, and together we spent the 2011-2012 academic year researching, brainstorming, and writing about potential solutions for the Rust Belt. As part of our research, we visited Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Detroit, and Flint during our Spring Break and spent time talking to local leaders and learning from grassroots efforts. By the end of the year, we created a publication compiling our articles on our individual topics and solutions.

The publication that we created is titled 13 Strategies for Rust Belt Cities, and you can download it for free here:

RustBeltBookCoverImage

Each article in the publication presents an innovative strategy to address a Rust Belt challenge, such as:

  • Tax code to reduce the number of inner city vacant lots,
  • Chaos planning to bring life into urban cores,
  • Multi-lingual signage to accommodate diverse populations,
  • Policy to protect the Great Lakes,
  • Reuse of abandoned rail lines,
  • Free rent to incentivize migration back into the city, and much more.

Together, these articles paint a vision for what the Rust Belt could be within our lifetimes. By promulgating these ideas, we hope to contribute to the conversation about how to implement strategies for addressing the region’s obstacles and providing avenues to revitalization.

Urban Exploration

In honor of my birthday today, I thought I would give myself (and all of you!) one of my very first and very favorite blog posts from 2009. Enjoy!

Kent architecture alum, Ted Ferringer M.Arch ’08, MUD ’08, took these photos while exploring the urban outskirts of Cleveland.  His descriptions of place are coupled with the photography.

“Admiring”

Admiring

This photo is from the roof of the old Howard Johnson’s hotel at the north end of E. 55th Street, just off of I90. This photo was taken during the Labor Day weekend airshow, which some friends and I spent the afternoon watching from the roof. That roof probably has the best view in the city.

The building is currently being demo-ed, but the work has paused as the building’s owner has sued the city, who was demo-ing it through eminent domain.

A common collaborator of mine and good friend, Ryan DeBiase, embellished the day’s events in a blog post, here. It’s a work of creative non-fiction; some events are true, some are complete lies.  Granted, he still re-caped the day’s events better then I ever could.

Its pretty ironic that the demo of the building started, then stopped, and now looks like it was bombed. It seems somehow appropriate, however, that the lies of that day eventually became a sort of fact.

6611 Euclid Ave. (1) and (2)

6611 Euclid Ave.

These photos were taken during another urban exploration with my common companion for such things, Mr. DeBiase. This building intrigued us the second we saw it after moving to Cleveland. It’s located along the Euclid Corridor, and its basic story is that it used to be light industrial/warehouse space (I believe it housed a garment factory for a number of years) before eventually being abandoned.

When the Euclid Corridor project started, the front bay of the building  on the Euclid Ave. side was cut off to accommodate the wider street. For quite a while the building sat unsecured, with the entire front of the building sitting open–creating an amazing real-life building section.

6611 Euclid Ave.

Again, there seems to something inherently poetic about having to cut into the former soul of the city (a former manufacturing building)–creating a monumental scar–for progress to take place.

The RTA, which owns the building, has since covered the front of the building with giant metal panels, creating a new billboard/super graphic along the corridor, promising better times ahead. Like all things Cleveland, the potential is amazing, if perhaps forever unrealized.

I also happened to do a real estate case study for this property in a real estate class at CSU’s Levin College. This property would make an amazing technology/health care incubator site, as the shell of the building is in amazing shape, in an amazing location. It could make an incredible mixed use, TOD development.

Photos from this day’s real were just used in an article about this idea.

(Ted Ferringer lives in Ohio City and works for a local architecture firm.)

Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities

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In the wake of the mortgage foreclosure crisis and the long-term abandonment of older industrial cities and their regions, communities and neighborhoods have been increasingly burdened with vacant and abandoned properties. Organizations and municipalities are now more systematically addressing vacant residential properties. However, for years there was very little guidance for the redevelopment of commercial vacant properties, which are equally prevalent — especially throughout older industrial regions.

CVP-Chart-2013

Commercial and residential vacancy at the county level for legacy cities. Data collected on the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013. Data source: US Postal Service. Data aggregates vacant and no-stat addresses.

Greater Ohio Policy Center just released its new guidebook, Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities: A Guidebook to Linking Property Reuse and Economic Revitalization, which is the first of its kind to offer a comprehensive set of tools and strategies for redeveloping commercial vacant properties and business districts in legacy cities.

The guidebook, developed in partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and with support from the Center for Community Progress, is designed as a “How To” manual for local leaders, identifying practices and policies that take advantage of the link between available commercial properties and needed economic re-growth strategies in legacy cities.

The tools and strategies provided can be used by local leaders and practitioners no matter where they are in the process of commercial property redevelopment, from data gathering and planning to real estate acquisition and redevelopment, and from tenant attraction and support to business district management.

The guidebook includes the following tools:

  • Guidance on planning & partnering for commercial revitalization
  • Methods for analyzing the market
  • Advice on matching market types & strategies for commercial revitalization
  • Legal tools for reclaiming commercial vacant properties
  • Funding sources for overcoming financial gaps
  • Menu of property reuse options
  • Ways to attract & retain business tenants
  • Methods and models for managing a commercial district
  • Strategies for building markets in legacy cities

While the tools, strategies, and policy recommendations within the guidebook are particularly relevant for legacy cities and their communities, they are also applicable to all cities and regions that seek to reuse commercial vacant properties with the purpose of enhancing community stability and economic development.

Click here for more information and to download the guidebook.