Enhancing community connections in Cincinnati, by reclaiming alleys, sidewalks, and steps for the pedestrian.
The vision to restore Peete Alley began when now-current Spring in Our Steps board member Nate Weyand-Geise reached out to us in early 2020 with interest in becoming more involved. He had previously constructed a private walkway on a family property using cobblestones and other materials. I had discussed with him our volunteer-driven involvement to improve conditions in Peete Alley from 2012 through 2015. Over a hundred volunteers had pulled up degraded asphalt, removed overgrowth, and shoveled away decades of detritus. In 2017, an unknown party who had been gutting the wood framed structure at 2012-14 Vine loaded a rolloff dumpster that included cobblestones from the long segment of Peete Alley, from the hinge of the corridor up to the Peete Street Steps. Despite this devastating degradation an historic surface that saw years of hard work. Nate expressed enthusiasm about a possible restoration of the Peete Alley surface.
Never before had Spring in Our Steps considered a restoration of an alley surface; the mere concept seemed daunting. But we rallied to put together a plan for application of a Street Use Permit. They are permits of no cost of the applicant, as along as there is no disruption to utilities or thru-traffic. We were essentially seeking to restore an inherently pedestrian walking corridor. Much to our surprise and delight, a Street Use Permit was approved by the Department of Transportation and Engineering on March 15, 2021.
On March 16, 2021, after several efforts that went unaddressed, we saw the re-illumination of a streetlight at the hinge of Peete Alley. We were told by the Duke Energy contractor that it had been over two decades since the streetlight was connected to power. We were absolutely elated. The approval of the permit and the relighting the alley would put us in wonderful position to restore the segment of Peete Alley nearest to Vine Street.
Then the fire happened. On March 22, 2021, one week after two causes for celebration, 2016 Vine Street suspiciously caught fire. Over the next days, weeks, and months, contractors worked to deconstruct the decimated structure, consequently destroying the wood-framed structure at 2012-14 Vine (as we heard anecdotal accounts that demo crews were actually launching bricks on to the vulnerable structure), and felling the pole and light that had been restored to power. The owners of the row of building on Vine Street, Vision + Beyond, had then made the case for emergency demolition of 2010 Vine Street, a three-story Italianate structure that included two wood-framed additions at the rear. They argued that the structure had a significant fissure across the facade and sought an outcome that would justify its demolition – successfully.
Over the next several months, the entire area was barricaded by the Department of Buildings and Inspections. Spring in Our Steps could not even enter the alley, for which it had an active Street Use Permit. By August 2021, demolition work and debris clearance was mostly complete and the fences barricading the site were removed. But our permit had expired and life’s circumstances had changed significantly. The massive temporal disruption made uncertain whether the project would be revisited at all.
In March 2021, Nate and I revisited the prospect of restoring Peete Alley. All it would take would be a renewal of the Street Use Permit. The landscape had changed significantly. Vision + Beyond had since put the entire swath of parcels on the market for a “Development Opportunity.” We had feared that demolition of the other buildings was motivated by this “Development Opportunity”. On the marketing site itself, it included the alley and the public stairway, even though neither were in private hands. We had a tough choice to make. Finally, on the anniversary of the approval of our first Street Use Permit for the project, we were granted a renewal.
Meanwhile, we are pleased to announce that Evans Landscape has agreed to supply crushed limestone and sand for the alley substrate at cost but they have also donated use of a trailer to haul away old substrate and to bring it fresh new materials to place under the cobbles.
Mostly notably, the Devou Good Foundation has granted us money to support the Peete Alley Restoration Project! We are so grateful to have been approved for full coverage of the cost of substrate materials, lighting, and signage. We are more optimistic than ever that Peete Alley will again become a fully accessible walking connection in the neighborhood. The restoration of Peete Alley will hopefully serve as a clear signal that reinvestment in this walking corridor is not for sale, and redevelopment of Vine Street from East Clifton Avenue and Mulberry Street should recognize the re-invigoration of walking connectivity as an asset for any new development.
There is light ahead of us. As of Saturday, May 28th, 2022, we have started work on the removal of bowlder-pavement (cobblestone) between the granite flagstones in Peete Alley. By June 11, we had removed over two-thirds of the cobblestone surface from Vine Street to the alley hinge. With volunteer help, we hope to remove the remainder of cobblestone material by Monday the 13th. We will then partner with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful and energetic volunteers (like you!) to begin digging about six inches into the soil and removing decades-old detritus. Upon completion of that phase, we should expect deliver of B-19 crushed limestone and coarse sand, which will be used as a new substrate in the alley. Resetting of cobblestones will follow.
We hope to see you or your monetary support in the future! This is an ambitious project that is the first of its kind by a nonprofit in Cincinnati. Restoration of street and alley surfaces are generally the responsibility of the City. But Spring in Our Steps has sought to prioritize our history, our culture, and investment in already present walking corridors in our center city. We are looking forward to the reopening of Peete Alley for people of all ages and abilities, residents and visitors!