Sign of the Times: Crestview Hills office park project a model for public-private partnership

Political campaigns, such as what Kentucky experienced during the 2015 governor’s race, often focus attention on the relationship between government and business and which is better equipped to solve community problems. This year’s presidential campaigns will expand the debate on a national level.
Occasionally that abstract political discussion comes to life on a community level, as was the case recently at Crestview Hills’ Thomas More Office Park. City government reached out to business tenants there to solve a frustrating problem and, as a result, may have taught the rest of Northern Kentucky a valuable lesson in public-private partnerships.
Thomas More Office Park was laid out in the 1980s in open land between I-275 and Thomas More College. Crestview Hills City Administrator Tim Williams says the original plan was for about 20 large warehouse and industrial buildings, but development worked out differently and the space now hosts 60-plus office buildings in a variety of sizes, from medical and law practices to the multi-story Columbia Sussex corporate headquarters.
With its main entrance off of Turkeyfoot Road, the office park meanders across a half dozen smaller roads feeding from Thomas More Parkway that created a confusing jumble of unrelated building addresses. With so many businesses attracting regular visitors — including St. Elizabeth Physicians, Cincinnati Children’s Outpatient Northern Kentucky, Pediatric Associates and DBL Law — a collective cry for help went to Crestview Hills officials.
The city owns and manages the office park, which is a significant tax-generating employment center along with Thomas More College and Crestview Hills Town Center.
“Starting in 2009, we noticed businesses concerned about two items, traffic congestion around Turkeyfoot Road and the inability of their patients/customers to find their locations,” Williams says, “so the city began internal discussions about how we could improve and simplify access to the office park businesses. City Council approved funding in 2012 to hire a wayfinding sign consultant to analyze the office park and prepare a new system of direction, and we included office park representatives in the selection of the consultant, formulation of the plan and design standards and recommendation of the final plan to City Council.”
The multi-year planning process involved a lot of communication with and participation from business owners, including discussions about how to fund the project.
“The businesses were all outstanding to work with,” Williams says, “especially the members on the steering committee who provided valuable insights and advice to the sign consultant and city staff.”
Studio Graphique in Cleveland was selected as project design lead, and the resulting signage system was fabricated and installed by Harmon Signs from Toledo.
The new wayfinding system organizes the office park into four color-coded zones, and each building has a unique number that’s clearly marked at all building driveway entrances. Building numbers are grouped together, so that 1 through 11 are in blue, 12 through 35 are in green and so on. Directional signs are placed at street intersections pointing to building groups.
The system went live last summer.
The project’s design, fabrication and installation cost approximately $300,000, which is split between the city and 10-year property assessments on office park tenants. Williams notes that although Thomas More College has only two buildings that are officially part of the office park, leadership agreed to pay full assessment on its entire campus to help fund the new signage.
“Thomas More College understands their role in the community and engagement with the businesses in the office park and really stepped up to the plate to assist in making the wayfinding sign project a reality,” he says. “It’s particularly significant in that the college benefited only peripherally from the signs.”
Williams says the office park tenants seem pleased so far with the new signage and are using the color system and building numbers in customer communications and on websites. He notes that gaps in the numbering system will allow for future development on open lots and for adding a new color zone if needed, and he says all future signage will be fabricated by a local supplier.
“When a parent takes a child to a medical appointment, the last thing we want to do is create anxiety over finding the doctor’s office,” says Julia Schenk, Space and Occupancy Planner for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “Thus we sought to create a new wayfinding system that would be clear and intuitive while removing added anxiety from a parent.”
The smooth process of planning, funding and implementing the new office park signage removed a lot of anxiety too, Williams says. He’s hoping the project can become a model for future public-private partnerships in Crestview Hills as well as across Northern Kentucky.
“This sign project is an excellent example of how a local government can be responsive to the needs of its taxpayers,” he says. “Crestview Hills identified the problem, formulated a reasonable and cost effective response and involved the business community in both planning/development and funding. We hope to utilize this approach in the future to address common concerns and needs of both our businesses and residents.”
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