Newly renamed streetcar, Cincinnati Bell Connector, unveils new look

CINCINNATI -- The region's newest public transit system just got a facelift, and it showed off its new look for the first time Tuesday morning.

Leaders with the city, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority and Cincinnati Bell came together Tuesday morning to unveil the new design for the newly rebranded Cincinnati Bell Connector, formerly known as the Cincinnati Streetcar.

The redesign replaces the original yellow and black striping with a blue, green and white banner across the vehicles' tops, featuring the logo for Cincinnati Bell, the streetcar's corporate sponsor. City Manager Harry Black said Tuesday that the remaining yellow striping on the vehicles' doors would be covered by advertisements with similar color schemes in the future.

For Black, the unveiling signals the community's belief in the streetcar as a regional transportation asset, and he sees the sponsorship as opening the gateway to more financial support from area businesses.

"What Cincinnati Bell has done represents a vote of confidence that Cincinnati is bankable and that this transit facility is also bankable," he said during Tuesday's unveiling ceremony.

The city announced the telecommunications company's 10-year, $3.4 million sponsorship deal with the streetcar earlier this month. Revenue from the sponsorship will go toward streetcar operations, including the redesign of the city's five streetcar vehicles.

"We feel like this gives us an opportunity to market our brand to our customers," said Greg Wheeler, Cincinnati Bell spokesman. "Both our consumer and business customers are in the city of Cincinnati, so we felt like it was a win-win for the company and for the city."

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Other city leaders, even some who previously opposed the streetcar, have come out in support of Cincinnati Bell's sponsorship, particularly in how the deal means $340,000 less that taxpayers will need to front for the streetcar each year.

The old streetcar look, pre-Cincinnati Bell sponsorship and redesign. (Terry Helmer/WCPO)

P.G. Sittenfeld, for instance, once a streetcar opponent, said when the deal was first announced, "This takes that much more of a load off the taxpayers, and for that we should be grateful. This is a relatively rare instance where you have a corporation sponsoring a major transit project."

While corporate sponsorships of transit systems are, indeed, uncommon, they're not unprecedented. Recently, Detroit announced earlier this year that Quicken Loans would sponsor its upcoming streetcar line, renaming it the Q-Line, and, while not a naming-rights deal, the KC Streetcar vehicle's in Kansas City boast large advertisements for Sprint.

Other rail systems, like the Chicago Transit Authority's "L" train, have corporately-sponsored stations along their routes. The Cincinnati Bell Connector has similar station sponsorship deals arranged with JACK Casino -- the JACK Casino Station at Court and Main streets -- and with real estate developers the Stough Group, at the newly-named Hanke Exchange Station at 12th and Main streets. Other station sponsorships are forthcoming.

Tuesday's unveiling comes just 10 days before the transit authority is set to launch passenger service, and one day after the city announced the Ohio Department of Transportation's Safety and Security Oversight program had approved the streetcar's safety plan.

The Cincinnati Bell Connector is scheduled to open for passenger service on Friday, Sept. 9.

For the latest streetcar updates, follow WCPO transportation and development reporter Pat LaFleur on Twitter (@pat_laFleur).

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