CINCINNATI - Cincinnati’s top building code enforcement official has ordered nonprofit developer 3CDC to stabilize a decaying, old building on Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine.
Photos provided to WCPO Digital show that a large hole in the back of the building at 1416 Elm St. has gotten bigger over the past six months as bricks appear to have fallen from the structure.
“It’s very clear that we’ve got a problem here, and we’re going to address it with the owner,” said Edward Cunningham, manager of the city’s division of property maintenance code enforcement. “It can’t be allowed to sit like that.”
The building is another example of property owned by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. in historic Over-the-Rhine that has fallen into serious disrepair.
A WCPO Digital investigation revealed that the Cincinnati Board of Housing Appeals in three different cases has accused 3CDC with the misdemeanor crime known as demolition by neglect. That’s where a property owner allows a building to decay to the point it becomes a public hazard and could require emergency demolition.
3CDC was aware of the hole in the building at 1416 Elm St. and is working to determine what it will take to get the structure fixed, said Chad Munitz, 3CDC’s executive vice president for asset and capital management.
"We have a lot of buildings," he said. "The corporate community of the city has been very generous to us. And we take that commitment to improve the neighborhood very seriously. We have bought lots of buildings, and the vast majority of them have been in deplorable shape for probably decades."
The nonprofit has spent nearly $30 million over the past nine years to land bank buildings in the historic neighborhood.
"I'm not going to say we haven't made mistakes or missed stuff," Munitz said. "But we want to do all we can to preserve every building and stay on top of it."
A review of public records found other 3CDC properties have been allowed to decay, too, although the vast majority of the 98 3CDC properties reviewed by WCPO Digital were in compliance with city codes.
The three buildings addressed by the Board of Housing Appeals are at 1321 Republic St., 1323 Republic St. and 1408 Vine St. All are owned by OTR Holdings, a 3CDC entity.
After WCPO Digital's story was published Tuesday, a 3CDC spokeswoman said the nonprofit developer plans to stabilize all three buildings and will redevelop the building at 1321 Republic St. Other 3CDC representatives had twice previously testified before the Board of Housing Appeals that the nonprofit’s goal was to demolish the rotting, old house.
Munitz said that was a miscommunication. Several years ago, 3CDC sought permission to demolish one of those rotting structures on Republic, he said. But when the city's Historic Conservation Board refused to grant permission, 3CDC decided to save the structures, Munitz said. He suspects the 3CDC staff who appeared before the Board of Housing Appeals were operating from old information.
Cincinnati lawyer Tim Mara brought the building at 1416 Elm St. to Cunningham’s attention in a letter dated May 10.
Neighbor Has Tried For A Year to Get 3CDC To Respond
Mara lives in a house on Pleasant Street, immediately across an alley from the back of the deteriorating Elm Street structure.
“I’ve been trying to keep after these guys (3CDC) in an informal way for about a year and have gotten nowhere,” Mara said. “I’ve had enough of this stuff.”
Mara said bricks from 1416 Elm St. are falling onto a roof that is part of the structure. But he worries the building could be unsafe for police or firefighters who might someday have to enter the building in an emergency.
“I understand you can’t predict everything, and you do your best,” Mara said. “But sometimes when someone draws a problem to your attention, you have to wonder.”
Cunningham said he forwarded a copy of Mara’s letter and photos to 3CDC as soon as he received them. And he already has spoken with Munitz. The city condemned the building in 2010, and inspectors have been working 3CDC since then to make sure the building is stabilized, Cunningham said.
Munitz said he isn't sure whether 3CDC was made aware of the building's problems earlier by Mara. But he stressed that 3CDC is on top of the problem now.
"At the beginning and end of the day, what makes this neighborhood so great is the great building stock that's here and the people who have lived in it and will live in it," he said.
Cunningham expects to get a plan from 3CDC regarding that building in the next week or so, he said.
“If the plan doesn’t look reasonable, then we’ll proceed with a pre-prosecution hearing,” he said.
3CDC was formed in 2003 by Cincinnati government and business leaders to accelerate redevelopment in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.
The organization has invested more than $284 million in Over-the-Rhine since 2004.