CINCINNATI - A private developer's plan to build student housing near the University of Cincinnati calls for the demolition of the 132-year-old building that houses Christy's & Lenhardt's restaurant and beer garden.
The proposal by developers from Gilbane Development Co. of Providence, R.I., and St. Louis-based Optimus LLC is rallying the neighborhood association to try to block the project by seeking to have the Christy's & Lenhardt's declared a local historic landmark.
A preliminary plan by the developer, presented to the board of the CUF Neighborhood Association Tuesday night, calls for demolition of the Clifton Heights restaurant , long a popular student hangout, and many of the buildings around it at the southeast corner of McMillan and Clifton avenues.
Gilbane and Optimus propose a seven-story structure that would house 200 units with room for 500 students. The project would include only 50 parking spaces for residents – a number that neighborhood residents voiced concerns about at Tuesday's meeting. Developers said they would encourage their tenants to bike to campus instead by installing 200 hanging bike spaces as part of the project.
Russell Broderick, a vice president and senior development manager with Gilbane, said developers have not yet acquired the property for the project. But he left residents with little hope that developers would incorporate the Lenhardt's building into their plan.
"My gut reaction is that would not fit in with our program," Broderick said of the building. "Pieces of it could be moved, and we've done photographic documentation. But when you look at the underlying economics, it would be very hard to make that work."
The proposed project would include space for street-level retail. Broderick said the developers want to "create an iconic retail project."
A neighborhood association board member fired back, "You've already got one there. It's called Lenhardt's."
The neighborhood association's move to have the Christy's & Lenhardt's building declared a local historic landmark could mean saving the old building.
In a draft nomination report to the city, the association noted that grand home that now houses Lenhardt's was built by Cincinnati beer baron Christian Moerlein as a wedding gift for his daughter, Lizzie, and her husband, John Goetz Jr.
The house is a "rare example of an ornate high-style Queen Anne structure," the report states.
"The Goetz House is important because it is the last surviving example of what was once a cluster of grand houses in the Clifton Heights business district," according to the report.
The neighborhood association argues the building "recalls a time when the neighborhood had high concentrations of successful German immigrants" and also "conveys a strong sense of place, maintains associations with a long-standing popular business and with neighborhood history because of its connection with a prominent local family."
Demolition permits have not yet been filed with the city, said Cherie Wallpe, the neighborhood association president. Under the city's historic preservation codes, that could mean the difference between rescuing the building and watching it get razed.
Cincinnati Urban Conservator Larry Harris said he's working with the group to prepare a hearing before the Historic Conservation Board. That board ultimately will make a recommendation to the Cincinnati Planning Commission. The planning commission will then make a recommendation to Cincinnati City Council, which will have the final say.
No hearing date has been set.