Eviction is on the horizon, but Clifton Cultural Arts Center is still searching for a new home

CINCINNATI -- With the clock ticking toward eviction, the Clifton Cultural Arts Center has come up empty so far on its search for a new home.

Cincinnati Public Schools decided to evict the arts center from the former Clifton School on Clifton Avenue to make way for a new K-6 neighborhood school that focuses on arts education.

CCAC has to leave the building before the 2018-19 school year begins. That's when the first kindergarten class is due to open in the new school. The school will add first graders in 2019, second graders in 2020 and so on until the school houses kindergarten through sixth grades.

The arts center interprets the lease to say that they have until Aug. 31, 2018 to leave. CPS Superintendent Mary Ronan indicated at a meeting with Clifton residents and officials that the exit date might be open to interpretation that the arts center would have to move earlier.

Either way, the CCAC hasn't found anything that can accommodate it yet, but leaders are still talking with property owners and developers who may have an existing building or lot where a new building could be constructed.

District officials couldn't be reached Tuesday on a busy day when they were announcing the selection of Laura Mitchell as Ronan's successor.

CCAC Executive Director Leslie Mooney said her board wants to keep the arts center in Clifton or at least in the same 45220 zip code. But they also want a building with 25,000-30,000 square feet of usable space, parking and a location that's within walking distance of Clifton residents.

CCAC Executive Director Leslie Mooney. Photo by Bob Driehaus | WCPO

"If nothing looks viable, we will expand our search with the goal and intent of staying in Uptown," Mooney said. Uptown neighborhoods include Avondale, Mount Auburn, Corrville and CUF -- Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairview.

Since it opened in 2009, the CCAC has blossomed into a community mainstay that hosted more than 40,000 visitors and 272 classes in 2016, according to the center.

CPS offer rejected 

The school district signed a contract to buy the Rawson mansion right next to the Clifton school and adjacent lots for $700,000. The hope was that the arts center would move into the mansion and use some of the new neighborhood school's extra space for programming.

But the arts center said the 5,000-square-foot mansion was far too small for their needs and would, in any case, require numerous safety and accessibility improvements that could clash with intentions to preserve the historic building. 

In a letter to the school district, the arts center also made its mistrust of a new temporary relationship with the district clear.

"In light of CCAC’s growing number of visitors and programming and the logistical and emotional disruption caused by the district’s decision to expel CCAC from the 1906 Building, CCAC needs a stable, permanent home to serve the community and honor the trust placed in CCAC by its donors and supporters," the letter stated.

Related: CCAC letter to school district

CCAC Letter by WCPO Web Team on Scribd

Mooney said the CCAC is open to building a new arts center, but the cost would be steep. She said developers said the cost would be $200-$300 per square foot, which translates into a cost of $5 million to $9 million for a 25,000-30,000-square-foot building.

That would require a major fundraising push since the arts center will have, at most, about $2.5 million to spend. That's the amount they calculated that the school district owes them for improvements they've made to the building.

CPS has not responded to that reimbursement figure, which may go down depending on negotiations.

Whatever they decide, CCAC board members will have to do it quickly due to the eviction notice.

"My favorite phrase recently has been to 'build the plane as we fly it,'" Mooney said.

Bob Driehaus covers economic development. Contact him and follow stories on Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

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