CINCINNATI – The Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. on Monday gave a city-appointed board an early look at what the organization could build next in historic Over-the-Rhine.
3CDC Development Manager Jeff Martin told the city’s Historic Conservation Board that none of the development group’s plans are “set in stone” for sites at 15th and Race streets and 15th and Vine streets.
He walked the board through preliminary plans 3CDC has in the works that include dozens of new residential units, additional townhomes and commercial space and a new four-story 330-space parking garage hidden behind historic buildings and new construction.
“There’s a possible opportunity for a parking structure of some form inside of the block similar to Mercer Commons,” he told the board, which ultimately will vote on 3CDC’s new development in the historic neighborhood. Martin said it’s too early in the planning to say when the development work could begin.
To build the new garage, 3CDC’s plan at this point would be to demolish the rear portions of two historic structures at the 15th and Race streets site.
Martin said the buildings have “natural breaks” in the rear, and the proposal would maintain the street-facing front facades of both structures.
The preliminary plan calls for creating nearly 50 residential units in a combination of renovated buildings and new construction, along with more than 15,000 square feet of commercial space in those same structures. The site also would have seven townhomes – six new and one in a historic building, Martin said. He didn’t offer any specifics about pricing.
Board Member: Can Demolition Be Avoided?
Although 3CDC wasn’t seeking any approvals Monday, several board members offered initial reactions.
Patricia Bittner, a board member and architect, questioned whether the partial demolition would be necessary to make the parking garage work.
“Maybe there’s a creative idea to use those existing structures instead of lopping them off,” she said.
3CDC also is considering partial demolition of a structure near 15th and Vine streets for parking hidden behind buildings at that site, Martin said.
There, the developer wants to build a new mixed-use structure between four and five stories tall that has between 35,000 and 45,000 square feet of office space. 3CDC gets calls from companies seeking 10,000 square feet of office space, all on one floor, and this project would meet that demand, Martin said.
“It would start to bring more office users into the neighborhood,” he said.
The development also would have between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, he said.
For that proposal, Bittner cautioned 3CDC against building new structures that “overpower and sort of dominate the historic” buildings in the mix.
The Historic Conservation Board didn’t act on 3CDC’s preliminary proposals for the two sites. Martin said the organization expects to come to the board several more times before seeking any kind of vote.
But board Chair Judith Spraul-Schmidt said a subcommittee will form to study the sites and the early proposals.
The subcommittee members won’t be allowed to meet with 3CDC privately, but they will be able to visit the sites and study the preliminary plans in more detail and report back to the full board, said Sean Suder, the city’s chief counsel for land use and planning.
Subcommittee Formed To Make Approvals Smoother
City officials and 3CDC expressed interest in forming the subcommittee so the process will go more smoothly than the process for Mercer Commons. The approvals process for that three-acre, $63 million project got contentious at times.
Over-the-Rhine resident Tim Mara, a 3CDC critic, spoke out against the preliminary plans, especially the proposed use of partial demolition.
“I think this is being used far too often,” he said at the board meeting.
Mara later called the proposed partial demolition “a dangerous phenomena.”
“Have you ever taken a tour of the back lots at movie studios in Hollywood where they have building facades to create a ‘Dodge City’ streetscape for filming, but there’s nothing behind the facades,” Mara wrote in an email. “3CDC forgets that facades are only one feature of historic buildings. Inside, the woodwork, fireplaces and other features are often what make those buildings so charming and what make OTR what it is.”
Mara also noted that Over-the-Rhine Community Housing commissioned a study of the area near 15th and Race streets south of Liberty Street , where local residents and others interested in the neighborhood said what they wanted to see there.
Mara said he thinks that “Pleasant Street Vision Study” is “much more sensitive to the preservation of historic assets” than the preliminary plan discussed by 3CDC.
Council President Peter Hames was involved in the vision study, too.
He said after the meeting that a 3CDC executive assured him the group wants to work with the community council to develop plans for 15th and Race streets and 15th and Vine streets.`
Hames added he’s pleased 3CDC has expressed interest in that kind of collaboration.