Cincinnati takes first step to buy Tower Place Mall

Money set aside for purchase of downtown property

CINCINNATI - When Dan Werling bought the I Love Cincinnati Shoppe from his uncle five years ago, he moved it to the second floor of Tower Place Mall.

However, he's watched his sales steadily decline every year since purchasing the downtown retail store.

"I can remember when you would have to pretty much stand in line at the food court to eat," he said. "Now, it's pretty empty."

Werling was encouraged by news Thursday that Cincinnati City Council has begun the process of trying to buy the mall for redevelopment.

Council members voted to put $8.6 million into a fund that will allow the project to start moving forward.

"I think it would be pretty positive," Werling said. "I don't see how it could hurt."

The question going forward is what to do with the place. The council and others associated with the acquisition have to ask themselves what to do with the property located in the heart of downtown. Do they keep it a retail space? Should they convert it into a residential property? Do they find mixed uses for it? Should they just tear it down and start over?

While Cincinnati City Council is still months away from making any decisions about what to do with the property, those who are already involved with Tower Place Mall have ideas about how to utilize the space.

"We think that it should be staying as retail," Werling staged. "I think the city's going to get busier. The casino is coming, The Banks. I think more people will move downtown as soon as more places are available. I think this would be a great place for shopping for the future."

While not affiliated with the purposed project, Eagle Realty Group President Mario San Marco said he believes a mixed use approach is the best direction for Tower Place Mall to go in the future. Such a plan would include retail, residential and parking purposes.

"We are always trying to grow and increase the number of office workers downtown," San Marco said. "We think that has to be first and foremost, but we also need to make downtown a better place for folks and give them more options to live and to shop."

San Marco said if asked, his firm would be willing to help the city study the situation and make recommendations. Eagle Realty typically handles commercial projects such as the Great American Tower.

"We would be hopeful that any project that is developed at Tower Place, whether it be after demolition or using the existing site, would be enough critical mass to act as a catalyst to help some of the other buildings lease their retail space," he said.

That's Tamela Kaufman's hope as well. She's worked for Gold Star Chili since 2002, but will be out of a job when the Tower Place Mall location closes Nov. 30.

Her view of the mall was the same as Werling's -- it's down and out.

"Back maybe four or five years ago it was real busy. You could come and shop, eat and just enjoy," she said. "Now, it's dead, no business at all, whatsoever."

Kaufman said she believes putting more stores and restaurants in the mall is a good idea, especially with the casino opening next year.

That, however, will happen without her.

"It's going to hurt, but we have to move on," Kaufman said.

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