Historic Conservation Board denies request to demolish Dennison Hotel

CINCINNATI — Downtown’s historic Dennison Hotel building will stay standing for now, after the Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board denied the property owner’s request to tear it down.

In what became a marathon, multi-session hearing, the board voted 3-2 to deny property owners, the Joseph Auto Group, their request to raze the building, located at the corner of Main and Seventh streets, with the hopes of constructing a new, mixed-use development in its place. Currently, the aging building sits adjacent to a surface parking lot.

Throughout the course of the hearing, attorneys for Joseph called on experts and cited feasibility studies they had conducted leading up to the hearing, to try to demonstrate that the building’s current condition make it infeasible to bring back to standards without incurring excessive financial damages.

But preservationists — including staff at the Cincinnati Historic Conservation Office, who serve the board — disagree with that assessment of the city-designated historic site.

In a report submitted in April, conservation office staff recommended the board deny Joseph Auto’s request for demolition, saying the building “can be profitably renovated and…the owners of the building do not face an undue economic hardship” to rehabilitate the structure.

The board voiced their agreement with their staffers’ recommendations during Thursday’s hearing, saying the owner did not demonstrate that the building could not be reused in an economically viable way. The motion to deny the demolition also said the owner should have sought tax credits and considered selling other properties to offset renovation costs.

“We’ve had many examples in Cincinnati of buildings that were in much worse condition that are now treasures,” said Paul Muller, with the Cincinnati Preservation Association. “Cincinnati has become known around the country for its historic preservation.

“It’s a powerful economic engine, and what the historic board did today is say, when you buy a building in a historic district, you should really be expecting to restore it,” he said.

In their report to the board, conservation office staff also questioned Joseph Auto’s track record regarding demolishing historic buildings, saying “if history is any indication, any new construction on this lot is not likely, given [Joseph Auto’s] track record of demolishing historic buildings for surface parking.”

Along similar lines, other critics of the demolition plan also expressed hesitation at Joseph’s lack of a specific plan for the property if the building is torn down.

Derek Bauman, Over-the-Rhine resident and spokesman for the group Save the Dennison, told WCPO in a previous interview: “Office buildings don’t just arise out of the dust of demolished buildings. There is no plan.”

Joseph Auto’s attorney, Fran Barrett, said his client is disappointed in the decision and plans to appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

“It was obviously a close decision. It was thoroughly debated,” he said. “Nobody is going to be able to buy this building and fix it up. That’s not going to happen.”

Barrett said his client is willing appeal all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court if necessary.

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