CINCINNATI – For the occasional visitor to Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, the change in recent years appears almost miraculous.
Restaurants and stores occupy the ground floors of renovated, old buildings along Vine Street and near Washington Park. Condominiums and apartments fill the floors above.
Structures that once sat empty and neglected are now bustling with people and commerce. It all seemed to happen so quickly.
But bringing a historic building back to life is anything but fast – just ask anyone who has tried to do the work.
“It can be slow and tedious,” said Steve Hudepohl of Cleves-based Hudepohl Construction Company. “But once the dust starts flying, it’s fun.”
Dust just started flying with preliminary demolition work at a development that will be known as Park West. The project will connect two historic buildings at 26 and 28 W. 13th St., just across from Washington Park.
Hyde Park-based Grandin Properties is redeveloping the buildings into 11 apartments.
Rents are expected to range from $1,095 per month for the smallest one-bedroom units to $1,650 per month for the only two-bedroom unit in the project.
“It’s right up Grandin’s alley,” said Grandin CEO Peg Wyant. “We are used to dealing with small. We know how to do that.”
But not everyone does.
To give the public a better idea of what it takes to redevelop an old building in Over-the-Rhine, Grandin has given WCPO access to the project from start to finish to document the work involved. WCPO’s first walk through the buildings was the “before tour” to see what kind of shape the buildings were in before any work began.
The smaller of the two buildings, at 28 W. 13th St., has been vacant for years and had obvious signs of water damage and decay.
The structure also has a rotting, narrow staircase that goes right through its center, dividing the building in a way that makes it difficult to redevelop, said Denis Back of Denis L. Back & Associates, the architect for the project.
“It really didn’t work,” Back said. “How did people live in that building? How did people move? How did people get furniture up and down those steps?”
To create apartment floor plans that would work for the building, Back drew up plans to use the staircase in 26 W. 13th St. to service the upper floors of the smaller, neighboring building.
That will require cutting holes through between four and six layers of masonry, Hudepohl said, and creating entrances into the smaller building from its larger neighbor.
That will happen in good time.
For now, look at the buildings Grandin bought and the shape they were in before any work began.
28 W. 13th St.
The ground floor of this narrow building across the street from Washington Park is dark and decayed.
The windows are boarded up to keep the elements and trespassers at bay.
Sunlight streams through windows on the upper floors, shining a spotlight on just how much work must be done.
Large windows on the side of the building have a clear view of the newly renovated Washington Park.
A few feet away, the building’s original fireplaces are crumbling.
Water damage is evident on the walls and ceilings throughout the structure.
On the top level, the floor is rotting so badly that sheets of plywood cover holes and create a safe path through the room.
26 W. 13th St.
This building was occupied more recently and is in far better shape than its smaller neighbor. The main entrance is on the side of the structure through a narrow passage between the building and a neighboring structure that is not a part of the project.
The apartment building’s lobby looks worn but functional with mail left behind for previous tenants.
Bathrooms in each of the units are dated.
The bathrooms and kitchens are the first items on Hudepohl’s demolition to-do list.
Large windows provide natural sunlight on each floor of the building.
But the structure’s unfinished attic shows water damage hidden inside.
Buckets and pots line the stairs to the attic, catching water that has leaked through the roof. The cold temperatures froze the water.
Wyant isn’t quite ready to say exactly how much she believes it will cost to develop Park West. The buildings themselves cost more than $320,000 to acquire.
Grandin did receive state and federal historic tax credits for the project, she said, which will help the budget. But there’s no telling what kind of surprises Hudepohl’s crews will find once interior demolition starts in earnest.
Wyant isn’t worried. Grandin makes investments for the long term, she said, and is confident the company will make back its money in time.
“We always will make a decision in favor of quality,” she said. “Usually, if you do that, the money flows.”
WCPO will follow the Park West project throughout its construction.
For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter at LucyMayCincy.