HAMILTON, Ohio — Hamilton’s next hip housing option could lead to a brewery expansion and put apartment dwellers in a jail cell.
Developer Jim Cohen said designers are percolating these ideas and more for the Hamilton municipal building at 20 High Street. Cohen, president of Blue Ash-based CMC Properties, is looking for an encore to his Marcum Apartments project. It’s a $13 million rental property with 102 units, all but 20 of them leased.
Cohen signed a development agreement with the city in December to bring about 50 new apartment units to the 83-year-old Art Deco structure that’s caddy corner to the Marcum property. Cohen hired City Studios Architecture to develop a plan for the building. It’s an Over-the-Rhine firm known for historic renovations near Washington Park and in Pendleton, at Cincinnati’s former School for Creative and Performing Arts.
“The building is 100,000 square feet,” Cohen said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the building space is hallways, stairwells, lobbies. It was a government building. So, it’s very ornate and not efficient.”
The building currently houses a business incubator and Municipal Brew Works. Three years old in June, the brewery enjoys strong customer demand that exceeds its annual capacity of about 1,300 barrels.
“We really need to expand,” said Jim Goodman, one of five co-founders. “It would be our goal to expand the taproom and expand our production.”
Goodman said the increased production would likely happen at separate location. But he would like a larger indoor taproom and a rooftop bar to showcase its most popular blonde ale brands, Orange Agave and Approachable. Goodman said a canning line is also possible. He hopes to have an expansion "in the works or ready to open" within 18 to 24 months.
Cohen confirms a rooftop deck is one of the options under study for his apartment project.
“A lot of the units will have private outdoor space,” Cohen said. “It’ll have a roof deck overlooking downtown and the river. It’s right on that beautiful High-Main Bridge.”
The building also has some quirky features that could lend itself to unique apartment units, like a jail.
“We’re thinking about recalibrating some of the jail cells into units,” Cohen said.
The development agreement calls for Cohen’s company to purchase the building for $100 and install no fewer than 36 residential units for rent or lease. It also calls for the city to provide at least 95 parking spaces for the project and reimburse the developer for up to $25,000 in design, architecture and engineering expenses.
Cohen said it could be six months before he knows how much the renovation will cost and a groundbreaking is not likely this year. But he’s bullish on Hamilton’s downtown housing market, based on rents of more than $1,500 for three-bedroom units at the Marcum.
“That was a risky project,” Cohen said. “Nobody had really gotten those kinda of rents up in Hamilton. But I believed in the city. They showed me a vision. And what actually happened far exceeded the vision they showed me a couple of years ago.”