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University of Cincinnati agrees to sell Emery Center to local developers

Partners may restore it for Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati
Posted: 1:58 PM, Sep 03, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-03 14:19:37-04
Emery Theatre settlement leaves future unclear

CINCINNATI — The University of Cincinnati has announced plans to sell the historic Emery Center and Theater to a group that says it will study restoring the performance space for use by The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati.

Long-time local developers Dave Neyer and Chris Frutkin have signed to buy the property at 100 Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine for $8.55 million, UC announced Tuesday. The center also includes 59 apartments, a Coffee Emporium and business offices.

Regarded as one of the city’s architectural gems, the Emery Center, built in 1911, was designed by Samuel Hannaford, renowned architect of Music Hall, City Hall and dozens of familiar Cincinnati landmarks. The Emery Theatre was home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1912 to 1936 and is considered acoustically pure, UC said in a release.

Kim Kern, managing director and CEO of The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati, said, “While there is a lot of work to be done and many unknowns, we look forward to furthering the discussions to see if we can return TCT to its original home from 100 years ago.”

The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati performed in the Emery Theatre until 1969. CTC began with Helen Schuster-Martin and the Schuster-Martin School of Drama in 1919, and continued with the Junior League Players in 1924. TCT currently holds major performances at the Taft Theatre downtown and has offices and other performances on Red Bank Road.

“This is a win for everyone,” said Fruikin. ‘It’s a win for those of us who love architectural history and want to engage with Cincinnati’s unique heritage in its built environment. It’s a win for the university and its needs to focus on its core mission of education and research. And it’s a win for the wider community as we explore the potential in this landmark building.”

“The opportunity to serve as custodians of a gift from Mary Emery to the citizens of Cincinnati is an honor," said Neyer. "We look forward to determining the possibilities for one of Cincinnati’s crown jewels.”

Neyer and Frutkin formed 100 Central Parkway, LLC, in order to purchase the property, according to the release. Neyer is retired president and CEO of Al Neyer and is current principal of STNL Development. Frutkin is owner and founder of City Center Properties, which focuses on the preservation and reuse of historic properties throughout the region.

UC said it's time to sell the center because it has completed its stewardship and owning the building no longer fits its mission, according to the release.

UC acquired the Emery Center in 1969 after a merger between the university and the Ohio Mechanics Institute/College of Applied Science. The center was built for OMI in 1911.

In 1988, OMI/College of Applied Science moved to a new location. Because the theatre wasn't used much and UC wanted to preserve the building, the university said it leased it and management to Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnerships (ECALP) to oversee renovation into apartments.

Last December, the state gave UC permission to sell the property since its function as an apartment building did not fit with UC’s core mission of education and research, according to the release.

UC expects most of the sale proceeds to go toward final repayment of loans and grants from a 2001 renovation and maintenance needs since then, according to Robert Ambach, UC senior vice president for administration and finance.

UC will invest the rest, approximately $2 million, toward key teaching, research and engagement priorities.

In 2016, UC agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a suit by a non-profit, Requiem Project Inc., that claimed the university and others interfered with its attempts the restore the historic theater.

According to records, the university signed a 40-year lease agreement with ECALP in 1999. The company in turn sublet the theater to the Emery Center Corporation in 2010, and ECC partnered with the Requiem Project that same year to restore the theater.