CINCINNATI -- Clifton's historic business district, which draws moviegoers to the Esquire Theater and sweet teeth to Graeter's second-oldest ice cream parlor, could see its first major new construction in decades if plans for a retail and apartment complex are carried out.
Gaslight Property, which is based in Clifton, has signed a contract to buy the 91-space merchant lot on Howell Avenue from the Clifton Business & Professional Association. If the deal closes, the business association would receive $50,000 up front and monthly payments for 50 years.
Gaslight previously purchased three single-family homes adjacent to the lot, which would be razed to make way for the complex.
Gaslight agreed to provide 91 parking spaces somewhere on the property during construction and to provide 150 parking spaces to the public for 50 years after the project is completed.
The merchant lot serves businesses along Ludlow Avenue where street parking spaces can be scarce.
The project would be the first large, new commercial construction near Ludlow Avenue since the Esquire movie theatre expanded in 1999.
"I think it's great. It's an excellent segue between Clifton Market and that part of the Gaslight district," said Lydia Stec, president of the Clifton Business association and owner of Lydia's on Ludlow cafe.
David Taylor and Rob Taylor, owners of Gaslight, could not be reached for comment.
Two proposals have been floated for the property in recent months, both involving 80 apartments above a parking garage.
Michael Burrill, a community and transportation planner, created a conceptual plan in March for 80 apartments, 136 parking spaces and community space.
GBBN presented a plan for 80 apartments and a larger above-ground parking area.
Gaslight did not provide detailed plans to the business association for its complex, but Stec was heartened that Gaslight was the interested developer.
"They are from the neighborhood, so they have the interest of the neighborhood and the neighbors in mind," she said. "They are very open to hearing input from the community."
Stec said the complex could be taller than the historic buildings on Ludlow Avenue, but she is hopeful that it will be designed in a way that looks proportional to existing buildings.
"It will be really beautiful the way they'll make it fit into the neighborhood. It's going to be easy for the residents to be able to get to Ludlow to walk through," she said. "From my observation, I don't think (the height difference) is going to be some big noticeable thing.
Stec believes the complex would increase sales at existing businesses like hers with new residents in the building.
Concern about the construction and scale
Adam Hyland, vice president of the business association and president of Clifton Market, wanted more time before selling the lot to study the effects that the project might have on parking and traffic.
The fledgling Clifton Market, which opened in January, borders the merchant lot.
Business owners and residents are counting on the market to anchor the business district and to create foot traffic. The supermarket stood empty for six years after Keller's IGA closed.
"From the market standpoint, we would have liked to have seen more discussion with us regarding the possible impact of the project, but there was very little interest to have a long dialog about possible impacts," Hyland said.
"Is it concerning? Yes. But in the long run can it be a benefit to Clifton Market? Absolutely. What happens in between is the question," Hyland said.
Zoning change needed
Gaslight will need Cincinnati to approve a zone change to create the mixed-use development, which will give residents and other interested people a forum to express their views about the project.
Hyland hopes Gaslight sits down with community members to address any concerns and that the project can move forward collaboratively.
"I think there is a win-win scenario," he said. "My concern is that people are too interested in getting it done and not doing what's right by the community."
Without sitting down and talking, the project could "devolve into a big grudge match and nothing gets done," Hyland said.