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Camp Washington digs in at the plate with plans to transform former Powel Crosley Jr. HQ

Leaders press for apartments in blighted area
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Posted at 6:00 AM, Jul 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-22 06:21:02-04

CINCINNATI -- Leaders in the Camp Washington neighborhood are extremely enthusiastic about the $45.3 million plan to transform the one-time headquarters for Cincinnati legend Powel Crosley Jr. into a huge apartment complex.

But their support for the project doesn’t hinge solely on lofty notions about preserving a badly blighted Samuel Hannaford design that dates to 1930 and its links to Crosley, an entrepreneurial icon who created a major radio station and was once the owner of the Cincinnati Reds and whose company produced radios, refrigerators and compact cars.

Crosley Field ring any bells? 

Camp Washington advocates Joe Gorman, Matthew Lafkas, Bill Clark and others have purely pragmatic reasons for their full-fledged support for a plan to convert the vacant 300,000-square-foot Crosley manufacturing plant and offices and two neighboring buildings owned by a company called Funtown USA into 324 market-rate apartments.

Fresh new apartments at 1333 Arlington St. in one of the smallest of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods – its 2010 population was 1,343, which ranked 41st in the city – has the potential to bring hundreds of new people into a neighborhood that might be best known for Camp Washington Chili and block after block of aging and rather dreary factory buildings along Spring Grove Avenue, the major thoroughfare through the neighborhood.

“New faces and new energy are important for any business and any community,” said Lafkas, president of the Camp Washington Business Association and the managing partner of Vestige Redevelopment, which owns the 17-acre site that had housed Kahn’s Meats, the huge meat processing plant at 3241 Spring Grove Ave. that helped Cincinnati establish itself – for better or for worse – as “Porkopolis.”

Joe Gorman, a community organizer for Camp Washington, sits in the American Sign Museum, located just south of Crosley Building, where a large apartment complex is in the planning stages.

“This (the Crosley project) could be a big step for us. It’s a whole city block of blight right now and for the businesses and the community it could be a great catalyst for other projects we’re trying to push over the finish line,” Lafkas said.

One of those projects would be situated on the former Kahn’s site that Lafkas and his company acquired from Hamilton County after a tax to build a new jail on the property was defeated by voters. Lafkas said it was premature to reveal any details about six or eight proposals that have been made for the property.

In a March letter to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, Camp Washington Community Council President Kevin Rudemiller called the project "a transformative event for our neighborhood … (that will) serve as an important catalyst for further private economic development.”

“We’re going to see 400 to 500 people move in and that’s going to affect businesses and everything else and we’re going to see more people participate in the neighborhood,” said Joe Gorman, who describes himself as the community organizer for the Camp Washington Community Board. “It’s going to stimulate interest in the area and put Camp Washington on the map as the gateway to Cincinnati.”

Gorman also stressed that organizations working in the neighborhood believe that an influx of tenants in the Crosley apartments could have a positive spinoff impact.

“We’re looking to bring young families to the neighborhood through the single-family homes that are available,” said Gorman, adding that his organization has rehabbed 52 homes since he began working in the neighborhood 13 years ago.

Rising property prices in Over-the-Rhine, Northside and Clifton, which is separated from Camp Washington by Interstate 75, should make property in “the camp” more attractive, Gorman said.

“We definitely endorse it – new business, new tax base and new housing,” said Clark, who is the vice president of the Camp Washington Community Council.  “We want to get as many people as we can moving in to make it a nice neighborhood to live in.”

Proximity to downtown Cincinnati, which is about three miles away, and easy access to I-75 and I-74 also are critically important to the neighborhood’s future, according to Gorman and Lafkas. The multimillion-dollar rebuild of the Hopple Street interchange at I-75 also will prove to be a long-term benefit to Camp Washington, Lafkas said.

Late last month, the Crosley project proposed by Core Redevelopment of Indianapolis moved ahead a few steps when Ohio approved $5 million worth of historic tax credits for the Crosley, which was one of 26 projects that were approved for the credits.

“Without the tax credits, this project doesn’t exist,” said John Watson, managing member of Core Redevelopment, whose company used historic tax credits for two other projects in Cincinnati: Windsor School in Walnut Hills and the former School for the Creative & Performing Arts in Over-the-Rhine. Construction is underway on projects in which school buildings are being transformed into apartments.

Watson also was cautious in his comments about the Crosley building, primarily because all of the financial details have not been finalized for a project that would be the largest for Core in terms of total cost.

“This is not a done deal yet,” Watson said Monday. A tax abatement agreement with the city has not been approved, property acquisition has not been completed and costs have been rising, Watson said. “The subs (contractors) are busy and they’re pricing projects appropriately,” he said.

The city of Cincinnati did not respond to requests for comment about the Crosley project.

A number of questions about the design for the building and the overall budget have not yet been decided, Watson said.

Because these questions have not been answered, there is no closing date for Core to acquire the property from a company affiliated with Hosea Project Movers, which is based in Covington and has owned the property for about 18 years. The state tax credits were approved for Todd Hosea of CW Development LLC.

Those credits would be transferred to Core when the property is sold.

If Core does move ahead with the project, Watson said his company would begin work next year with completion in 2018.

Watson said he didn’t think the commercial/industrial neighborhood that surrounds the Crosley building would discourage renters, where a nearby apartment project, Machine Flats, at 3301 Colerain Ave., has been successful.

Machine Flats has 60 loft-style apartments that range in price from $950-$1,650 per month, according to the its web page. “They completed the work about 10 years ago and said they were pet-friendly,” Gorman said. “So overnight Camp Washington had 60 more dogs.”