Exclusive: Madcap Puppet Theater lands funding for $4 million Bell building transformation

Federal tax credits greenlight project
Posted at 3:05 PM, Mar 15, 2017

CINCINNATI – A former Cincinnati Bell switching station, once bustling with operators connecting callers with fat cords plugged into switchboards, is about to receive a second life as the $4 million headquarters of Madcap Puppets.

Mayor John Cranley and a host of officials will offer details at a press conference Thursday of Madcap landing new market tax credits that vault the $4 million project to 90 percent funded – up from 20 percent funding – which gives backers the confidence to announce the project will move forward.

The building is in the heart of Westwood's business district on Urwiler and Epworth Avenues and a short distance from Westwood Town Hall.

"It's been a long trip, but in the end we're going to have the best possible product to go in there," John Eby, co-founder and board member of Westwood Works. "It's really going to bring some attention to the community not just from Westwood and the West Side but from all over the region," 

Cincinnati Development Fund, which specializes in funding neighborhood revitalization projects, is providing the federal tax credits, which the U.S. Treasury funded. 

"The Bell building will get on the front burner," Rodger Pille, MadCap's communications and development director, said. "That tax credit piece is going to start to really move some cogs."

Madcap, founded in 1981, bought the grand old building in 2012 from the Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. (WESTCurc) for $1. Pille said that Madcap had raised about $1 million to rehab the building, but the tax credits will make the project a reality.

Madcap will create a 120-seat theater for puppet shows on the building's sprawling second floor and smaller performance spaces there, too, for community programming.

Pille said the floor has no pillars, giving designers options to maximize use of the space.

The project was a long time coming and had many contributors, including WESTCurc, which landed a $250,000 grant to buy the building from the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The city of Cincinnati helped finance the purchase.

It comes just six days after Westwood was broad sided with the surprise announcement from the Sisters of Mercy that Mother of Mercy High School would close and be merged into McAuley High School in College Hill in 2018.

Madcap will move its theater and its offices into the Bell building from its current location on Glenmore Avenue in Westwood.

Bob Driehaus covers economic development. Contact him and follows stories on Facebook, Google, and Twitter.