Vote on Dennison Hotel demo could be delayed

Posted at 7:30 PM, Apr 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-15 17:27:21-04

CINCINNATI — The future of one of Downtown's most historic buildings will remain uncertain a little longer, after the property owners submitted a request Friday to delay a vote on whether or not to approve its demolition.

Attorneys for the Joseph Auto Group, which owns the Dennison Hotel — located in the heart of Downtown at the corner of Seventh and Main streets — requested the Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board table its proposal to demolish the building during the board's upcoming meeting on Monday. A vote on whether or not to approve the proposal originally appeared on the board's agenda.

The history behind Downtown’s Dennison Hotel is long and storied, having sat at the corner of Seventh and Main for more than a century.

But now its future has been thrown into question, as preservationists and developers duke over how best the property — and the plot of land — could be used or, as some would prefer, repurposed.

Joseph Auto acquired the building in 2013, when developers proposed a supportive housing development for area veterans. Joseph Auto — which owned the plot and adjacent parking lot — rejected that plan, saying it “would have a damaging effect on their investment…and the neighborhood in general.”

Now, Joseph Auto has their own plan for the property, proposing the current building be demolished and replaced with a mixed-use development.

The building needs to be demolished because its age and structure make it infeasible to bring back up to standards, attorneys for Joseph Auto argue.

“The building cannot be renovated, rehabilitated or reoccupied in an economically feasible manner,” said Fran Barrett, legal counsel for Joseph Auto.

As far as Barrett is concerned it comes down to cost of renovation versus benefit.

Citing previous feasibility studies, Barrett said, “The costs of renovation exceeded what we would get a reasonable economic return. We’re talking about numbers of $5-9 million in construction costs.”

But preservationists — including staff at the Cincinnati Historic Conservation Office — disagree with Barrett’s assessment of the city-designated historic site.

In a report submitted Wednesday, conservation office staff recommended the Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board — a panel of volunteers appointed by the city manager — deny Joseph Auto’s request for demolition, saying the building “can be profitably renovated and…the owners of the building do not face an undue economic hardship” to rehabilitate the structure.

In addition, the report also questioned Joseph Auto’s track record regarding demolishing historic buildings, saying, “if history is any indication, any new construction on this lot is not likely given [Joseph Auto’s] track record of demolishing historic buildings for surface parking.”

The conservation office staff’s opposition to the proposed demolition is reinforced by a swell of residents in favor for rehabilitation.

Derek Bauman, of Over-the-Rhine, represents a group of nearly 1,000 residents trying to “Save the Dennison.” He said he was pleased to hear of the conservation office staff’s recommendation.

“It is our intention to make sure that building stays and is not turned into another parking lot,” Bauman said — pointing out the already sizable chunk of the property devoted to off-street parking.

Bauman also characterized the building as a “fortress.”

“It’s not going anywhere if it’s maintained properly. It can be used. It can be maintained,” he said.

Beyond the building’s structural integrity, Bauman said he’s weary about what he called Joseph Auto’s lack of a specific plan.

“Office buildings don’t just arise out of the dust of demolished buildings,” he said. “There is no plan.”

But — despite the conservation office’s recommendation —  Barrett and his client remain convinced the building is unusable from an economical point of view.

“Regardless of whether there is future development, (the building) needs to come down,” Barrett told WCPO.

The Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board is set to vote on Joseph Auto's proposal Monday.

Save the Dennison said they will hold a press conference at the site Friday at 2 p.m.