NORWOOD, Ohio — A 20-acre, more than $100 million development aims to be an ace for Norwood.
The former site of the United States Playing Card Company, which can be seen from the Norwood Lateral and Interstate 71, is loaded with history and iconic architecture.
PLK Communities, working with Charlotte-based design firm Shook Kelley, envisions more than 400 residential units, breweries, retail, a public market-food hall, a dog park, a large family park and eventually a hotel and office building.
And yes, the iconic clock tower has been saved and will be worked into the new development.
"When we develop a site, we try to make sure we understand the background of that site first," said Nick Lingenfelter, vice president of development. "We try to make sure the product we are building fits where we are putting it."
Lingenfelter confirmed this week the United States Playing Card Company would have some still-undetermined presence at the new development.
The company built the Hannaford-designed headquarters and factory on Beech Avenue in 1900, adding the clock tower later.
Its history is as intertwined with our nation as it is with Greater Cincinnati.
Russell Morgan & Co. printing started in 1867, printing labels and theatrical/circus posters. It first released the iconic Bicycle playing cards in 1885. In 1894, after mergers and renaming, the outfit became known as the United States Playing Card Company.
Pamphlets in the Cincinnati History Library and Archives show it was not just a card manufacturer, but also supplied literature on card tricks, games, and tips for hosting card parties in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The company's patriotism was on display during a flag raising outside the Norwood factory on May 8, 1917 to honor Americans heading into World War I. The Selective Service Act passed 10 days later, instituting the draft.
In World War II, USPC created 100 decks of cards with map sections between them that revealed a map of Germany, as gifts for American prisoners of war in German camps.
USPC sold more than 750,000 Iraq's Most Wanted decks within one week of being released in 2003. They featured the most-wanted members of then-President Saddam Hussein's government.
Lingenfelter said the developers understand how important the site is to the area, especially to the city of Norwood.
"So, we wanted to make sure when we designed this property, when we build it, we do it right," he said.
USPC moved from Norwood to a smaller facility in Erlanger in 2009, before being purchased by Belgium-based Cartamundi in 2019.
The sprawling factory site has been vacant since the move and, as PLK Communties discovered, was in disrepair.
"We don't want to tear down history. It wasn't salvageable," Lingenfelter said. "So, when we look at it that way, we want to use what we can to honor the past."
Few original buildings will remain in the new development, including the former cafeteria and machine shop, which will become a market and food hall. Think Manhattan's Chelsea Market.
The former production floors will become parking and age-restricted apartments. PLK Communities plans to add three floors to the top of the existing structure.
The smokestack from the factory's power plant remains intact and will anchor a large park and a water feature at the center of the property.
And the clock tower has been saved, acting as a gateway to the development, although the remaining front building will be torn down in mid-June. Lingenfelter said the goal is to repair stairs and add an elevator, restoring public access to the top of the tower.
Even though most buildings have been torn down, the bricks and wood are being recycled and reused – "upcycled" – throughout the development and in other projects across the country.
"Nothing's getting put in landfills, nothing's getting thrown away," Lingenfelter told WCPO.
PLK Communities spent months doing community outreach on the project and received 350 survey responses. Lingenfelter said the top requests for the property were public art, a stage, water feature, family park and dog park.
"When they came to planning commission, they had incorporated so many good ideas from community members," said Norwood Mayor Victor Schneider. "It’s just really refreshing."
Schneider told WCPO there was a team at the city working on an incentives package for the development.
"It’s going to take a little while and we understand that," he said. "That’s our stance – let’s go."
"We want the people of Norwood to feel welcome because, with a development of this scale, the only way it is successful is if all the people around here come here as well," said Lingenfelter.
Construction is expected to start in spring/summer 2021, pending EPA approvals, and will last about two years, Lingenfelter said. The final phases will be complete in about five to seven years.