arricaded and continuing to rot away from weather’s abuse, the dilapidated remains of Old St. George Church still lie dormant after a four-alarm fire nearly destroyed the historic site more than three years ago.
Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. (CHCURC) has plans to begin repairs to the building in the next four to six weeks, beginning with an estimated $400,000 invested in replacing the roof and gutters, according to Director Matt Bourgeois.
The upcoming investment is on top of the $400,000 already spent in stabilization costs, yet the seemingly eternal period of limbo has further taken its toll on the structure’s mortar, causing bricks to periodically plummet to the sidewalk below. These hazards have raised particular concern amongst parents whose children must walk by the crumbling structure on their way to Corryville Catholic School and Classen Park, situated on the corner of Calhoun Street and Jefferson Avenue.
Finally, measures are being taken to rebuild the structural integrity of Old St. George, but a long list of priorities gives the impression that the church won’t be fully restored for quite some time.
“Repairing the entire roof to get it completely winter-tight is the most urgent project, so we’ll probably start here and hope to have this project done before the next school year starts,” Bourgeois says.
CHCURC plans to contract Kettering Roofing and Sheet Metal Inc., a family-owned business located on Jefferson Avenue that specializes in slate roof repairs and historic restorations. The initial repairs scheduled for summer won’t include work on either of the destroyed steeples, which acted as makeshift chimneys for the fire on Feb. 1, 2008, a blaze caused by combustible materials stored too close to an exposed light bulb. Although the spires helped save the church’s interior from severe fire and smoke damage, they acted as funnels for water used to fight the inferno, causing considerable water damage inside.
Damages totaled roughly $2 million; both steeples fell the night of the fire.
“The steeples will be reconditioned as part of the overall restoration,” Bourgeois says.
Although still in the works, CHCURC’s plans for overall restoration entail making necessary repairs to the church and finally converting it into a boutique hotel if sufficient funding can be acquired, which is yet to be determined.
CHCURC settled with its insurance company for church damages in February 2009, although Bourgeois wouldn’t disclose the exact amount. He reports that $80,000 of the settlement already has been invested in capping off the damaged steeples and $150,000 will go toward repairing the roof.
Under a proposal drafted last fall, a partnership of CHCURC, Cleveland-based Paran Management Co. and others would build a three-story, 60-room addition on the east side of the site, currently a half-acre parking lot. The friary would be converted into nine suites and the library into an elegant breakfast area open to the public and hotel guests. In addition, the proposal includes a 29-space, single-story parking structure beneath the property and full restoration of the church’s sanctuary as the hotel’s “public room,” complete with a ballroom and auditorium, plus space for a bar or restaurant.
“We don’t know that we have the money for it, but what we do know is that the market can support it,” Bourgeois says. “We’ve had a couple market studies done in the last couple of years and every time we’ve done one, it has said that there’s an incredible demand that isn’t being met for hotel space, specifically a nice hotel.”
The demand is mostly due to affiliates of the University of Cincinnati including sports teams, alumni, professors, parents and performers attending the College-Conservatory of Music. The nearest hotel currently is Hampton Inn and Suites, located near the corner of Vine Street and Martin Luther King Drive in Corryville. Hotels.com rates the Hampton 2.5 out of five stars.
Speculation has been raised on what role UC will play in the partnership. Gerry Siegert, UC’s Associate Vice President for Community Development, holds one seat on CHCURC’s board.
Although Bourgeois is not technically affiliated with the university, he oversees University Park Apartments on Calhoun Street (751 beds of student housing) and works in partnership with Towne Properties for University Square, located across the street from UPA.
“UC will be some form of partner in this structure,” Bourgeois says.