A Blast of an Idea

It's a brisk Saturday afternoon in late December, and the view from the roof of the Cincinnati Metal Blast Building in Over-the-Rhine is spectacular. Findlay Market's food shops are just a few block

Jan 8, 2003 at 2:06 pm

It's a brisk Saturday afternoon in late December, and the view from the roof of the Cincinnati Metal Blast Building in Over-the-Rhine is spectacular. Findlay Market's food shops are just a few blocks down Elm Street. Mount Adams and downtown's office towers provide a stunning backdrop.

Denny Dellinger, the building's gangly middle-aged owner, is all smiles as he walks across the rooftop. He has a bold vision for the slumbering brick behemoth he bought in July 2001 from A-Z Restaurant Supply. The rich urban scenery surrounding the Metal Blast Building makes him confident about its chances for success as a destination spot in Over-the-Rhine.

As Dellinger leads me down from the roof and through the building's vast floors, he describes his plan to breathe new life into the dormant 47,000-sq. ft. building. He sees loft apartments on the upper floors, an art gallery and offices on the street level and an adjacent parking lot. He also sees a microbrewery and night club in the lower levels, occupying the same space where the Jackson Brewery, the building's original tenant, used to store kegs of beer.

"Metal Blast is the SSNOVA space times 10," Derringer says proudly, referring to the popular arts and performance venue located a few blocks west on Central Parkway. "I don't know if I can say that I have a definite schedule for reopening the building. It's become a long and arduous process."

Metal Blast boasts plenty of floor space, more than enough to fulfill Dellinger's dreams for the property and to re-energize the surrounding blocks in its neglected corner of Over-the-Rhine. Tucked away on the eastern edge of 208 Mohawk St. on the hillside above West McMicken and Elm streets, Metal Blast displays a few worn signs of life. White plastic lawn furniture and discarded tires litter the building's narrow front steps. A "Yes on 7" yard sign, a lonely cry of support for the recently defeated mass transit tax levy, sticks out of a nearby pile of mud.

Metal Blast might be quiet for the time being, but a rambunctious arts exhibition last June offered Dellinger a glimpse of the building's potential as a gallery space. A series of installations by visual artist Mauricio Luzuriaga drew close to 300 people during one evening.

The show was planned in tandem with an art opening at SSNOVA. Together, the two facilities brought some much-needed energy to a quiet corner of Over-the-Rhine, albeit for just one night.

Dellinger says the building's massive rooms and raw interior astounded first-time visitors. There was a lot of excitement shared among partygoers, artists and arts patrons that summer night, and Dellinger hopes some of those visitors spread the word about the building's potential.

Developers have plans to renovate some of the nearby buildings along Mohawk Street. Inside one of Metal Blast's first-floor rooms, street maps and a copy of the city of Cincinnati's comprehensive plan for developing Over-the-Rhine cover a makeshift table. The city plan describes Metal Blast's location as the neighborhood's "Loft District," and Dellinger is in complete agreement.

"Mohawk could be the city's next Mount Adams," he says, between sips from a can of beer. "Artists haven't been able to afford places in Mount Adams for years. They could live in Mohawk lofts, work in Mohawk studios and show their work in Mohawk galleries. ... I want to see beer flowing through this building again."

Armed with a couple of flashlights, Dellinger finishes our tour of Metal Blast in its below-ground floors. Tunnels reach out to distant Over-the-Rhine streets. He points out the rails embedded in the tunnel floors, previously used to haul beer kegs to neighborhood taverns.

As his flashlights grow dim, Dellinger and I quickly head for daylight. Asked what it would take to permanently reopen Metal Blast, he answers matter-of-factly, "Three million dollars would make the building usable."

Then again, maybe I should have phrased my question differently. How much would it cost the city of Cincinnati to renovate a part of Over-the-Rhine into the next Mount Adams?

Dellinger knows the answer to that one, too.