Council, mayoral candidates make pitch to preservationists

The demolition of the Dennison Hotel cropped up often during a forum for mayoral and council candidates at Memorial Hall.

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click to enlarge Council, mayoral candidates make pitch to preservationists
Nick Swartsell

The city’s two mayoral candidates and more than a dozen City Council hopefuls crammed together in front a standing-room-only audience last night at the newly renovated Memorial Hall to talk historic preservation.

From the get-go, the event was defined by the increasingly bitter mayoral battle between Democrats Mayor John Cranley and his challenger, Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson.

Cranley kicked off the event with an opening statement highlighting the strides he says the city has made under his tenure. He mostly steered clear of addressing historic preservation specifically in his initial remarks, instead touting the jobs and development the city has seen in the past four years.

“I believe the city is moving in the right direction, in a better direction than it has for most of my life,” Cranley said. “Over the last couple years, we’ve seen an enormous explosion of new jobs, whether it’s GE on The Banks, Mercy Hospital putting its headquarters in Bond Hill, Kroger building its first grocery store downtown in forty years with a $90 million project on top, and of course the largest single investment in the history of the city, the expansion of Children’s Hospital. These are exciting projects. … I don’t believe we can afford to put that progress at risk.”

Simpson was more direct in her opening remarks, both in her appeal to preservationists in the room and in her criticism of Cranley. She went on the offensive early, saying that the mayor has been selective in his support for historic preservation — backing efforts to save the former home of King Records in Evanston because he has personal ties to the project but standing by while downtown’s Dennison Hotel was demolished this year. Simpson also hit Cranley on the city’s appointment of developers like Shree Kulkarni — a major Cranley donor — to posts like the city’s Historic Conservation Board.

“I want to talk about the reason you’re here today,” Simpson said. “I live in a historic district and I’m proud of that. Our city needs leadership that values both the economic and historic assets that our city has and values our urban fabric. That can’t be recreated once these buildings are torn down. Our current administration has made it very clear that preservation is an afterthought, not a forethought. It’s only important to this administration if it results in financial gain.”

Cranley fired back, using time allotted for a question about his top three preservation priorities to respond to Simpson’s attacks.

“I support saving King Records because James Brown recorded all of his famous songs there, because it’s one of the hallmarks that we did for the Civil Rights movement. It’s true that Bootsy Collins and Philip Paul and Otis Williams have become friends… this is a good thing. I don’t know why anyone’s trying to make that personal.”

Cranley pointed out that appointments to the Historic Conservation Board are made by the city manager and that the board voted against the demolition of the Dennison Hotel. Simpson, however, pressed on, saying Cranley could have taken action to help save the building, but didn't.

“When asked why he wasn’t supportive of saving (the Dennison) he said we should let the market decide,” Simpson said. “The reality is, if we continue to have that attitude we’re going to lose a lot of historic buildings.”

Simpson said she’s most interested in making sure relevant boards have pro-preservation appointees, being more proactive in identifying buildings that should be preserved, finding new incentive mechanisms for historic preservation and green building and supporting equitable preservation and rehabilitation in low-income neighborhoods.

The sentiment got just a fleeting mention during the forum, but it’s a big concern in neighborhoods like OTR, Walnut Hills and the West End, where decades of systemic disinvestment have left deep pockets of poverty and where redevelopment sometimes comes at the expense of long-time residents.

Cranley touted his role in the redevelopment of OTR and his work on historic preservation in the East Price Hill Incline District and his administration’s efforts to help projects secure Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits. Those credits are administered by the state, but the city can help projects through the competition for the limited pot of funds with historic designations and other support.

Council incumbents and hopefuls also lined up to make a pitch to preservation-minded voters at the event. This portion of the event zipped by as the large field of candidates each spent just a few minutes outlining their stances. Incumbents like Councilman Chris Seelbach highlighted  efforts to save the Dennison Hotel and other historic buildings.

First-time candidates like Henry Frondorf, a construction manager for a restoration company and a professional estimator, pitched their expertise.

“I’ve been in dozens and dozens of buildings in OTR, West End, Sedamsville,” Frondorf, a Democrat, said. “I’ve walked in these buildings and looked around and there’s no more floor or no more roof. But we’ve been able to save a lot of these buildings. We have a ton of great restoration funds in the city"

Seth Maney, a Republican, highlighted his time with the OTR Community Council, the OTR Foundation and development company Urban Sites and its experience with historic preservation tax credits. Maney said he supports the idea of tax abatements for historic preservation, something not currently practiced by the city.

Tamaya Dennard, a Democrat, touted an idea to create a city fund that would support rehabilitation efforts and make rehabbing a building more feasible for residents who currently don’t have the capital to do so.

“I’m very enthusiastic not only about preservation, but how that infuses into equity, accessibility and creativity,” Dennard said. “We have to continue to approach preservation in that way. We have to show people in North Fairmount why the Dennison Hotel is important to them. That’s the problem that I see with preservation here in our city. People don’t know how to make the connection between different communities.”

Former Councilwoman Laure Quinillvan, seeking to win a third term after narrowly falling short last election, promoted a similar idea about a city preservation fund.

Some candidates admitted they were less well-versed in preservation. Tami Sullivan, an independent but Republican-leaning candidate, focused on her experiences fighting poverty, addiction and establishing public-private partnerships, saying her ability to address complex issues could carry over to preservation.

“I’m thrilled to be here and, to be honest, I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about historic preservation,” she said. “I’m very committed to what’s happening in this city.”

The forum was organized by the Cincinnati Preservation Association, the Cincinnati Preservation Collective, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation and Preservation Action, all groups active in preservation efforts around the city.

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