Building adoption program breathes new life into deteriorating historical buildings

Apr 13, 2011 at 2:06 pm

When someone sparks a discussion about Over-the-Rhine, various viewpoints and feelings come into play. You either love the neighborhood for its rich past and diversity or you tend to stay away from amazing landmarks like Findlay Market, Music Hall, Memorial Hall, Washington Park and Ensemble Theatre because you’ve “heard things.” You know, never actually going to the area to retain your own experience.

Well, if you were to ask the National Historic Register its perspective on the area, you would be informed that the six districts of

that make up the 360 acres of OTR are home to the largest collection of 19th-century Italianate architecture still standing in the United States.

Even though the population of Over-the-Rhine currently rounds to about 7,600, a grand total of 50,000 individuals once called it their home. Today more than 500 vacant buildings, 2,500 hollow units and 700 unoccupied lots crumble and creek in hopes of renovation and repopulation. Luckily for these historical constructions, there’s one man (armed with a posse of volunteers) who has taken it upon himself to breathe new life into this nationally recognized neighborhood.

In the early months of 2010, Danny Klinger, director of OTR ADOPT, had just about all he could take of witnessing local gems fall victim to the wrecking ball over and over again. After studying community and economic development at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and writing his thesis on historic preservation in OTR, he set out to give the area the recognition it deserved and the facelift it needed by starting OTR ADOPT, a building adoption program that works to identify new owners for abandoned buildings and damaged structures.

“It’s ultimately about creating a mechanism to channel investment into OTR,” Klinger says. “That investment goes directly into abandoned historic buildings, getting them up to code and getting them occupied. So the program is simultaneously about historic preservation and community revitalization.”

Even though OTR ADOPT’s Web site (otradopt.com) gives property seekers current locations that are up for grabs, the only thing interested investors need to do to obtain a slice of history is stroll through the district.

“We’re relatively young, so our listings pipeline is still growing,” Klinger says. “We do have a ‘foster’ program whereby someone can contact us if there is a particular abandoned building they are interested in, and we will go out and attempt to get it for them.”

There’s also the rare chance that you may purchase a home that needs to move locations. The program is currently experiencing this situation with the rezoning of Euclid Avenue in Corryville. “We don’t run into that very much, but sometimes the only way to save a building, or buildings, is to move them.”

Klinger also says the need to move this entire historic block of Victorian homes near UC magnifies the need for better historic protections in our city, if we really want to retain any of the “old world feeling.”

One local company backing OTR ADOPT’s beliefs is 8K Partners, an urban real estate developer and contractor focusing in the revival of unused, distressed buildings. After hearing Klinger’s inception for the company it didn’t take long for them to scoop up their very own sliver of OTR.

Mike Fischer, one of the 8K partners, explains, “If you’re a proponent of urban living, you can’t get a denser or richer urban fabric than OTR. It’s a special area with beautiful architecture, where you can walk to work, restaurants, bars and entertainment. We value what Klinger is doing to revitalize the urban core.”

Last July four individuals making up 8K Partners acquired a former pawn shop from OTR ADOPT. The building that sits at 1724 Vine St. had been in use up until May of last year when it was threatened with demolition. The upper levels of the building were used as apartments until they were damaged in a fire 20 to 30 years ago. With the problems never addressed, a roof in despair and a collapsing front and rear wall, 8K Partners paid for the deed transfer and now slings hammers in anticipation of turning the 10,000 square feet of opportunity into a mixed-use building. All in all, it can be said that the structure has become one of the eight buildings for which OTR ADOPT has successfully found tender loving care.

“Klinger is doing his best to make people aware of the opportunities,” Fischer says. “If we can bring a couple, an individual or even a family into Cincinnati, it’s a positive impact. We are now part of the positive momentum.”

If you don’t have two to three years to tackle this sort of project, or roughly $100 to spend per square foot of the building, there are still plenty of ways to help out the community of OTR. The easiest way is to attend city council meetings or volunteer to help with local fundraising activities. Another step is to take a few seconds out of your day and send an online donation to the program. This act will not only help keep the program afloat, but it will help ensure that the area still holds the same charm it once had in the 1860s.

For more information on OTR ADOPT, go to www.otradopt.com.