News: A Matter of Ownership

As usual, 3CDC presentation leaves questions

Nov 15, 2006 at 2:06 pm
Matt Borgerding

Nancy and Patty Wagner review plans for what 3CDC calls Music Hall Square, including a garage on property it doesn't yet own.

Things were going fine at the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp.'s (3CDC) Over-the-Rhine "rap session" Nov. 2 at Memorial Hall until Pipefitters Union Local 392 spoke up.

The second of three 3CDC community meetings focused on building a parking garage between Music Hall and Memorial Hall and west to Central Parkway.

After an architectural presentation on the conceptual design of the garage by local firm Glaserworks, the Q&A began. The most notable question was whether 3CDC already owned the property between the two halls, as well as the property that stretches west of Elm Street to Central Parkway. Darrick Dansby, 3CDC's director of development for Over-the-Rhine, was asked whether the property had already been secured for the development.

What he didn't know, however, was that the woman asking was Sarah Hicks, lawyer for the Plumbers, Pipefitters and Mechanical Equipment Service Union. Local 392 headquarters, a historically recognized building, is situated behind Memorial Hall and spans the western half of the 13th Street block between Central Parkway and Elm. Next to Hicks sat William Koester, the union's business leader.

"There has been no open discussion about the property," Koester said after the session. "We have had informal conversations, but that was about a year ago.

There's no formal plan in place."

The land in question consists of two partial plots that roughly equal an acre. The question now is how 3CDC plans to build an eight-story, 632-space parking garage on property it doesn't own, especially as it hopes to break ground in the first quarter of 2007.

After the meeting, Dansby was optimistic that an agreement could be reached and that talks over the land would resume.

Dansby opened the meeting with a discussion of feedback from the first meeting, questions and comments about how 3CDC plans to redevelop the neighborhood. Items listed by Dansby included communication between 3CDC and the public; concerns over neighborhood amenities such as pharmacies, grocery stores and banks; and the largest question of all, the affordability of housing for current residents after 3CDC turns over its properties.

But although billed as a rap session, when the meeting came to the Q&A segment, discussion was expected to focus on Glaserworks' garage design. Anyone with a question pertaining to some of the tougher issues could fill out a comment card.

One of 3CDC's tenets in developing Over-the-Rhine is to keep the architectural integrity of the neighborhood. As one audience member pointed out, the modern design of a glass foyer between the high Victorian Gothic façade of Music Hall and the beau Mozart classical style of Memorial Hall is out of place.

Glaserworks defended its work on the basis that the two architectural styles are incongruent and that, by using the glass, the two are neutralized. Company representatives also pointed out that the glass foyer will also serve as a "projection screen." Glaserworks' idea is to project outside what is happening inside either of the buildings, be it a symphony, opera or ballet.

Another criticism of the design was its suburbanality. Both Steve Haber and Mike Moose of Glaserworks said the design is ideal because patrons can enter the garage and building without ever having to go outside. That makes sense in one respect — the garage's function is to serve the two halls — but it limits patrons from taking in their surroundings.

Glaserworks hopes to include a public plaza between Music Hall and Memorial Hall, where patrons can gather and look across to Washington Park.

However, one keen member of the audience asked whether the plaza would be considered public or private property. The quick answer by Dansby was that it was public. But he suggested it would also be private, depending on the occasion.

Unhappy without a clear answer, the audience member continued to ask Dansby how 3CDC, a non-profit put in place by the city of Cincinnati, would be able to turn public property into private. Dansby's response was short: "We're a private non-profit."

Which begs the question of what 3CDC's plans are for Washington Park and neighborhood schools. That's the subject of the group's next public meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Memorial Hall. ©