News: Batsakes Business Owners: Downtown Development Has 'Messed the Whole Thing Up'

Batsakes Hat Shop has been on the corner of Sixth and Walnut streets for 91 years. Batsakes J & G Dry Cleaners has occupied the space next door for more than 50 years. But as the city plans for i

Feb 25, 1999 at 2:06 pm
Batsakes Hat Shop and dry cleaners will have to move to make way for the new Contemporary Arts Center.

Batsakes Hat Shop has been on the corner of Sixth and Walnut streets for 91 years. Batsakes J & G Dry Cleaners has occupied the space next door for more than 50 years.

But as the city plans for its new Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) and negotiates to acquire these and other properties, the Batsakes family is preparing for the inevitable demolition of the businesses' longtime location.

"The city doesn't tell you anything," said Gus Miller, owner of the hat shop. "What they are going to put here isn't the real arts. I'm the contemporary arts. I have people in here every day to watch me make my art for famous people like Bill Cosby and Luciano Pavarotti."

The hat shop is one of five businesses that will have to move to make way for the new CAC. Construction could begin late this year.

Bill Plagge, real estate manager for the city of Cincinnati, said that the city would be able to acquire the Batsakes property with eminent domain action.

To do that, the city must prove that there is a higher and better use for the property it is seeking to acquire and that the property will be used for a public purpose, he said.

Plagge said that once that is in place, the city then notifies the owners what its plans are for the property and then offers a "fair and reasonable" price for the property.

According to a Feb. 8 report requested by Mayor Roxanne Qualls for the city administration to update its progress in retaining the property, the city made a purchase offer on Sept. 11 of $1.3 million to the administrator of the Batsakes Family Trust, which owns the property.

If Batsakes turns down the offer, there will be some room for negotiating, Plagge said.

"But if we don't reach an agreement, we will file an appropriation action, then the outcome will be decided by a jury in court," he said.

James Batsakes, a beneficiary of the trust, is part owner of the hat shop and the family's dry cleaning business. His brother George Batsakes and his sister also are beneficiaries of the trust.

"For us, everything is up in the air," James Batsakes said. "There was a three-page article in the magazine Art in America about the great design the new arts center will have, but (the city) just sent us a notice in the mail and hasn't told us much else. They haven't set a timetable, so I can't tell you much."

What Batsakes could say was that he was sad to see the business end up like so many others before it.

"This is a unique shop that will be gone, dislocated," he said. "The whole town has changed. There used to be so many nice individual shops and beautiful window displays and now there is just tall buildings. They've really messed the whole thing up."

Miller, a cousin of Batsakes who is not a beneficiary of the trust, said he was not pleased with how the city has been dealing with the acquisition of the property.

"I think that this business is important to the community, but the city doesn't see it that way," he said. "They think that by putting this arts center here people will come downtown. But they will come once every two years or so. They come to see me every day."

Miller said that until recently, the city had kept him in the dark about how and when the city was going to take over the property.

He said that it was only three weeks ago that a city planner came to talk to him face-to-face, even though he had been seeing reports about the new Contemporary Arts Center for months.

"They didn't even tell me anything when they came here," Miller said.

According to the Feb. 8 report, the city's economic development staff did not formally meet with the businesses regarding the relocation sooner because of legal concerns about adverse condemnation of the property and possible litigation by property owners.

Right now, the eminent domain action is on hold pending the completion of the Contemporary Arts Center Development Agreement. That agreement is expected to be completed by the end of March, according to the report.

In the meantime, the city will provide certain relocation benefits to the businesses that are displaced by public improvements. The assistance could include reimbursement up to $20,000 for moving and re-establishing assistance. But the amount is decided on a case-by-case basis.

"I have two, 42-pound cleaning machines worth $40,000 and 16 steamers," said Peter Batsakes, who works at the dry cleaners. "The amount of money the city says it will give to help us move won't even be enough to shut those down, let alone get them out the door."

He said that he also thought that the city had kept the businesses uninformed.

Where the two businesses are going to relocate remains undecided. But it is unlikely that the businesses will move together.

James Batsakes said he is thinking of retiring and leaving the relocation up to his brother and his brother's son.

Miller said he was not too worried about declining business once he relocated.

"I have good clientele," he said. "They will follow me."

But he said that was not the point.

"(The city) should have made this a little easier for us," he said. "And they wonder why everyone is moving out of town and across the river?" ©