News: Movement in Clifton Heights

Boarded-up buildings demolished, Towne Properties brought on board

Emily Maxwell

Development along the Calhoun/McMillan corridor adjacent to UC might finally be ready to move ahead.

Over the July 4 weekend, it wasn't fireworks but the sight of bulldozers on Calhoun Street that left onlookers in awe. Without warning or announcement, Clif Cor Co. began demolition of the former Hardee's and Arby's fast food buildings just south of the University of Cincinnati campus.

The boarded-up buildings dominated a patch of land between Calhoun and McMillan streets for three years and stood as a stark reminder of the unfinished development project adjacent to UC.

"Obviously it was something we would like to see happen because they weren't attractive by any stretch," said Matt Bourgeois, director of Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (CHCURC), which has been trying to redevelop the Calhoun/McMillan corridor for years. "I'm not sure what the end plan is, but we didn't have anything to do with it."

CHCURC has been working on the development's next steps ever since its defeat by Clif Cor in the courtroom a year and a half ago over the land that housed the buildings. Unable to take the land and the fast food buildings via eminent domain, the Calhoun/McMillan project has languished.

"The buildings were an eyesore and we felt it was best to go ahead and demolish them," said Tom Fessel, managing partner of Clif Cor. "As of now we have no plans to build."

CHCURC has been back at the drawing board with the help of a new partner, Towne Properties.

"Priority number one was to get the whole block under control and to do a large development that was contiguous and didn't have big gaps in it," Bourgeois said. "The partnership with Towne Properties is to set the framework to come up with that development strategy."

Although Clif Cor doesn't plan to build in the area, Fessel says the company intends to sell the land to Towne, which has the right to buy out Clif Cor within a year and a half.

"We have a contractual arrangement to buy the property," said Brad Austing, general manager of land division for Towne.

Towne Properties currently is working with the University of Cincinnati and CHCURC on preliminary design concepts for property along Calhoun and McMillan, including the Clif Cor parcel of land.

"As the plan evolves in a few months we will be able to provide more details regarding development," Austing said.

Clif Cor has no problem with not being a part of the redevelopment plans slated for Clifton Heights, Fessel said, and the company is "excited for the future development."

Regardless of who owns the property after all the dust is cleared and rubble removed, business owners in the surrounding area are looking forward to the long-planned development project getting going again.

"I like the idea," said Bassi Singh, co-owner of Krishna Indian Restaurant on Calhoun Street. "Good thinking for the city."

Krishna co-owner Surgit Singh said that no matter what businesses move in any new business would increase the number of customers in the area.

It's not clear what businesses will actually be arriving in the area once the redevelopment plans are finished.

"The retail market has been so up and down with the economy," Bourgeois said. "It's hard to tell in three years who will have interest or be growing."

Rebuilding history
The long delays and sudden movement on the western end of Calhoun Street are complemented by slow and steady movement at Old St. George Church on the eastern end.

Old St. George was also part of construction activities on the July 4 weekend, when a crane was working on the property — but the effort was focused on rebuilding rather than demolishing.

"The first priority is to save the building," Bourgeois said. "The second priority is to build the steeples back to how they were."

Both steeples of the historic church, designed by famed Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford, burned and collapsed in a fire in February. CHCURC bought the church several years ago in the hopes of restoring it and including it in development plans for the Calhoun/McMillan corridor.

"We are still working with the insurance company to try and figure out what the real cost to rebuild is," Bourgeois said. "If you have fire damage to any kind of new building, it's really easy to find out the cost to reconstruct because you just did one of them a month ago. But as far as the cost to reconstruct 130-year-old steeples, there's no real experience to draw from."

A construction engineer is being sought to design plans for new steeples in order to have the cost for reconstruction appraised by a construction manager.

"So until we have a price it would be imprudent to settle with the insurance company," Bourgeois said.

There still are no concrete plans for how the refurbished church would be used, but Bourgeois said he's open to any and all ideas that don't exploit the church motif and thus aren't sacrilegious. Former Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell suggests the church could be turned into a microbrewery.

"(Microbrewing) is part of Cincinnati's history, part of our culture," Tarbell said. "It's still a very popular product, and I don't think that is going to change, especially near a university campus." ©

Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.