News: The Art of the Deals

Downtown arts corridors move slowly and steadily

Uptown Arts will give Over-the-Rhine kids art lessons and performing space.

Drive along Liberty Street between Main and Walnut on Over-the-Rhine's northern edge, and you'll see a whole lotta work goin' on. It's a foundation — and quite a bit more.

Lois and Dick Rosenthal are renovating a century-old building, once the Geise Cigar Box plant, to create Uptown Arts, a new home for the Rosenthal Foundation. They're also adding momentum to downtown's emerging arts corridors along Walnut and 12th streets, which CityBeat has dubbed "The T."

The T has the makings of a bustling arts district modeled after Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts (see "Cincinnati Tees off on the Arts," issue of May 4-10), in which the arts provide a huge economic boost to downtown development. Cultural institutions such as the Aronoff Center, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC), the Main Public Library, Music Hall, School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) and Main Street galleries already exist in the area and soon will be joined by a new Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), renovated Emery Theatre, relocated Art Academy of Cincinnati and reconfigured SCPA.

The proposed I-71 light rail line would run down Walnut Street, delivering arts patrons to the organizations' front doors. Other new construction could solidify the arts boom here as it did in Philadelphia.

The Rosenthals, meanwhile, already have begun their own new construction. The couple sold F&W Publications a year ago to afford more time for projects they're passionate about, most particularly in the arts.

They have aided the CAC, whose new building will be named in their honor. The Rosenthal New Play Prize has been awarded annually since 1989 by Cincinnati Playhouse, fostering the first productions of plays by an array of rising playwrights. Their support also has benefited ETC, Cincinnati Ballet, the Mercantile Library and others.

The Rosenthals have a serious commitment to educational causes, too. In the early 1990s they created the Rosey Reader program to provide books for kids in schoolrooms and backpacks to take them home for sharing with a caregiver. It's been so successful — some kids have read upwards of 200-300 books — that it's now in 31 Cincinnati Public schools.

Lois Rosenthal says the success of the Rosey Reader program inspired them to create Uptown Arts, which will combine many of the couple's passions. Seeing the kind of impact reading could have on kids and their families, they're creating a facility where children aged 4 to 10 from Over-the-Rhine and surrounding neighborhoods can expand their horizons.

The building's first floor will house offices and meeting facilities for the Rosenthal Foundation, but its primary function will be as a more generic foundation, one that kids can really build on.

"We will offer lessons for children to enrich their lives," Rosenthal says.

Eight professionals coordinated through the ArtLinks program will provide free lessons for the kids in various areas of the arts.

The three-story warehouse is undergoing a total renovation. Rosenthal says it's been completely re-wired, air conditioning has been installed, new flooring has been added and the leaking roof has been replaced. A stair tower, added to enhance traffic from floor to floor, will be integrated with an attractive entrance facing Liberty Street.

Rosenthal expects the building to be ready in early November. A black box theater on the first floor will be space for kids to perform, to put on art exhibits or to hear a storyteller. Cincinnati Ballet will occasionally provide dancers to offer classes in a new dance studio. Rosenthal envisions kids performing and exhibiting before audiences made up of family and friends from the neighborhood.

Many of the programs will be after school on weekdays and Saturday mornings. Rosenthal also sees preschoolers and their caregivers coming during the day, but stresses Uptown Arts won't be a day-care center.

Progress along The T has been slow and steady over the summer. Here are a few updates:

· In CityBeat's May 4 arts issue, CAC Director Charles Desmarais said he hoped to take ownership of the final parcel of land needed for his new facility by the end of the summer. That parcel — the Batsakes hat shop/dry cleaners at the corner of Sixth and Walnut — remains elusive.

"We hope to have resolution of the dispute soon," said Ed Ratterman, who's been heading up negotiations for the city's Economic Development Department. He declined to discuss details of unresolved issues.

The city's role in the CAC project is to acquire and clear the necessary land, and two of the three required parcels are in hand. The Batsakes family, which owns the final parcel, sued the city of Cincinnati to stop a forced sale. City attorneys in return asked a judge to allow the city to claim the Batsakes property under eminent-domain laws.

Ratterman said the city hopes a deal with the Batsakes family can be worked out now that the family's dry-cleaning store has closed, leaving only the hat shop open. The family member who runs the hat shop, Ratterman said, has no ownership stake in the property.

· Not much has happened since Art Academy trustees purchased the Pembrooke Building in June.

Art Academy President Greg Smith said leases with current tenants such as the industrial-design company Index Design will be allowed to expire. Meanwhile, negotiations with BarrelHouse Brewery, which has an extended lease, continue.

Details for a capital campaign to raise the estimated $7 million needed to convert the Pembrooke's 80,000 square feet of space into an arts college will be finalized later this year. Plans call for the six-story building on 12th Street to become the new Art Academy home by 2005.

For Smith, the project is an exciting opportunity to breathe life into an underused building and neighborhood.

"The population of Over-the-Rhine has decreased very significantly," he said. "I think there are opportunities for lots of things to happen in Over-the-Rhine without displacing people."

· Construction crews continue to convert the portion of the Emery Theatre formerly used by OMI-College of Applied Sciences into 62 market-rate apartments. Residents will be able to move in by early 2001.

Funding setbacks, however, have delayed necessary work for expanding the Emery's stage house. Without these renovations, the Emery won't be compatible for large-scale opera performances or other types of theater. More importantly, further delays only increase the estimated $17.5 million cost of the renovation.

· On Aug. 10, the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) facilities committee recommended the school board commit $26 million toward a $52 million K-12 SCPA adjacent to Music Hall. Later, the CPS board approved the recommendation. Now it's up to Cincinnati Pops Conductor Erich Kunzel and his team of supporters to raise the matching funds necessary to make the new SCPA part of an Over-the-Rhine arts district.

· Media Bridges, the non-profit group managing the city of Cincinnati's cable access programming, has begun looking in the area around 12th Street for a new home as a Mixed Media Center.

The organization must vacate its Walnut Hills home by June 2001. Plans to relocate to the old Channel 5 studios fell though after Christian Hills Academy bought the downtown property for a private elementary school.

After hearing about The T, Media Bridges officials decided to pursue becoming part of Cincinnati's emerging arts corridors. The group now has narrowed its search to 1120 Jackson St., a property directly across the street from the new Art Academy home.

"I think there's an inherent value in having the Art Academy as your neighbor," said Belinda Rawlins, who became Media Bridges' executive director on Aug. 19. "We're building a media center, and there is a value in the educational nature of the Art Academy. The possibilities for collaboration open up when you are in the same block as ETC, a renovated Emery Theatre and the Art Academy." ©

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