Sign of the Times

Think the "Princess Diana tiara" that will adorn the planned Great American Insurance Building at Queen City Square looks tacky? Try a big K-E-N-D-L-E lighting up the nighttime sky. From where els

Jan 9, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Think the "Princess Diana tiara" that will adorn the planned Great American Insurance Building at Queen City Square looks tacky?

Try a big K-E-N-D-L-E lighting up the nighttime sky. From where else? Atop the beloved Carew Tower.

Western Southern's announcement last month of plans for a $300-million, 660,000 square-foot office tower near the intersection of Third and Broadway downtown had mixed reviews at best. The building will feature 40 stories, shorter than the 574-foot Carew Tower. But add the tower's decorative top — which the architect said was inspired by the late Princess Diana's tiara — and it becomes taller than the 49-story Carew Tower.

No big deal, I suppose — other than making Cincinnati's nearly-symmetrical skyline look a little lop-sided and breaking an unwritten rule that no building built downtown would be taller than Carew.

I love old buildings and have been known to stare up at them as I walk around my neighborhood and into the central business district. I once walked into a light post downtown as I checked out the tops of buildings.

Now, though, I feel like it's time to say something. Placing letters on the Carew Tower seems sacrilegious. And, really, why? As one downtown architect suggested, it's all about ego. Why in the world would a company like Kendle need a big sign indicating where their home office is?

According to a memo distributed by Kendle, the Belvedere Corporation, which owns Carew Tower, has already agreed to the sign. It's part of a proposed lease agreement. And though folks at City Hall have been informed of the plan, they were also told something else: The building owner doesn't need no stinkin´ official permission to make it happen.

"Variance for signage not required per Cincinnati zoning code, Department of Buildings and Inspections and (the) Historic Conversation Office," the Kendle memo says.

Still, City Council could look into the issue. I would suggest they do — and soon.

Kendle officials are seeking a tax incentive from the city in order to stay in Cincinnati when their lease expires in 2009 (other locations being considered are Northern Kentucky, Blue Ash and Norwood, according to a Kendle memo obtained by CityBeat). In exchange for staying put, the company says it would invest $4 million of its own money on building improvements and equipment purchases, would create 75 new jobs and would sign a new lease to keep it in Carew Tower through 2019.

Kendle has already been approved for a Job Creation and Retention Tax Credit from the state of Ohio.

The company said it currently generates about $973,000 in Cincinnati income tax revenue each year and that the average Kendle employee earns about $73,000 annually.

Kendle, the little-known but highly successful clinical research organization founded in 1981, has its world headquarters in Carew Tower. The company is the fourth largest of its kind in the world and is publicly traded on the NASDAQ stock market (under the KNDL ticker symbol). It has more than 3,000 employees in its worldwide operation, which includes 80 countries on six continents. About 635 employees currently work in roughly 119,000 square feet in Carew Tower.

This is all well and good. It's great to keep successful companies in the city.

And despite many contentions otherwise, tax incentives aren't free money for big corporations. They're a deal between a company and a municipality in a free market where, like it or not, corporations can headquarter themselves wherever they want.

Cities get tax revenue from companies within their jurisdictions. A tax incentive deal is one way to make that happen.

Regardless, I would suggest to both Belvedere and the top brass at Kendle: Don't deface one of Cincinnati's most recognizable landmarks. Get your tax incentive, stay in the city and keep jobs here and downtown strong. But don't let what looks like an ego boost permeate the facade of a building so near and dear to so many Cincinnatians.

Yeah, it would be cool, if I owned Kendle, to show off with my company's name at the top of Carew Tower. But is it worth ruining it for everyone else?

CONTACT JOE WESSELS: [email protected]