University of Cincinnati Sells Emery Building for $8.55 Million

The building, designed by famed Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford, includes a historic theater that could be the new home of the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati

Sep 3, 2019 at 9:25 am
The Emery Building - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
The Emery Building

The University of Cincinnati has entered into a contract to sell Over-the-Rhine's Emery Center, which includes the historic and sometimes contentious Emery Theatre.

The university has announced it signed a $8.55 million contract with a development partnership called 100 Central Parkway, LLC, led by local developers Dave Neyer and Chris Frutkin. 

The Emery, designed by famed local architect Samuel Hannaford, includes 59 apartments, the theater, retail space on the ground floor occupied by Coffee Emporium and office space. Included in 100 Central Parkway's bid is support for the potential use of the theater by the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati. 

“We are very excited to begin exploring the development possibilities of the Emery Center and Theatre," Neyer said in a statement. "While we have lots of due diligence ahead, the opportunity to serve as custodians of a gift from Mary Emery to the citizens of Cincinnati is an honor. We look forward to determining the possibilities for one of Cincinnati’s crown jewels."

The Emery, constructed in 1911 as the Ohio Mechanics Institute, is named for philanthropist Mary Emery. The school, which was absorbed into UC in 1969, closed its doors in 1988.

The university and a developer converted the building to apartments in 2001. UC leases those apartments to a group called Emery Center Apartments.

UC says it isn't in the apartment business and wants to sell the building to focus on its mission of providing higher education and research.

Neyer and Frutkin say they hope to explore upgrades to the apartments and common areas as part of the project. Neyer is the retired president and CEO of Al. Neyer Construction and currently runs STNL Development. Frutkin is founder of City Center Properties. 

The university says it hopes to recoup costs associated with building maintenance and renovation with the sale and will invest the rest of the money resulting from the building's sale — expected to be roughly $2 million — into research and teaching.

"UC’s commitment as a public citizen to preserve and use the building was such that we leased to Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership for $1 a year," UC Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance Robert Ambach said in a statement. "Beyond that, the university provided grants and loans toward renovation, maintenance and care of the building that total over $3 million since 1999. In addition, ECALP borrowed city funds toward the renovation. From the proceeds, these university and city loans must be repaid."

The Emery Theatre hosted the Cincinnati Symphony orchestra from 1912 to 1936. The theater was once considered one of the best in the country, but is "beyond repair," according to university documents. 

Mary Emery's will stipulates that the theater must remain open for public performances.

In 2016, UC paid $200,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by fundraisers from New York who attempted to raise money to renovate the theater under the name Requiem Project. 

The Children's Theatre of Cincinnati's roots go back to 1919. The Emery is familiar to the group — it performed there until 1969. 

“While there is a lot of work to be done and many unknowns, we look forward to furthering the discussions to see if we can return TCT to its original home from 100 years ago," Children's Theatre managing director and CEO Kim Kern said in a statement.