Downtown Cincinnati poised for surge of residential conversions

Developers are in the process of transforming the 85-year-old Federal Reserve Tower at Fourth and Race into 88 apartments after serving as an office structure for its entire life. The process is one being undertaken in old cities all across the United States – transforming old office buildings into unique residences.

In addition to the Federal Reserve Tower, the 86-year-old Enquirer Building on Vine Street has also had an apartment conversion planned. In the wake of the opening of the Great American Tower at Queen City Square, there appears to be many more candidates ripe for such conversion.

The Federal Reserve Tower [LEFT] is currently being transformed into 88 apartments, while the Enquirer Building [RIGHT] awaits new financing. Photographs by Thadd Fiala for UrbanCincy.

“Residential is a great use for older buildings as opposed to office uses,” said David Ginsburg, President and CEO of Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI). “Older buildings provide a sense of place, history and elegance, and they lend themselves to mixed uses with retail on the first floor.”

In addition to the romantic appeal, Ginsburg also says that the economics make a lot of sense with apartment occupancy rates consistently above 90 percent, and some cases of waiting lists throughout the Central Business District, Over-the-Rhine and at The Banks.

Additional housing downtown, community leaders say, is important because those residents are customers for the restaurants and retail stores outside of normal office hours. Ginsburg adds that those city dwellers also provide a level of density that helps promote the perception and reality of a safe urban core.

According to DCI officials, developers have expressed interest in converting additional historic office towers into residences, but declined to comment as to which structures or which developers are expressing interest.

The historic Tri-State Building [LEFT] and Bartlett Building [RIGHT] sit underutilized and offer large amounts of potential residential space in the heart of the CBD. Photographs by Thadd Fiala for UrbanCincy.

In October 2010, UrbanCincy identified two historic office towers, in addition to the Enquirer Building and Federal Reserve Tower, which appear to be perfect candidates to be transformed into residential apartments.

1. Tri-State Building (Fifth & Walnut); 109 years old
2. Bartlett Building (Fourth & Walnut); 111 years old

Ginsburg concluded by stating that living downtown is the sustainable choice for the more than 12,000 current residents, and any future people considering the area for their next home.

“Given the high cost of gasoline, the density of downtown is helpful,” Ginsburg concluded. “Trips are shorter and walking and bicycling become more prevalent. As public transportation evolves, there will be less need for cars, especially multi-car households, which will help the economy and the ecology.”

  • jasomm

    Very exciting… Hope the downtown population grows and grows…

    P.S. how much would it cost to replace all the street signs, and traffic lights  downtown? Ugliest design for those I have seen in any city I have ever been to.

  • Both of those buildings have a lot of work before they’ll be residential ready. The Enquirer Building had (still has?) environmental problems from all the spilled ink in the basement from the presses. And if I remember correctly the paper said the last group that tried to tackle the Bartlett Building was going to have to completely replace the elevators before they could make any use of it. 

    Both would make fantastic residential with their historic nature and great locations, but it’s going to take someone with really deep pockets (willing to risk it) and a bargain basement price to get these done. The demand for residential downtown and the collapse of values might just be the perfect storm these building were waiting for. Now who’s got the cash to make it happen? 3CDC seems busy with OTR/Mercer.

    • Since these are historic structures there will be grant money available to help cover the renovation costs. MED had landed a large historic tax credit from the state, but had other financial issues with their company that have stalled work on renovating the Enquirer Building.

    •  That seems to be MED’s business model, working with other peoples money. They got the property for Parker Flats for $1. But I guess you can’t fault anyone for working the system. Their ability to capitalize on the system, now that’s a whole other story.

  • Mark Christol

    I have seen informal polls that indicate a regional interest in living downtown. Have there been any real surveys on the matter?

    • I’m not sure a formal survey is necessary. The free market seems to be speaking loud and clear with the increasing rent prices and lack of availability.

  • Don

    It’s great to see these buildings being repurposed and hopefully there is more to come.  On top of my wishlist is the Terrace Plaza Hotel.  It would be nice to see that open up as a hotel or converted into apartments if feasible.  The old Gourmet Room would make a great bar/lounge.

  • Zachary Schunn

    Let’s keep it up!  Office vacancies are unreasonably high… over 22% both downtown and city-wide.  Class B+ properties are seeing vacancies over 25%, so it’d be nice to get some of those off the market and converted to multi-family, which is seeing practically no vacancy in areas like downtown, OTR, and Clifton.  I’m working on compiling stats for Clifton for my job as a commercial real estate agent, but I can tell you anecdotally that there are plenty of older office buildings that could be (re)converted to residential.

  • I think the Enquirer Building would be great for condos or apartments given its location on Vine and near Fountain Sq. The other buildings aren’t really around any amenities but it’d be good if they were continued to be used.

  • David J. Gill

    “The Reserve,” as it is now called, was the Cincinnati Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Built in 1926, it was quite a lavish building with very fine interior spaces that had intense rich color schemes. But the company that converted the building as apartments did such a poor job on the conversion they failed to take advantage of this and cut up the interior in the cheapest, easiest way. One of the chandeliers is now in the local Spaghetti Factory. A sad end for a special building. The CLE FED should have exercised more care RE preservation when the building was sold.

    The building was designed by Cleveland architects Walker & Weeks. The CLE FED originally had three lavish buildings by Walker & Weeks. In addition to the Cincy branch they built the Pittsburgh Branch (now consigned to become a hotel) and the CLE headquarters building.