$27.3M investment to transform historic Enquirer Building into 238-room hotel

The historic Enquirer Building in downtown Cincinnati is finally set to get its long anticipated makeover. However, this time it will be as a hotel instead of the residences originally envisioned for the 86-year-old tower.

Plans call for a 238-room hotel with 12,000 square feet of street-level retail space. The renovation work would be completed over the next two years, with the first guests arriving at the end of 2014.

SREE Hotels, which typically operates Marriott hotel brands, will be the eventual operator of the new hotel one block from Fountain Square. This will also be SREE Hotels first project in the Midwest.

The planned hotel would become downtown’s fifth largest and would bring its total to more than 3,000 rooms.

“It is always great when we can preserve and restore one of our historic buildings,” Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory stated in a prepared release. “The deal also illustrates the increasing demand for more hotel rooms in Cincinnati. We have been focused on creating providing a great visitor experience for all of our guests, and that is paying off with increased tourism and convention business.”

The $27.3 million hotel project follows a failed effort by Middle Earth Developers to renovate the historic building into 152 apartments, 53,400 square feet of office space, and 170 parking spaces.

The new hotel would be the third recent hotel to join the greater downtown area over the past three years. According to the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau, downtown hotels had a 63 percent occupancy rate in 2011, and are experiencing record numbers thus far in 2012.

Developers of The Banks have also been in negotiations with hotel operators for a planned hotel at Freedom Way at Main Street directly across the street from Great American Ball Park.

“This deal, coupled with the renovations at the Hyatt, help to build our capacity for bigger and bigger convention and meeting business that in turn help our economy,” Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney noted.

According to City officials, the project is contingent upon a 75 percent exemption on the increased tax value of the $27.3 million investment, which would equate to approximately $7.3 million over the course of 12 years. The deal was passed out of Cincinnati’s Budget & Finance Committee yesterday in their first day back from summer recess, and will go before the full City Council on Wednesday, August 1 at 2pm.

Enquirer Building exterior photograph by Thadd Fiala for UrbanCincy.

Bunbury Music Festival impresses in year one

Cincinnati has been left without a noteworthy summer rock festival since Desdemona ended and never returned in 2006. That was until Bunbury entered the scene July 13-15. The music festival went up against an impressive array of local events and two well-established rock festivals nearby in Louisville and Chicago. More from Each Note Secure:

Regardless of Bunbury’s minor hiccups, I was blown away by the size, organization, and turnout of the festival. The festival pulled in 55,000 people in its first year, which is mighty impressive considering it shared dates with two other musical festivals that have been around since 2002 and 2005 respectively…Bunbury haters will continue to balk over the lineup (there’s always Midpoint!), but I was impressed that the festival was able to draw a wide range of folks, from older fans of GBV and Jane’s Addiction to the younger fans who came out for Neon Trees.

‘The Rhine’ examines what all the changes in OTR mean to long-standing residents

As Over-the-Rhine continues to be transformed, some have wondered if the changes taking place may have a negative impact on the low-income residents currently living in the neighborhood.

This was the fight Buddy Gray long fought for Over-the-Rhine until he passed in 1996. The door was then opened for a change to this dynamic in the early 2000s when the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) was able to purchase hundreds of properties throughout the downtrodden neighborhood.

Since that time hundreds of new housing units and dozens of new businesses have opened up shop. While some of those new businesses and residents match those that have long called the neighborhood home, others do not, and instead present a stressful new reality for those low-income residents who are seeing their world change around them.

The following video, entitled The Rhine, was produced by Kyle Pedersen in an effort to highlight these struggles. UrbanCincy in no way taking a position on the contents of this video, but instead thought it would be useful as a point to start a conversation about the changes taking place in historic Over-the-Rhine.

What do you think? Are the differences between the new and the old residents of Over-the-Rhine too great? What, if any, opportunity is there to bridge that divide? Have investors done enough to engage the existing community? Is the existing community, and their representative organizations, overreacting? We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

What’s the full story behind Cincinnati’s 50-year population decline?

Cincinnati, like all peer cities, recorded its peak population in the 1950 and has steadily lost residents since. Specifically, Cincinnati has lost 205,000, or 43 percent of its peak population of 503,998 as recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, the population of Cincinnati’s metropolitan statistical area has doubled to 2.2 million.

Contrary to the narrative perpetuated by those who practice the politics of decline, this loss of population is symptomatic not of variously corrupt or negligent city officials but is rather the outcome of social trends that have evolved well outside the purview of city government. What’s more, nationwide demographic trends and elevated living standards mean attracting 205,000 new residents would require the City of Cincinnati to transform itself physically into something entirely unlike what it is at present or was in 1950.

Cincinnati’s population has taken a recent downward trajectory, but there may be more to the story. Chart produced by UrbanCincy.

Demographic Changes since 1950
Entirely overlooked in the public discussion of city population decline is the end of the postwar “Baby Boom” which was enabled by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of oral contraceptives in 1960, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion in 1973. Between 1960 and 1975, the number of annual live births in the United States fell from 4.25 million to 3.1 million.

An academic assessment of how the plummeting birthrate affected Cincinnati’s population could consume weeks of research. But the drop in family size, along with the proliferation of separations and divorces, means nearly all Cincinnati homes and apartment units that were occupied by large families in the 1950s are today occupied by fewer people.

So for Cincinnati to regain its lost 205,000 residents, the number of people residing in existing homes and apartment units must increase dramatically, and new construction must be populated at something higher than today’s prevailing density. With no reason to expect that Cincinnati’s birthrate will suddenly increase to that of impoverished countries, all population growth must come from the city’s suburbs or from outside the region. The wealthier the newcomer, the more living space they can afford. So paradoxically, the successful pursuit of top talent frustrates the task of fitting 205,000 new residents within Cincinnati’s existing city limits.

Loss of Residential Neighborhoods
Cincinnati’s municipal boundaries have not changed since it achieved its peak population in 1950, but thousands of prewar homes and apartments have since been replaced by non-residential structures. This means Cincinnati not only lost tens of thousands of residents for construction of expressways, light industry, and other purposes, but these properties are generally unavailable today for any effort to repopulate the city.

Cincinnati’s loss of residents and residential land was not limited to expressway construction and urban renewal projects. In the neighborhoods collectively known as Uptown, physical growth of universities, hospitals and other institutions has resulted in the demolition of over 1,000 homes and apartments since 1950.

The West End, shown here in 1959, was demolished shortly after from 1960 and 1963 for Interstate 75 and the Queensgate industrial park. Photograph by Dave Tunison.

The Politics of Population Decline
A variety of unscrupulous local politicians and media figures cleverly play two sides of Cincinnati’s population loss narrative. According to them, Cincinnati has lost population due to high crime, high taxes, and corrupt city governance. But should the city start attracting new residents, the perceived “bad element” will be pushed outside city limits and into the areas of those trumpeting this false narrative.

Therefore, with every avuncular call for Cincinnati to improve itself, these figures work to undermine the city’s capital improvements, and have succeeded in creating a suburban culture that looks upon the city and those who support it with deep suspicion. What’s more, those who play the politics of decline know that Cincinnati cannot physically house 205,000 more residents without construction of dozens of hi-rise apartment blocks. Such apartment clusters and the subway system necessary to move their residents throughout the city would be met with excited accusations of “communism”.

Certainly, Cincinnati would benefit from new residents, especially in its under-populated neighborhoods where many historic structures are at risk of demolition. The arrival of 205,000 residents within the city limits would resolve many of the city’s current problems but would force higher apartment rents, increase noise and traffic congestion, and would motivate the demolition of historic structures for new multistory apartments and commercial buildings.

So while virtually every old American city has lost population within its city limits since 1950, some of that loss has occurred for reasons unrelated to the commonly heard decline narrative. Family sizes are smaller, non-residential buildings have been built in some former residential areas, and new neighborhoods have formed outside city limits to house those displaced by commercial and institutional growth. Considering these realities, the City of Cincinnati will likely never again be the home of 504,000 people, and so should not measure itself against its former peak population.


With World Choir Games finished, Cincinnati eyes next major event

The 2012 World Choir Games exceeded all expectations, and city officials are being praised for their ability to execute the international event flawlessly. With the two-week event now over, Cincinnati leaders are eyeing what might be the next major event for the Queen City. More from the Cincinnati Enquirer:

As the Games’ concerts and contests unfolded, as medals were won and lost, as choirs from around the world roamed the streets of Cincinnati giving this old river city a vibrant international feel thanks to midday traffic jams, conversations flavored with a multitude of accents and scenes sweetened by sidewalks teaming with smiling faces, the city’s party planners made a wish list. The events discussed included: Cincinnati’s 225th birthday, a World Choir Games-sanctioned Games of the Americas – starring choirs from the tip of North America to the toes of South America – and a new Tall Stacks Music, Arts & Heritage Festival, all in 2013; Baseball’s 2015 All-Star Game, and the University of Cincinnati’s bicentennial in 2019.