Proposed Clifton Heights Development Would Demolish Historic Christy’s & Lenhardt’s

On Tuesday, developers presented an initial concept to the CUF Neighborhood Association (CUFNA) for a proposed development at the southeast corner of W. Clifton Avenue and W. McMillan Avenue.

The development team of Gilbane and Optimus, is proposing a six-story, mixed-use development that would include 210 student apartments, street-level retail, and a 245-space parking structure. A total project cost has yet to be defined.

Clifton Heights Development_Concept Rendering
A concept rendering for what the proposed development would look like at W. Clifton and W. McMillan Avenues. Image provided.

Developers say that the two-story parking structure would be hidden by the larger apartment portion of the development, and mention that there would enough room for two retailers along both Clifton and McMillan Avenues.

“The building has an urban character that reflects and harmonizes with the new retail and residential complex across the street,” developers explained in a project report obtained by UrbanCincy. “A dramatic reduction of building scale happens as you turn the corner onto Lyon Street. The majority of this elevation is only two stories high and contains residentially scaled punched openings that are at the base of the Clifton elevation.”

Representatives from Gilbane and Optimus also say that the development will have “abundant” bicycle parking in addition to the spaces provided for automobiles.

Clifton Heights Development_Section Elevation
The concept section elevation shows how the proposed development would relate to its surroundings in Clifton Heights. Image provided.

Should everything go according to plan, the development team says that construction would start in May 2014 and open in August 2015.

The more than four-acre site currently has several houses on it along Lyon Street, the Clifton Natural Foods building, the historic mansion that is home to Christy’s & Lendhardt’s Fine German Dining, and a surface parking lot.

According to University of Cincinnati engineering student Ryan Lammi, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, the developer implied that the development could not go forward unless both buildings located along W. McMillan Avenue were demolished.

So even while the development presents a large investment in the growing neighborhood, not everyone was pleased with the initial concepts.

“The council was adamant about saving Christy’s and keeping a local retailer like Clifton Natural Foods, citing other projects that have brought national chains,” Lammi explained. “They were also pretty upset about demolishing the building at the corner because its [sic] the gateway to the last of the old building stock.”

Clifton Heights Development_First Floor Plan
The historically significant mansion that once housed Christian Moerlein’s daughter sits on the northeastern portion of the proposed development. Image provided.

Local historians point to the mansion housing Christy’s as a significant piece to the city’s beer brewing heritage. According to Steve Hampton, executive director of the OTR Brewery District, the mansion was built by Christian Moerlein as a wedding gift for his daughter in 1881.

Posing a potentially significant hurdle for the development would be the mansion’s pending historic designation.

“CUF has sent a request to the Urban Conservator requesting a designation hearing along with a formal designation application,” said Hampton, who went on to clarify that a hearing date has not been determined.

The process of attaining such designation, Hampton claims, would protect the property from demolition, under city law, until a final ruling is made.

The development team’s current schedule calls for initial site due diligence and inspection work to be completed by May of this year, followed by an eight-month period for the necessary project approvals.

As the project moves forward, Lammi says that students and neighborhood residents plan to be very involved, and intend to meet on Saturday, February 9 at 2pm to discuss the proposal at Rohs Street Café. He says that the meeting will be open to anyone interested in attending, and will offer a venue for people to voice their concerns and opinions on the development.

  • Jacob Peters

    Glad that the council stood up to this. Intensive development is needed, but not with the price of losing 3 local institutions in the process. Coupled with U Square, it would be downright character destroying.

    • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

      Evidently Christy’s “temporarily” closed down not too long ago. I guess you could count Clifton Natural Foods as the second institution, but what’s the third?

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.boggs.10 Sarah Boggs

      Christy’s Rathskeller is going to reopen tomorrow (2/8/13) to the public. My husband and I are taking over operational management have spent a long time cleaning up the Rathskeller. Come down and check us out!

    • Cody Kirschner

      ALRIGHT..!!!! I’m glad I stumbled onto this article. I’ll be stopping by tonight…!!!! Best news I’ve heard all week…

  • Zachary Schunn

    First, praise is in order to UrbanCincy for being the first ones to report this. Many of us have known Christy’s has been privately for sale for over a year, but none of my city and local contacts knew anything about this proposal until the last couple of days.

    I will give the developer credit for going to the neighborhood before anyone else, but as you make clear there’s a looootttt of hurdles to clear before this begins.

    As a Realtor I’m curious about contract sales price… what I’ve heard was the owners were asking many multiples of market value for that land. (Can’t really know for sure since it’s not publicly marketed.)

    Finally, know if this changes the (supposed) plans to re-open the Rathskeller February 8th?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1414890499 Matt Jacob

      I’m not surprised that they were asking that much. Assembling that large of a total parcel in that great of a location is no easy feat. A sum of the parts is greater than the pieces situation if I ever saw one. The income potential alone at that location increases exponentially the bigger it gets because it’s then capable of this larger scale of a redevelopment.

      From an outsider(non-bearcat)’s perspective, I’m overall a fan. I think the point about the Clifton Natural Foods building needing saved is moot if you can retain the tenant’s operations in the new corner retail space. The move might actually help them in the long run; solidifying a local establishment. The new building will be the same size on that corner anyways. The parking will be an added relief to that crammed off-campus neighborhood and it fits in pretty well for its size. As far as the mansion, I’m 50/50 on whether it’s worth saving as historic. It’s already been retrofitted to dead, so that’s a hard sell to me. It WAS a great building, but now I don’t know. If the operations of the bar are already in question, do you really want to stop something because of the building only to have it built around and sit vacant for years?

    • Zachary Schunn

      I’m not surprised they were asking a lot, but last I heard they were asking 10mm/AC. Can’t verify that, but that’s what I’ve hard. Other development land around UC has recently been going for 0.5-1mm/AC. If they sell for anywhere near what they were asking, that could have ripple effects on land values all across the city.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1414890499 Matt Jacob

      $10,000,000/acre? (I ran into this mm notation a couple weeks ago and couldn’t be sure what it meant, so clarification would be really helpful here)

      If that’s right, then wow I’m amazed that there was that much upside to justify that high of a land cost for the development to work financially. How many acres was the total parcel? That would be an eye opener for sure.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.boggs.10 Sarah Boggs

      It will still reopen! We had a soft open last night and another tonight. Open to the public on the 8th at 3 pm!

  • zschmiez

    The concept rendering shows flat ground all around, when this is clearly not the case.

    • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

      The concept rendering does, but the section elevation does not. This is fairly par for the course with concept renderings this early in the development stage…it’s just something to give people an idea of what the development team is thinking. The more technical drawings are what you should look at for more reality.

  • charles ross

    I think it’s time to ease off on the canyon-building campaign. Generic slab buildings in this area are becoming the majority. The new garage along McMillan is horrible. Enough already.

    • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

      I agree that many of the new developments have been generic slab buildings, but that is a different issue from the “canyon-building campaign” you mention. I think high-density residential in this area is a good thing, but it could be done with better attention to architectural detail and overall design.

    • charles ross

      I mean the looming superblock developments that kill off the life of sidewalks. They are hitting Corryville as well as the Heights zone. UC made some wonderful pedestrian improvements on their campus, but off-campus it seems it’s more of a wash. This particular one’s streetscape actually looks a cut above those, but its first project phase consists of destroying the neighborhood.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-W-Hall/1723611491 Matthew W. Hall

      You can’t kill off the life of a sidewalk unless it has one in the first place. This will bring people to the area. They will use the sidewalks. That is the most important feature of this. Build it and they will come.

  • Allister Sears

    I do question the decision to raze two buildings with architectural appeal, when the lot across the street from Old St. George church still remains vacant, after several homes and apartment buildings there were razed.

    • Zachary Schunn

      There are development plans in store for that lot too…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Greg-Meckstroth/12415881 Greg Meckstroth

    I love the density, it’s a given, but this might be more palatable if the new development was something contemporary and striking. The rendering leaves little to be desired; it seems they want to tear down what’s considered genuine and replace them with what looks to be generic. In my opinion, the neighborhood needs to feed off and compliment the contemporary architectural masterpieces on campus and create a contemporary feel of its own.

  • Graham

    “Local historians point to the mansion housing Christy’s as a significant piece to the city’s beer brewing heritage.” The mansion actually houses Lendhardt’s, Christy’s is the adjoining outdoor bar and beer garden.

  • Mark Christol

    That first rendering is missing the swarms of unruly teenagers at the bus stop.
    How tall is the stuff going in across from Lenhardt’s supposed to be?
    As far as Lenhardt’s – those guys don’t seem the greatest stewards in both the building and the food. That being said, one of the worst things to go in Cincinnati is all the German food. If Lenhardt’s just closes, what’s left besides Meklenburg Gardens?

    • Zachary Schunn

      U Square (across the street) is 4 stories.

      Actually, I’m curious to see if they stick with the 7-story concept since it will dominate the neighborhood.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21405087 Neil Clingerman

      Yeah I’m going to miss Lendhardt’s for its Saurbraten – I don’t think Mecklenborg’s was as good and its a touch overpriced. It seems from what I’ve heard the restaurant had been going down hill (I havne’t been there in years). People don’t even call it by its proper name anymore either..

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-W-Hall/1723611491 Matthew W. Hall

    If there is one thing Cincinnati has, it’s available retail space. I’m sure a closed restaurant and a rather dirty and poorly organized health food shop can find somewhere to continue doing business.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.boggs.10 Sarah Boggs

      The restaurant will remain closed for now. My husband and I have taken over operations management of the bar. We will reopen to the public 2/8/13. Come down and check us out!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21405087 Neil Clingerman

    I think there could be a good compromise here, there is a huge parking lot that is kind of a blight on the area that could be done away with and it looks like there is room not being used by the developer over the parking deck. Why don’t they just build the apartments over the deck so that they still have as much square footage and the old buildings can be preserved?

    Btw, its really depressing when you see what was torn down where U Square is going in now (even more so when you realize it was a grassy field for 10 years). Here are some pics: http://cincinnatimonocle.blogspot.com/2012/01/photos-of-calhoun-st-and-mcmillan-st-in.html

    • Zachary Schunn

      The parking deck is in an area zoned residential.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-W-Hall/1723611491 Matthew W. Hall

      And that is important because…..

    • Zachary Schunn

      Because multi-family (4+ units) development is prohibited. Lots must be 2500 sf/unit (up to 7500 sf for 3 units), with a 35′ height restriction.

      I understand variances and PD’s exist, but a 7-story development on a residential street would be quite a dramatic change in desired use… not sure the city would go for that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-W-Hall/1723611491 Matthew W. Hall

      American zoning is very technical info. Thanks for letting us know. If more people knew how fiendishly complex zoning laws are in Cincinnati and the U.S. in general, they’d come around to supporting form-based zoning. Most people simply do not appreciate the orwellian complexity of current zoning law and the ways in which it prevents the very things cities need for economic efficiency.

    • Zachary Schunn

      Agreed. I’m hoping form-based codes relieve some of the development/re-development hurdles we see in this city as a direct result of zoning.

      As for this particular site, though, if form-based codes were implemented in CUF I doubt these plans would be approved as-is. The current draft as of now has 4-to-6 story height restrictions in all but “core” business districts (ie CBD), and I certainly believe this would require a step-down to neighborhood scale. Also not sure the garage would get approved where it is, since it faces a residential street.

      This developer may actually have an easier time with current zoning than FBC.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-W-Hall/1723611491 Matthew W. Hall

      but, with form-based the developer knows beforehand and doesn’t waste time with forms that don’t fit.

    • Zachary Schunn

      Very true. The neighborhood’s desires are theoretically built into the code.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cincinnatijulz Julz Brown

    Being a Realtor, neighbor and a long term
    patron of this establishment i would hate to see it go. I personally
    have an affinity for historic homes and do believe in preservation.
    However, I also believe the current owners should be the ones to decided
    if they want their property deemed an historic landmark. I know if i
    wanted to sell my property i wouldnt want the neighborhood telling me
    what i can and cannot do with my property. But there will always be
    people standing in the way of progress and this community has opinions
    that are as diverse as the people that live here.

  • Nick Foltz

    Nah, it’s a counterproductive move for Clifton. Places like Christy’s & Lenhardt’s & Clifton Natural Foods are places that give Clifton the character it has that make people want to flourish there and even live there. I see so many great establishments in my travels that are eventually taken down due to apartment buildings & high-rise condominium complexes taking their place. All in all, you are destroying part of why these people would even want to live there by getting rid of these places.

  • Mark Christol

    Here’s an update from the Courier Journal guys.
    No mention of salvage of the Lenhardt’s. / Christy’s building.

    http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/news/2013/02/08/christys-lenhardts-owner-ready-to.html

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21405087 Neil Clingerman

      More fabric goes away. Can these guys at least get better design on their buildings sigh :(.

  • Beth Nagy

    It seems like there would be much less opposition to developments like this if developers actually started planning from the beginning with constituents instead of after. Proactive instead of reactive.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2309211 Eric Douglas

    Look at Northwestern in Chicago, NYU/Columbia in NYC, or WSU in Detroit, universities are the absolute last rung on the historic preservation ladder.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dieter-Schmied/1828492951 Dieter Schmied

    You people are really full of it. I have more knowledge of this particular area than all of you combined and this concern over historical is just crap. I recently spent two days walking that area with a guy from HUD no less. I was taken back a little by the existing buildings which were in a condition that caused me to remark that if these buildings were occupied by minorities instead of students, they would have been torn down.

    While this area was a really neat neighborhood in the fifties, it is crap today. I know of only two persons that In that area that lived or worked there in the forties through the seventies and one of which owns Lenhart’s. The significant historical aspects is that which involved the people and businesses and not the obsolete buildings. I didn’t want to see the area go but when the Friars Club came down, I got the message. Most of you want to save the past for your amusement so long as someone else pays for it.

    I don’t really like what is being developed there but that neighborhood which existed in the last century is gone. It is like having a parent that has Alzheimer’s disease and is in a coma. If you want a project the original Moerlein family home is on Ohio Avenue and could stand some care.