Western & Southern Aiming to Alter Lytle Park Historic District Boundaries

The construction of Interstate 71 spelled the permanent division of several east side neighborhoods in Cincinnati including Evanston and Walnut Hills. But in the early 1960’s, an effort arose from downtown land owners around historic Lytle Park to preserve one of the oldest areas in the city.

Enacted in 1964, the Lytle Park Historic District has protected this area of the city which I-71 now passes under. Now, per city regulations, the city’s oldest historic district is up for renewal. A city staff report to the Cincinnati Planning Commission, however, reveals that several changes may be afoot.

The district has historically been split into two types of regulated areas. Area A properties were those that had to meet the strictest requirements of the historic district’s guidelines; while Area B properties were granted special allowances to accommodate some changes.

Over the last few decades Western & Southern Financial Group has slowly acquired many of the properties that make up the district. Most recently, the company acquired the 105-year-old building the Anna Louise Inn had long called its home.

The proposed district changes would remove some properties from the historic district altogether, and would also eliminate the distinction between properties. Specifically the Woodford Building along Fourth Street, a building along Fifth Street, a parking garage, and several historic buildings along Third and Arch Streets would be removed under the proposal.

In the letter to Planning Commission legal counsel Western & Southern attorney Fran Barrett stated:

“Our client’s desires to be able to provide for keeping its home office headquarters in the area which will ensure the ever-increasing high number of wage earners who add significantly to the city’s tax base, support a number of businesses and commercial activities in the downtown area, and continue to promote a major financial services company in the Central Business District.

There is a concern that an added layer of government reviews could deter positive economic growth at this location. Western & Southern’s track record demonstrates that all concerned should have nothing but the greatest of confidence in any future development undertaken by Western & Southern.”

The removal of these areas from the historic district would essentially clear the way for the financial services giant to demolish and redevelop the properties in a way that would not have to conform to the district’s guidance on new infill development.

Such information only fuels intense speculation that Western & Southern is actively eyeing a location to build a new high-rise office tower to consolidate its headquarters, and possibly even a second high-rise tower accommodating either a hotel or residences.

While the staff report offers no comment on the removal of the buildings from the district, the three buildings along Arch Street are some of the oldest buildings in the city.

The proposed changes will go before Cincinnati Planning Commission on Friday, May 2. The meeting is scheduled to take place at 9am on the seventh floor inside the  J. Martin Griesel Conference Room at Centennial Plaza Two (map).

  • EDG

    The Arch St. buildings are nice, but they don’t have great visibility or access. Plus, there’s a parking garage and hideous rotating sign right next to it that would likely be where the new tower would go.

    The Woodford Building is more concerning since W&S, which is run by the brother of Fran Barrett (and who also happens to play tennis with the judge in the ALI case) isn’t going to be forthright with their plans. We may finally get to see Cranley’s best shot at impersonating Rahm Emmanuel.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    Move those houses to The Banks or a downtown parking lot.

  • CollegeHill_45224

    I always like to hear the possibilities of new high-rises built. Just a thought.. Why hasn’t Kroger been in talks to have a new headquarters built? It’s the largest supermarket chain in America, and fifth largest retailer overall. That building downtown just doesn’t represent the Kroger brand in my head.

    • zschmiez

      Anyone who has worked with Kroger, or within Kroger, knows that they are EXTREMELY conservative fiscally. Any flashy building or architecture sort of goes against their mantra. Besides, they seem to do alright in those digs, and their patience resulted in being across the street from Cincy’s hottest neighborhood. Go figure!

    • Also, Kroger doesn’t even occupy the entire building. There are several other tenants in there. If Kroger needs more space, they could just kick out those tenants when their leases are over.

    • Steven Fields

      Why did that need that city paid for parking garage then, if they are not filling the whole building?

    • EDG

      I believe the other tenants are employees of companies that work on contract for Kroger marketing and other functions.

    • EDG

      The re-skinned their current HQ in the 70’s or 80’s. It used to be truer to the International Style and simply looks bad now and stands out being north of the rest of downtown.

  • Matt Jacob

    I like this plan. It balances the needs of W&S, who owns almost the entire district, with the needs for the long-term preservation of this area of our city. Sure there are a few casualties (I’d prefer to see the Arch Street buildings moved rather torn down in th event they redevelop), but there was no guarentee that this area of the city would stay protected without W&S’s leadership.

    One interesting thing to note is that this was one of the first historic districts formed in the country, so they only did it for a 50 year trial-run in case it didn’t work well. So now that the first 50 years has burned off, there was nothing forcing W&S to reinstitute this historic status. W&S has a pretty great track record of protecting and adaptively reusing historic buildings, but there’d be no guarentee that the next guy after them would care for the buildings in the same way without this new district in place. I’m glad they recognize this and are being good stewards of the great historic assets they’ve collected today and into the future.

    • EDG

      I’m not sure that W&S owning a few buildings there takes away the purpose of the historic designation. Does anyone know if the Taft house is a national park?

    • charles ross

      Taft House on Auburn Avenue is.
      The Taft Museum (Baum-Longworth house) is a historic landmark, but not a park.

  • I don’t see why the historic district overlay needs to be removed from the W&S properties. The city could still approve a W&S tower or two at that location, and perhaps require them to preserve the facades of the historic buildings located there now.

    To me, W&S’s letter reads a little like blackmail. “You should remove these regulations on our property… you don’t want anything to happen to these jobs, now would you?”

    • Matt Jacob

      The historic overlay isn’t being removed. It’s expiring because it was only for a 50-year period instead of perpetual like almost every other one in the city. This was one of the first places in the country to do a historic overlay district and at the time they didn’t know if it would work the way they planned, so they gave it a limited time frame.

  • Neil Clingerman

    Because its Cincinnati, those buildings on Arch Street are toast. I’m cynical but its how things work down there. Moving isn’t even in the vocabularly, let alone adaptive reuse.

    I’d also be extremely disappointed if the original building that was the publishing house for the McGuffey reader gets torn down. Its pretty shocking that few people know that’s down there but typical.

  • Matt Jacob

    I wish they’d have kept the Broadway buildings in the district. Any idea why Amy Murray got them removed?

  • KeepReal

    WS is already in the process of kicking out the tenants or the Woodford building. They’ll be gone by year’s end. You can probably kiss that fine building goodbye.
    The WS HQ building(s) on Broadway between 4th and 5th aren’t even in the historic district, currently or proposed. Does this mean that they could knock them down with nary any restriction? It would be bad enough to lose the Arch St. buildings or the Woodford building. Losing the HQ neo-classical jewel (minus that hideous sailing ship sculpture) would be a catastrophe.