Owners of Historic Dennison Hotel Ask City Hall for Demolition Permission

Information obtained by UrbanCincy through a public records request shows that Columbia REI, LLC has enlisted the legal assistance of Francis Barrett and Timothy Burke to get Historic Conservation Board approval for the demolition of the historic Dennison Hotel.

Built in 1890, the Dennison Hotel is located within the Main Street Historic District and has sat vacant for several years. In the past, the eight-story brick structure had served as a single-occupancy room hotel in what was at that time a seedy part of the central business district.

Over the past several months historic preservationists have been organizing themselves in an effort to track the status of this historic structure as rumors have swirled that the owners were interested in demolition.

The timing becomes all the more urgent with, according to documents filed with City Hall, the owners losing hundreds of thousands of dollars on the property each year, and with the Cincinnati Streetcar, which runs right in front of the property, poised to begin operation in the coming months.

In its application to City Hall, Columbia REI, LLC, which purchased the land from Columbia Oldsmobile Company in January, says that the real estate transaction is part of a larger effort to assemble and “protect” adjoining real estate that is being prepared for a “major redevelopment” that would be in line with the numerous other large-scale development projects taking place nearby.

As part of the demolition request, the owners were required to provide renovation cost estimates, along with the potential economic feasibility of legally permissible or likely uses. The report, completed by Beck Consulting in late February, provides evidence as to why a residential, office or hotel conversion would be challenging, but does not account or consider the possibility of any historic tax credits from the State of Ohio, or other incentives from the City of Cincinnati.

According to Beck Consulting’s report, supplemented by renovation cost estimates from HGC Construction, it would cost approximately $10.5 million to renovate the historic structure into a 60-room hotel with a street-level lobby and restaurant space, $7.9 million to turn it into a 52-unit apartment building, $8.7 million for a 35-unit condominium building, or $5 million to turn it into a 39,000-square-foot office building.

Over recent years, the State of Ohio has awarded tens of millions of dollars in tax credits to historic preservation projects such as this. Given the large-scale and potential economic impact of renovating the Dennison Hotel, it would seem likely that it would be well-positioned for such financial benefits.

According to the meeting schedule for Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board, the application should come up for a hearing on Monday, April 18. All meetings take place at 3pm in the Public Hearing Room on the fifth floor of Two Centennial Plaza at 805 Central Avenue.

EDITORIAL NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Historic Conservation Board would hear this item at their April 4 meeting. Due to the application being submitted on February 23, this item will actually be on the Historic Conservation Board’s April 18 meeting agenda.

  • Adam Nelson

    Whoever Columbia REI is, they clearly have no interest in keeping an open mind about renovation, it looks like they WANT to tear it down, and they are going to produce paperwork to support accordingly.

    • I am curious as to whether they plan to bundle this site with the adjacent sites owned by Columbia Oldsmobile Company for a large development project.

    • Erich Griessmann

      I think that is what the plan is. If the demise of that building is to foster that the entire block is built out then I think it is a great thing. Save the Dennison or do away with a parking lot that covers the majority of the block? Hmmm. I think we all know the answer to that.

    • What’s the urgency to demolish the Dennison, then? Directly across the street, Rick Griewe has proposed a new tower and asked for permission to demolish the existing building there. Why doesn’t the Joseph Group say, “Here’s what we plan to build, allow us to demolish the Dennison to build it?”

    • Adam Nelson

      because they know it won’t stack up, they need to promise something great and say ‘trust us’. an actual proposal would be picked apart and expose that demolishing the building is actually unnecessary.

    • Erich Griessmann

      That is my problem with your argument. Why does the Joseph Group need to ask your permission? You are not elected to anything. If you crave that type of control, then you should run for office. I am all for historic preservation, but your opposition to save the Dennison is laughable at best.

    • Neil Clingerman

      They should get input from the neighborhood who would benefit from teh increased property values a restored historic district would provide – values that would be higher than if the area was nothing but parking lots. Joseph has no plan, so who are we to speculate they aren’t going to do anything but build a parking lot, like all the other ones they have around it.

      As usual your arguments are ill informed and reak of Cincinnati provincialism. I would have thought moving to Chicago cures people of that but I guess not everyone has the same experience :/

    • Erich Griessmann

      Joseph has no plan?


      Yeah I’m so ill informed. Your comments reak of no research.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Speculative plan does not = A plan. Oh a HQ may magically rain from the sky even though Cincinnati lost GEs HQ – just like the parcel they own 2 blocks away since the late 1960s which you know may have magically turned into Class A office space sometime in the 50 years since they bought it. Give me a break this is just an excuse for a parking lot. I would have been more convinced if it was an apartment tower because there is real demand for that, not Class A office space which has been in low demand since the Great American Tower went up.

      Barring another GE deal which IMO only comes once in like 50 years this isn’t going to happen. Besides CVG needs to be fixed before Cincinnati looks more attractive to random fortune 500 companies that dont’ already have a presence in the area.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Case in point, Joseph bought this in 1987 for the same purpose, 30 years later there is no development, great track record these guys have! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/72cd26e2e92a6f83158ad92a0742dcdfd19d74b4b1b2f33e6bf0dd57bcd2242f.jpg

    • There are no concrete plans to develop the site.

    • Steve S.

      Then it is the job of the press (i.e. Urban Cincy) to keep poking holes in the paperwork, organize, and keep the preservationists’ voice in the public servants’ ears.

    • We will keep doing what we can, but keep in mind UrbanCincy is a volunteer effort and we don’t have the luxury to spend all day digging into these issues.

    • Jesse

      If Columbia was really interested in preserving historic buildings they should consider developing the rest of the block in a way that would support the Dennison instead of isolating it for the purpose of their viability studies.

      Maybe a condo complex that could incorporate a renovated Dennison? Wouldn’t residential development be a better compliment to the other residential developments in the immediate area? They pretty much own the whole block so they would have room to create a really nice residential environment. Maybe throw in some green space and an outdoor communal area? it could be something unique for downtown.

      I’m guessing that would not be quite as lucrative. I hope Columbia is not just another land hoarder looking to collect parking revenue for a couple of generations while they wait for a massive windfall.

  • Bill Hoerst

    This building would look great with all the windows unbricked, a shame the current owner purchased it with the intent to tear it down. I have a feeling it would sit as a parking lot for a long time before this “major redevelopment” would be proposed.
    There are two massive parking lots directly east of the building that provide an opportunity for redevelopment as well.

    • I thought this building would make for a nice hotel conversion. Ace Hotel seems like the perfect operator to come in and do it since they focus on historic properties in city centers like this. In fact, they just did a project in Pittsburgh. The only problem may be the building’s relatively small size. At 60 rooms, I am not sure it has the capacity to lure a major hotel operator.

  • Erich Griessmann

    Ok. Look everyone, I understand historic preservation, but good lord. The Dennison? There is zero architecturally significant about it, and it needs to go. Not everything should be saved from the past, and that place has always been a hole. If it being torn down equals to an end result where the massive parking lot behind it is gone and there is a new huge residential development that is adding to the city fabric as well as plugging up one of the surface parking lot holes in this city then let it happen. Not everything is the Netherland folks. When the county vacates Alms and Doepke, I’ll be with you. When they vacate the TImes Star building I’ll be with you. The Dennison? Where’s the dynamite?

    • Jesse

      I’m not seeing this as a building-level issue. It’s about preserving the visual appeal and historical authenticity of the entire block. The Dennison may not be the Netherland but it really ties the block together.

      The city should think very carefully before approving demolition of any of the buildings in the picture Randy used for his article. Not many cities have blocks that look like that. tearning anything down massively damages the historical authenticity and visual appeal of the entire area. That’s why historic districts are districts rather than lists of random individual buildings.

      There could be a situation where tearing the building down would be justified but the developer is going to need to bring a lot more to the table. What are the details of this “major redevelopment?” Is funding in place? What will the economic impact be? What efforts will be taken to preserve and improve the overall look of the area?

    • The city should not approve any demolition of a historic building where the developer doesn’t have the redevelopment plans 100% finalized and funding in place. I’m not saying that this particular demolition should or should not be approved. But we absolutely should not allow historic buildings to be replaced with parking lots.

    • Erich Griessmann

      This type of behavior is exactly the same phenomenon that makes building in San Fran such an issue. For decades we have tried everything in our power to save and boost downtown. And now we have busy bodies trying to save insignificant ignored buildings and blocking development. Here’s an answer to all your questions. It’s a developer that wants to invest millions of dollars and build residential. At that point I would think you would be quiet. Last time I checked I can still stand at the Emery and look all the way down to the YWCA and see nothing but parking lots where there should be buildings. Is funding in place? What will the economic impact be? What efforts will be taken to preserve and improve the overall look of the area? REALLY? Ok lets answer those questions. 1. You want private companies to ok their funding sources with you? WHY? 2. The economic impact is new taxpayers. 3. Anything that covers a surface parking lot that has been there for over 40 + years would improve the overall look of the area. Why have government? Why don’t we have the neighborhood busy bodies anonymous run the downtown?

    • Neil Clingerman

      Cincinnati isn’t at a crisis point and there is still plenty of developable land and plenty of space to save old buildings. In 50 years when Cincy is at that point you have a point but now you don’t. Besides SF’s problem is a result of its own success, those kinds of policies will help Cincinnati medium term raise its profile and leverage its assets. Long term if there are problems lets talk but Cincinnati doesn’t have the global draw that silicoln valley gives to SF nor is it quite as constrained by geography – it will be decades until this happens.

    • Jesse

      I don’t see anything remotely controversial about making sure a development is funded and will improve the area both economically and aesthetically before starting demolition.

      Doing otherwise could end up with the site becoming another one of those surface parking lots you seem to hate. Many of those were born from situations in which people could not wait to get rid of a bunch of insignificant abandoned old buildings so developers could swoop in and build…something.

      And we are talking about a building right? You started off with abandoned buildings and ended up wondering why people are trying to preserve surface parking lots. I’m all for developing on parking lots. So if this developer is unable or unwilling to prove they have funding and a plan that is truly exceptional why not direct them to the nearest surface lot and spare the Dennison?

      Blocks like the one the Dennison are on are what make Cincinnati unique.Our sense of place is the biggest advantage we have in competing for the jobs, talent and money we need to thrive. So yes you sometimes need to sit on old buildings in the hope that things will turn around (it eventually worked out for OTR). And no you don’t give free reign to the first developer that shows up with a truckload of cash. Not unless you want to turn downtown into a supersized version of that fake urban shopping center they built in Liberty Twp.

    • Erich Griessmann

      I would think that the city would know if a developer was funded or not. Yes we are talking about a building. The Dennison in particular. My point about the surface parking lots was to point out that, A) the entire block that the Dennison is a part of behind it is a surface parking lot as well as sitting beside it. Joseph Columbia bought the Dennison with the idea that once they tore the Dennison down they would develop the entire part of the block that they owned. Which means that you lose the Dennison and they build a new development in its place which also gets rid of all the surface parking lots on that block. Which would fill in a hole in the city. You guys are arguing to save something that has no historical value whatsoever other than the fact that a famous architect was hired to design it. It was still a not so nice place, EVER. Even when it was new. My point is that you would rather save a building that is ugly and has no historical importance and deny the city a change at getting rid of some of the empty spaces and for what? So that a small group of high in the sky historically ethical do gooders can pat themselves on the back? The city is making a huge comeback but it is still in a place that it could all crumble easily if there is a perception of obstructionism on the part of crazy historical activists that act up every time someone tries to make the city better. You know, Samuel Hannaford designed the bathrooms in many of the homes he built around the city. Does that mean we should preserve the toilets in them? Come on guys.

    • Neil Clingerman

      This is a samuel hannaford designed building – one of the premiere architects of historic Cincinnati building stock. That alone makes it historically relevant.

    • Erich Griessmann

      Neil, my parents first home was a Samuel Hannaford building. They were both buried out of a Samuel Hannaford building. They aren’t all winners and for you guys to insinuate that the Dennison is somehow architecturally significant undermines your opinion.

    • Neil Clingerman

      This one is a winner it just needs TLC. They don’t build buildings like this anymore period and I could see this being converted into hip loft spaces or offices.

      San Francisco IMO is amazing due to the sheer armount of buildings its kept from this era. Nothing beats walking in a neighborhood full of ornate architecture like nob hill in San Francisco – its a magical experience, Cincinnati has the architecture but not enough of it has been restored to get a similar abet smaller scaled experience. Also, would you rather this be a building or a parking lot? The Joseph family has no plan for this sight and instead of having an early skyscraper come down for a parking lot maybe it should be preserved/restored instead?

      Even in Chicago walking through Printers row is great, are those buildings the most pretty buildings? Not really but they are unique old industrial buildings from the early 20th century and are part of what makes Chicago Chicago. This is part of what makes Cincinnati Cincinnati.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Also for those who don’t know printers row, this trendy highly sought after loft building isn’t much different than what the Dennison is – its just cleaned up: http://www.chicagospropertyshop.com/images/08751639_640_01.jpg

    • Erich Griessmann
    • Neil Clingerman

      Hey Erich look A PLAN!! LOVE THAT OFFICE BUILDING THAT WAS BUILT IN THE 1990S THERE RIGHT?! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/72cd26e2e92a6f83158ad92a0742dcdfd19d74b4b1b2f33e6bf0dd57bcd2242f.jpg

    • Neil Clingerman

      Such attractive architecture too, this brand of modernism could really set a precident for how other cities handle their glut of class A office space https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6bb05dcf7fb6a21abbf74115f2fe3298d305b0001dec1e98cfaabbf2b86b84c3.jpg

    • Jesse

      From the enquirer this morning “Columbia would immediately pursue demolition, however, the site would remain vacant until new tenants for the offices are identified and financing is arranged.” Sounds familiar.

      The old article mentions a building facade that was preserved. I wonder what happened to that. Is it still in storage somewhere? Does Columbia still plan to paste it on to that slick modern structure they envision? In the meantime maybe they could prop it up in front of their parking lot as a kind of before and after thing to put in their development portfolio.

    • Jesse

      There is no plan there. It’s just the developers sales pitch plus a picture.

      A plan would be something like “XXX corp has committed to building a new corporate headquarters on the site bringing ### new jobs. The tax credits have all been worked out, a funding plan has been approved by the city, legally binding agreements have been drawn up and everything is ready to go.”

      Even then XXX corp should be prepared to explain why they can’t work around the historic buildings or choose a less problematic site. None of these steps should scare XXX corp away. Big companies expect to jump through these kinds of hoops.

      I get it. This block is mostly a giant parking lot. Nobody likes parking lots. I think what the historic preservation folks would like to see is in-fill that compliments the surrounding area. In my opinion in-fill is more likely to succeed than a speculative office building.

      And by the way, that illustration seems to assume the other historic buildings next to the Dennison will be demolished as well. I guess if you are going to build a massive modern glass and steel structure there you would kind of have to raze the whole block. The Ohio Bookstore would look silly next to something like that. Something like that wold be cool on the riverfront but why here? Because the developer got a deal on the land and is apparently unfamiliar with the concept of historic districts?

    • Erich Griessmann

      Look, I understand what you guys want. But the majority of that block faces Sycamore which I don’t believe is a historical district. It is a parking lot. And the rendering shows looking toward it westward. It would block the view of the existing historical structures. The story also states that they are also looking at making it residential as a possibility. As Neil and others point out on here, they love to talk about Chicago and other cities and what they have done. In Chicago they have tore everything down and there is zero history (except for Water Tower and Pumping station, The Drake, and Marshall FIelds). If the argument is for a renovated Dennison and keep the parking lot, or no Dennison and a brand new structure that fills in the city and gives us hundreds of new residents and services or hell even a new building, I don’t see the problem. The city cannot afford to allow this kind of obstructionism for an insignificant building. It has no redeeming architectural feature. It is not important to history in any way. It was turned into a dump hotel a million years ago. With this type of mentality no city would ever progress. We’ve tried it the Buddy Gray way for decades. I say enough is enough and lets move forward. The argument is mute. They tried several times to redo it through different owners and it never happened. To justify letting a piece of crap block future development that only people who haven’t been here that long and who don’t own it is negligence by the city to the greater needs of the majority. Your comment, “why here?” Um its in the city in downtown south of Central Parkway. If not there, where else? I don’t understand why you guys think development of parking lots needs to be debated. It is not the Times Star building. Nor Alms & Doepke, Nor the phone company building, Nor CG&E. I mean hell, even if it was the old NBC building I would stand up for it. I would even stand up for Trivets for Christ’s sake. The Pheonix Club, The CIncinnati Club, The Athletic club, Shillitoes, the building at the end of 4th street, the homes on 9th street. Even Cappel’s! The Dennison? NO.

    • Neil Clingerman

      I am no fan of Buddy Grey either, he did more to hold back the city of Cincinnati than any one person. He also was opposed to making OTR a national historic district too…

      Parking lots are fine to be developed, just not historic property. Heck the parking lots and historic buildings can be fit into the same block, there are plenty of examples of this all over the country.

  • Brad McLaughlin

    Ok. Look Erich…yes, save the Dennison. We all get that it is not the Netherland. But neither was the Fort Washington Hotel, St. Paul’s Evangelical Church, The Metropole was ‘a hole’, Union Hall, the ‘Paint’ building.
    The Wielert building is not the Times Star building, but it is quirky and part of our history and worth saving. The Power Building had bricks falling onto the sidewalk.
    The Dennison has potential. If the Iron Works project had come to fruition and built out, it would be full and we would have embraced it.
    Thanks for being with us for the Times Star and Alms & Doepke buildings.

  • neroden

    This should be made into an apartment building. For $7.9 million? Historic building adjacent to the streetcar? It would be a license to print money.

    Demolishing it for some megadevelopment would cost way more and probalby lose a lot more money.

    An *innovative* owner would renovate all the buildings in the block into apartments and offices, supplying an integrated HVAC for the entire building complex.