UC Explains Concept Behind $16 Million Renovation of Historic Sears Building

The $16 million transformation of a 1929 department store into a research and innovation center for the University of Cincinnati is well underway in Avondale.

“The building is designed for space for work between outside companies and the university. There will likely be offices, labs, and open work areas. The interior has opportunities for collaborative areas, and open areas with flexible work space layout,” said University Architect Mary Beth McGrew.

UrbanCincy reported in January 2014 that UC intended to demolish the building, which is located at 2900 Reading Road and was originally built as a Sears, Roebuck and Co. department store. However, the university later decided to preserve the structure, seeing the potential for this renovation to spur new development in the surrounding area.

“It is to be hoped the renovation of the building owned by the university will entice others to develop in the nearby lots. This building might indeed be a catalyst,” added McGrew.

Technically a renovation project, it hardly meets the definition of being one that focuses on historic preservation. In fact, many UrbanCincy readers who have seen the renovation in progress have been curious about the extent to which the original building would be preserved.

While the core of the original 1929 structure is being saved, the 1945 addition has already been demolished. Additionally, much of the brick exterior of the original 1929 building has also been removed. The prominent brick tower on the structure, while being saved, is also being obscured by the addition of a fourth floor.

McGrew explained to UrbanCincy that brick on the tower will be preserved and replaced, where the brick had been damaged, by recovered brick from elsewhere on the structure. Aside from the tower and some accent areas, the rest of the structure will be clad in modern glass treatment.

“The brick was supported in large part by steel angles that were in very bad shape,” McGrew said. “The new façade material will be a brick of similar color and size.”

  • There was a huge water tank concealed in that tower, I wonder if it is still there or if they cut it up and removed it. The building will also be connected to to a 100gig research data network.

  • Neil Clingerman

    They might as well have knocked that building down. What a way to ruin a classic design, they couldn’t even keep the tower as a visible icon of the building! Such contempt in Cincinnati for its architectural heritage particularly by the powers that be.

    • Jules Michael Rosen

      They are keeping the tower. It will just be partially obscured by the 4th fl addition. This is better than a demolition. It at least references the past.

    • Neil Clingerman

      but the 4th floor hides the fact its a tower, you can do rebuilds ilke this far more sensitively…

    • Jules Michael Rosen

      You could definitely do it more sensitively, perhaps not putting the 4th fl against the existing building, but it doesn’t hide the tower from the west, the most important elevation. I can appreciate that some of the building is preserved, and a prominent feature at that. This is much better than the numerous buildings that are completely sacrificed for new development.

  • John Wulsin

    What elevation is that rendering showing? I think it’s showing the south and east sides of the new building, but it’s kind of hard to tell. Are there any other renderings available?

  • Keith Jones

    The community had better ask what is going on. UC has no money for scholarship or to support much of its research, has a lot of quality open lab space and they renovate a new building?? WASTE of money, bad priorities.

    • Building a research facility is a bad priority and a waste for a university that prides itself on research?

    • Keith Jones

      building a research facility when a significant portion of the research space on the COM campus is empty and underutilized, and programmatic needs are serious and under-funded is a bad priority.