Business Development News

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).

Business Development News

Groundbreaking for $14M Anna Louise Inn Ends Prolonged Battle with W&S

Construction work began on the new $14 million Anna Louise Inn two weeks ago. The start of work marks the beginning of the final chapter in what has been a long, divisive battle for the 184-year-old social service agency against one of the city’s corporate giants.

Between 2010 and 2013 Western & Southern Financial Group, whose headquarters is located adjacent to Lytle Park and the existing home of Anna Louise Inn, fought the renovation of the agency’s 105-year-old home that was originally donated to them by the Charles P. Taft family in 1909.

What had started as an innocent project where the owners, Cincinnati Union Bethel, were awarded $10 million to renovate their facility, turned into an ugly battle with allegations of government misconduct and corporate bullying.

In the end, the corporation working to amass an entire district of property around Lytle Park won. Instead of renovating their long-time home, the Anna Louise Inn was forced to accept a relocation deal after the prolonged legal battle drained the organization’s finances.

The new Mt. Auburn facility will accomplish the goals of the original renovation plans. A new four-story structure will rise at 2401 Reading Road, where a historic streetcar barn previously stood, and include 85 apartments for single women looking for support. Cincinnati Union Bethel officials also say that the 1.2-acre site will include community space, private garden, computer lab and some office space for their administrators.

The project is being financial aided by an $850,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati and a $9.7 million financing package from U.S. Bank.

While the project is anticipated to open in early 2015, there is no word yet as to what Western & Southern will do with the building left behind by the Anna Louise Inn, but executives have previously suggested it could house the center city’s next posh hotel or luxury condominiums.

Community leaders and project officials avoided the controversial history at the groundbreaking, but the uncomfortable back story hung over the event like a thick layer of Beijing’s omnipresent smog.

“It makes no difference where Anna Louise Inn is located,” implored City Councilman Wendell Young (D). “If we applaud nothing else, let’s applaud their history, let’s applaud their work, let’s applaud their commitment, and let’s thank god we will always have Anna Louise Inn.”