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Historic Bank Street Demolitions (update)

Several weeks ago local and regional preservationists united in an attempt to raise awareness of a potential demolition of four historic buildings in Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood. Emails were sent, calls were made, and awareness was reached to a certain extent.

Paul Wilham led these efforts locally and did not have much luck in getting a response back from the Mayor’s office on the matter. I sent my own email out on January 9th to all nine members of City Council and the Mayor’s office. Last week I got a response from Council member Leslie Ghiz (thank you) that included comments from the City’s Code Enforcement Division and Historic Preservation Department.

833-839 Bank Street – Photo by Kevin LeMaster

In the response there were several pieces of useful information. Code Enforcement clarified that the City primarily funds its demolitions with Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). This money is not allowed to be used in demolitions that might have an “adverse impact on a historic structure” as is the case for the Bank Street properties (Streetview). As a result of this contingency, the City engages in very little demolition work of historic structures.

In the particular case here it is the private owner who is preparing to demolish these structures – not the City. The current owners, the Reed family, have applied for the demolition permits and can go forth with the demolitions as planned unless something extraordinary happens.

The Reed family has been the subject of code enforcement actions in the past. Criminal prosecution even occurred in relation to compliance issues for 839 Bank Street. As a result the City has attempted to secure the buildings by barricading them on seven different instances since 2006. The Division cites that they have “no immediate plans to demolish these buildings by governmental action,” and that the owner can choose to either demolish the structures as they currently have planned, or they can bring the properties into compliance through repair.

The question was then asked if approval is needed, from the Historic Conservation Office, for private demolition in this historic district. The response was that in this particular case the answer appears to be “no.”

Additional Reading:
“West End Buildings Doomed” – Building Cincinnati

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Reclaiming our city from the mistakes of the past

Cincinnati, as well as, many other cities are spending billions of dollars to fix the mistakes made by misguided policy and investments of the past. Cincinnati actually fared better than many cities in this regard…protecting some of it’s urban gems (Over-the-Rhine) from the wrecking ball. Other areas weren’t as lucky (West End).

The Eisenhower Interstate System efficiently and brutally tore through the West End of Cincinnati; rendering a beauty like Crosley Field practically obsolete. It also ripped through a dense, diverse, urban neighborhood. The funny thing is that the two places that were Cincinnati’s points of entry to many immigrants were ruined for the sake of the interstate system and other ‘urban renewal’ projects. Immigrants would come in along the Ohio River and find jobs along it’s powerful economic riverbanks. Others would come in by train and pass through the mighty Union Terminal, find working class jobs in the West End and settle down.

Well we all know what those two key locations are like today, and we know what they were like in the past. A key issue however, is what they’ll be like in the future. The Banks and Cincinnati Riverfront Park are rebuilding a neighborhood creating a beautiful green space for Cincinnati. Different from the warehouses and docks that once existed, but overall a very nice alternative.

Now there is the often over looked West End…what about it. It seems to be sitting there with a whole lot of nothing going on. Sure there are some warehouses and distribution centers, sprinkle in a little residential here or there and you have it. If it weren’t for City West it would still be the massive symbol of ‘urban renewal’ that it is. But wait, don’t write it off quite yet. The Cincinnati Museum Center claims residence to the West End, as well as it’s rail yards. Quietly behind the scenes people have been working towards a high speed rail plan for Ohio. Combine this with the great success of the Museum Center and you have the potential for something great.

Flooded Walnut Street (1913)

The Gateway Park District is something that could end up being more important, more impactful and just more impressive than the highly touted Banks project. It has the ability to reclaim the West End from it’s ‘urban renewal’ blight and turn that area back into a main entry point for the Queen City. It will be interesting to watch this project proceed, but one thing is for sure…Cincinnati seems to be trying it’s best to reclaim our city from the mistakes of the past.