The Application to Demolish the Dennison Hotel


When applying to demolish a historic building in a national historic district—as is currently proposed for the Dennison Hotel in downtown Cincinnati—the property owner must prove to the Historic Conservation Board (HCB) that the building is an economic hardship. A Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) to demolish the building is then approved by the HCB if the building cannot be alternatively developed or sold, and on the condition that demolition will provide the only relief from economic hardship. Via Cincinnati building code 1435-09-2:

The Board may approve or approve with conditions an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness [for demolition] when it finds…

That the property owner has demonstrated by credible evidence that the property owner will suffer economic hardship if the certificate of appropriateness is not approved.

Below, we detail the entire application that was submitted to the HCB last month by the Dennison’s current owner—Columbia REI (affiliate of Columbia Oldsmobile and Joseph Auto Group)—in its pursuit to demolish the building. We’ll leave open to your interpretation whether or not Columbia REI has met the criteria to demolition the building. On April 18th, CPC will be offering our full opinion on the matter. The application was submitted by attorney Francis Barrett on behalf of Columbia REI and is based on a report by Beck Consulting as appraisers.

Before we view the application, let’s first consider how we got to this point in the first place. In 2013 Columbia Oldsmobile discovered that the Dennison Hotel was for sale when a planned deal for low income housing fell through under curious circumstances. Columbia Oldsmobile presumably conducted due diligence on the building’s potential use, inspected the building, met with their architects, put together the financing and bought the building for $700,000.

So now in 2016, a little more than two years later, the same group is applying to demolish the building. Their justification is: “The cost associated with renovating the subject property…is prohibitive and is not supported by the market (page 29).” That the prospect of redeveloping the Dennison Hotel has so dramatically deteriorated in only two years is evidence of either horrifically bad business or an intentional skirting of our city’s laws.

In reviewing the application and forming your own opinion, CPC encourages you to remember that the property described is in its current state because of investments made only two years ago by capable adults, and that the building in question is 125 years old and was built by one of the most prominent Cincinnati architects of all time, Samuel Hannaford. The Joseph Auto Group has owned the building for less than 2% of its time on this earth. We believe that this request to demolish the building and its associated application should a) be taken very seriously and b) be factual and professional.

There is a lot to critique regarding the submission, but we will leave that for our time in front of the HCB on April 18th. For now, we encourage you to comment below or contact us with anything else you find. That the opinions of one group of people should forever shape the city for us all should not go without a lot of public and professional input.

Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Please let us know if you’d like to offer your professional services (real estate agent, architect, developer, appraiser, structural engineer, etc.) in further analyzing the viability of redeveloping the Dennison.
  • Attend the HCB meeting which will determine the fate of the Dennison on Monday April 18th, 3pm.
  • Donate below to our campaign: SaveTheDennison.


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John Blatchford


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