The Dennison Hotel and the Streetcar

The Dennison Hotel Building, located at 716-18 Main Street in the Central Business District of Cincinnati, is currently under threat of demolition. It is owned by Columbia REI, LLC, and is due for a hearing at the Historic Conservation Board (HCB) on April 18th, 2016, at which time its owner plans to ask for a Certificate of Appropriateness for demolition.

Columbia REI has submitted its application for demolition to the HCB which will inform the upcoming hearing. In this lengthy document prepared by Beck Consulting, Columbia REI and their attorney C. Francis Barrett present many points, but the one related to the streetcar reads (emphasis mine):

There is much expectation and anticipation for the economic benefit that will accrue to various neighborhoods throughout Cincinnati CBD and OTR as a consequence of streetcar activation. The streetcar is not expected to begin operations until September 2016. It is unknown what affect the streetcar will have on the various neighborhoods through which it passes. Some believe that the streetcar will function exclusively as a shuttle bus between Over the Rhine and the riverfront. Others believe that it will function as a conduit for people moving between Over the Rhine and established points of interest in the CBD. As with any public means of transportation where access is limited to specific points, there will be portions of the route that will be more significantly affected than other portions of the route. This was true for the railroads and the interstate highway system; the points where people already wanted to go were benefitted by the systems, but the areas where few wanted to go were largely unaffected or only marginally affected.

Beck Consulting goes on to say that the “areas that will be most affected by the streetcar are those venues where folks are already drawn to attend”—which they list as Great American Ballpark, US Bank Arena, Paul Brown Stadium and the Aronoff. It then argues that the area surrounding the Dennison “is one of those areas where little is expected to occur that will change the fortunes of the struggling properties in this district.” With stops at 6th and Main and 8th and Main, the streetcar—it asserts—will not help or affect the “few residents” and “few successful businesses” in the Main Street historic district area near the Dennison. The streetcar analysis within the report concludes, “The subject’s neighborhood will be like so many expressway exits which cars drive past to get somewhere they want to be.”

That Beck Consulting maintained that the streetcar would zoom past the Dennison—only stopping in the Banks and Over-the-Rhine and not affecting property in between—suggests an out-of-touch arrogance and ignorance that fails to acknowledge the extant economic development along its route. Streetcar proponents argue that economic development in Over-the-Rhine has already been caused at least in part by the new transit which is anticipated to begin running later this year. The streetcar promises to bring more people and business into the neighborhood, and developers have used this rationale to invest along its route.

Streetcar advocates also point to the 2007 “Cincinnati Streetcar Feasibility Study,” prepared by HDR Design Economics Inc., which concluded that the streetcar can be expected “to bring substantial economic development benefits for both the residential and commercial sectors in Cincinnati.” Furthermore, the study’s numbers project that the streetcar would have a much greater economic impact in downtown than in Over-the-Rhine. The 2007 feasibility study estimated that downtown residential property values would almost double from $534 million in 2010 to $1 billion in 2025, while commercial property values will go from $2 billion in 2010 to nearly $2.5 billion in 2025.

Now in 2016, the streetcar has proven to be a major impetus for new development in Over-the-Rhine, with projects such as the $25 million mixed-use project proposed for Elm and Liberty and the redevelopment of the Strietmann Building on W. 12th by Grandin Properties, both of which cite the streetcar’s proximity as a key factor in location. Excitingly, a similar trend is occurring in the downtown CBD.

For example (emphasis mine):

General Electric has finished its new, $80-million operations center in the Banks. Attorney Tom Gableman who advises the county on the Banks’ economic development said of GE’s decision: “I can tell you that unequivocally in one of our first meetings with General Electric, the access in terms of transit was very critical. The fact that the city had committed to doing the streetcar was one of the items that they cited as important for them to move forward in looking at the Banks as a potential location.

(Chris Wetterich, “Why GE chose the Banks,” Business Courier, June 23, 2014)

Griewe Development Group and Terrex LLC is building two, mid-rise luxury condominium towers at 8th and Main, a $50 million investment in downtown housing. Tom Rowe, principal of Terrex, said of the location, “There are tons of apartments built there and more are being built; it has a strong residential feel. It’s also directly on the streetcar line, which is a huge benefit to these condo projects.

(Tom Demeropolis, “$50M condo towers planned for downtown Cincinnati,” Business Courier, March 10, 2016)

Neyer Holdings Corp. purchased and will redevelop the former Hartford Insurance Building at 630 Main Street, located across the street from a northbound streetcar stop. Neyer said, “The quality of the structure is outstanding. There are a number of great options in front of us. The location is great and improving every week. Anybody reading the Business Courier in the past week has to get excited about the momentum in downtown real estate.”

(Tom Demeropolis, “EXCLUSIVE: Tom Neyer Jr. to redevelop building along streetcar route,” Business Courier, March 14, 2016)

Nieman Investors Ltd. purchased 3 properties for $1 million, including 127 Central Ave., 121 E. Central Parkway and 1027 Main St. The properties include parking lot space at the corner of Central Parkway and Main, which is near another of their lots at the southeast corner of Central Parkway and Walnut Street. Rookwood Properties has been considering a $50 million development at this site, and the Business Courier identified that area as one of the best properties for development along the streetcar line.

(Tom Demeropolis, “Developer snatches up tiny downtown properties for $1M,” Business Courier, March 2, 2016)

Kroger and other grocery store chains remain interested in opening a downtown store, and several plans and rumors have been circulating since at least 2008. The proximity to the streetcar has been a factor and has led to suggestions for citing a new Kroger or other store on Central Parkway, on Vine downtown, at 4th and Walnut, at the Banks or at Central Parkway and Walnut.

(Tom Demeropolis, “Is This The One?” Business Courier, January 27, 2016)

There are many excellent reasons to oppose the Dennison’s demolition. We need to vocally oppose its destruction and we need to reject a narrow understanding of the streetcar’s purpose and potential. It might help to ferry tourists to and from entertainment activities in the basin. Yet to suggest that this is its only reason for operation is erroneous and insulting to streetcar advocates, to our city and to nearly every other advanced city on the earth that operates on similar public transit. The neighborhood in which the Dennison sits will exclusively not “be like so many expressway exits which cars drive past to get somewhere they want to be,” as Beck Consulting writes. To compare public transit to highway infrastructure completely disregards the historical and present reality that these two transportation systems have been mutually exclusive, the latter physically and economically disadvantaging the former.

We need to instead see how the streetcar, long before its actual operation, has spurred economic development on and around its route. Buildings along the way, such as the Dennison, then are full of potential for creative redevelopment to a developer with even a small ability to understand current urban trends.

Featured photo via Cincinnati Enquirer.

Alyssa McClanahan

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