Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cincinnati Preservation: The need for a long range plan/agenda

The next decade will "make or break" historic preservation in this city. Cincinnati will either continue on a "blight=Bulldozer" mentality, or it will realize that it's architectures is perhaps it's "ace in the hole" to make Cincinnati a first class city that is a real destination that people from across the country, if not the world, come to and be able to compete effectively with cities like Indianapolis, Louisville and Columbus for new business.

The preservation community needs a "long range plan", a 10 year plan if you will. Just where we want to take our city in terms of historic preservation. In my view the preservation community is often "putting out fires' fighting to save a house here and there from demolition and when its something big, like an architect designed house by Hannaford, we generally do a decent job of rallying the troops. But overall, we are losing the battle.

We need marketing. CPA isn't getting proposals for Hauck House, and not to be overly critical, BUT, they have not marketed this house is any "real way" to the national preservation community. No ads in historic or preservation magazine or This Old House. You MUST have national exposure to find a buyer of a one of kind house like this AND get a decent price that would allow CPA to do other things in the community as well as get something with the financial resources to infuse millions into Dayton street.

For that matter we need to approach the business community and partner on using Cincinnati's historic architecture as a marketing tool to attract new business to attract tourism dollars to the city.

But most of all we NEED something new in terms of community historic preservation organization.

The Community Council does not address the real needs of the preservation community. We need to create a Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Cincinnati Board. This group needs to be made up of people from areas that need the most help. Areas like Price Hill, Dayton Street, Fairmount, Westwood, Avondale, Sedamsvile and OTR. The areas that, if we do not reverse the trend of low income house conversions to rentals and the city addressing "blight' issues with a bulldozer we stand to lose a large part of the cities heritage. Lets bring the people who are actually doing things together to perform "triage" to develop a real plan to save these areas and get some real communication going. Most importantly, we need to be focused on Preservation and historic re-development ONLY.

We need to develop more local block club development. The traditional "neighborhoods' in Cincinnati are far to large to be effectively governed. We need to set up smaller groups that would be under umbrella organizations that can work quickly on "Big Picture" issues and provide training to local block clubs on how to handle the smaller issues.

We have to do effective fundraising and education about historic preservation. We need to develop a series of well planned historic home tours in "urban challenged" neighborhoods to show the public that there is restoration, that things are changing that neighborhood people are "afraid' to travel in are in fact safe. Each of the neighborhoods I talked about above need their own website, a historic walking tour brochure that is provided to the state for promotion of tourism and we need "linkage' so business HR departments have this information, as well as local colleges.

We need to stop apologizing for loving old houses and trying to save them. We need to stand up to the "gentrification' arguments with clear concise answers as to why historic preservation does not preclude a multi income neighborhood. Neighborhoods need to come to the defense of each other so if there is an issue in one neighborhood the city is dealling with all of us. We need to stop "kidding ourselves" that the current city government and the mayor cares about preservation or listens to us.

We need to lobby.

Lobby for a change in state laws that would preclude a property sale unless all back taxes are paid. A move that would stop the "slumlord shuffle' that out of state LLCs use to avoid city repair orders and hearings. If these LLC's had to pay the taxes on some of these houses they wouldn't buy them as they wouldn't be cost effective. We need a local law to prevent the purchase of any Tax sale property by those who have orders against a property in the city.

We need to lobby for a State level "Urban Pioneer Tax Credit" a 5-10000 tax credit , perhaps applied over 3 years to offset some of the cost associated with buying a condemned or VBML property and restoring it. We need to create an avenue where a VBML or demo order can be easily lifted when a responsible owner comes along who demonstrates significant financial investment and progress on a property.

We need to organize the Preservation community into a power base that can shape city council policy. If necessary, we need to field our own Preservation candidates or be sure to support candidates willing to put IN WRITING that they will support the policy and agenda of local historic preservation. We also need to get over the idea that the city will help us by throwing a little money our way. We need to apply for grants, we need to go after federal funding, we need to lobby for a city Land Bank and seek grant and funding sources for it so rather than demo, we restore, we need to do our own fundraising.

2010 is a few months away, we need to get started or in 2020 we will all be siting around talking about all those historic homes we used to have and how Cincinnati is like a dying Detroit!


D R E W said...

thank you for this post. you are totally correct that this needs to happen now. is there anyone to contact about this to get the ball rolling?

Paul Wilham said...

I will talk to CPA about it but I think I am going to look at setting up a group site or Facebook page online to perhaps get a steering comnmittee set up to get the ball rolling and get the people who are interested working on some ideas on directions to take this idea.

Nate said...

Cincinnati IS creating a new long term Comprehensive Plan (10 years and out) starting this year...

It is the first time in nearly a hundred years that the entire city will be part of a comprehensive plan. (Cincinnati was the first American City to have a modern comprehensive plan in 1925)

This plan should include Preservation as a MAJOR part of planning. A separate Preservation Plan would be less effective.

Go to the Public Meetings to make this happen.
First meeting: September 30, 6pm at the Corryville Community Center

Paul Wilham said...

Nate given the city's "bulldoze mentality" I doubt Historic Preservation will be a "Major" part of a 10 year plan. Rather it will be bulldoze and redevelop.

Precisly why we need a strong advocacy and our own plan. Personally I think everyone with a historic home should start their registry nomination or donate an historic easement of view to the national trust.

Cincinnati's plan included a subway and we all know what happened to that.

Nate said...

I agree that a strong grassroots plan needs to happen that makes people understand that preservation does not equal gentrification.
But that advocacy should be working toward effecting those in power, and the City Plan would be a good excercise of the collective Preservation community's power... as well as lobbying candidate's for city government before they are elected. (That said I believe the CPA has been able to get through to Council candidate Amy Murray, and always has a friend in Roxanne Qualls.)

Paul Wilham said...

Nate, my preservation blog is read by over 80,000 people a month nationwide ( last month over 90,000). If you go back and look at blog postings over the last year and a half, I have addressed serious urban planning problems in West End, OTR, Dayton street. I have raised issues of unecessary demolitions. I have put forth concrete solutions and I KNOW that my blog is routinely sent to just about every member of the council and the mayors office.

In fact I have emailed EVERY member of the council on certain key issues myself. There has NEVER been a comment by any member of the council NOR has there been any response by any member of the council to any posts I have made.

The changes we have been able to make in terms of city responses to neighborhood issues in our neighborhood of Knox Hill, has been by publically embarrasing members of the council and mayor in the media and then they dispatch lower level city employess to deal with it.

With the exception of a small handful of city officials who actually "get" historic preservation, I see no real evidence of support by the current city government. Otherwise we would NOT see the level of senseless demolitions and what frankly appears to be attempts by the city to destroy certain urban neighborhoods and keep certain demolition contractors in lucrative business.

We have accomplished more in our neighborhood in one year of organization of the community that the city has in the last 20 years because they "wrote off" our area years ago and allowed it to become a section 8 haven and allowed illegal apartment conversions.

We are turning around our neighborhood , not the city, who frankly wanted to just bulldoze it.

Nate said...

Please do not misunderstand my comments...
I understand the power of the preservation community...
But if you want to bring the fight to the city you should show up on the 30th.
After all it can't hurt, anything.

Kevin LeMaster said...


Great ideas! I have only three comments:

1) The term "urban pioneer" is a turnoff for a lot of people. After all, there are already people living in these places.

2) While attending last year's Neighborhood Summit and hearing about the comprehensive plan, a LOT of emphasis was placed on preservation. If I were you, I would definitely take Nate up on his offer and lend your expertise to the process!

3) You may have an ally in State Rep. Denise Driehaus. She, of course, represents your district and is heavily involved in housing issues. I know that she's interested in meeting you and hearing more about your ideas on what the state can do, legislatively, to stop the revolving door of LLCs, etc. You can e-mail me your info, or contact her directly.