Wednesday, October 27, 2010

City Redtape & Roadblocks could prevent a major restoration on Historic Dayton Street

This historic home may soon be lost due to city red tape
In perhaps the most important Historic District in the City of Cincinnati, across from one of its greatest architectural treasures, the Hauck Mansion, sits a once grand Italianate hoping for a reprieve from certain destruction on Dayton street.

Dayton Street known as "Millionairs Row" has some of the greatest architecture in the city, from grand  Architectural fantasy's like the Hauck, Hatch and Gazlay Mansions once owned by the people who "made' Cincinnati what it was, to Grand Italianate and Second Empire Town homes owned by wealthy Merchants and Businessmen of the day, this was the place to be.

Like many Urban neighborhoods, Dayton street went into decline, its once grand mansion, home to fine dinner parties and important  meeting were replaced by tenement apartments and rooming houses . We all know how 'bad' it once was but most will tell you its turned a corner. Everyone seems to know that except city officials. On any given weekend you can spot the out of state license plates . People actually come to Dayton street to look at the architecture. Architects, preservationists and just plain "old house people" flock to Dayton street, camera in hand taking pictures of some of the finest Architecture to be found not just in Cincinnati but the the entire United States. In any other city with this treasure your probably see guided tours with horse drawn wagons.

The Gazlay mansion, just down the street, once several apartments is on its way back to single family and an extensive historic restoration
But not in Cincinnati where city officials haven't a clue what Heritage Tourism is, or what it could mean. Despite that several have moved in to the street and are converting these back to single family. The Hatch and Gazlay Mansions, once multi unit apartments, are on on their way back to their single family use. In fact, there are a lot of former slum tenements that are on their way back with owners who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars because of their love of all things historic.

While some homes are on their way back others are in eminent danger and such is the case of the Italianate across from the Hauck House. The home had suffered for years as an multi family apartment/rooming house. Complaints were many and its owner like many 'investor type' simple walked away from it after milking it for all it was worth and refinancing it to pull the maximum dollars out of it. Deutsche Bank was "on the hook' with a house no one wanted.because of the city orders against it.

To further complicate matters the city had taken them to court over their failure to maintain the property and that created a 'legal quagmire'. Several people had attempted to buy the house but the Roadblocks and red tape now in place due to the legal action caused most to throw up their hands in disgust.

The Brands are well known for their preservation and restoration work like the wonderful restoration seen here
Into this mix come Lauren and Roman Brands, well known Historic preservationists from the St Louis area. People who have a proven track record of restoration and preservation. They own several successful companies including "Go back in Time", a historic restoration company that specializes in difficult and extensive restorations. The Brands however are not looking at this property as an  "investment" but rather as their future home. As Lauren Brands puts it, "The house spoke to us and we know we need to save it".

But time is running out for the house which desperately needs a roof and removal of some severely deteriorated non historic additions. Most estimate the house will need an investment of 300-500,000.00 to completely restore and construct a new carriage house.

The Brands have been dealing with red tape for over a month now. Major sticking points include the city wanting an extensive list of repair orders completed in just 90 days and a 15,000 bond. The city has moved somewhat willing to cut the bond in half but since no bonding company will write a bond on the house that is essentially "cash money" the Brand's will have to put up. Couple that with the VBML requirements and liability insurance and large chucks of money, monies that could go for restoration, will be tied up.

The Brands find themselves in the middle of a "legal pissing match" between the city attorney and the bank. The Brands have proposed taking the issue of the bond  requirement the court who originally dealt with the case between the city and the bank, but the City Attorney  has not responded to the Brands request.

Local preservationists and neighbors are alarmed because this delay could kill the deal and set back preservation efforts on Dayton street. At a time when other cities learning that the Brands are looking to move are throwing incentives at them to move to move to their communities instead.

The loss of a restoration company and the new venture the Brands are contemplating in OTR , a historic plumbing company, would be devastating to the Preservation efforts in Cincinnati.

As one neighbor put it, "Here we have people willing to put money into our community, other cities are doing everything they can to get them to move to them and what are we doing? Putting every obstacle in the way? This is crazy!"

In fact many are calling for the city council to intervene and waive the bond. If the house does not get roof repairs soon, an important piece of history will be lost and City officials will continue to damage the national reputation of Cincinnati as a preservation minded city.


St Charles said...

Dear City Officials if you are reading this blog please release the lady on Dayton Street so she can be reborn.

Danny Klingler said...

Arent those the people who wanted to put a children's music curriculum company in the Westwood Gamble House with a childrens fun park?

Cathy said...

Paul - very well written, an accurate account of what is happening with the Brands and Dayton St. property. It is unfortunate that the city is so inconsistent with many of their inspections and code violations, and can't make an exception on this property. Especially, given that the buyers have such a fabulous history of preservation.

It is most disturbing that they will no longer respond to calls and inquiries. Since they do not know what to do, they do nothing. This is the attitude that has lead to so many gorgeous, undeveloped properties falling into the streets. (Literally, I have seen two on my street and one building very clost to falling onto a pedestrian walkway. Where are they on this one?)

Can a city have an ego? Why not copy cat other preservation minded cities?

We could sell many, many more historic properties if this city was perceived as "developer friendly". I've rehabbed 5 historic properties with regular funding and no help from the city (except tax abatement), so it is possible. Be tough and persevere.

Gail Moe said...

Great job of reporting this Paul! It's now posted on Over-the-Rhine Facebook's page.

Gail Moe said...

Correction: It's posted to the Over the Rhine Foundation's FB page.