Sunday, July 6, 2014

Endangered Cincinnati Landmarks and why we need real solutions, not more taxes

Saving a historic lock by cutting if off the door it came from is shortsighted, so is quick fixes to fix landmarks just because you are embarrassed,
Cincinnati must learn to deal with the national embarrassment of having not one, but two landmarks on the National Trust Most Endangered list this year. As usual to show "we really care", we now have a rash of knee jerk reactions , plans and proposals are out there.

Some are calling for higher taxes, others are calling for higher fees, some could care less. It's a typical reaction of this city to "fix it this minute no matter the cost, or, to not fix it at all if it raises our taxes". Landmarks of this size and scope are important to the history of the city but what is really called for is a long term solution that not only gets these landmarks repaired but insures that they will be financially stable, long term.

Landmarks are costly, they quality of construction is difficult to duplicate and the people, who know how to do this are expensive. The key is to think long term, not quick fix, and to be sure that this city, as current stewards of these properties, does what it can without sacrificing the economics of the whole community.

As you can see from the photo at the beginning of this piece . I saw this just the other day at an antique mall. A bin full of locks still attached to the wood. The 'short term' solution of "well the locks are valuable so I'll saws-all them off.  The locks were preserved but the doors were destroyed. This is the perfect illustration of single mindedness and impulsive solutions. "I think the locks are valuable and Ill cut them off'. The locks were for sale for 14.00 each and as anyone in restoration will tell you the doors they were cut off of would sell for 100-150.00 each if intact.

So far 'proposed solutions' are looking at 'fixing things' but none of them address the long range goal of how do we make union terminal and the music hall sustainable long term. Before we do anything we need to assess if the present uses serve the best use, and, are they profitable? Clearly if they were we might not be in this situation, so we need to look at is there space for other uses and/or is what is there in the best location?

Could the Music Hall or Union Terminal hold other things too, say a boutique hotel or restaurant space. Are there things we could add that would generate revenue? For example there is a lot of land in front of union terminal. Could a private developer be found to develop that land and proceeds from a sale or long term lease could generate revenue for restoration for example. Or consider, our small and aging convention center, too small to be major player for the lucrative convention business that goes to Indianapolis for example. Maybe we build a new convention center with underground parking and above ground hotel/condos on that land and link it with union terminal? A larger convention center could generate much needed tourism revenue and convention business and maybe while Union Terminal is under restoration a site for the museum and library to operate?

The facts are that public-private partnerships are one of the best ways to save landmark structures. Consider 'naming rights'  could we have the P&G music hall? or some other entity? Could the Music Hall hold restaurants or a boutique hotel that could supplement the operation cost and allow the building to be used in better multi functional manner?

We need to slow down and look at all the possibilities for these iconic landmarks of this city. Let us open this debate up to alternate proposals and most importantly lets not make spur of the moment decisions or fixes, that make  us feel good, but fail to accomplish the long term goal of making sure two landmarks are standing 50-100 years from now.

This will require something not normally found in this city, creativity, consensus and most importantly common sense.

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