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How Union Terminal's Restoration Is A Model For Projects Across The Country

Tana Weingartner
Crews work on replacing Union Terminal's exterior pavilion and fountain in June 2018.

After more than a decade since planning began, repairs aimed at preserving Cincinnati's historic Union Terminal are nearly complete. Now other communities are looking to learn from what's being done here.
Detroit's famous but decaying Michigan Central Station made headlines in June when Ford Motor Company announced plans to transform the 105-year-old building into a transportation innovation hub.

Repairing the once-grand Beaux Arts gem won't be easy, so preservationists are looking to the Cincinnati Museum Center for advice.

Credit Tom Parr / Flickr
Ford Motor Company intends to turn the historic Michigan Central Station in Detroit into a transportation innovation hub.

Museum Center CEO Elizabeth Pierce says it's not just Detroit that's come calling.

"We have presented at national meetings with historic preservation and financing tax credit experts," she says. "We have been the recipient of phone calls from media around the country saying, how can this happen in Detroit or in Milwaukee or Toledo or other places? So, there's just an awareness of the unique nature of this project and how successful it has been throughout and what it is going to give back to the community long-term."

The $228 million overhaul is on time and on budget. Union Terminal Restoration Advisory Committee chair John Silverman calls that a big deal for Cincinnati and Hamilton County taxpayers still feeling the burn of poor past deals, like the baseball and football stadium tax.

"I think it says that we can do these projects," Silverman says. "Personally, I'm hoping that this shows the citizens of our community that as a community and as a group, when we put our minds to it and we think through it (and) we put groups of people together to plan and work on projects like this, we can do big capital projects like this."

Voters approved a five-year, quarter-cent sales tax in 2014 to restore the Art Deco building. Officials planned the project budget around the sales tax revenues remaining flat, but they've been better than expected. Any overage from the levy beyond what is actually needed will be used for museum upkeep. Also, unexpected costs incurred during the construction - which was initially projected at $212 million - have been covered by additional historic tax credits and other sources.

"The project is not costing our taxpayers any more money than we already committed," Silverman reports. "I think that's a testament to the process leading up to the project. It's testament to the great work the Museum Center did in planning the project. The total cost has increased but the Museum Center has been able to handle that increase through other revenue sources so that as Hamilton County citizens, you and I are not paying that extra cost."

The Museum Center's grand reopening is set for November 17. However, it will take several years to bring all the exhibits back. Funds are being raised privately to update the exhibits as those costs are not part of the restoration levy.

Here is an update on the project the museum provided in August.