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Terrace Plaza Hotel should not be a local historic landmark, planning commission votes

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WCPO
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The Terrace Plaza Hotel's potential designation as a local historic landmark is in flux after Cincinnati's City Planning Commission voted against awarding it landmark status. Chair Byron Stallworth was the lone dissenting vote.

Ultimately, whether or not the nearly 75-year-old building receives the designation is up to City Council. There, it will need a supermajority of six of council's nine members voting in favor of the designation, due to the planning commission's rejection. Council is set to vote on it in the coming weeks.

Over 175 civil citations have been levied on the building's current owners for various violations related to failing to maintain the structure. Developers could invest between $60-90 million toward the site, but the proposed landmark designation would have limited what developers could do to the structure, including Terrace Plaza's doors and windows, signs, and even what sections of the building can be painted. Renovations would have to abide by preservation methods to qualify for historic tax credits.

Birkla Investment Group owner Anthony Birkla said he would no longer be interested in the project if the local landmark designation was approved.

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City of Cincinnati
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Screenshot from Apr. 22, 2022 City Planning Commission meeting
Anthony Birkla voiced his opposition to the Local Historic Landmark designation during the City Planning Commission on Friday at City Hall.

"If I'm going to put $50 million into a building — or any developer puts their hard-earned capital and raises debt to have to come through and ask for permission, which we know according to the guidelines would be extreme — those are the difficulties that I would have as a developer and I believe any person would have as a developer to develop this project," Birkla said.

Birkla noted that it would cost between $3 to $5 million to stabilize the building and it would actually cost less to demolish the building.

However, others believe the designation wouldn't hinder development. Steven Bloomfield and Ken Schon have been interested in the property for over a decade. Their plan would cost between $30-50 million, but also would have used the tax credits from the proposed designation. Schon says they'll even bid on the property without the designation.

"Most developers don't just write a check for 10-and-a-half million dollars without knowing that it's going to happen," Schon said. "We think that the auction, that the purchase process, will be drug out for some time."

City Council and planning commission member Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney said the designation would have prevented the building from being saved. She voted to disprove the proposal.

"For all of the evidence that I've heard, I think we need to not — as we keep hearing — handcuff development and to really do what we can to move it forward," Kearney said.

Mostly vacant since 2008, the building goes up for auction in May. In 2020, the building was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. It's already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Terrace Plaza opened in 1948 and was the first hotel to have a television in every room, and the first to have a fully automated elevator.

It was built in the International style with designs by Natalie de Blois, a young member of the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill.

Corrected: April 25, 2022 at 1:55 PM EDT
This article has been updated to clarify that the final step in the historical designation process lies with City Council.