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Mercantile Library development set to receive 15-year property tax abatement

mercantile library
Mercantile Library, City of Cincinnati
The Mercantile Library building on Walnut Street circa 1910 (left) and today.

The century-old Mercantile Library building in downtown Cincinnati is one step closer to starting a $76 million redevelopment. The Model Group plans to add 156 housing units, commercial and office space, and an expansion to the historic building.

Cincinnati City Council's Budget and Finance Committee voted unanimously Monday to approve a 15-year property tax exemption for the project. The agreement will get a final Council vote Wednesday.

Mercantile Executive Director John Faherty told Council the library has a longstanding history Downtown.

"We are at the front end of a 10,000-year lease, so we are really committed to the neighborhood," Faherty said. "And I have seen and believe in the Model Group's commitment to the neighborhood and the building. And I'm sure that vitality will follow for a street that could use a little love."

RELATED: Mercantile Library building granted Local Historic Landmark Designation

The building at Fifth and Walnut was built in 1905 and currently houses the private Mercantile Library and mostly vacant office space. Council granted the property local historic landmark status about two years ago.

The mixed-use development will include:

  • 156 housing units (124,302 square feet)
  • 47,103 square feet of commercial space
  • 27,826 square feet of office space

Four penthouse apartments will be priced at $4,800 rent per month. The rest of the units will range in cost from about $1,300 a month to about $2,700 a month.

Council Member Reggie Harris says the city needs more housing at a range of prices.

"The Mercantile building — this gorgeous, historic building in the heart of our Central Business District — this is an investment in bringing market and luxury units online, which is also a need," Harris said. "And I know that we have a huge focus on affordable housing needs, and that is 100% important, but it's a yes/and."

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Staff in the city's Department of Community and Economic Development told Council the project is not financially possible without the abatement.

The developer will make annual payments to Cincinnati Public Schools. And for the last five years of the agreement, will make payments to the city's streetcar fund as well.

The total public benefit is estimated to be $4.65 for every $1 in foregone property tax revenue.

Corrected: May 9, 2023 at 9:44 AM EDT
A previous version of this story said the development would cost nearly $53 million. It has been updated to show the total cost is about $76 million, including the $23.8 million in soft costs.
Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.