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Council denies historic landmark status to Terrace Plaza

The Terrace Plaza Hotel building will not be designated a local historic landmark after a Council Committee voted 7-1 Tuesday to deny the request. The 75-year-old building has been mostly vacant since 2008 and has significant structural problems.

It's the second time this year Council has voted against the recommendation of the city's Historic Conservation Board. Other city departments asked Council to deny the historic status, saying it would make developing the building far too expensive by limiting what kind of repairs could be made. For example, a developer couldn't add windows on floors 2-7, which currently have a brick curtain wall that prevents natural light.

"The proposed guidelines, the way they are drafted today, would inhibit adaptive reuse by eliminating alterations making the project economically infeasible," said Senior City Planner Caroline Kellam.

Council ultimately agreed with the Planning Commission, which voted last month to recommend against landmark status for the building. Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney is also on the Planning Commission.

"The goal, I think, for everybody, is to save the building, right?" Kearney said. "But it seems to me that the historic designation does just the opposite of that, because it really delays renovation."

Birkla Investment Group has been working with city staff on a development plan and was strongly opposed to historic designation. Their plan includes apartments and parking. Doug Moorman of Development Strategies Group is representing Birkla.

"If Birkla does gain control in the building, what we're interested in doing is bringing back the Gourmet Room as one of the recognitions of the historic nature of the property," Moorman said. "And really trying to recognize the historic nature of the property, whether it's through kiosks that recognize the architect, or other displays that we could develop."

The property is tied up in bankruptcy court. It's expected to go up for auction sometime next month. Moorman says if the historic designation had been approved, Birkla would no longer want to purchase it.

Another developer, Bloomfield and Schon, said recently they could rehab the building and preserve the all the historic aspects. A representative says Council's decision doesn't change their plan to try to purchase the site at auction next month. They would follow the strict preservation guidelines and pursue federal tax credits.

Buildings and Inspections Director Art Dahlberg says the Terrace Plaza roof needs to be entirely replaced; water can get through the ceilings and walls resulting in severe rusting and mold. Dahlberg says there are safety concerns because there's no functioning fire alarm.

Council Member Scotty Johnson says it's an eyesore.

"As much as history is important, we gotta get out of neutral and move into drive, and get this thing out of the way and get production and development done," Johnson said. "So I am a huge 'no' when it comes to the historical preservation of this particular piece of property."

Council Member Victoria Parks recalled fond memories of the Terrace Plaza Hotel, saying her uncle ran a business there.

"I hate to see it go, but change is inevitable," Parks said. "And for it to sit there for 14 years, disintegrating — you know, we can't afford that in our lovely Downtown."

Jeff Cramerding was the only council member to vote in favor of historic status. He says the restrictions are flexible enough to make development possible.

"It seems like we are getting hung up on these windows from the second to the seventh floor," Cramerding said. "If that proves to be a hardship, the developer can just apply for an economic hardship exception and wouldn't hinder the development."

Related: The Cincinnati Preservation Association has a new executive director

Earlier this year, Council voted 5-3 to deny historic landmark status for Schulte House in West Price Hill, another departure from the Historic Conservation Board's recommendation. Cramerding voted in favor of that designation, as well.

"This city has got a terrible history of historic preservation," Cramerding said. "Today's vote was a huge step in the wrong direction."

Voting against the designation: Council Members Harris, Kearney, Parks, Johnson, Meeka Owens, Mark Jeffreys, and Liz Keating.

Compare the Terrace Plaza in 1948 to 2021

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.