BY PERRY BROTHERS
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The gleaming, white hard hat was an odd sight set against the historic Italianate facades of Main Street.
But the man under the hat, Mike Stough, hasn't felt out of place in Over-the-Rhine for 28 years. He first came to Main Street to open a small plasma center in 1970 and has been a major force in the neighborhood that has become a lucrative entertainment district.
Mr. Stough beamed as he led a tour of his latest Over-the-Rhine effort, a $5 million rehab of the Hanke Building. The 50,000-square-foot former department store was built in 1878. Mr. Stough rescued the building from destruction four years ago when the former owner, Arnold Levine, petitioned the city for permission to tear it down. "Under the cover of dark, I got a friend who's a structural engineer to sneak through the building with me to see if it was structurally sound," Mr. Stough said, standing across the street from the impressive four-story building.
It was, and after a lengthy legal battle, the city bought the building from Mr. Levine and then sold it to Mr. Stough for $135,000. Last week, Stough Enterprises moved into the Hanke's redone second floor. The Cell Block, a nightclub created by Rhino's owner Danny Dell Jr., is set to open by the end of the month. And Have A Nice Day Cafe, a coffee shop-nightclub hybrid has leased the first floor and plans to open early this summer.
Thomas M. Shumaker, the architect behind the Hanke's rebirth, grinned proudly as he walked into one of the four atriums, discovered in the early stages of redevelopment.
"What we started with was just a building shell," he said. "The challenge was to make a viable building and still maintain the historical aspects."
Some of the historical touches had to be re-created, like the tin ceiling in the Stough Enterprise second floor smoking lounge -- where the "important business" discussions will take place over cigars, Mr. Stough said.
The radical remodeling took about 14 months. Both Mr. Stough and Mr. Shumaker laughed when asked if there were any unexpected problems.
"None of the floors were level. The walls weren't plumb," Mr. Shumaker said.
Mr. Stough added: "Conditions that you assume were typical throughout the building are only typical in the spot you're looking at."
The classy finishes in the Hanke's office sections betray no hint of these problems.
Marilyn Schott of Gerdsen Garfield Inc. is marketing the remaining 18,000 square feet of usable office space on the top two levels. Compared to new class A office space downtown that rents for about $20 a square foot, Hanke's $10.25-a-square-foot rate and the $65-a-month parking nearby make the building a bargain, Ms. Schott said.
"There are some real benefits to being in there," she said. The building will anchor the southern end of the hopping Main Street Entertainment district. Mr. Stough, who also is president of Over-the-Rhine's Chamber of Commerce, said each rehab effort increases the neighborhood's odds of success.