Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Newport fast-tracks senior housing rehab

Grand Towers put on short list for refurbishing

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — A $28 million federal grant has apparently spurred the board of the Newport Housing Authority to put renovation of the Grand Towers seniors facility on a fast track.

        Over the next three to four years, the Housing Authority wants to virtually rebuild the inside of the 12-story, 198-unit structure on Grand Avenue by Interstate 471 that is home to seniors with limited financial means.

        “It's going to be very expensive to complete the project,” said Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli, a member of the Housing Authority board. “We'll probably start moving on it in the near future, but we'll do it in stages. We might take about three floors at a time. We want to keep everyone (residents) there.”

        Mr. Guidugli said the board had no specific figures on what the renovation to the building, origi nally built in the 1960s, would cost, because the job hasn't been put out for bid yet.

        “This was our first look at the new plans,” he said. “We've been thinking about this for a couple of years, but we hadn't moved on it because we concentrated on getting the Hope VI grant.”

        Mr. Guidugli said Hope VI funds, from the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, will not be used in the Grand Towers renovation project.

        “Getting the Hope VI grant gave us the momentum to take charge,” he said. “We realized we had to move ahead on this project. We apply for remodeling grants every year. We can probably get about $1 million a year, and we'll use that to do Grand Towers in stages.”

        The Hope VI money will be used to move residents from the 202 units of HUD-subsidized housing on Fourth Street to new and renovated housing throughout Newport over the next four to five years.

        Architect David Arends of Mariemont on Monday presented board members with a set of plans to completely upgrade Grand Towers. One of the key issues in his renovation proposal is combining many of the small one-room efficiency apartments by removing connecting walls and converting them to one-bedroom units.

        Mr. Arends said his proposal would reduce the number of units in Grand Towers from 198 to 132. “There apparently is a vacancy rate of at least 15 percent all the time,” he said. “The efficiencies only have 400 square feet, which is smaller than most motel rooms. If you have 132 nice units that are rented all the time, you're better off than having vacancies all the time.”

        A resident of Grand Towers, who would only give a first name of Larry, said he would like to see changes at the facility, but added, “I'll believe it when I see it.”

        The renovation plan also calls for an open area/lounge on each floor where residents can meet, sit in chairs and talk. The lobby level will still have large meeting and recreation areas.

        All apartments at Grand Towers, which are federally subsidized according residents' income levels, would also get new bathrooms and kitchens.


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