By John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Work has begun to transform the long-vacant McAlpin's department store in downtown Cincinnati to a complex of stores, offices and condominiums, but the city might be getting less than it originally contracted for.
Developer Madison Marquette Development Co. is asking the city to allow it to build owner-occupied condos instead of rental apartments at the site and to cut the amount of retail and office space planned by more than half.
"The key for downtown is that it's developed, it's utilized and it meets the market needs at the moment," City Manager Valerie Lemmie said Monday. She said market conditions have changed since the city first approved the development contract in 2001, making housing more important and retail and office space less so.
City council approved $8.5 million for the project in 2001. The project was to have 65,000 square feet of retail space - as much as a large supermarket - as well as 80,000 square feet of office space and more than 100 apartments.
Madison Marquette is now asking the city to let it build 30,000 square feet of retail space, 20,000 square feet of office space and 60 condos, Lemmie said.
"It looks like they're dividing everything they came to the city with in half, and they need to come back to the city. They need to explain (this) to us," said Councilwoman Minette Cooper, who heads council's community development committee. She said she had not yet heard of Madison Marquette's request.
Lemmie said the issue would go before council before the end of the year.
Even without council's approval, work has begun on the project, in no small part because Madison Marquette faces penalties if the project doesn't begin by the end of the year. Over the weekend, workers began removing a covering over the original fa┴ade of the building, which is more than a century old.
The McAlpin's department store closed in 1997, and has been vacant since then.
Mayor Charlie Luken said he was happy the project is moving forward. "I have been on them (the developers) almost monthly about this project," he said. "This is a No. 1 eyesore and a No. 1 complaint about downtown. I have no problem at all with the condo proposal."
He added, however, that it's possible that along with a review of Madison Marquette's requested changes in the project, the city's $8.5 million commitment to the project will also be reviewed.
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