Saturday, March 6, 2004

City may wait to OK condo funding

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Supporters of a $7.6 million condominium project, next to the city-financed $11.8 million Kroger Co. garage, say it's the type of new housing needed to revitalize Over-the-Rhine.

But disagreements over the project's look and cost threaten to block approval of a city-negotiated plan to spend $2.5 million to build 25 condominiums. Council's Finance Committee is to debate the grant Monday.

On Friday, the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to Mayor Charlie Luken and council members, asked that they reopen the developer selection process.

The condominiums at Vine and Central Parkway would be built using city money to supplement $5 million in loans and land provided by private interests.

"This makes an important statement for that critical corner that can help all development on Vine Street and Over-the-Rhine," Luken said Friday.

But the mayor acknowledges he may not be able to muster council's support next week to pay for the condos.

Councilman David Pepper, a member of the finance committee, said the vote could be delayed.

Neighborhood leaders say the design clashes with the architecture of historic Over-the-Rhine. And some say the city's contribution - $100,000 per condo unit - is too costly.

The city administration negotiated a deal with developer Kimbler Interests/Al Neyer Inc. to add the Vine Street condos as part of the 950-space garage that council already approved for Kroger.

City development officials believe the market-rate condos would add much-needed, middle-income homes to a street better known as a haven of crime and drugs.

The private funds come through a $1.9 million loan from the Cincinnati Development Fund and a $2 million loan from the Cincinnati Equity Fund, controlled by the private group Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC). Kroger is donating an acre valued at $860,000.

3CDC made the lending decision because it believes owner-occupied units are critical to recharging the neighborhood, said Des Bracey, 3CDC's Over-the-Rhine project manager.

"Unless you want to wait 20 to 30 years for something to happen on Vine Street, you have to make a big splash," Bracey said.

Councilman Jim Tarbell, a longtime advocate of housing for middle- and upper-income families in predominantly lower-income Over-the-Rhine, said he wants more shops instead of street-level condos along Vine Street. Buyers may be reluctant to pay an average $170,000 per unit if their front door opens on Vine Street, Tarbell said.

Tom Besanceney, president of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, said the city tossed out two competing proposals offering different design and funding approaches because developers submitted them minutes after the deadline.

Besanceney asked that all prospective developers be given another 10 days to submit new proposals.

Luken said it's too late to reopen the process.


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