Monday, May 17, 2004

One-stop process finally in place

By Cliff Radel
The Cincinnati Enquirer

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS - In the works for months. Overdue for decades. Much needed by first-time rehabbers such as Keven Speece. Cincinnati's one-stop shop for facilitating development plans and expediting building permits finally opened April 26.

In its first three weeks of operation, the city's Business Development and Permit Center at 3300 Central Parkway has served 231 customers and issued 277 permits. Average customer's stay: 40 minutes.

The center houses the Buildings and Inspections Department. Also on hand: staffers from the Community Development and Planning, Transportation and Engineering, Metropolitan Sewer District, Greater Cincinnati Water Works and Fire departments.

The center serves developers, homeowners, business owners and rehabbers. Help is available to anyone looking to redo a building, build from the ground up, add a deck or revitalize a neighborhood.

The one-stop shop is itself a rehab job. The 30,000-square-foot building began life in the 1960s as a branch of the late Central Trust Bank.

In his Jan. 30, 2003, State of the City Address, Mayor Charlie Luken called for the center's creation by year's end.

"That office should have been on the table 30 years ago," said Councilman Jim Tarbell. "Not having a one-stop shop is the single biggest drawback for developers in Cincinnati."

The Queen City's reputation for hog tying developers with red tape is well documented. In 2002, a work-flow expert examined Cincinnati's building permit process. He found that permit paperwork took 473 steps as it trudged through City Hall's bureaucracy. Those steps should be drastically reduced at the one-stop shop.

"At the center, departments come to the consumer," said Meg Olberding, an assistant to the city manager. "You stay at a table. Staffers come to you."

Consulting with several city departments - at the same time, at the same table - before plans are set in stone has its rewards.

"It helps avoid hitches that cost time and money," Olberding said. For novice developers, the center could be "a lifesaver."

Rehabbing projects

Keven Speece's Rosmur Vue Condominiums belongs to a $4 million cluster of rehabbing projects around the Pendleton intersection of Broadway and Reading Road.

Work began in February 2003 on Speece's dream venture, transforming the 81-year-old former Wilson Paints factory at 410 Reading into five condominiums. Three condominiums in the $1.25 million project have been sold. In June 2003, Urban Sites - a developer of long standing for Cincinnati's urban pioneers - started resurrecting two neighboring 19th century buildings. The buildings, which still had their original box gutters hewn from single lengths of wood, were fused into one at 400 Reading Road. Named the Lofts on Broadway, the new structure contains 12 condominiums. This $2.2 million project opens in June.

Beginning in October 2003,Urban Sites started rejuvenating two buildings one block north on Broadway. The buildings - 1111 Broadway, the Manorhouse of the Lofts on Broadway and 1113 Broadway, the Lighthouse of the Lofts on Broadway - are returning to their original use as single-family townhouses. This $600,000 project should open in October.

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