The residents of Kennedy Heights are turning their business district into an arts community one vacant building at a time.
Three examples now flank the neighborhood's short stretch of Montgomery Road. A one hundred-year-old Victorian mansion vacated by a funeral home is now the Kennedy Heights Arts Center
, a former bar is now a dance and music studio operated by Ballet Tech Cincinnati
, and an old filling station hosts an art gallery and weekend "green market."
Now the most ambitious project - the proposed conversion of a 32,000 sq ft vacant Kroger store into the Kennedy Heights Cultural Center - is expected to get a very important legal green light.
Within the next two weeks, representatives from Cincinnati Public Schools, the City of Cincinnati and the Kennedy Heights Development Corporation (KHDC) are expected to sign an option agreement that will legally allow the KHDC to purchase the building from Cincinnati Public Schools, which currently uses it as a warehouse. Once the agreement is signed, the KHDC and the center's three resident organizations will have six months to raise the rest of the money needed to make an offer on the building, KHDC chair Ernie Barbeau said.
If the center is built it will be shared by three occupants. The Cincinnati Art Museum will display a collection there that is currently in storage in Columbus, the Kennedy Heights Montessori School will make the building its permanent home and the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, which has more demand for artist studio space than it can provide, will open studios and a theatre there.
"From my view the cultural center is going to change people's perceptions about Kennedy Heights and I think it's going to change many Kennedy Heights residents' perceptions about themselves," Barbeau said. "And it is really going to be changing not only the nature of our neighborhood but our business district, and I think we are really going to become a major force within the arts district."
The KHDC recently secured a $375,000 grant from the City of Cincinnati to purchase the property, and have been recommended to receive a $300,000 grant from the state for construction costs, Barbeau said. He also said an anonymous donor has pledged a donation that will bring the effort to about 40 percent of its $2.4 million goal, the estimated cost to purchase and renovate the building. If everything goes as planned then construction on the project could begin as early as this fall, Barbeau said.
Writer: Henry SweetsPhotography by Scott Beseler