The Great American Tower is known for its huge tiara. <span class='image-credits'>Sam Fentress</span>

Additions and updates to Cincinnati’s skyline

Ten years ago this month, Soapbox writer Trudy Backus’ inspiring article, “Cincinnati’s Architectural Nuance,” noted that the city has enjoyed “a long tradition of innovative architectural design, as well as a long list of nationally recognized significant buildings from both local and out-of-town architects.”


But at roughly the same time that feature appeared, the commercial building sector was slowing substantially not only in Cincinnati, but across the U.S., thanks to the Great Recession.


Despite that setback, the city has seen construction cranes return to its horizon in recent years, and again, the local appetite for innovative buildings designed by high-profile firms, both homegrown and from elsewhere, has been a central element of such projects.


Here we’ll look at some of the area’s most noteworthy architectural endeavors of the past decade, broken down into four categories: Remarkable Renovations, Noteworthy New-Builds, Awesome Adaptive Reuses, and What (Might Be) Next.

 

REMARKABLE RENOVATIONS:

Union Terminal: The city’s art deco masterpiece will reopen in its fully glory later this month. As reported recently by Soapbox, the $228 million upgrade and update to the 85-year-old National Registration of Historic Landmark in Queensgate included work on its exterior fountain and clock, along with improvements to its superstructure, layout and mechanical systems, and a restoration of its magnificent rotunda.


Entrusted with overseeing the update to this architectural treasure was the following construction/architecture/design team: downtown-based GBBN Architecture (architecture and design lead); the Cincinnati office of Turner Construction Co. (construction management); and Lockland-based Ellington Management Services (diversity inclusion consultant).


Music Hall: The $143 million restoration of this storied OTR anchor, originally designed by local legend Samuel Hannaford, was completed last year. Soapbox recently detailed the grand building’s meticulous overhaul, and also what the future may hold for the Gothic-style building.


Involved in the revitalization of this 140-year-old building were the following firms: Akustiks, South Norwalk, Connecticut; Washington, D.C.-based Martinez + Johnson Architecture; the Cincinnati office of Messer; Pittsburgh-based Perfido, Weiskopf, Wagstaff + Goettel (PWWG); and Schuler Shook of Chicago.

 

NOTEWORTHY NEW-BUILDS:

Great American Tower at Queen City Square: This soaring, 665-foot-tall addition to the skyline is a development by locally based Eagle Realty Group, a unit of Western & Southern Financial Group. The $400 million project was designed by St. Louis-based HOK, led by founding partner Gyo Obata (the “O” in the firm’s name).


Opened in 2011 and built by Turner Construction, the 41-story tower’s façade is a combination of granite and aluminum-framed windows. At its top is a semi-circular steel superstructure dubbed the “tiara,” modeled after the headpiece worn by the late Princess Diana, and a reference to Cincinnati’s longstanding identity as the Queen City of the Midwest.


“The building is a bold and tangible statement that will be around for a hundred years or more,” John Barrett, Western & Southern’s chairman, president and CEO, says of the tower in Obata’s book, Gyo Obata: Architects, Clients, Reflections.


The Otto M. Budig Theater: The year-old home of Cincinnati Shakespeare Co., at 12th and Elm in OTR, is the final link in a “Classical Arts Corridor” that also includes Music Hall, Memorial Hall, the School for Creative and Performing Arts, and Washington Park.


The architect/interior designer, downtown-based GBBN incorporated a variety of nods to the Bard, including and a 38-step stairway — one for each of his plays — and reclaimed wood that harkens to the Globe Theater. The facility also features a state-of-the-art “flexible thrust” stage and 250 seats, all of which are within six rows of the action. (The theater recently received an honor award in the American Institute of Architects of Ohio’s 2018 design competition.)


Other members of its project team included locally based Schaefer (structural engineer); Bayer Becker (civil engineer); Messer (contractor); Heapy Engineering (MEP) of Dayton, Ohio; and two Chicago-based firms: Schuler Shook (theatre planning) and Kirkegaard Associates (acoustician).


Kenwood Collection: An oft-cited “poster child” of the Great Recession, work on this Sycamore Township retail/office tower began in 2007, then ground to a halt a year later in a partially finished state that was on full view from I-71. A new owner (Philips Edison, whose PREP Property spinoff oversees the site) entered the picture in 2012, and work on the tower — which sits adjacent to the Kenwood Towne Centre shopping mall and includes two levels of retail and eight stories of office space—resumed two years later.


Brought in to help finish the project was downtown-based BHDP Architecture, whose contributions included major improvements to the building’s internal flow and the addition of a sweeping, sculptural roof that mirrors the motion of traffic on the adjoining interstate.

 

AWESOME ADAPTIVE REUSES:

The old Enquirer building now houses the area's first two-branded hotel.

Ex-Enquirer Building on Vine Street: This 14-story, limestone-and-brick skyscraper (made famous on a national scale for its appearance in the opening sequence of the “WKRP in Cincinnati” TV show of the 1970s) was reborn last year as the home of the metro area’s first dual-branded hotel. Homewood Suites, on floors four through eight, caters to extended-stay guests, while the Hampton Inn and Suites on nine through 14 targets business and pleasure travelers.


The $300 million conversion involved developer SREE Hotels of Charlotte, North Carolina; Walnut Hills-based HGC Construction; and downtown’s CR architecture + design. The latter firm helped secure $9 million in historic tax credits for the $26 million project, laid out a total of 249 rooms for both Hilton brands; and meticulously restored a variety of historic elements within the building’s public spaces. In its entry vestibule, for example, the designers restored the original marble and bronze details, as well as its groin-vaulted ceiling.



Former NuTone factory/“Rainbow” Parking Garage: The Summit, a Dolce Hotel by Wyndham, opened earlier this year in Madisonville. The 68-year-old building’s prior uses include first housing the NuTone doorbell factory, followed in more recent years by a two-story parking garage that became something of a local landmark, owing to its brightly painted columns.


The Summit — which takes its name from its site on the bluff of a hill overlooking one of the neighborhood’s major intersections at Red Bank Expressway and Madison Road — is the linchpin of a major mixed-use complex by RBM Development, which is owned by the founder of Medpace, a fast-growing clinical research organization whose headquarters is located a short walk from the 239-room hotel.


Overseeing the conversion of the building’s interiors was the Atlanta office of Hirsch Bedner & Associates (HBA), along with design architect Samach & Co. of New York, and locally based architect of record, CR architecture + design.


An eclectic mix of old and new pervades the hotel. The lobby, for instance, includes such striking elements as 20-foot-high ceilings showcasing the building’s original, exposed sandblasted columns; a metal screen reception desk with a built-in display case of factory parts; a central “floating” staircase clad in bronzed metal with rivet details; glass-box elevators; and a massive abstract mural along one wall.

 

WHAT (MIGHT BE) NEXT:

50 on 5th: What will the future hold for the site of Fountain Place, the former home of the downtown Macy’s and Tiffany’s stores that sits just to the west of Fountain Square? Retzark Design Studio has forwarded one possibility —an oval-shaped high-rise that would sit at an angle on the property — to Towne Properties, one of the site’s owners, in conjunction with ATA Beilharz Architects.


The building would have a two-legged retail/restaurant base with a single office/residential tower atop them. There would be greenspace between the base structures and throughout the rest of the site. The result, the designers say, is a development that would help “energize” the property’s connection with the adjoining square. However, the future of this tract is still far from decided: Stay tuned for future updates.


Former Union City Tower Conversion: The owners of the City Club Apartments (a stop on the recent Downtown Tour of Living) want to convert the adjoining, 31-story skyscraper with its pyramid-shaped roof into a 262-unit apartment complex.


Though many details are yet to be worked out, City Club officials say work on the conversion of the 105-year-old building — which was the fifth-tallest skyscraper in the world at the time of its debut — could begin as soon as next February.

Read more articles by Matthew Hall.

Matthew Hall is a Mount Lookout-based freelance writer/editor specializing in covering architectural and design trends. His career includes stints with the Cincinnati Business Courier, the Cincinnati Enquirer, Fatbrain.com (an online bookseller) and Boutique Design magazine. He's also happy to be a later-in-life dad who adopted two children from Guatemala with his wife.
Signup for Email Alerts