Walnut Hills awarded $1.8 million to renovate three historic buildings

Out with the old, in with the old, at least in the historic neighborhood of Walnut Hills, where historic preservation and community development got a major boost along with some harsh reality checks.

Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation and The Model Group were awarded $1.8 million to renovate three historic buildings in Walnut Hills. When completed, the buildings will house 30 market-rate apartments and 7,000 square feet of street-level retail space. The award is part of about $9 million in tax credits from the Ohio Development Services Agency through Ohio’s historic preservation program to seven Cincinnati-area development projects.
“We’re not 100 percent sure who will occupy the storefronts, but we’ll make sure the businesses will serve the existing and changing population of Walnut Hills,” says Kevin Wright, executive director of WHRF.
The project has been in the works for about four years—the City acquired the buildings through a partnership with the community; the buildings were acquired and stabilized using City funding and tax increment financing dollars. Stabilization of the walls and roof of one of the buildings could begin as early as next week.
“We see this as a huge step forward for the neighborhood,” says Wright. “Adding market-rate apartments and retail space will help move Walnut Hills forward and catalyze development.” Not only is the project the first large market-rate development on Peeble's Corner in decades, but it also expands development momentum farther west, toward the intersection of McMillan and Gilbert.
The development parcel actually includes four buildings, 975, 965, 961 and 967 E. McMillan—the old Graeter’s building at 967 E. McMillan will be demolished in the next four to five months. Although the building has a strong historical and emotional significance for Cincinnati and Walnut Hills, it isn’t stable. After conversations with the Cincinnati Preservation Association, WHRF decided it was in the neighborhood’s best interest to demolish the Graeter’s building.
The building’s ceiling, walls and floors are caved in, and there’s extensive water damage because the roof has been gone for so long. WHRF wanted to save the building’s façade and keep the storefront and historic feel of the building, but after an inspection of the façade, they realized it couldn’t be salvaged.
At some point, the first floor façade was turned into a gravel stucco façade. WHRF thought the original historic brick façade was underneath, but discovered that it had been removed. The second and third floor façades are in good condition, but it would require money that WHRF doesn’t have to create a new façade for the first floor. Replacing the façade would defeat the purpose of saving it because it wouldn’t be original, says Wright.  
The space created by the removal of the Graeter’s building will become a courtyard or amenity space for the new businesses and apartments that will be created from the project. WHRF wants to see the space utilized by new residents and retail, says Wright.
The buildings included in the development are part of a larger acquisition and redevelopment project, says Wright. With the same funding for the project, WHRF also acquired a large portion of the 700 block of McMillan west of Gilbert. The project included demolishing a number of buildings and stabilizing Firehouse #16, the oldest firehouse in Cincinnati; WHRF is currently stabilizing the Hamilton House as well.
By Caitlin Koenig
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