Large renovation projects taking shape in Northside, Covington and OTR

This is the fifth installment of a Soapbox series focusing on building redevelopment. Follow writer Caitlin Koenig as she dives into Greater Cincinnati’s past and gives you a look at what older buildings are blossoming into. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here and Part 4 is here.
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Over the past 10 years, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky have seen major redevelopment efforts in their urban cores. Community developers have often jumped in to save historic building stock while creating opportunities for new businesses and additional housing options.

Here are updates on three large-scale developments currently under way.

Kirby Lofts, Northside

Bloomfield/Schon+Partners is working to convert the old Kirby Road School building at 1710 Bruce Ave. into 40 one- and two-bedroom apartments. The firm purchased the 50,000-square-foot, three-story building for $230,000 at a Cincinnati Public Schools auction three years ago.
“We purchased the building with the support of the community,” says Steven Bloomfield, partner at Bloomfield/Schon. “We were encouraged to do this project after the success of American Can.”
The school was built in 1910 and operated until 2005, then temporarily housed the Chase School before closing for good in late 2012.
Bloomfield/Schon plans to take advantage of the school classrooms and preserve as much of the original architecture and artifacts in the building as possible. In most cases, the classrooms have hardwood floors, which will be preserved during the renovations. The old blackboards and cabinets, as well as the school’s Rookwood tile drinking fountains, will be reused.
The former gym will be converted into three two-story lofts, and the auditorium will become a 1,800-square-foot unit with 20-foot high ceilings.
Construction has begun on the $4.2 million project, and Bloomfield says the project should be finished by April 2016.
“We’ve been involved in Northside for about 10 years and helped remove the biggest single-blight building in the community,” Bloomfield says. “With that success, we’re hoping to help save another neighborhood building from blight.”

Mutual Building, Covington

Built in 1917 by Samuel Hannaford, the Mutual Building has been a mainstay in downtown Covington. It’s been home to the Covington Industrial Club, which was the city’s precursor to the Chamber of Commerce; it’s held offices for Mutual Insurance Company; and it’s seen its fair share of street-level restaurants. The building has been vacant for 20 years, however, and was in desperate need of repairs.
The City of Covington purchased the building in 2012, then put it up for auction about a year later, which is when Ashley Commercial Group acquired the property.
“Any urban revitalizations will bring more people to an area, especially in a residential capacity,” says Bill Kreutzjans Jr., managing partner at Ashley Commercial.
There is so much going on in Covington, and many of those projects are continuing to build on the success of Braxton Brewing, which opened earlier this year with the goal of spurring economic development in the Pike Street Corridor. The Doctor’s Building, an eight-unit residential project, is close by, and Hotel Covington is just across the street from the Mutual Building. Gateway Community & Technical College recently opened a new campus building as well.
“All of this development is helping to build critical mass — interest and energy — in downtown Covington,” Kreutzjans says. 
Ashley Commercial formed a partnership with The Catalytic Fund, the city, Citizens Bank, Duke Energy and The Salyers Group in order to redevelop the Mutual Building into 15 one-bedroom apartments and five street-level commercial spaces.
The market-rate apartments will maintain many of the building’s original historic elements and are already seeing tenants move in. There is only one apartment left to rent.
As for the retail aspect of the building, three of the spaces are already leased: River City News and a barbershop have moved in and an unnamed bar concept has agreed to take a space.

Union Hall, Over-the-Rhine

The space at 1313 Vine St. has been home to many things: brewery, beer hall, union hall, speakeasy and nightclub. With 3CDC’s renovations completed in late August, the building has a new name (Union Hall) and new branding as an innovation hub as the home of Cintrifuse, The Brandery and CincyTech.
The Cincinnati Business Committee announced the formation of Cintrifuse in 2012 to support startups after their initial funds had been raised and as they refined and tested their ideas. Not long after, the organization began working with 3CDC on renovating three adjoining buildings on Vine into 30,000 square feet of flexible office and gathering space for innovators, entrepreneurs and investors. In addition to Cintrifuse’s own staff and startup member companies, both The Brandery and CincyTech relocated to a shared space within Union Hall, making the building the go-to place for startups and investors.
The Union Hall project also includes 7,000 square feet of commercial space, which is set aside for two restaurants. One has a sub-basement entry from Republic Street, and the other is a street-level space on Vine. The restaurants will be owned and managed by 3CDC, which is hoping to have the spaces filled by late 2015 or early 2016.
“This project will help generate economic development and job creation benefits for the entire community,” says Joe Rudemiller, 3CDC communications officer. “Not only will it bring new employees and jobs to the neighborhood, but as companies grow and seek new space for expansion their success will further support the revitalization of the OTR commercial district by creating additional demand for the ongoing revitalization of vacant structures in the area.”

Read more articles by Caitlin Koenig.

Caitlin Koenig is a Cincinnati transplant and 2012 grad of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. She's the department editor for Soapbox Media and currently lives in Northside with her husband, Andrew, and their three furry children. Follow Caitlin on Twitter at @caite_13.