How do you solve a problem like Shroder? The KHDC is working towards a resolution

It’s a cautionary tale and a case for community engagement: In the heart of Kennedy Heights, at the intersection of Kennedy Avenue and Woodford Road, there’s the 13-acre Kennedy Heights Park, and an abandoned building whose future is currently under increased scrutiny. Can a solution be found that satisfies all interested parties?"

On any given day, this park is full of people, walking the trails, playing on the playground equipment, practicing on the soccer field or having a picnic at the shelter. 

Walk south and you’ll hit Lang Park with basketball, pickleball, and softball. To the east and west, market rate single family housing. But walk north from Kennedy Heights Park, and you will be faced with the decaying remains of a 1950’s public school, the former Shroder High School, an empty 70,000-square-foot behemoth on seven acres of land.

Unlike most public schools, Shroder wasn’t built in the business district or on a bus line; it was tucked away in a bucolic Beech forest with natural springs, surrounded by single family streets and a park. The school and the park worked together as one big campus. To this day people still park at Shroder or walk across the grounds to access the park.

“There are natural springs back there and it should be a very lush wetlands,” says Mary Ray, a local realtor and project director for the Kennedy Heights Development Corporation (KHDC). “[Now] it’s all standing disgusting stagnant water. It needs to be freed.”

If the start of the springs can be located, they can be restored to their natural element.

A valuable — but vacant — community space
Shroder outgrew its usefulness in the early 2000s, and plans were made to move the school to the much more convenient current location on Duck Creek Road in Madisonville. As part of this plan, Cincinnati Parks made a notation in their Centennial Plan that when Shroder is no longer a school, the land will be annexed to Kennedy Park. 

Shroder closed its doors in 2007, and the building remained empty until 2011, when the Cincinnati Board of Education (CBE) began to auction off a backlog of empty former schools. Kennedy Heights was hit with a double whammy at this time, as CBE was the owner of two large, vacant properties in the neighborhood.

CBE had acquired 6620 Montgomery, a former Kroger store and the site of the former Kennedy Heights School, with plans to move the Pleasant Ridge school back to Kennedy Heights. After a long discussion, the school remained in Pleasant Ridge, and Kennedy Heights was left with two large, vacant properties.

6620 Montgomery, at the corner of Kennedy Avenue in the heart of the business district, was given highest priority. Several years and millions of dollars later, this is the site of the Kennedy Heights Cultural Campus, which houses the Kennedy Heights Montessori Preschool, Kennedy Heights Arts Center Lindner Annex, and Aikido of Cincinnati, and also serves as the hub for many neighborhood events.

In the meantime, without fanfare or any community engagement, Shroder was quietly auctioned off to the highest bidder. 

At first it appeared that the new owner of Shroder — Five Korners LLC based in Louisiana — planned to maintain the building and operate it as a rental facility. For the first few years the gym, theater, and some classrooms were used by various organizations. But the cost of heating a 70,000-square-foot building for a few tenants was unrealistic, and the building soon closed. 

There is really no way to “close” a seven-acre property tucked away in the woods, and the building became irresistible to homeless seeking shelter, and kids seeking the ultimate playground. Shroder was still full of furnishings and equipment. Windows and doors were broken and people came and went at will. Some started dumping tires and furniture. A fire was set. Nobody knew how to contact the owner, an LLC with an out-of-state address. 

Complaints piled up, the property was finally declared a public nuisance, and the building was condemned. Currently, the city would like the owner to demolish the building, which comes with a $700,000+ price tag.

The owner has listed the property for sale several times for $1.5 million, and while seven acres in the heart of Cincinnati adjacent to a park seems like a great development opportunity, the site has limitations: It is zoned SF-6, a single-family designation. 

The Kennedy Heights Neighborhood Plan has specific ideas for the site as well. It is still the northern entrance to Kennedy Heights Park, and that needs to be preserved, so any development has to be sensitive to the natural wetlands and beech forest, and shouldn’t disturb the existing single family neighborhoods that surround it.

Ray says it’s unclear as to whether or not the owner has even seen the building. Rasheed Shamma has been given multiple offers over the years — and appeared in court multiple times for neglecting the property — but during the latest court appearance yesterday, December 12th, he was finally told that it was time for him to stand trial.

This hearing came, in part, because the KHDC wrote a harsh letter asking for a resolution.

According to Ray, the letter said: “Please stop letting him get away with this, and letting him win.”

“It’s sad,” she continues, “but in real life he realizes we have a Shroder group and he could work with us. We’re really working very hard to try to come to a conclusion, but he wants an offer and he has a good point there. We value the property for what it’s worth at market rate, but the huge building has to be torn down, roads built, and utilities reinstated.”

When Shamma appeared in housing court yesterday, he was facing potential jail time for not maintaining the property. Kennedy Heights would be happy to develop the property, according to Ray, but not at a price tag of $1.5 million plus another $700,000 or more to demolish the building and remediate the site, especially when some portion of the property will be gifted to Cincinnati Parks.

Meanwhile, the community has spent countless hours planning but can’t come to the rescue. 

The property owner has been cited with failure to comply with orders and multiple building code inspection violations. Ray says that he tried to stall again, but was derailed by the judge who said, “You’ve been in this court for a year and a half. It’s going to trial.”

Shamma needs to recoup losses for his company, and the community's need to be involved in the solution, but that seems difficult right now, since he was granted a continuance until February 15th — a stalling tactic that seems to have worked, for now.

The Kennedy Heights Development Corporation seeks ownership of the property, but lacks the means to meet the owner’s needs. The Parks hope that any future for the site is sensitive to the natural wetlands and beech forest that surround it.

Kennedy Heights residents have expressed a hope to maintain the quiet, parklike environment that exists. Unless new solutions present themselves, the stalemate will continue — the building continues to decay, the owner has an impossible situation and is facing potential jail time, and the community has spent countless hours planning their future but can’t come to the rescue due to limited resources.  

“It’s unfortunate that it leads to a low-level criminal intent [charge],” says Ray, “but that’s what happens.”

Read more articles by Jessica Esemplare.

Jessica Esemplare is the managing editor of Soapbox Cincinnati and a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Shortly after completing her degree in magazine journalism, she began covering local and regional topics at The Cincinnati Herald and, later, as an editor at Ohio Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in U.S. News and World Report.