Anthony Wayne building clear of tenants as hotel transformation work begins

HAMILTON — In May 2022, the tenants in each of the 40 occupied units in downtown Hamilton’s historic Anthony Wayne apartment building were told they had to fully vacate the premises by the end of November.

The goal is for 10 S. Monument Ave. to become a city-sponsored $16 million redevelopment project that will convert the Anthony Wayne into the Well House Hotel Hilton — a boutique, 54-room hotel with a full-service restaurant along Main Street.

By May, the notice sent to tenants was an inevitability. Long before, the city matched with an eager buyer and finalized plans to turn the Anthony Wayne into a project that fits Hamilton’s vision, which includes attracting new business and visitors. The notice came soon after the purchase agreement had been made between Anthony Wayne’s then-owner Jeannie Hiatt and Vision AWH LLC, an umbrella company for Cincinnati developer Vision Realty Group and a Florida-based hospitality partner.

ExploreAnthony Wayne building’s new name will be The Well House Hotel, Tapestry Collection by Hilton

Vision AWH officially bought the building for $3 million in September 2022. The project will provide more places to stay for visitors of the nearby RiversEdge amphitheater concerts and the new Spooky Nook Sports at Champion Mill megacomplex.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The notice to vacate marked the first time tenants were fully impacted by the potential redevelopment. The gradual exodus that followed over the next six months was the first physical, on-site step toward those plans becoming a reality.

By mid-October, residents Sheila Barrett and Karyn Ginn were a part of the dwindling community inside the Anthony Wayne building who had yet to find comparable living situations they could afford.

Ginn, like many of her neighbors, came to the Anthony Wayne due to financial necessity, she told the Journal-News. Since February 2020, Ginn lived in a one-bedroom apartment with her disabled husband and her autistic son and only paid $700 a month, utilities included.

“It was the only thing available that I could afford,” Ginn said.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Tenants with similar financial limitations went to a City Council meeting in mid-July to voice their concerns about a lack of affordable alternatives. The group was joined by Jonathan Ford and Lori Elliott, two housing attorneys with the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, who told Council that most of Anthony Wayne’s tenants are on fixed incomes.

Barrett is one such example. A decade ago, she moved into a one-bedroom at the Anthony Wayne with her late-husband, and, given that her rent was only $500 a month, she’s been able to afford that same apartment with her Social Security stipend, even after her husband succumbed to cancer.

Rents in the building range from $575 to $900 a month, with most paying around $700 to 750 a month, according to the Legal Aid Society. The City of Hamilton provided a list of agencies that could assist the Anthony Wayne building’s tenants with relocation options.

In October, Barrett was still unsure about where she’d be able to live, especially if she wasn’t able to find an assisted living center like she had hoped. Her fixed income left her with few options on the rental market.

“I’ll tell you how much money I draw a month: $860,” Barrett said. “I could do $700 for an apartment if the utilities was included — I would have a little money left to pay my phone bill and stuff. But, if you have to pay utilities too, I don’t know.”

ExploreDowntown Hamilton hotel redevelopment to begin work at start of new year

Ginn said even though rent was cheap at Anthony Wayne, it was tough to save enough money to move out as the sole provider for her family, especially in the face of common landlord practices that require prospective tenants to have a monthly 3 times greater than the monthly rent.

“Mine and Sheila’s issue is that everything’s over what we can afford; or, if we can afford it, they want you to make three times the rent,” Ginn said. “I have a husband and son and, I mean, some places I’m like $400 short.”

Such a requirement also disqualifies fixed-income apartment hunters with no way to meaningfully supplement their income, like Barrett.

“She’s lived here 10 years and hasn’t been late on rent or anything like that, but because she doesn’t make three times the rent, she doesn’t qualify,” Ginn said.

In June and July, Hamilton City Council moved to enter into a substantive development agreement with Vision AWH. The city moved $3 million of its federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to its Hamilton Community Improvement Corporation, which then awarded the developer with a $2 million forgivable loan and a $1 million loan that Vision AWH LLC is obligated to repay.

From a policy perspective, Ford told the Journal-News he hoped Hamilton would adopt relocation practices similar to Cincinnati’s — rules that obligate the city to help tenants who need to relocate as a result of city-assisted developments.

By October, some tenants had already moved out of Anthony Wayne, while others were closing deals on new places. Angelique Taylor moved into a new one-bedroom apartment for $1,034 a month; about 15% more expensive than her $900 apartment at Anthony Wayne. Taylor moved out with 30 days to spare.

Others remained as the deadline drew closer, including Barrett and Ginn. In mid-November, both women and other tenants received a letter from the building’s administrative assistant that served as an eviction notice and a three-day notice to vacate the premises after they, and others, opted not to pay at least a month of rent.

Barrett didn’t pay November’s rent and had an outstanding balance of $650, while Ginn didn’t pay for October or November and had an outstanding balance of $1,595. The building’s administrative assistant told the Journal-News that outstanding balances would not be pursued after the Nov. 30 deadline — evictions would only be filed if tenants refused to leave. No evictions were filed.

Ginn and her family relocated to a two-bedroom apartment just a few miles away off Main Street. For Ginn, rent is $750 a month, plus a flat $35 water fee, and gets billed monthly for gas and electricity. She estimated her monthly cost to be about $900, about 20% higher than she paid at Anthony Wayne, but with the perk of an additional bedroom.

Barrett, on the other hand, found no options with her fixed income and is on a Medicaid voucher at a Fairfield nursing home off Dixie Highway — about 10 miles and 20 minutes from Anthony Wayne. Barrett lamented the distance and said she’s afraid she’ll be isolated there.

“I don’t really want to go,” Barrett said. “But there’s no place I can afford to pay rent around here. I’m gonna have to go down there until I can maybe find something else or find assisted living closer.”

Lisa Irwin, an Anthony Wayne tenant who wasn’t too worried when she got her six-month notice to vacate, told City Council in July she thinks the redevelopment will be “awesome” for Hamilton — but added that she’s seen her neighbors be negatively impacted by the deadline.

“Personally, I think the hotel is excellent for the city ... but there’s a dark side to it, too,” Irwin said.

City leaders have said the need for more hotels in Hamilton is big.

Staff Writer Michael Pitman contributed to this report.


ABOUT THE PROJECT

  • This is Vision Realty Group President Matt Olliges’ second redevelopment project in Hamilton. His company developed the 160-plus-year-old Hammerle Building, which paved the way for the restaurant Billy Yanks and the apartments to open.
  • The Anthony Wayne building was originally built nearly 100 years ago to be a seven-story, 100-room hotel. It has been an apartment complex since the mid-1960s.

COMPLETE COVERAGE

Since the initial announcement of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton project, the Journal-News has covered this topic from all sides. Find previous articles at journal-news.com.

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