City sells former SMART property to community foundation

Hamilton’s City Council voted to sell the Co-Gen building at 330 N. B St. to the Hamilton Community Foundation for $1 at Wednesday’s council meeting. The city has leased a portion of the space to the nonprofit Great Miami Rowing Center on a month-to-month basis since June 2013, and the foundation will now enter into a long-term lease with the rowing center for ongoing use of the total site, according to GMRC President Nancy Wiley.

City Councilwoman Kathleen Klink, who is the chair of Education Committee at the community foundation, praised the resolution for benefiting the rowing center, the foundation, the city, and the community.

“The GMRC is quite an asset to our community,” she said. “Knowing that this building can remain for its intended purpose, and the city isn’t responsible for it or its upkeep, is another win-win.”

Hamilton Community Foundation Vice President of Communications Betsy Hope said that the rowing center approached the foundation earlier this year with a request for help supporting the building.

“It fits into our strategic goals that we have here at the foundation, especially related to quality of life for the citizens of Hamilton,” she said. “The GMRC is a unique organization; no one else does what they do in terms of the use of the river, programming that they have for all ages, for people with disabilities, and open for the whole community to get involved with the sport of rowing.”

According to city documents, at the June 28 meeting, Hamilton City Council approved for City Manager Joshua Smith to proceed with the steps necessary to sell the Co-Gen buildings. The city purchased the waterfront property in 2012, which includes a free-standing $2.7 million Co-Generation power plant building sitting on a two-acre parking lot, and the foundation of a former cooling tower, the latter of which the rowing center currently occupies.

The community foundation has granted funding to the rowing center consistently since 2007, and the purchase of the building “seemed like something we could help with,” Hope said.

She added that the foundation also owns the Fitton Center for Creative Arts building, 101 S. Monument St., and the Butler County United Way building at 323 N. Third St, organizations whose missions “meld together” with the foundation’s.

“We’re more interested in the programming and what happens inside those buildings, helping organizations in the context of their mission,” she said.

Now that the sale is underway, the rowing center is able to kick-start new development, according to Wiley. The rowing center, the city of Hamilton, and the Miami Conservancy District have collectively applied for state funding to establish new boating and river access on their new site.

“The location of this facility is perfectly situated for water access,” Wiley said. “Plus it has the added benefit of a former cooling tower, which we plan to adapt to an indoor moving water rowing pool.”

Further small-scale projects will follow, pending funding, to convert the building to a more user-friendly, Americans With Disabilities Act-accessible recreation center, as the rowing center expands their adaptive program with an open house for blind individuals to learn to row on Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Moses B. Glick LLC, a national demolition company who owns the former SMART Paper property on the west side of B Street, is donating $172,000 worth of demolition work to the rowing center’s site to be done by year end, Wiley said. The company is currently demolishing several buildings on the west side of the complex, and conducting feasibility work on a potential indoor sports complex in the remaining buildings.

“Moses B. Glick LLC embraces opportunities to give back to the communities we work in,” Owner Moses B. Glick said in a press release. “Our company believes that organizations such as GMRC strengthen the culture of a surrounding community and ultimately, a strong community is a foundation for the revitalization of a strong economy.”

The rowing center’s leadership is also undergoing changes as former executive director Frances Mennone stepped down August 22 to become a project manager for the development of Glick, LLC’s property. She remains a board member for the center, and the rowing center’s 14 board members will share Mennone’s former responsibilities.

“The board has very generously contributed its time to work on those tasks,” Wiley said. She added that the center was currently pursuing the hire of a head coach, and that once hired, the new coach would also take some responsibilities.

“It’s all very exciting,” she said.

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