The former First National Bank Building at 2 N. Main St., at left, that was donated by the city of Middletown to Cincinnati State in 2012 is the focus of a controversy with Art Central Foundation. Cincinati State had planned to transfer the building to the local nonprofit for redevelopment. However, city officials objected saying they wanted the property back from the college for redevelopment. City and Art Central Foundation officials are discussing a possible resolution. FILE PHOTO
Photo: Nick Daggy
Photo: Nick Daggy

Local nonprofit, city at odds over fate of downtown Middletown building

Cincinnati State owns the former First National Bank building at 2 N. Main St. It is part of a group of several buildings that were purchased from the city of Middletown in October 2013.

That 47,000-square-foot building and the former Cincinnati Gas & Electric building at 1 N. Main St. were part of a group of several buildings the city purchased in 2010 from the estate of Perry Thatcher, a local businessman and Middletown City Council member. Thatcher’s will also required that 20 percent of the estate be used to assist local nonprofit organizations in the city.

Next door at 4 N. Main St. is the Thatcher Temple Arts Building that was part of the Thatcher group of buildings. That building was transferred by the city to the Arts Central Foundation.

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In 2018, Cincinnati State gave ACF a non-binding letter of intent to transfer the 2 N. Main St. building to the nonprofit. However, in early January 2019, the city of Middletown objected because it wants to retake ownership of the building for future redevelopment.

In July 2016, Cincinnati State informed the city of its desire to lease the 2 N. Main St. building except for the two upper floors for future college needs.

In March 2018, ACF and Cincinnati State met to discuss building issues and a wall that ACF was sealing between the buildings. There was a common access between the buildings because the bank had expanded its offices into that building.

Following a discussion, Cincinnati State suggested transferring the building to ACF, and Cincinnati State followed in July 2018 with a nonbinding letter of intent to transfer the building to ACF.

Also during this time, city economic development officials continued their efforts to market a number of buildings downtown for redevelopment. The 2 N. Main St. building was among those buildings being marketed by the city.

ACF, a nonprofit, planned to work with a developer to redevelop the building and collect a small percentage from the leases to sustain itself financially.

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ACF remains in communication with Cincinnati State about their project and building transfer. ACF officials also offered to join Cincinnati State officials in any meetings with the city in late December 2018 and early January 2019.

On Jan. 15, city officials vigorously objected to the proposed building transfer, surprising Cincinnati State officials, who put the transfer on hold so they would not jeopardize their positive relationship with the city.

“We were completely surprised,” said City Manager Doug Adkins.

He said if the city takes title to the building, requests for proposals to redevelop the building would be solicited.

In a Jan. 25 email to the city council, Adkins said he wanted to broker an agreement for the city to get the 2 N. Main St. building back, reserve for Cincinnati State the right of first refusal for one or two floors of the building and allow ACF the right to open the doors and use the elevators.

ACF officials sent an email to city officials to discuss city concerns and to answer questions. During that time, the city discovered there was no provision to return the properties to the city if Cincinnati State opted not to use them.

ACF representatives, its building advisory committee, and two principals and a designer from the architectural firm of McGill Smith Ponshun meet with city officials on Feb. 23.

On March 6, the city formally requested that the building titles for 2 N. Main St. and 1021 Central Ave. be returned to the city.

The nonprofit has contacted council members to discuss the issue as they questioned why the city is interfering in their transfer with Cincinnati State.

Sue Wittman, ACF executive director, spoke to Middletown City Council on Tuesday to outline the work the organization has done for downtown for the past 14 years. She said Cincinnati State presented ACF with an opportunity to acquire the building. At that meeting, there were more than 50 people in support of the ACF.

“Unlike many other projects that the city has invested large amounts of money into, the ACF has a 100 percent track record of taking an older unused property and successfully getting back into full use,” said Joe Wittman, an ACF board member.

“It’s important to remind the city that the 2 and 4 North Main have been developed as a pair for the last 50 years. They have been designed to complement each other, and have many shared features. The ACF is in a perfect position to understand and enhance what each building brings to the table, and how they could both be used to assure success in the development process.”

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After Tuesday’s open session, ACF representatives met with council in executive session. No public action was taken following executive session.

While Cincinnati State is looking to divest unused buildings, officials say the community college remains firmly committed to being a presence in Middletown.

“Cincinnati State’s goal is to support Middletown and the resurgence of downtown by making available the building at 2 N. Main St. that was donated to the college and that we do not occupy,” said Elliott Ruther, chief of institutional advancement at Cincinnati State.

“Our role is not to determine how the building is utilized, and we believe it is best for the City, Art Central and the community to work together in making that determination.”

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