Former Journal building to be converted into apartments

Cox Media Group, which owns The Journal, announced Thursday the sale of the building to two Cincinnati investors for an undisclosed price, said Robert Zikias, the media group’s financial officer. The two-story building and land are valued at $257,710, according to the Butler County Auditor’s Office.

The newspaper left the building in 2008, moved to the former Cinergy Building, now home to Cincinnati State Middletown, then to space in the First Financial Bank building. The Journal now is operated out of its headquarters in Liberty Twp.

“We have been exploring positive options for the future of the property and are sensitive to its place in Middletown’s history,” Zikias said. “We are very pleased that it now becomes part of the community’s greater development vision.”

Middletown City Manager Judy Gilleland agreed. She said it was imperative for the city to return another historic building to “productive use.”

Then she added: “This will be another feather in our cap. It’s unfortunate to have large vacant buildings downtown, but with our increased emphasis on downtown revitalization we’re seeing a turnaround, and we’re seeing these properties put back into productive use which is very rewarding.”

The property was purchased by Gary Montesi and Evan Smith, who are entering their first commercial business, said Montesi, who refused to release the purchase price. He said they will begin rehabbing the property immediately, and probably invest between $1 million to $2 million to convert the property into loft apartments. Depending on the square footage of the apartments, Montesi said there will be six to eight.

He said the goal is to keep the building’s “vintage look” while upgrading some of the windows and exterior. He said the asbestos and other “environmental concerns” will be the first items removed. He said the group will “hit the ground running.”

In the last several years, major vacant downtown properties have been remodeled and opened for business, including the Pendleton Art Center, Cincinnati State and the BeauVerre at the Square. The largest vacant properties downtown are the former Manchester Inn, First National Bank and Rogers Jewelers.

Cox Media Group Ohio and the city partnered to market the building, said Denise Hamet, economic development director for the city. She said the media group expressed a desire to find the appropriate use for the building and they “worked diligently to make it happen.”

The city worked to help facilitate the sale, including funding a Phase I assessment from our USEPA brownfield grant. Hamet also said the city will support an application next year, if the new owners apply, for a Duke Urban Redevelopment Grant.

“The occupancy of the building increases economic impact by putting more people on the street, and it also reduces potential for vandalism of a vacant building,” said Hamet. “The Journal building space will be attractive to artists and related professions, which will help us build our growing cluster of the arts. We may also find positive connections with the nearby Sorg Opera House, and with the MidPointe library.”

Cox Media Group acquired the building when it purchased The Journal, the Hamilton JournalNews and several weekly newspapers from Thomson Newspaper, in September 2000.

Patrick Kay, executive director of Downtown Middletown Inc., said the sell of The Journal property helps “solidify the revitalization” of the downtown area.

“It’s another great cornerstone, another really great asset,” he said.