Preservationists hope historic Hamilton building can be spared

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

caption arrowCaption
It may be torn down because economics of repairs leading to profits are very difficult

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Historic preservationists are hoping a downtown Hamilton building unique to the area can avoid being destroyed by wrecking machines.

But the leader of the non-profit Hamilton CORE (Consortium for Ongoing Reinvestment Efforts) Fund said it’s difficult to know how the economics of reviving the building can spare it.

The stone-clad Romanesque-style building, which dates to about 1890 and is known as the Treble Building and formerly the Third Street Department Store, is located at 216 S. Third St., northeast of the intersection of Third and Ludlow streets.

An attached building immediately to the south at 220 S. Third St., known as the Joffe Furniture building, is to be saved.

“We have the 220 building under contract to be redeveloped, but the 216 building creates a little bit of a question mark about the connection of the two buildings,” said CORE Director Mike Dingeldein.

The CORE Fund recently received city permission to paint the building at 220 S. Third St., which is to be used for first-floor commercial and upper-floors residential, a dark green with white and red trim.

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Two preservation organizations — Butler County-based Citizens for Historic And Preservation Services (CHAPS) and the Cincinnati Preservation Association — have written letters on behalf of saving 216 S. Third St.

“This building has great street presence and architectural character and is the only example of Romanesque Revival style in the downtown core,” wrote Margo Warminski, the preservation director for the Cincinnati group.

Nathaniel Kaelin, a board member for CHAPS, noted in an email that the CORE Fund “has been a proponent and positive actor in historic preservation,” and its leadership likely wouldn’t recommend demolition lightly.

“However, given the significance and unique architecture of the building, and the ongoing revitalization in Hamilton, it is difficult for us to not advocate for a creative solution that preserves the building,” Kaelin wrote.

In requesting permission to demolish the building, CORE Fund personnel informed Hamilton’s Architectural Design Review Board that over at least two years, multiple developers considered the ways to renovate the building, but costs of stabilizing and restoring the building “make it nearly impossible to rehabilitate.”

The application seeking demolition adds: “There is no feasible economic use for the building that (makes) restoration viable.”

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The design board earlier this month tabled the matter until its July 5 meeting so alternatives can be explored in preventing the structure’s demise.

CORE Fund bought the the site with several buildings on it in 2013. A warehouse in back was demolished, but CORE intended to renovate both the 216 and 220 buildings, Dingeldein said.

In July, an 18-acre area of the downtown was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and the Treble building was among the 39 buildings that were found to “contribute” to the area’s historic significance. That designation also brings with it the possibility of historic tax credits for carefully restored structures.

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“We’ve looked into tax credits,” Dingeldein said. “They help, but they don’t solve the problem.”

“The problem is the building is too small — not too big,” he said.

When CORE restored the Mercantile Lofts downtown, that renovation work cost about $106 per square foot, “but the cash flow from the apartments and the retail storefronts is enough to pay down the debt, after we use the tax credits.”

For 216 S. Third, “there’s so little rent-able space in that building that there’s no pathway to pay down the investment in the building to get it back,” Dingeldein said. “The Merc(antile building) was in much worse shape, so it isn’t the condition of the building, it’s a combination of the condition of the building and the size of the building that creates the no-win situation.”

The building has the looks of an architectural gem, “but as good as it looks from the front, it has severe structural problems and the costs to get it back to a net-zero use is just astronomical,” he said.

Dingeldein said if the 216 building remains standing, that could create concerns for developers, “but I don’t think it’s enough to discourage that project…. It just adds to the list of challenges that the Treble building presents.”

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Dingeldein believes it would cost more than $2 million to save the building.

That “is what we saved all four buildings we’re working on Main Street for — all four together, which included the Clark’s (Sporting Goods) building, the Homestead building, Hughes Pharmacy building and the building on the corner of D (Street) and Main — all of those buildings, all of them finished, and out-the-door ready for new occupancy, is about the same price as this one,” he said.

If a philanthropic source is found to save the Treble building, “Would you save that building, or would you save four more buildings on Main Street, or six more buildings on Main Street? I don’t know,” Dingeldein said.

If the building is torn down, in the short term it likely would become a parking lot. But in the long term, given that the city owns and controls most of that block, “they’re working on master-plan options for most of that block…. Long term, it might be redeveloped into multiple buildings,” Dingeldein said. “It can be put into a much larger redevelopment package.”

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Rhonda Smith, who works across the intersection from the buildings, fondly recalls shopping in the former Joffe Furniture store that occupied both of the buildings at one time.

“You just don’t see buildings like that anymore,” she said. “I like historical buildings. Hamilton is doing a lot to improve the downtown area, and it certainly shows.

Kaelin, of CHAPS, said his organization, which only recently learned about plans for demolition, is still evaluating the situation.

“But we feel it’s a very significant building in the downtown, in the newly created historic district, and so we think it’s very important to find a solution to redevelop it, preserve it,” he said.

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“It’s a very significant building aesthetically, architecturally and then to the cityscape,” Kaelin said. “There’s been a lot of investment by the city along that corridor, with what Community First Solutions has done across the street, with the streetscape they’ve done.”

“It seems to be right at the center of redevelopment focus, so it’s well-positioned from that respect,” he added. “It’s unfortunate that the (financial) numbers maybe don’t look great, but we think there’s so many things going for the building, so many things going for the community if you think about what maybe even the largest champions of the Hamilton community thought was possible five years ago, or what was impossible, that’s really changed.”

“The thought about tearing down this building takes me back five, 10 years, when we didn’t necessarily have as much faith in the community as we do now,” Kaelin added. “We’re seeing a lot of positive things happening, so we hope this can be part of that.”

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