While The Race To Renovate Continues, Many Historic Homes are Falling Behind

For our August 2017 issue, we explored Cincinnati’s rebuilding boom.

As urban living becomes more of a thing and developers scour the city for new places to renovate or build, Cincinnati’s condemned building list is getting attention from local preservationists trying to hold back the tide of demolitions.

Available on the city’s website, the list’s intended purpose is removing dangerous, unsightly, and mostly unoccupied buildings. At press time, there were 235 buildings listed—a pretty typical number, says the city’s Buildings and Inspections department director Art Dahlberg. Buildings stay on the list anywhere “from six months to several years,” he notes. They only come off after being repaired or torn down (before a structure can come down it must undergo two public hearings). The city, says Dahlberg, demolishes roughly 90 buildings per year, though that number more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, due to a state demolition grant.

Older, privately owned properties are pretty much only protected from demo if they are within official historic districts or are designated historic landmarks; otherwise, they’re fair game. Like 1347 Myrtle in East Walnut Hills—an old but not historically significant structure which owner UC Health demolished last winter in order to build a new parking lot. Neighbors couldn’t save the house but did manage to persuade UC not to build the planned lot…for now.

Purchasing condemned buildings can prove challenging, since they often have murky ownership trails and multiple liens against them. And then there’s the repair process. Rehabber Timmy Carlin and a business partner successfully rescued a Northside two-family from the city’s demo list circa 2012. The pair hired someone to purchase the property for them, removed generations of residents’ personal belongings, shored up crumbling brickwork, and rebuilt the already collapsed roof. And then they tackled the interior gut job. Carlin recalls thinking mid-way through: “For all the dollars we have in this, we could have bought in this neighborhood for as much or less and not had to do all that work.” Meaning, it takes real dedication to reach the goal. “It all turned out fine,” he says, but admits he’d hesitate to recommend similar projects to homebuyers.

Bottom line? Saving properties from demolition is a long and often messy process, and if they’re on private, non-historically designated property, chances of rescue are slim. Still, sometimes there are happy endings. Preservationist and East Walnut Hills resident Dan Korman cites a Camp Washington home originally slated for demo that’s now being rehabbed. “People sounded the alarm and somehow the house ended up in someone else’s hands,” he says. “The key is just making people more aware of what’s going on.”

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