Friday, January 19, 2001

Walgreens can wait, city told

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        An advisory group urged city officials Thursday to block a proposed $10 million Walgreens store in downtown Cincinnati until the city figures out what to do with the Nordstrom site across the street.

        The Urban Design Review Board, a group of volunteer architects appointed by City Manager John Shirey, said a corner lot at Sixth and Race is too valuable to settle for a drugstore topped by 30 apartments.

        The prescription: hold up development until a group of national planning experts comes to Cincinnati in March to devise a plan for the ailing Race Street retail corridor and the empty Nordstrom space.

        It's the latest skirmish in a war between Walgreens and the city that has seen the national drug retailer booted from one location, promised two other sites but ultimately left without a store as its rival, CVS, captures downtown's business.

        “Sure, it's frustrating,” said Steven J. Massicot, a consultant representing Walgreens developer, Eagle Realty. “There is a clear lack of city planning. That's why it's so frustrating to develop something here.”

        The site was chosen based on the assumption that upscale retailer Nordstrom was going to build a store at Fifth and Race. Because financial troubles led Seattle-based Nordstrom to drop plans for a Cincinnati store in November, board members said it's time to reevaluate the entire area.

        “I think the last thing the city needs is another drug store,” said Steve Bloomfield, representing the city's Historic Conservation Board.

        “It doesn't add to the vitality of downtown ... It could be a very, very big mistake.”

        Mr. Bloomfield and other board members favor blocking the pharmacy until the Urban Land Institute comes to Cincinnati on March 18 to study the post-Nordstrom future of the Race Street area. Meanwhile, the city will pave the Nordstrom lot for parking.

        Mr. Massicot wanted to start demolition next month of several older buildings at the corner to make way for the pharmacy.

        It will ultimately be up to Mr. Shirey and Cincinnati City Council to decide whether to follow the design board's recommendation. It may not be legally possible because the city already agreed to hand over the site as part of a $3.7 million settlement.


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- Walgreens can wait, city told
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