Tuesday, March 06, 2001

UC drops presidential mansion plan

Preservationists, neighbors had opposed construction

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The University of Cincinnati said Monday it will drop a plan to build a $2 million-plus presidential mansion on one of Clifton's most historic pieces of land.

        UC cited an impasse in negotiations with preservationists over the proposed site as the main reason it won't be able to develop an elaborate home with a dining and entertainment facility designed to host lucrative fund-rasing events.

        Dozens of neighbors who blanketed the Cincinnati neighborhood with signs of protest applauded the decision announced to the media and the Clifton Town Meeting.

        “I think it's wonderful,” said Patsy Morrison, a Clifton Avenue resident. “Let's stop and celebrate.”

        The university wanted to swap a yellow Victorian home donated by the prominent Rawson family more than two decades ago for an adjacent Clifton Avenue parcel owned by the Cincinnati Preservation Association.

        The preservationists balked at the land swap because they said the mansion's ini tial designs were too out of character for the neighborhood.

        “It became clear that their conditions for engaging in the swap were conditions that would limit what we believe to be the necessary scope of the project,” said Greg Hand, UC spokesman. “We have terminated those negotiations.”

        The announcement comes three days after the Enquirer revealed that Marion Rawson gave the university thousands of dollars to maintain the yellow home upon her death in 1980. Ms. Rawson had donated the home to the UC Foundation a year earlier.

        The home was in immacu late condition when Ms. Rawson lived there in the 1970s; it was once featured in a walking tour of Clifton's most elegant homes. But the house has deteriorated with a rusted roof, crumbling porch and cracked exterior, despite Ms. Rawson's $180,000 endowment.

        The university said the fund's annual dividends and other income of $7,200 just isn't enough to pay property taxes and land maintenance, let alone repairs to the home. And Mr. Hand said the university has made some repairs, such as painting the exterior and inserting beams to shore up the dilapidated porch.

        The university now plans to sell the yellow house “within the intentions of the Trust,” UC President Joseph A. Steger wrote to Clifton Town Meeting President Jack Brand.

        “We very much hoped this residence would be welcomed, if we could proceed at all,” Mr. Steger wrote. “Such is not the case, so we are canceling this plan.”

        The university will search for a new site to build a presidential mansion, Mr. Hand said. UC thinks a larger president's home would bolster fund-raising events and improve UC's academic status.

        If UC sells the house, it must use the money netted for educational purposes. The $180,000 endowment is also supposed to be used for maintaining the home.

        Beth Sullebarger, executive director of the Cincinnati Preservation Association, would not speculate whether her group is still interested in acquiring the property. Her group planned to restore the 19th-century home.

        “Whether we're in a financial position to acquire the property from UC is a matter for my board to consider,” Ms. Sullebarger said.

        “Both the yellow Rawson house and our property are important historical properties that should be preserved.”

        UC's mansion proposal was met by swift opposition by the neighborhood. Neighbors feared a mansion with a dining facility that could seat up to 80 people would generate too much traffic and become an eyesore on a pristine lot.

        “I think they are making the right decision,” said Michael Ramundo, a Clifton resident. “It's just the right thing to do.”


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