Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Walnut Hills fights blight


Plan will reopen landmark apartment house

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Eight years ago, Lucy Woody watched as fire gobbled up a landmark in her Walnut Hills neighborhood. And nearly every day since, shewondered whether something would happen to the boarded-up hulk of the Alexandra Apartments.

        She'd almost given up, the scene of urban decay at the corner of William Howard Taft Drive and Gilbert Avenue becoming familiar and of little interest.

        But on Monday, she took notice once again. A big white tent went up just outside the building's chain-link fence. People were talking on a microphone; they were dressed in suits, pointing at the Alexandra and applauding.

        In the parking lot of a nearby grocery store, Ms. Woody sat in her car, reached into a shopping bag, withdrew a hunk of chocolate cake and smiled at the Alexandra. “It's about time,” she said.

        “It used to make it pretty nice here in the neighborhood,” Ms. Woody said, pointing at the apartment.

        By the end of next year, planners say, it
will look very similar to the way it did when it first opened its doors in 1904. Only now the plan is to build 91 affordable apartments for the elderly.

        “It's taken a lot to make this happen,” said Jim King, president of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Corp., which is in charge of the project. “There have been a a lot of obstacles: money, money, money.”

        With commitments from Cincinnati city officials, Fifth Third Bank and a national nonprofit neighbor hood support agency, Mr. King said, the $12.5 million needed for the project has been raised.

        “I think this is a key redevelopment project for Walnut Hills,” Mayor Charlie Luken said Monday. “That building sits at the edge of the Kroger store at one of the busiest areas in the neighborhood.”

        If the Alexandra were allowed to remain blighted, he said, it would affect other projects that have crept up Gilbert into Walnut Hills.

        The city is providing about $2.8 million for the project, including more than $1 million in housing funds, tax breaks and an interest-free loan.

        Another $750,000 is coming from the Local Initiatives Support Corp., the nation's largest community development support organization that has contributed money for neighborhood revital ization projects in more than 100 communities.

        Although this is the corporation's first Cincinnati project, officials used the Alexandra press conference to announce they would soon be channeling $4 million into the region.

        At the beginning of the 20th century, the Alexandra was the largest apartment building in Cincinnati, with 54 units. Its distinctive roof-line and asymmetrical facades were an eye-catching throwback to the Colonial Revival type of design.

        In 1955 the building was sold and turned into 78 units that were destroyed by the 1993 fire.

        Between mouthfuls of cake, Ms. Woody described the fire.

        “It was a horrible thing. It went up in the daytime, around noon and just kept spreading,” she said. “But it's a nice building and it should be fixed up. When they're done, I just might have to look me up one of those rooms.”

       



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