Friday, July 20, 2001

Norwood development boom continues

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Lisa Diersing always figured development would compel her move from a Dacey Avenue home nestled along Interstate 71 in Norwood.

        She just didn't think it would be this soon.

        Mrs. Diersing and more than a dozen other homeowners have agreed to sell to make way for the latest developer seeking to follow the success of the Rookwood retail centers and office tower.

        Dobbs Ackermann and Al Neyer Inc. envision a large office tower, upscale hotel, two restaurants and parking garage on a 4-acre site wedged between I-71 and Smith and Williams roads.

        Developers are increasingly willing to pay top dollar and tackle complicated projects along I-71 to tap into the demand for space in central Cincinnati and older suburbs near the city. Plans are in the works for at least five office and retail projects along or near the expressway between Madisonville and downtown.

        This latest development site is ideally suited for an office and hotel because it's a high-profile location next to the interstate and just minutes from downtown Cincinnati, Mr. Ackermann said.

        But the “Cornerstone of Norwood” development poses more challenges than a typical suburban office tower.

        Not only must developers buy and bulldoze 17 homes and three apartment buildings, they have to convince Norwood officials of their vision and assuage concerns of residents. The developers will begin to make their case at an Aug. 1 Norwood Planning Commission meeting — the first of a series of meetings scheduled to consider development guidelines.

        Jeffrey R. Anderson was the first to buy homes and industrial property off I-71 to build Rookwood. Madeira-based Vandercar has since acquired dozens of homes in Oakley for a retail and possibly office/residential development. Another developer is trying to acquire homes in Evanston at Dana Avenue and I-71.

        Developers' interest means lucrative yet bittersweet offers for homeowners like Mrs. Diersing.

        She paid $40,000 for her brick home back in 1983, a residence Mr. Ackermann and Al Neyer have agreed to buy for $180,000, she said. She admits that the offer surpasses the home's market value, but she'd rather stay until her children graduate from high school.

        Mr. Ackermann has signed agreements to acquire 14 homes and three older, dilapidated apartment buildings on the triangular-shaped property. Only three homeowners haven't signed contracts, but two of those are close to agreeing , Mr. Ackermann said.

        “From our side, we feel we've got a great response about the particular area we are working with,” said Mr. Ackermann, who hopes to start construction by November.

        Ruth Rosskopf, 74, has lived in her Dacey Avenue home 44 years and doesn't want to leave, according to her son, Martin.

        The Rosskopfs hired a lawyer to explore their options.

        “She don't want to sell, but she's realistic,” Mr. Rosskopf said. “We're going to see what kind of money they're going to come up with.”

        Developers say they will continue to negotiate until all homeowners have agreed to sell. Norwood officials would not say whether the city would help the developer seize a home.

        Oakley homeowners are divided over Vandercar's $170 million plan to transform the neighborhood.

        Bulldozers have flattened the former Cincinnati Milacron site east of I-71 near Marburg Avenue and Ridge Road for “big box” retailers Target, Meijer's and Sam's Club.

        Vandercar has busily gobbled up homes in anticipation of development, possibly an office tower and residential properties.

        Both Mr. Ackermann and Al Neyer Inc. officials stressed they want to work with Norwood instead of pushing through an unwanted development.

        “We're not a slash-and-burn developer,” said John Neyer, Al Neyer Inc.'s marketing director. “We want to be a part of this community.”

        Al Neyer Inc. also plans a mixed-use development of office and retail at the vacant General Motors parking lot site off the Norwood Lateral.

        Norwood Development Director Rick Dettmer said the city plans to maintain control of the site by creating a special district called a planned unit development. It will give the city more oversight, he said.

        Like other older suburbs, Norwood has little land available to bolster its tax base. That's why the city aggressively pursues office developments, Mr. Dettmer said.

        Most real estate experts were surprised by the initial success of the Rookwood office project, Wayne Hach of Cincinnati Commercial Realtors said.

        “It says something very strong for office space that is not located in downtown but is located near downtown,” Mr. Hach said.


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