Monday, October 08, 2001

Factory spaces get 2nd wind

Old buildings can offer cheap rent, lots of room

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — New life is coming to Butler County's aging factories as they are resurrected for small companies looking for an inexpensive starting place.

Adolf Olivas in front of the new Renaissance Center in downtown Hamilton.
(Gary Landers
Cincinnati Enquirer photo)
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        Individual businesses are renting space in rambling old buildings such as the former Fisher Body plant in Fairfield, now used for warehouse space.

        As local cities recycle empty factories, they create jobs where none exist. These white elephants of the industrial age are finding a niche in the computer era.

        “We're trying to give the buildings new life,” said Bob Pohl of Cincinnati Commercial Realtors. “People need to realize what Ohio 129 (Michael Fox Highway) has meant to Hamilton. The impact is huge. No longer do truck drivers have to fight the traffic on Ohio 4. Ohio 129 has given these old factories a new purpose.”

        The county has many old factories, especially in Hamilton, a city of 60,000 people on the Great Miami River.

        City Manager Stephen Sorrell said Hamilton leads the state in receiving brownfields grants — money used to improve old factory sites. He said two old factories have been torn down and replaced by a new one and others cleaned up and improved for new uses.

        In Hamilton alone, a half-dozen factories of various sizes are being rehabbed or awaiting it, including the Western States factory on Ohio 4, across from the Butler County Fairgrounds.

  The Great Miami River encouraged the growth of factories in Butler County. By the 1890s, Hamilton called itself the greatest little industrial city of its size in the world.
  Some of its early factories still stand, looking like a Dickensian vision. The old Champion paper company (now Smart Papers) lines B Street on the city's west side. On East Avenue on the east side, some old brick factories, including the former Estate Stove Co., sit idle.
  This year's closing of International Paper's large office is only one of a number of major closings in Hamilton since 1950.
        Others include the former Mosler Safe Co. at Grand Boulevard and Ohio 4 on the city's east side. The red brick factory opened in late 1800s, after the firm relocated from Cincinnati. It closed in the early 1990s.

        During its glory years, the 1950s and '60s, Mosler built safes, vault doors, deposit boxes and other products for the banking industry.

        Today, the privately owned Mosler building is leased to various businesses, including Bingo Instants. Mr. Pohl said the entire building is nearly filled.

        “I'm glad they didn't tear the old building down,” said Ron Messer, manager of the nonprofit bingo business. “It would take away from the city's past. I hated to see the company go out of business. It had such deep community roots.

        “But now we have a building with a mission. There are quite a few businesses in it now — a machine shop, janitorial service and others. Our business averages 120 people a day, which is good.”

        Across the street, at the former Diebold safe factory at Ohio 4 and Grand Boule vard, a wrecker service rents part of the blue-gray factory. It was formerly the Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Co., another of Hamilton's large factories. It closed in the 1980s.

        The former General Motors Fisher Body plant, built in the late 1940s and once one of the area's major employers, is now called the Tri-State Industrial Center, “the manufacturing/warehousing mall.”

        A sign in front of the long green building announces a couple of small industries, a high-tech firm and a sports merchant, among others.

        Norm Khoury of Collier's International, a real estate broker that's promoting space, said the 1.2-million-square-foot plant includes space for a crane area, office, warehouse and manufacturing area.

        “In the '90s these kinds of buildings were a trend,” said Mr. Khoury, a company vice president. “What this building has that's attractive is the 25- and 30-ton cranes. The warehouse space is a low-cost alternative to the new buildings that are going up.”

        He said six tenants occupy much of the building now, and 125,000 square feet is still available. The site also has a 6,000-square-foot office and parking lot.

        “It would be nice to see the building completely developed,” said Mark Parker, the city's development manager. “We're hoping that when Symmes Road finally gets connected to Union Centre Boulevard near I-75 (in a few years), the Symmes corridor will spill over in development.”

        Not far away, in Lindenwald in south Hamilton, two old factories offer enough space to house an army division. The old brick Auto graphic Register Co., 802 Williams Ave., offers 20,000 square feet of office, warehouse and manufacturing space.

        At the Woolen Mill, 2348 Pleasant Ave., also in Lindenwald, business is picking up.

        Formerly used by a maker of blankets and other wool products, the building was a major employer in south Hamilton for years until it closed in about the 1960s.

        The red building, which features a tower and large smokestack, was built in 1893. It includes 97,000 square feet each on the first and second floors and 20,000 square feet on the third.

        The Woolen Mill now includes a cabinet company, sports promotions firm, a screen design firm and a manufacturer.

        “We're meeting the needs of the market as major companies reduce their work forces,” Mr. Pohl said.


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