Monday, December 17, 2001

Newport housing project slow to begin

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — A year and a half after the Newport Housing Authority won a $28 million Hope VI grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, no property has been purchased for renovation or new construction for low- and middle-income housing in Newport.

        However, Housing Authority and city officials aren't overly concerned about the apparent delay in beginning the process that eventually will move low-income residents from the 202-unit housing project on Fourth Street into single family and multifamily homes throughout the city.

        “We're still negotiating with property owners,” Housing Authority executive director Mark Brown said. “Sometimes these things take longer than expected.”

        According to a statement from Kentucky HUD officials in Louisville, the Newport project is unique among Hope VI efforts around the country and will take longer to acquire property in a number of locations throughout the city.

        Under other Hope VI projects, including the $200 million Park DuValle development in Louisville and the Lincoln Court and Laurel Homes projects in Cincinnati's West End, existing federal low-income housing is demolished and new housing constructed on the site.

        The Newport project calls for more rehab than demolition. It is centered around renovation of several buildings that will be converted to multifamily dwellings and single-family houses, as well as construction of new single-family and multifamily structures.

        The housing project units on Fourth Street will be demolished after they are vacated.The property will be developed privately for commercial, office and residential uses.

        Tom Smith, senior project manager for Community Builders, the nonprofit developer of the Lincoln Court and Laurel Homes Hope VI projects, said the length of time it has taken to get close to the start of work on the Newport project is not surprising and shouldn't be seen as a problem.

        “Take Lincoln Court for example,” he said. “We were chosen as the developer in 1998, and it took us almost a year and a half before we put a shovel in the ground. There's a lot of design and master planning that has to be completed first.”

        Mr. Brown and Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli, a member of the Newport Housing Authority board, have said in the past that the Hope VI project probably will take five years to complete.

        That's also in line with Cincinnati's projects, Mr. Smith said. He added Community Builders expects to complete Lincoln Court by 2004 and Laurel Homes by 2005.

        The first phase of the Newport project calls for rehabilitation of two old Newport landmarks: the Marx—Cromer building at Ninth and Monmouth streets, which most recently housed a strip club; and the former city stables and adjoining structure known as the Baker Building at 11th and Sara toga streets.

        Negotiations have been under way for several months to acquire the Marx-Cromer property, which will be developed first. The five-story brick structure is will be converted to 44 two-bedroom apartments.

        The plan also calls for a 186-space parking garage and a swimming pool at the rear of the building facing Orchard Street. Total cost of the renovation and construction is projected at $6 million to $8 million.

        The Baker-Stables project will link two brick structures at the rear, forming a L-shaped building with 38 apartments. Cost is expected to be in the same range as Marx-Cromer but with a street-level parking lot

        Both projects call for a mix of market and low-income residents, required by HUD for any development using Hope VI funds.

        The Newport Housing Authority formed a separate entity, the Millennium Housing Authority, to act as developer for the entire Hope VI project.


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