By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HAMILTON - The drive to preserve and redevelop the historic Mercantile buildings downtown has received a financial boost from the Hamilton Community Foundation.
The foundation will provide a $385,000 grant for roof replacement, and structural and fa┴ade repairs in exchange for the city's creating a downtown development fund. Hamilton City Council approved the grant agreement this week.
"This will be the first step of progress to revitalize our downtown," Mayor Donald Ryan said. "We want to preserve our heritage and move into the 21st century."
The three city-owned buildings, which sit side by side on High Street, were built between 1875 and 1885. They have stood vacant for two years.
Hamilton officials hope to turn the buildings over to developers for commercial-retail use.
In return for the $385,000 from the foundation, the city agrees to enter into a tax increment financing (TIF) agreement with future developers. Tax increment financing is a development tool that uses property tax revenue to help pay for a project.
Proceeds from the TIF would be placed into a fund to promote future downtown development. A committee of representatives from the city and the foundation would recommend projects for grants from this fund.
"We're trying to encourage long-term reinvestment in our downtown," said Mary Pat Essman, the foundation's chairwoman. "By setting up this kind of fund, we want to make sure that money keeps going into downtown development."
The foundation will not release the $385,000 until the TIF fund is established, Ms. Essman said. Because of this provision, City Manager Mike Samoviski said the city should not authorize repairs until reaching a tentative agreement with a developer to own and renovate the buildings.
An architectural consultant concluded in a report this year that the Mercantile buildings are in good enough condition to be salvaged. The city wants to make repairs to the buildings soon to prevent water from seeping in and to prevent pieces of the stone facade from falling.
Tentative plans call for retail shops to occupy the buildings' first floors and for commercial businesses to use the second and third floors.
"It has the potential to create jobs and to bring people downtown," Mr. Ryan said.
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