By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken will tell skeptics of his Vine Street project today that a proposed $16 million development by PNC Bank could provide the "tipping point" for development in Over-the-Rhine.
PNC Bank is considering a plan that could provide more than 110 residential housing units at three sites: one at 15th and Vine Street and two near the intersection of Liberty and Elm streets. It would be one of the largest institutional investments in the neighborhood in decades. The project would include a PNC Bank branch on Vine Street, according to a proposal dated Jan. 3 and sent to the city.
"The discussions we have had are about more than just some buildings. It's about housing. It's about mixed-income. But it's also about putting in some services for the people who are already there," Luken said.
John T. Taylor, the regional president of PNC Bank, cautioned that many of the details being floated in discussions with the city are preliminary.
"It's a meaningful project, but there's a lot of details to be worked out," he said. "We're working at it. We really are investing a lot of time and effort and money in it right now. This is work that takes years. It doesn't take months to accomplish."
It was a year ago that Luken used his State of the City Address to declare Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine "the most important street in the city." He spoke of Over-the-Rhine as "a critical test of whether city government and the private sector can partner to make a change of seismic proportions on Vine Street."
There have been few tremors since then. The city opened a neighborhood "pride center," and the Kroger Co. announced plans to spend $1 million to fix up its Vine Street store.
But a $184,217 city loan to fix up the Empire Theater was a spectacular failure, with the developer missing and the FBI investigating.
"There will be some skepticism because of what happened," Luken said. "If the Over-the-Rhine project was easy, it would have been done a long time ago. I don't think you can shy away from something like this because it has risk."
Luken has committed at least $3.5 million in city money.
PNC is working with an Atlanta-based developer, Red Rock Global, to develop plans for the project, dubbed "Jericho." Plans presented to the city indicate three phases:
Four properties at Vine and 15th streets would be renovated into 26 residential units and two office units, including a PNC Bank development office.
An entire city block bordered by Liberty Street, Elm Street, Green Street and Logan Street would be redeveloped into 23 owner-occupied units and 43 rental units. A new building at the corner of Liberty and Elm would house a PNC Bank branch.
Just south and across Liberty Street, PNC would help acquire property for 21 low-income rental units.
Over-the-Rhine boosters said they're encouraged by the PNC Bank proposal, but are eager to see the details.
"The problem - and the good thing - with Over-the-Rhine is that the development is all grass roots. You've got pockets within Mohawk, within Pendleton, within Findlay Market, where you have small developers doing one or two units at a time," said Kathy Schwab, the residential adviser for Downtown Cincinnati Inc. "I think there's some momentum there now that we didn't see after (the riots of) April of '01. What we need is one or two big projects to get things going."
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