Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Luken wants action on Bond Hill complex

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Frustrated at the slow progress of redevelopment at Huntington Meadows apartment complex in Bond Hill, Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken is threatening to take the vacant 49-acre property by eminent domain.

Luken would use the city's neighborhood development reserve to buy the property - at a court-determined price, if necessary - and turn it over to a local developer.

Assuming they can put together a "workable plan," that developer would be led by two Bond Hill churches: the Allen Temple and the Tryed Stone Missionary Baptist Church. Rev. Donald Jordan of Allen Temple said he wants to bulldoze the whole property to make way for condominiums and single-family houses.

In a memo last week to City Manager Valerie Lemmie, Luken said the project was "stalled" and said, "the new owner has not developed the right relationships with the community, nor has it moved forward in any noticeable way to get the project moving."

Once the city's largest privately owned apartment complex, the property is owned by RCM Cincinnati Estates, a limited partnership of the Connecticut company that bought the property out of foreclosure in April. The price: $2.6 million.

RCM is offering to sell the northern portion of the property - 660 units abutting Seymour Avenue - for an asking price of $9.75 million.

President Michael Belfonti said he wasn't ready to discuss his plans for the property. "We're in the midst of a number of things and we have so many balls in the air," he said.

Told the city was considering taking the property by eminent domain, he said, "That's terrific."

The 51-year-old property was once owned by New York financier Donald Trump, who credited it with giving him his start in the real estate investment business. Originally known as Swifton Village, its history has been one of mostly unsuccessful out-of-town owners.

Jordan said says the site needs a single, local developer with a commitment to home ownership. RCM, he said, wants to keep it as a rental property.

"They're trying to get us to be a patsy and get the city to redevelop it as apartments. We don't want to do that. It's been done before. How many out-of-town owners have tried to do that? Five? And it's never worked," he said.

Jordan said any residential development would complement his efforts to breathe life into the former Swifton Commons shopping center to the west, now called Jordan Crossing and owned by the Allen Temple Foundation.

"Investors aren't going to put their money in there when you're surrounded by residents who are all on Section 8 (rent subsidy) vouchers.

"There are hundreds and thousands of middle-class families in Bond Hill and Roselawn, people who own their homes and are doing well; but they go across town to shop," Jordan said.

"Our communities are never going to grow unless our people have reason to take pride in it," he said.

The previous owner of the property was a limited partnership owned by the Michigan-based PM Group, which received $31.6 million from taxpayers and investors to buy and rehabilitate the 58 buildings.

After four years, off-site management and a poorly designed, deteriorating property led to the high vacancy rates that ultimately forced the project into bankruptcy, people involved in the bankruptcy said.

The complex evicted hundreds of low-income families while in its death throes last year. It has been vacant since September 2002.

"It's terribly important to the neighborhood and the city to not let this fester," Luken said. "The longer it festers, the harder it will be to get things going."


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