Monday, November 9, 2009

3CDC buys Metropole, plans 21c luxury hotel

Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) has announced its purchase of the Hotel Metropole from Showe Builders Inc. for $6.25 million, with plans to redevelop the property into a luxury hotel.

3CDC says it will work with Louisville-based 21c Museum Hotels LLC on a $48 million project to convert the building, located Downtown at , into 160 guest rooms, a contemporary art museum with more than 8,000 square feet of exhibition space, a restaurant, and meeting space.

Deborah Berke & Partners Architects, which created the Louisville location within an assortment of 19th century tobacco warehouse buildings, will design the Cincinnati location as well.

"In Louisville, we have proven that art drives commerce and when we consider locations for 21c Museum Hotels, we focus on how we can enhance the cultural and civic life of the community and encourage tourism," said Steve Wilson, founder and chairman of 21c Museum Hotels. "We're very excited about the opportunity to bring a 21c Museum Hotel to Cincinnati to serve as this unique type of economic catalyst. And we look forward to creating a 21c Museum Hotel that reflects the unique character of the Queen City."

What purpose should building serve?

Built in 1912 as a luxury hotel, the 10-story, Neoclassical-styled Metropole was added to the National Register of Historic Places in June.

Since a 1971 remodeling, the building has served as a low-income, single-room occupancy hotel with 230 housing units of between 312 and 424 square feet, lacking up-to-date mechanicals and natural lighting.

Seeing the heavy investment surrounding the building, Showe Builders has been exploring options for the property for several years. They have been negotiating with 3CDC for about a year.

Now, Brickstone Properties, a division of the Model Group, has the task of relocating the building's 207 tenants, which could take up to one year to achieve.

Brickstone says that it's looking to ensure that residents' rents will not rise, and plans to cover all relocation expenses to Section 8-eligible units.

Affordable housing advocates – including representatives from the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati – already are distrustful, making their displeasure known during the first tenants' meeting organized by Brickstone last Thursday.

Advocates urged residents to demand that 3CDC renovate the building and retain it as low- to moderate-income housing, claiming that the developers are trying to cleanse Downtown to make it more attractive for rich, white people.

For now, the negotiations continue and no legal action is pending.

"The future restoration of this signature downtown building is very exciting and important news," said Steve Leeper, president and CEO of 3CDC. "The highest priority right now is that the current residents are given the time and assistance they need to find new and improved housing. We are working with Brickstone and the city to insure that the relocation plan addresses the concerns and meets the needs of the residents and ultimately results in improved, higher quality living conditions."

Jobs created, local ingredients supported

Ninety-five percent of the project costs will be funded by 3CDC and 21c Museum Hotels, with the remainder – approximately $2.5 million – likely to come from City capital funds. The $48 million figure includes building acquisition and relocation costs.

An estimated 540 construction jobs and 160 permanent jobs will be created, 3CDC says.

The November issue of Condé Nast Traveler's 2009 Readers' Choice Awards named 21c Museum Hotel as the 6th best hotel in the world and the top hotel in the U.S.

The restaurant, called Proof, is described as "rooted in Italian tradition, laced with modern influences and seasoned with America's southern kitchen heritage" and features regional and local ingredients, with a focus on sustainable agriculture. The Cincinnati location will be the first outside of the Louisville area.

Upon completion, 21c will be the first hotel built in Downtown Cincinnati since the Hyatt Regency opened in 1984.

Photo credits: 21c rendering courtesy of 3CDC. Historic Metropole image courtesy of the Greater Cincinnati Memory Project.

Previous reading on BC:
Hotel Metropole recommended for National Register (4/29/09)