CINCINNATI — The face of the Warsaw Avenue Historic District will transform over the next year and a half. And it's largely thanks to an old firehouse and a youth orchestra.
Price Hill Will — a community development corporation rooted in Cincinnati's three Price Hill neighborhoods — has plans for what it's calling the Warsaw Avenue Creative Campus. Construction is set to start in December. It will take about 15 months to complete.
What You Need To Know
- The Warsaw Avenue Creative Campus includes seven properties in need of renovations
- The mixed-use development will include 13 apartments about about 14,000 square feet of commercial space
- Price Hill Will is working with Model Group on the $11 million project
- A youth orchestra, MYCincinnati, will be the anchor tenant
The project consists of redeveloping seven historic buildings in the 3100 block of Warsaw Avenue. That includes an old firehouse that Price Hill Will had been renting for several years.
The area serves as the entry point of Cincinnati's west side and the face of the East Price Hill neighborhood. These properties are among the first a person sees when entering the neighborhood from downtown Cincinnati.
"The Warsaw Avenue Creative Campus will set the tone for future, resident-focused development along East Price Hill's main commercial corridor," said Rachel Hastings, executive director of Price Hill Will.
Hastings said after the development of the buildings, there will be 13 residential units of various sizes and price points. They'll all be affordable though.
The campus will also feature an array of commercial tenants, but they will be unique, locally-owned, and creative-minded.
Hastings noted that Price Hill Will is looking for tenants, but they hope to find businesses like resident-led artisan cooperatives, nonprofit arts organizations, and maybe a restaurant or cafe.
Bottom line: Don't expect to see any cellphone stores popping up in this part of the neighborhood anytime soon.
"We want to make this block a place that supports families and young people through a mixture of quality housing and community cultural arts," Hastings said.
An old firehouse and youth orchestra
Among the different properties on Warsaw Avenue is a former Cincinnati Fire Department firehouse dating back roughly 100 years.
Price Hill Will had been renting space for several years to operate MYCincinnati, the youth orchestra it operates. MYCincinnati started in August 2011. It's inspired by El Sistema, a publicly financed, voluntary sector, music-education program, founded in Venezuela in the 1970s.
The program had bounced around to a few different sites along Warsaw Avenue in its early years, but it found a semi-permanent home in 2015 at the firehouse at the corner of Warsaw and Considine avenues.
Enrollment for the free music program increased to 100 students in 2016 as MYCincinnati created its winds program. That same year they entered a partnership with the nonprofit ArtWorks Cincinnati to start a youth employment initiative.
MYCincinnati has continued to expand over the years, adding more instruments and students.
Despite having to alter course to virtual learning sessions during the pandemic, the program has grown to account for over half of Price Hill Will's operational budget.
The rest of the budget goes to real estate, community engagement and resident-leadership development programs.
Hastings said the firehouse offers ample room for performance space, classrooms and social areas. It has 20-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, lots of natural light and a large performance room that can accommodate up to 250 people.
The drawback is, it needs repairs and updates — plumbing, heating and some electrical work, mostly.
"We'd been renting that space for several years and decided that we really wanted to see if we could buy the building because. Not only because it was a great fit, but also because we wanted to keep using the space and we knew it needed a little TLC," she said.
While talking to the property owner, they found out that he owned most of the buildings on that block. Hastings said for the benefit of the project, and the neighborhood, it made sense to look into purchasing all seven properties.
This part of Warsaw Avenue features a distinct historic look, with most properties dating back to at least the early 20th-century. Hastings said they want to salvage as much as the look and feel of the urban landscape as possible. That includes the firehouse's signature garage door.
"East Price Hill is a beautiful, proud community full of incredible history. We aim to celebrate that history while establishing a great framework for future development," she said.
Continued collaboration with Model Group
The Warsaw Avenue Creative Campus is a collaboration between Price Hill Will and Over-the-Rhine-based real estate developer Model Group.
Price Hill Will will own and operate the space. Model Group will help work through some of the financing and serve as the project contractor.
This isn't the first time these agencies have worked together.
Model Group was instrumental in the rehabilitation of a dilapidated apartment complex on Elberon Avenue that Price Hill Will converted into affordable apartments for seniors.
They also played a key role in the $10 million conversion of the once-vacant Price Hill Masonic Lodge into Price Hill Will's office. It also features a community space now known as ARCO.
"We're really a service provider helping support this project, particularly with our area of expertise in mixed-use development in urban communities and historic renovation," said Jason Chamlee, Model Group's vice president of mixed-use development.
Chamlee said Model Group also works on the "complex financing sources and all the parts and pieces" for projects such as this one.
To help cover the cost of the roughly $11 million project, Model Group aided Price Hill Will in landing a $1.7 million Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit. Model Group is known for using tax credits to finance renovations of historic properties in areas like OTR and Avondale.
A Cincinnati Development Fund New Markets tax credit, via a partnership with Fifth/Third, will benefit the project by $3.35 million. Cincinnati Development Fund is also the lender for the project. The city of Cincinnati is providing a mix of funding for the project totaling about $1.45 million.
Beyond financing, Model Group is assisting Price Hill Will with pursuing potential tenants. MYCincinnati is taking up about half of the 14,000 feet of commercial space.
"We're targeting arts groups and nonprofits that might already have a presence in the neighborhood via programming, but don't yet have a permanent location or facility," Chamlee said.
Chamlee said the creative campus is about creating a "collaborative atmosphere" where businesses and organizations can bolster one another. Finding similar tenants will help them leverage support and hopefully expand their respective operations.
By injecting new life into the area, Hastings hopes to attract new residential tenants to the rehabbed apartments as well. She's hopeful for families, but really anyone who's looking for a great community.
Things like the recent expansion of the local public library branch and the renovation of Dempsey Recreation Center and park improve the overall quality of life in the area.
Hastings hopes the Warsaw Avenue Creative Campus has a similar appeal.
"This isn't about one building or a single tenant or project. This is about building up Price Hill and creating a great way of life for the people who call these neighborhoods home," she said. "We're committed to doing that, even if it means doing so block-by-block."