Cincinnati Has High Hopes for Fifth and Race

By Adrian Maties, Associate Editor Cincinnati city officials have high hopes for the two-acre site at the northwest corner of Fifth and Race streets, one of downtown’s prime locations. After many years and nearly $14 million in city investment, the corner [...]

Cincinnati city officials have high hopes for the two-acre site at the northwest corner of Fifth and Race streets, one of downtown’s prime locations. After many years and nearly $14 million in city investment, the corner is still a long way from what city leaders imagined: skyscrapers packed with with high-profile office tenants, residences and first-floor retailers. Since 2001, the site has served as a surface parking lot.

The city-owned lot has been eyed for multimillion-dollar projects ranging from office towers to hotels to condos and retail space since the late 1990s. Lack of financing and the economy have sidelined each plan, including one deal to build a Nordstrom department store.

Eagle Realty Group, a downtown-based subsidiary of Western & Southern Financial Group, gained control of the site in 1996 and won development rights for the project for 10 years. During this time, the city paid $5 million to relocate businesses from the site and to take down a 14-story office tower. Another $6.8 million was spent to buy the site from Eagle. After Eagle failed to lure retailers and a dispute over $3.8 million in city financing for the Fifth and Race site, the city chose not to renew Eagle’s preferred developer status.

In 2008, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. agreed to take over the project. 3CDC is now in the process of creating a development proposal for the two-acre site. Three years since it began its work on Fifth and Race, 3CDC is still taking its time, focusing more on quality than speed. And because the ground there is so valuable, the city is willing to be patient.

Financing, attracting office tenants at a time when downtown office vacancy is at 20 percent and the need for at least 600 parking spaces are just some of the problems. However, city expectations are high, as is the hope that, when finished, the project will help increase Cincinnati’s general fund.

3CDC’s contract is set to expire in December. The city will probably extend it, but doing so will likely come with additional costs.