11 March 2008

County Should Not Sell Memorial Hall

Memorial Hall was given to Hamilton County as a gift from Soldiers and Sailors. It is a beautiful public amenity. I took the picture below during a concert offered by the Queen City Concert Band for Veterans Day. It is serving it's purpose, as a public gathering place for public and patriotic events. In addition, they have expanded it's use by allowing it to be rented for weddings and receptions.

Should the county only own buildings that are functional for the Courts, Auditor, Engineer and the Sheriff, but nothing else? Should the County to own a building like this? I think so. Its not like the County owns many buildings like this. It is unique:

Who would buy it anyway? I think this article is a non-story, unless there is some plot to sell it to 3CDC to help with their parking garage problem.


VisuaLingual said...

I certainly hope this is a non-story. This is amazing building and an invaluable, unique resource for the community. The idea, mentioned in the article, of a possible conversion to condos, makes me shudder.

Morris said...

I almost missed the idea of conversion to condos in the last paragraph. That would be tragic.

Mark Miller said...

It's a rare gem indeed, and certainly worth preserving.

But it has natural ventilation via operable windows, no air conditioning, and a failing steam boiler system. To be competitive with other venues, it needs major mechanical upgrades.

The space plan is so compact that there's nowhere to put HVAC equipment without drastically altering the character of the building. Mike's an expert preservationist, so I hope he'll chime-in with his thoughts. But my guess is we're looking at low eight figures for a decent renovation.

The county is already facing a deficit and stagnant tax revenues from the mortgage meltdown and the flight of higher income folks to Ikea-land. So even if they wanted to, they simply cannot afford to do it.

Back when the Aronoff was in the planning stages, Patricia Corbett warned us that the Cincinnati market could only support so many venues. She said that we could build new ones or preserve the old ones, but not both. Her preference was to plow the Aronoff money into Music & Memorial Halls, the Taft, the Emery, and a number of smaller ones like the Carnegie.

The county's present decision is the inevitable fallout of past choices. Taxpayers have voted to fund stadiums, museums, parks, hospitals, the Zoo, the Banks, and convention center. We now have the second highest taxes in the state, and the public purse is all tapped-out.

It's going to be sad to see Memorial Hall converted to offices or condos, and ditto for the Taft in a few years, but unless we re-prioritize public spending, it's already too late.

CityKin said...

Well Memorial Hall physically could not be converted to condos or offices. It just doesn't work with the space and site. And yes, it could be very expensive to make it a modern venue with modern mechanical systems. A decision was made years ago when it was restored, to bring it back exactly as it was built, and not to do that.

To me, it is a fascinating place, because you really feel like you are going back in time, when you see a performance there. The seats are hard, small and cramped. But they are original. The lights are bare bulbs around the stage as was common in early electrical lighting. The only ventilation is through windows, making it really only functional in cooler weather. My wedding reception was there in a September, and it was fine.

An elevator addition was completed in the 1990's to make it handicapped accessible and I believe they added some small kitchen space then.

The only thing I would change is to add air conditioning (combined with heating if needed). And according to the article, the roof also needs replacement. I would say you are still below half a million for both those items. However, Mark, you make a good point in that I don't think they could be added very easily without damaging the historic character. There might be a way to do it, but I haven't studied it enough to know for sure.

I don't know how much of a story this is because I just don't see who would buy it.

Mark Miller said...

Office conversion isn't too tough. Gut the building, leave the facade, tear out structure for tiered seating, reframe level stories with steel and concrete to line-up with existing windows.

Check out "New Market Theatre" in Portland, OR where they did exactly that to a comparable building (bottom of page):

Also, 21,500 square feet at 200 sf/ton and $4000/ton is about a half million bucks for HVAC only. You're right, I stand corrected. Sorry.