Christian Moerlein plant, hit by fire, may be lost

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Christian Moerlein plant, hit by fire, may be lost
Historic brewery was Cincinnati landmark

By Quan Truong qtruong@enquirer.com January 9, 2010



OVER-THE-RHINE - From the outside, passersby may think it's just another
abandoned building in the heart of a struggling neighborhood.

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But those familiar with the area's history cringed Saturday at the thought of
losing one of Over-the-Rhine's most treasured structures.

A four-alarm fire heavily damaged the 250,000-square foot building on Elm Street
that used to house the Christian Moerlein bottling plant, one of the country's
biggest pre-prohibition breweries.

Original story: Firefighters battle four-alarm blaze
Photos: Friday fire in Over-the-Rhine
Photos: Saturday aftermath of fire

The building was later home to KD Lamp Co. from 1969 to late 1990s. The building
has been vacant since then.

The fire began around 8:20 p.m. Friday. Eighty-five firefighters fought the
blaze for three hours before getting it under control. No one was injured. At
one point, part of the building collapsed and a crane was brought in, said
Cincinnati Fire Capt. Michael Washington.

Building department officials and firefighters were still at the scene Saturday.
At one point, there was concern part of the building may collapse and the street
was blocked off to traffic.

The cause of the fire was listed as undetermined and will likely remain that way
until at least Monday, said Cincinnati Fire Investigator Lt. Dan Wolf. Fire
officials could not put a dollar amount on the damage but called it extensive.

"It's a shame that we have this kind of damage to such an important part of the
neighborhood and redevelopment efforts," said Steven Hampton, president of the
OTR Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. "I'm hopeful that most
of the building can be salvaged and we'll certainly support them in any way that
we can."

A previous developer tried to turn the property into condominiums several years
ago but could not get enough funding, said Dean Ferrier, agent with Comey &
Shepherd Realtors.

Orton Development Inc. bought the property in 2008 for about $550,000.

Although the company is based in California, owner Eddie Orton is originally
from Cincinnati and the renovation project was a way for him to get back to his
roots, Ferrier said.

"He's beside himself," Ferrier said. "This is a huge project for him."

The price of renovations caught up to Orton and he put the property back on the
market last year with Comey & Shepherd. It was listed for $1.5 million in May
but that number has changed since Orton has poured more than $2 million total
into renovations, Ferrier said.

Plans were underway to fill the space with retail and industrial tenants by
March or April, turning the historic building into a second arm of Findlay
Market, Ferrier said. They were close to signing a lease with a start-up
micro-brewery, which would have been a welcome addition to the area, which was
dubbed the Brewery District in 2003, he said.

"It's certainly a big hit," Hampton said. "It's already a struggle to bring in
business in this economic time and a brewery business is such a good fit.
Hopefully, we can find another space for them and keep them in the
neighborhood."

The building has long been thought of as a centerpiece of the district and
offered the most potential to help revitalize the area, Hampton said.

Ferrier called the character of the building unbelievable.

On the north side of the building - which once was the bottling house - the
fruits of the multimillion dollar renovation project were starting to show. New
bathrooms, fixtures and plumbing had already been installed.

Temporary electric service was routed through the structure for construction
crews but no workers had gone into that part of the building where the fire
apparently started, Ferrier said.

That part of the structure was the barrel house and had hardwood floors.

"It's a tragedy," said Robert Davis, 64, a driver for New Prospect Baptist
Church across the street. He used to live in Over-the-Rhine and knows the
neighborhood well. Like many others, he stood outside the building Saturday and
quietly surveyed the damage.

"This is bad for the neighborhood," he said. "And it already needs all the help
it can get."



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