Old Hudepohl plant awaits rebirth

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Old Hudepohl plant awaits rebirth
Building partially demolished

By Sharon Coolidge • scoolidge@enquirer.com • March 8, 2010


QUEENSGATE - The former home of Hudy Delight and Hudepohl 14-K beers, instantly
recognizable by its signature smokestack, is either a potential cornerstone for
renaissance or a blight on the city's West Side, depending on whom you ask.

The Hudepohl Brewery, a set of buildings once part of Cincinnati's thriving
brewery district, was sold to Schoenling Brewing Co. in the mid-1980s, leading
to the plant's closure. The once beautiful red brick buildings have fallen into
disrepair - a danger to firefighters, the homeless who seek shelter there, and
adventure seekers.

Two brothers want to redevelop the West Sixth Street site with the imposing
smokestack that has cast a long shadow over Downtown for 150 years.

• Photos: Hudepohl plant then and now

"If you look at the city of Cincinnati, the east side of Downtown is developed
and flourishing," said Sy Safi, a board member of Hudepohl Square LLC, which
bought the 1.6-acre property of five buildings in October 2004 for $172,000.

"What is the next place? Queensgate," he said. "Where this site is situated, it
is seconds from I-71, I-75 and Fort Washington Way. It's ideal for business and
living."

Sy Safi and his brother Safi Safi's dream has been complicated by a demolition
contractor in default and a criminal conviction on fire code violations for
failing to make the building safe.

The property was condemned last year, then declared a public nuisance in a
public hearing. In most cases that's a preliminary step to the city razing a
property, though that is unlikely in this case now that rehab work is under way.

Now, five years after they bought the property, they are beginning work on the
privately funded project of residential and business space that will be
environmentally friendly. Preliminary estimates show it will cost $12 million,
according to the company.

The Safi brothers, developers and general contractors, are looking to other
cities like Milwaukee and Baltimore where former breweries have been
successfully redeveloped.

They recently received preliminary approval for a $100,000 Clean Ohio Fund grant
to assess the cost of the clean-up, which likely includes hazardous materials.

The brothers are scheduled to give Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Russell
Mock an update on the project Tuesday, after having been convicted of fire code
violations and put into a compliance program.

"We knew it would be several years of planning and several years of
implementation," said Sy Safi. "It's not something we envisioned flipping in a
couple of years."

Margo Warminski, preservation director for the Cincinnati Preservation
Association, is excited about the project.

"These (old brewery) buildings collectively and individually have great
potential for re-use and re-development," she said. "Unfortunately some of the
larger complexes have proven harder to redevelop and are largely vacant so we're
pleased this part of our brewing heritage, which is so visible because of the
smokestack, is making progress toward re-development."

In 2005, Hudepohl Square marketed the project, putting the smokestack for sale
on eBay, which garnered the attention they wanted, but no bids.

They then got embroiled in a three-year court battle with a contractor who
started demolition work but did not complete it, leaving the structure in a
shambles. The contractor was ordered to pay Hudepohl Square $142,000, little
consolation for the disrepair the building had fallen into.

While the lawsuit wound its way through the courts, city inspectors kept a close
eye on the premises. "When I first came out here, I could walk right in," said
Cincinnati Fire Capt. Steve Coldiron. "It was so dangerous. There were places
where you could walk right off an edge."

A 2009 letter from the city outlines the reason for the condemnation. The order
states that the building is in danger of collapse because of the partial
demolition, damage from the elements and vandalism.

An engineer's report on the smokestack says the structure - which has large
cracks in it - must be monitored.

"This is one of the top nuisance properties in the city because of the size and
scope," said Coldiron, who filed the criminal charges and regularly checks on
the property.

"Any property you buy, you buy the headaches too," Coldiron said. "You are
responsible for keeping it safe."

Since being charged, the Safis have put up a stone wall, blocking entry, secured
the smokestack with metal bands and installed safety cables at sudden dropoffs.

In November, the city identified Queensgate/South Mill Creek Corridor as one
that is "ripe for redevelopment using new green technologies."

"It's a fortress," said Sam Stephens, senior development officer with the city's
Department of Community Development. "To tear it down would cost a fortune, so
we might as well invest a fortune to keep it."

Stephens, however, questions whether the property is right for residential
space. Currently, Queensgate serves as an industrial park.

Coldiron said he would love to see the property redeveloped. "It can be done,
but it will take a lot of money and effort," Coldiron said. "I wish them luck
because I am going to be monitoring them the whole way."

http://news.cincinnati.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/AB/20100308/NEWS01/3080349/

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