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Two downtown towers in works

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Guest donaltopablo

Two downtown towers in works

Eagle Realty details plans for Fifth, Race

Dan Monk

Courier Senior Staff Reporter

The latest plans for the long-dormant Fifth and Race development site downtown include more parking, less retail, the retention of a nationally known leasing agent and a pair of future towers for offices or housing.

"Our intention is to build the structure to support additional towers above the retail and parking. We'd like to have a tower at Fifth and Race and a tower at Sixth and Race," said Mario San Marco, president of Eagle Realty Group, a real estate subsidiary of the downtown-based Western & Southern Financial Group.

Eagle has been pursuing a retail project at Fifth and Race for more than a decade. But this is the first time the company has publicly discussed plans for twin towers at the roughly 2-acre site one block west of Fountain Square. San Marco would not provide additional details on the twin towers, saying their timing and size would depend on market conditions.

Eagle recently broke ground on a $63 million office tower at Third and Broadway, a 180,000-square-foot building known as Queen City Square. The company also is pursuing a major housing development in Over-the-Rhine, north of downtown.

Long time courting

Previously, Eagle chased three different department stores at Fifth and Race, including a Nordstrom, which initially committed but then backed out of a deal for a 150,000-square-foot store in 2000. The site has been a surface parking lot since June 2001.

Last summer, Eagle announced plans for a $50 million retail shell at the site that was to include an 840-car underground parking garage and 120,000 square feet of retail space on two floors.

San Marco said tenants were interested in the Fifth and Race retail space, but Eagle didn't proceed with new construction because the newly formed Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., or 3CDC, started working on a new retail leasing plan for the blocks surrounding Cincinnati's Fountain Square. Formed last summer, 3CDC is a nonprofit led by local business leaders with the goal of stimulating development in downtown, Over-the-Rhine and on the Cincinnati riverfront.

For its downtown work, the group hired Lehr Jackson of the Baltimore-based retail development firm Williams Jackson Ewing. Jackson's 30-year career has produced a national reputation for urban retail developments, including such projects as New York's Grand Central Station and Union Station in Washington, D.C. During meetings with downtown property owners, Jackson shared his thoughts on making the area around Fountain Square more lively and pedestrian-friendly.

Cincinnati City Council expects an update on Jackson's retail strategies in early May, when 3CDC hopes to start gathering public input on the square's redevelopment.

"We'll be asking people what they want to see," said Tom Blinn, the 3CDC staff member in charge of the Fountain Square project. He hopes to finalize plans for the redevelopment by this fall.

In the meantime, Jackson's discussion of retail uses for the blocks surrounding the square has energized property owners enough that they're talking about hiring Jackson as leasing agent. Fifth Third Bancorp Senior Vice President William Moran said he's "close to a deal" that would make Jackson his leasing agent for roughly 40,000 square feet in the Fifth Third Center, a parking garage and retail center just north of Fountain Square.

"It's our expectation that we would hire him," San Marco said. "I think it makes sense for other property owners to (hire Jackson as well). It enables a company like Williams Jackson Ewing to speak for numerous property owners and offer to potential tenants a number of opportunities."

Past leaves some skeptical

San Marco wouldn't identify potential tenants for the retail space at Fifth and Race, although he confirmed a grocery store of up to 20,000 square feet and multiscreen movie theater are among the uses being discussed. San Marco said Eagle now is pondering less than 120,000 square feet it was planning to build at this time last year and could expand the parking component to include more than 1,100 spaces.

"We would like to see a good mix of local merchants and national retailers that we don't have in our downtown," he said.

Other property owners surrounding the square confirm they've been collaborating with Jackson on potential uses for such sites as Tower Place, the vacant McAlpin's building on Fourth Street and the Westin Hotel Atrium, but they haven't said they're planning to hire Jackson as a leasing agent.

"We only have one retail space available right now," said John Markey, asset manager for McKnight Development Co. in Pittsburgh, which acquired the 525 Vine building last year. "If we did have (space), we'd certainly deal with Lehr Jackson. He's one of the best retail leasing agents in the country."

But Eagle's latest plans leave some property owners skeptical. Members of the Cincinnati Development Group, a four-company partnership that built the city's Fountain Place retail center, claim they own air rights for the northern half of Eagle's Fifth and Race site. The group claims a right of first refusal to build any office tower above Eagle's parking and retail space. In addition, one CDG member, Belvedere Corp.'s Alex Warm, doubts whether Jackson's hiring will lead to development at Fifth and Race.

"It's been sitting there all these years. This is like the 19th scenario," Warm said. "If Lehr Jackson can do what they say and these guys are all going to work with him, God, it would be great for downtown."

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Sounds like great news for Cincinnati! It's nice that they are trying to attract things like a movie theater & a grocery store to the retail component. It's things like that that help convince people to move downtown. After all, who'd want to dive 15 miles into the suburbs to buy groceries on Saturday morning?

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Good news! Any word on how high the towers will be, will these add to the skyline of Cincy? (10+, 12+ floors). Great news for a Great town!

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