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CINCINNATI — Locally based Towne Properties has unveiled development plans for a $100 million mixed-use project that will be located in Cincinnati’s Calhoun Street Corridor along the southern border of the University of Cincinnati. Plans for Uptown Commons call for a mix of retail, apartments, hotels and office components spread across five development blocks.

“The university is a campus with roughly 37,000 students and like many other universities around America, it is trying to strengthen or revitalize the edges of the campus to become even more competitive for the best students and staff,” explains Arn Bortz, a principle with Towne Properties. “That is the primary objective for this project.”

Nevertheless, the new development was designed to be independent of the school. The University of Cincinnati financed the acquisition of the land for the project on behalf of a local neighborhood non-profit group, signifying a model for town-gown relations. From its park to its parking structures, Uptown Commons will offer a little bit of everything for a wide spectrum of the Cincinnati community.

Because of the stagnant lending market, Towne Properties has decided to forego its search for financing until the first quarter of 2009, with an anticipated start date for the project in the third quarter of the year. Plans for the first phase of the project call for 50,000 square feet of street-level retail, with approximately 150 market-rate apartments in three and four-story configurations above the shops. Both the shops and apartments will be connected to a pre-cast parking deck.

“This will not be student housing,” Bortz says. “It is simply market-rate housing that may house students or other members of the public in largely studio and one-bedroom configurations, where roommates are not necessary.”
Many of the apartments will overlook a privately owned, open-air courtyard featuring fountains and a few retail boxes in the park area, which will connect the fifth block of the project to another mixed-use building. The subsequent phase will consist of additional street-level retail, another parking structure and two hotels. An extended-stay product and a more conventional product will total approximately 200 rooms, with one of the hotels facing the adjacent park. The other hotel will be situated along Calhoun Street, which will feature additional retail components.

“We would try to build the first two blocks [blocks 4 and 5], which are the apartments, the street-level retail, the park and the hotels with the street-level retail, simultaneously, and try to get the apartments ready first to accommodate kids coming to school in the late summer,” Bortz explains. “We hope the first two phases will be one phase because you really would have a hard time leasing to a retailer thinking that they might have to open a year before the rest of the project is done.”

Moving further east at the site, another phase of the project will include some street-level retail, as well as an approximately 100,000-square-foot office component that will be constructed on top of a multi-level parking deck. Not only will the offices be attractive to firms affiliated with the university, but the project’s location within 1 mile of nine hospitals also has the potential to create a buzz within the healthcare industry. Construction on the office component is dependent upon identifying and securing an anchor tenant.

“Right now the site is just a large scar running along the south side of the campus; it is just an empty space,” Bortz says. “We are proud to say that both the neighborhood and the university seem very supportive and are really positive about what we have proposed to do here.”

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