Downtown residential project courts Kroger as retail anchor

Rookwood Properties: We'd be happy to have them

CINCINNATI - Blue Ash developer Rookwood Properties is exploring a downtown residential project of up to 200 apartments and a $50 million investment.

The project would be at the corner of Central Parkway and Walnut Street, where Cincinnati’s streetcar line will make a right turn toward the Banks project. It could also include a grocery store literally built in the shadow of Kroger Co. headquarters.

Rookwood Properties partner Fred Kanter retained GBBN Architects to work up design concepts for the project, which would include retail space of up to 25,000 square feet, a parking garage of up to 500 spaces and 150 to 200 apartment units.

Kanter said he showed his plans to Kroger earlier this year, but declined to comment on whether the retailer is interested. A Kroger spokeswoman said the company is "not in a position to speculate" on any particular location but it "remains interested in a new store downtown store if it is economically viable."

“There would probably be room for a grocery store,” Kanter said. “It’s accessible to Over the Rhine and the residential population to the south.”

“We’d be happy to have them there under the right circumstances,” Kanter said.

Kroger executives have been warming to the idea of a new downtown store as young professionals and empty nesters fill more units from the Ohio River to Over-the-Rhine.

“We do need to be downtown,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said at the company’s annual meeting in June. “It’s just a matter of finding the right location and being able to get everything to work.”

Rookwood Properties is a 38-year-old commercial real estate company that owns and operates about 1,300 apartment units in Greater Cincinnati, including Lytle Tower at 405 Broadway St. downtown and Brandywine Court in Fairfield. It’s been growing of late, acquiring the 159-unit Lofts of Prospect Point in Villa Hills in 2012. It is building a 134-unit apartment community in Sharonville, a $14 million project called The Enclave.

The company has owned the parking lot next to the Hamilton County administration building since 1996. It’s about three-quarters of an acre, bordered by Central Parkway, Walnut and Court Street.

“We bought it for investment purposes, but had in mind that one day we’d develop it,” Kanter said. “Now, it’s becoming more clear that it should be a residential site. It kind of sits right in the middle there between the Central Business District and Over the Rhine.”

Kanter said the project is at an early stage with no firm financing plans in place. However, he thinks the site could support rents of up to $2 per square foot, which puts it in line with other downtown projects.

Developers are pursuing apartment projects all over downtown, with 179 units now under construction at AT580, the new name for the old 580 Walnut office building. Banks developers have broken ground on a 291-unit apartment building west of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center museum and a 111-unit apartment tower is under construction at Seventh and Broadway.

More than 1,000 units are in the development pipeline at Fourth and Race, Seventh and Sycamore and atop the downtown Macy's store, but the projects lack firm financing commitments. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley told WCPO in June that he wanted to restructure a deal for 300 units at Fourth and Race so the city could redirect its subsidies to other downtown investments.

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