The idea of redeveloping the Baldwin Complex, and more importantly the former Baldwin manufacturing building, has been with Dan Neyer for decades.
As the president and CEO of a Cincinnati-based commercial real estate developer called Neyer Properties, he’s kept an eye on the property, waiting for the right moment when he could return the building to its original significance.
The Baldwin manufacturing building was built in 1921 as the headquarters of the Baldwin Piano Company, one of the largest US-based manufacturers of pianos and a historic landmark of Cincinnati, Ohio. Countless thousands of Baldwin’s pianos were made at this facility.
But when the company sold the building in the 1980s, the eight-story building, with its high ceilings and old fixtures, was converted into an office building. The beautiful column capitals that supported each floor were covered with drop ceilings and the large, historic windows were replaced with less-attractive, modern installations.
“What we had was a manufacturing building with, what I like to call, a bad ‘80s renovation,” says Chris Dobrozsi, vice president of real estate development at Neyer Properties.
In 1990, the developer responsible for this change also built a parking garage and the Baldwin 200, a 12-story building with an exterior design similar to the original Baldwin. Together these buildings were called the Baldwin Complex.
But the outdated interior of the former Baldwin manufacturing building made the offices unappealing, and by 2014, the building was 98 percent vacant.
When the Baldwin Complex went up for auction in 2014, Dan Neyer and his company pounced, buying the property for $17.1 million.
In July 2016, Neyer Properties began renovating the 460,000 square-foot Baldwin complex. By June 2017, the former Baldwin manufacturing building will be transformed from a drab office space into 190 residential, loft-style apartments that utilize the open quality of the original manufacturing facility instead of hiding it beneath drop ceilings and other construction that conceals character. In addition, the office tower, Baldwin 200, will be extensively refitted, making it a Class A office tower (meaning it’s the most luxurious).
“We took a project which was 98 percent vacant and have brought 300 residents back to the area [to live in the former Baldwin manufacturing building],” says Dobrozsi. The new residents will become part of the Walnut Hills community “which is experiencing a renewed vibrancy,” he says.
As a real estate developer based in Cincinnati, Dobrozsi says Neyer Properties was the ideal choice to renovate the development. The company specializes in projects that are complicated by aging infrastructure and require expensive demolition.
To restore the 1920s architecture of the original Baldwin manufacturing building, the company brought in two outside architecture firms, one of which was a historical architect familiar with the area.
“Our renovation is going in and removing all that bad ‘80s build-out and bringing back the beauty of the structure —leaving it exposed so you get a feel for how the building originally was,” says Dobrozsi.
This includes installing new, historic windows that match the 1920s architecture and gutting the interior to expose the original high ceilings and column capitals that support the entire building.
Neyer Properties applied to the National Park Service to get the Baldwin manufacturing building on the National Register of Historic Places. This registry is a list of nationally recognized, historical sites that are protected by the federal government. It also offers a federal tax credit for construction projects that are trying to preserve these historical sites. Because the Baldwin Company was instrumental in industrializing Cincinnati, among other factors like its architecture and prominence in the neighborhood, the building has been added to the registry.
The company also reached out to the city government in order to fold the project into the community. For instance, the city of Cincinnati owned a small sliver of land, almost an acre long, on the south side of Baldwin Complex. Neyer Properties swapped part of the south side of the development project with the city so the parks department could create a “pocket park” on this side of the property.
The land swap also allows Neyer the opportunity to expand the development to include a hotel and restaurant that “will not only serve the development, but the surrounding community,” says Dobrozsi.
When Neyer Properties first bid on the Baldwin project, “we did not know exactly what the development was going to become,” says Dobrozsi. Instead, the draw of the property was the chance to bring a historic landmark back to its original vibrancy. The property also appealed to the company due to its prominent position and visibility along Interstate 71, in and out of downtown Cincinnati.
Many real estate developers would consider purchasing a property without a plan for development too risky of an endeavor. But Dobrozsi says Neyer Properties enjoys working on projects that impact the community around them and that this has been a goal of the company since it was first started by Dan Neyer in 1995. At times, that involves uncertainty because it is challenging making sure a project is well-received by a community, but Dobrozsi says the company is used to that.
For the past two decades, Neyer Properties has developed more than 3,000 acres of land across Ohio, Indiana and northern Kentucky. However, its mission has always been to focus on projects that help endure the vibrancy of neighborhoods in Cincinnati, such as the redevelopment of the Baldwin.
“Our approach is knowing a good piece of real estate and trusting a gut feeling that we can redevelop it successfully and change the community around them,” says Dobrozsi.
He also says that the opportunity of restoring a historic building to its original grandeur, as well as impacting the Walnut Hills neighborhood around the property, means that this redevelopment “is one of those projects that is a once-in-a-lifetime.”
“We all come to work every day with a sense of purpose because we are responsible for leading the effort of this redevelopment,” says Dobrozsi. “That means we are responsible to the community, to the city and to ourselves to ensure that it’s properly restored because we are setting the tone [of this area] for the next 50 to 60 years.”
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