Cincinnati Enquirer article
From the Cincinnati Enquirer, October 17, 2000


October 17, 2000
By Andrew Conte

Standing at the corner of Race and W. Fifteenth streets in Over-the-Rhine, Officer Scott Krauser points out the abandoned buildings within eyesight:

Boards cover the windows of a three-story church on the southwest corner; two abandoned apartment buildings sit across the street; another four are just north of the intersection among weed-covered vacant lots.

Inside the rear entrance of one structure - 106 W. Fifteenth St. - beer bottles and garbage lie scattered over weak floor boards that give as Krauser walks into the long-abandoned foyer. An open staircase winds upward three floors and chunks of plaster have fallen from the ceiling and walls.

Clearly, the building has been uninhabitable for some time. But evidence shows just as vividly that people have been using the crumbling structure for criminal acts such as drug dealing and prostitution, the community police officer said.

"These buildings are in such a state that anybody and everybody uses them," he said. "They are places where the criminal element comes out and thrives."

Cincinnati streets have 1,043 recorded abandoned buildings, and countless more that remain uncounted by the city's Department of Buildings and Inspections - it does not list buildings as abandoned unless it has actually inspected them.

But the problem becomes even more acute in a handful of neighborhoods - such as Over-the-Rhine and the West End - that are plagued by block-after-block of empty houses, apartments and commercial structures. They dominate entire communities by projecting a sense of neglect and despair, police and fire officials said.

Some of the worst areas include:

Thirty-six abandoned buildings lining the Vine Street corridor, which has been touted as Over-the-Rhine's next redevelopment area.

A three-block stretch of Pleasant Street near Washington Park Elementary that houses 15 abandoned buildings. Weeds grow high around one squat single-family dwelling at 1413 Pleasant St. that has been condemned since 1997, according to the Buildings Department.

Dwellings at 1328 and 1330 Republic St. with the words, "Henry's Crack House," scribbled in marker across the plyboard covering first floor windows. Barricades across the doors into both buildings have been removed. They are among 16 abandoned structures in a five-block stretch of Republic Street.

Some owners of the abandoned buildings expressed frustration at failing to rehabilitate and maintain their properties. Many said they had hoped to make money on real estate, but could not afford the high costs of fixing up the buildings and keeping away crime.

Robert Desgrange, who owns four buildings at the intersection of Broadway and Elliott Street, said he visited his properties three times last week to nail new boards over first floor openings - only to have them torn away.

As he has tried to rehabilitate the properties over the last four years, vandals have stolen a new toilet he installed and copper tubing from the walls, he said. Criminals recently used the property as a hiding spot while robbing victims with a shotgun, Officer Krauser said.

"We thought we could do something with (the buildings), but it hasn't worked out that well," Desgrange said. "The more we tried to improve it, the more they tore it apart."

Even if city administrators sympathize with owners' hardships, they worry about the hazards around abandoned properties. The buildings not only harbor criminals, but discourage redevelopment and present risks to emergency officials who have to enter the properties, said Cincinnati Fire Capt. Robert Becker.

"If we go on scene and find out there's a guy in this place, we have to go in," he said. "We don't have any recourse."

In the two years since falling two stories through the roof of an abandoned West End building, Becker has made a crusade of logging details about dangerous buildings.

At his urging this summer, each fire station identified the ten worst structures in its district. Many of them turned up in areas that should have been familiar to city administrators - places where many buildings are already abandoned or condemned.

Dots placed on a Fire Division map to represent dangerous structures literally blanket Over-the-Rhine and sections of the West End, Mount Auburn and Lower Price Hill. Other pockets appear in North and South Fairmount, Avondale, Walnut Hills, Evanston and Sedamsville.

The results were hardly surprising to officials at the Department of Buildings and Inspections: With dwindling demolition funds, they are forced to leave standing each year dozens of buildings that have been approved for removal, said Bill Langevin, agency director.

The agency's funding shortfalls have grown each of the last five years, mounting from $150,000 in 1996 to more than a half-million dollars this year. The buildings department expects to leave standing 40 buildings this fall that could have been torn down.

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