The Historic American Can Building is a shining example of turning a blighted, environmentally contaminated factory building into one of the region's most desirable addresses. Located at 4101 Spring Grove Ave. in Cincinnati, the 130,000-square foot former manufacturing factory has undergone a complete transformation after having sat vacant or under-utilized for decades.
Today, its 110 market-rate loft apartments are 100% leased and a new restaurant is preparing to open in the commercial space on the first floor. The American Can Building was originally built to manufacture the heavy machinery used to the make cans (before the company was broken apart by the federal government due to anti-trust issues). The 4.3-acre site in the midst of a traditional neighborhood business district was likely selected due to fronting on the adjacent train tracks and being just a few hundred feet away from the industrial Millcreek.
Although these were excellent manufacturing advantages in the 1920s, the PCB’s from the machines and the arsenic from the rail lines did not make for an ideal housing site in the 21st century. The goal of the redevelopment project was fourfold: to remove severe blight, to remediate environmental contamination, to provide quality housing options in the business district, and to be a catalyst for future development in the area. The wildly successful American Can Building has exceeded expectations on all four fronts when it was completed in December 2011.
The American Can Building’s renovation is unique in that the remediation extended beyond just the soils and into the actual building’s floor structure. The polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination that was initially believed to be contained in the 4-inch thick wood flooring, had actually soaked through and into the concrete flooring. This necessitated a first of its kind remediation strategy approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Through close coordination with US EPA Region 5, several remediation strategies were tried and failed, including surfactant cleaning and bead blasting. Ultimately as solution was reached which involved two coats of contrasting, solvent resistant epoxy paint covered by 4 inches of concrete. This innovative solution allowed the contamination issue to be resolved. This was critical to having this building, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, brought back to life.
Primary contaminants were arsenic and PCBs. The arsenic in the soil was removed by traditional methods of remove & replace. The PCBs were much more challenging. Initially it was believed that the PCB issue could be resolved simply by removing the four inch thick wood flooring for off-site disposal and cleaning up the concrete floors. However, it had seeped deep into the nine inch concrete floors.
The next method attempted in coordination with the EPA was a chemical cleaning known as surfactant cleaning. When that method failed to adequately address the issue, the next method was scarification by means of bead blasting, which also proved to be ineffective.
Since the above mentioned methods did not work and the EPA self-implementing procedure was not practical for a project this large, the EPA Regional Administrator had to approve another more practical procedure. After statically sampling the contamination concentrations, a plan was proposed which involved two coats of contrast resistant, epoxy sealant covered by four inches of concrete. This plan was approved by the EPA and fully implemented in the American Can Building. Further analysis following the completion showed that this method proved to be an effective and safe remedy. Overall environmental remediation costs totaled approximately $1.5 million.
Economic benefits realized
The immediate economic benefit to the area was a $22 million investment in a deteriorating building. This building had been holding back the neighborhood due to its blighted state and its prominence in the district. In anticipation of, and following the redevelopment, numerous other buildings in the immediate area have been redeveloped.
Economic analysis by the city of Cincinnati anticipates that the project brought over 100 new residents to Cincinnati with an annual tax revenue generation of approximately $75,000 annually. During construction, over 300 temporary construction jobs were created by the project.
The building was fully leased before construction was complete. Due to its recent completion date, economic benefits are still being realized. The city of Cincinnati is now receiving tremendous interest in another 3-acre property adjacent to the American Can Building and is currently in a Request For Proposals process to determine what the next developed will be.
Although the project experience delays due to unforeseen environmental challenges and a global financial crisis, the project was completed under its initial $22 million budget.
There were two equally challenging hurdles: creating a new process to remediate PCB contamination in the flooring, and closing on over $21 million of financing in the midst of a global financial crisis.
Approximately $2.3 millions of CDBG loans through the city of Cincinnati, and $1.5 million through the state of Ohio.
Collaboration among stakeholders
Numerous public and private agencies came together to get this priority project completed. The concept was originally conceived by the Northside Community Council. The private developer, Bloomfield/Schon + Partners, invested substantial time and funds to redevelop the building.
The Department of Housing & Urban Development provided CDBG grants to the city of Cincinnati. The city of Cincinnati loaned CDBG funds to the developer. The Cincinnati Development Fund provided a bridge loan. State & Federal Historic Tax Credits were provided to assist in the redevelopment. The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority provided technical assistance and applications for additional assistance from the State. The state of Ohio provided funding for the environmental remediation through their Clean Ohio Fund.
Number of employees on site
The former factory was redeveloped into market-rate housing with 110 loft apartments. Approximately 10 full time employees work to service the apartment, and 35 new employees are expected to work in the restaurant that will soon open on the first floor of the building.