An rendering of the exterior of Cincinnati's Music Hall.

photo by: Music Hall Revitalization Company

March 1, 2016

Cincinnati’s Icons Now Saved!

Cincinnati holds a special place in my heart. More specifically, two buildings in Cincinnati hold special places in my heart. Let me explain.

My first visit to the city was in June of 2014, when we named Cincinnati’s Union Terminal and Music Hall as National Treasures as two of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. When I saw these two buildings in person, I was blown away by the Art Deco wonder and the Venetian Gothic behemoth, both National Historic Landmarks. But how were they going to come up with the $300 million needed to properly restore these buildings for future generations?

A little over a year and half later, these two buildings are no longer endangered, and I’m convinced that Cincinnati is well-deserving of its nickname of “the Queen City.” A path forward for Union Terminal was made clear in the fall of 2014, when Hamilton County voters approved a 0.25% sales tax for five years. Combined with historic tax credits, contributions from the State of Ohio, and philanthropic fundraising efforts, this funding will allow for the complete repair and restoration of Union Terminal. In fact, rehabilitation work has already begun.
A rendering of the lobby of Cincinnati's Music Hall

photo by: Music Hall Revitalization Company

Once renovated, the lobby of Music Hall will be brighter and fresher.

Though Music Hall wasn’t on the ballot, it’s been making progress, too—securing a $25 million State of Ohio catalytic tax credit, conducting private fundraising, and hiring a design team. This past Sunday, design concepts were revealed in the Cincinnati Enquirer, and it’s clear that Music Hall is on a path to success. Here are just a few highlights:

  • Improvements to Springer Auditorium (the main auditorium), designed to create a more intimate performance hall with better presence of sound. There will be fewer seats (but with more leg room) and new boxes added.
  • A new box office for Music Hall’s many resident companies (the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra, Cincinnati May Festival, Cincinnati Ballet, and Cincinnati Opera) will be installed, as will a new music library. Music Hall contains the world’s largest orchestra library (over 140 years of music), though right now the collected is scattered throughout the building.
  • New (and more) bathrooms. The lack of bathrooms was one of Music Hall’s most common complaints. In total, restroom fixtures will increase by 62%.
  • An overall more accessible building, including two new elevators, which will reach all levels of the building.
  • The bricked-up windows of Music Hall’s facade will be re-opened, allowing for more light inside, and removing some of the fortress-like exterior appearance. New accent lighting will be coming, too.
A rendering of the auditorium inside Cincinnati's Music Hall.

photo by: Music Hall Revitalization Company

The revitalization includes a new auditorium with more leg room and new boxes, and with better acoustics.

Smaller parts of the renovation to Music Hall have already begun; concerts and events will continue through May, when the building will be completely shut down until the fall of 2017. Of the total $135 million cost for the first major renovation in 40 years, about $5 million remains to be raised—you can learn more about those efforts here.

Though the National Trust for Historic Preservation will now be wrapping up our work at both Union Terminal and Music Hall, we’ll be watching the rehabilitation in the years to come. I can’t wait to book my next trip to Cincinnati to celebrate when the work on these two buildings is done!

Grant Stevens

Grant is proud to be from a Main Street Community and the Black Dirt Capitol of the World—Conrad, Iowa! You can most often find him reading, running, or out on the road saving places.

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