City to pay $3M for downtown Saks building

Cincinnati City Council voted unanimously to pay $3M for downtown Saks building
Cincinnati City Council voted unanimously to pay $3M for downtown Saks building(Cincinnati Enquirer/Gary Landers)
Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 3:28 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) - Cincinnati will soon have full control over the downtown site long home to Saks Fifth Avenue.

On Wednesday, city council voted unanimously to set aside $3 million to purchase the property at 101 W. Fifth St. from the luxury retailer, which operated out of the structure from 1984 until last month, according to our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Officials said the money will come from the tax-increment financing district (TIF) that covers development in the southern part of downtown Cincinnati, including The Banks. Money in TIF districts are collected from property taxes and set aside to fund economic development projects. In this case, the future of the Saks site could be instrumental in revitalizing the convention center district, Mayor Aftab Pureval said during the vote.

“We’ve been so focused on the convention center hotel and the expansion of the convention center but the third project we’re most passionate about is the convention center district,” he said. “Saks is an anchor property for that district, paired with whatever is going to happen at Terrace Plaza.”

Both Councilmembers Reggie Harris and Seth Walsh alluded to the decision to acquire the property as a policy that the city should continue when it comes to protecting and “preserving assets in our urban core.”

“No doubt we will move quickly on this,” Harris said.

Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Kearney suggested the Saks site should become mixed-income housing, citing similar projects in College Hill as prime examples for the city to replicate.

Saks announced its departure from Cincinnati last June, closing the last of its locations in the Tri-State. It was also the last remaining full-line department store downtown.

During Monday’s budget and finance committee meeting, at which the $3 million was approved, councilmember Jeff Cramerding spoke to the impact of the store’s split from Cincinnati. “We always hate to see a business close...but with so many exciting things going on in that section of downtown, it’s important that the city does retain site control. Whatever goes in there, frankly, will be a better fit than Saks was and will add more vitality and energy to that critical block.”

According to the Hamilton County Auditor’s office, the Saks site is divided into three parcels (a common way that Cincinnati split land during the 1980s). The city owns the land underneath it. Saks leased the land and owned the building, according to the city manager’s office.

Under the terms of lease, the city could either enter into binding arbitration over the value of the property, or it could buy back the building and pay Saks for the estimated value, which includes recent improvements made to the building, the city manager’s office told The Enquirer.

The city’s real estate services division determined that the fair market value was $2.6 million.

A ballroom above the Saks building is currently leased out to the adjacent Hyatt Regency Hotel. It’s unclear what the city or hotel plan to do with that space should the Saks structure be redeveloped.