The Cincinnati Music Hall will undergo a long-anticipated $123.5 million renovation project largely due to a $25 million Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit granted in December. The National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the building on a list of its 11 most endangered historic places only a few months prior to the tax-grant award.
“The River City’s epicenter for the arts will gain even more civic importance once refurbished,” said Anastasia Mileham, vice president of marketing and communications for 3CDC, the non-profit development organization leading the renovation efforts. Hannaford & Proctor designed the music hall during the Victorian era—along with some 300 other buildings throughout Cincinnati.
“Construction was completed in 12 months, just in time for the Cincinnati Music Festival in May of 1878,” said Mileham. The businessman Reuben Springer asked the City of Cincinnati to match funds equal to his $125,000 donation, making this the first building in recorded U.S. history to have been built by a matching funds campaign.
The architecture itself also bears historic significance. At a time when civic architecture was integral in society, Hannaford mastered the art of smooth-flowing circulation patterns and created the right mixture of awe and human-scale design with interiors beautiful enough to stage real-life theatrical scenes of 19th century socialization.
Placed on the National Historic Landmark list in 1975, Music Hall was built in the High Victorian/Venetian Gothic architectural style, and stretches 303 feet along Elm Street across from the newly restored, historic Washington Park in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood near downtown. The 225,000-square-foot, red brick building houses a vast performance space, Springer Hall, that holds over 3,000 patrons with world-class acoustics, and other ancillary spaces for smaller performances, meetings, lectures, rehearsals, as well as backstage construction areas and a grand ballroom. The building was prominently placed in front of a large boulevard that connects it to Union Station, another one of Cincinnati’s iconic historic buildings. Linking the exposition center to the train station was a strategic cultural and urban design move at the time.
“We have been trying hard to renovate Music Hall for years,” said Mileham. While a complete list of the renovation details and the architect of record have not yet been finalized, it is expected that a local firm will take on the project. Renovation work includes upgrades to mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. There will also be improvements made to backstage technologies and seating throughout, in addition to repair work to the roof and brick walls, and an overall refurbishment of finish materials. After 150 years, the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall has gained momentum with the significant state tax credit. When the renovations are complete, the Cincinnati Ballet will join the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera, May Festival Chorus, and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra at the revamped Hall.
Mileham said the renovation will have a positive social impact on the city. The project has long been a symbolic centerpiece for the revival of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, which has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last 12 years since 3CDC began its work there.