Like Xerxes the Great in ancient Persia, local developer Ed Horgan is pursuing a vision to build an awe-inspiring empire of sorts in Cincinnati. Unlike Xerxes, though, he isn’t organizing far-reaching military conquests or invasions to make his vision a reality.
Instead, Horgan has committed himself to the mission of remaining in his hometown to rebuild the Walnut Hills business district and make everything that neighborhood has to offer as accessible as possible.
“Our long term mission is to see through the redevelopment of the central business district,” Horgan says during an interview at his latest redevelopment site, the Verona Historic Residences, located on Park Avenue. “We want to continue developing condos and creating interesting spaces for people to live and help build up the homeownership ratio in the community to stabilize it.”
The Verona is Horgan’s sixth redevelopment project in Walnut Hills. Some of his other projects include renovations of The Beethoven Place, St. Paul Tower, Park Flats and The Cooper, a Tudor-style English mansion that’s now divided into 40 elegant condos.
From outside, The Verona is palatial. Combining Neoclassical and English Revival influences, the building features arched balconies, towers, red-tiled roofs and formal gardens in front.
Horgan says The Verona was built in 1906 for wealthy merchants who lived and worked downtown. On the weekends and summer holidays, they’d gather their servants and their families and stay at The Verona to escape the pollution and crime downtown. It was considered their country house, where they would go for peace and quiet.
Renovation of The Verona has been underway for a year and a half, and Horgan expects it to take another year before the building is finished.
The renovation process began with gutting the units, formerly apartments, and completely reconstructing the floor plan by tearing out walls and building new ones to better suit modern homeowners.
After reconstruction, the original hardwood floors are sanded and refinished, walls are repainted and each condo is furnished with a modern touch.
But despite adjustments made to the building, Horgan is passionately dedicated to preserving the historic character of each of his properties, The Verona included.
“We try to make the place modern but keep the elements that need to be preserved,” he says. “For example, 8-foot doorways, original hardwood floors, marble staircases. Whenever we make a modification, we try to make it as seamless of a transition as possible to keep in line with the historic character of the building. A success to us is having people tour the building and not have our modifications even register as something new.”
Since renovation began, an elevator and a new staircase have been installed in the building. Horgan took pride in making each of these additions look as historically accurate as possible by having the railings, wood paneling, tile and marble specially crafted to replicate the original materials. The result: a new elevator and staircase that look as if they were part of the original construction in 1906.
The Verona hosts 76 one-, two- and threebedroom plans. Those still on the market range from $160,000 to $240,000.
Each condo radiates with its own unique character while maintaining a spectacular historic ambiance. Hallmarks are original ornamentation, such as doorknobs and other hardware, as well as open space and plenty of modern amenities. Essentially, The Verona is not only a beautiful piece of history but also a work of art.
Horgan explains that he intended to create a distinguished, high-style residence that’s more financially manageable for homebuyers than those located in Mount Adams or other posh areas of town. Perks include the close proximity to downtown, Eden Park, Krohn Conservatory, the Cincinnati Art Museum and Playhouse in the Park. Although The Verona is still unfinished, more than 40 of the 76 units have already sold.
As with most redevelopment projects in general, some controversy has been sparked online regarding Horgan’s “gentrification” of Walnut Hills. Yet he argues that residents of the pre-renovated Verona were given equal opportunity to purchase a newly finished condo, some of whom have taken the leap.
Horgan says his mission in more inclusive than exclusive, geared toward drawing more people into Walnut Hills rather than displacing them. “We want to work with the community and revitalize Peebles Corner (Gilbert and McMillan avenues) so that everyone in the neighborhood — the wealthy, the working poor, those who are on welfare — can enjoy the business district.”
As a Cincinnati native himself, Horgan feels dedicated to the people here, whom he says are ultimately responsible for his decision to stay local instead of moving his operation to the West Coast. All things considered, he follows his vision and continues to plan for the future as each figurative brick is laid in the foundation of his up-and-coming empire. ©