Over-the-Rhine Volkshaus Aims to be an Inclusive Community Center and Coworking Space for All | Cultural | Cincinnati

Click to enlarge

Photo: provided by Action Tank

An interior rendering of Volkshaus

Tth building at 123 E. McMicken Ave. sits at the north end of Over-the-Rhine, gutted and ready for big changes. The charming structure is easy to miss if you just pass by.

But soon, this humble historic space – once a butcher’s shop from the 1850s – will enter a new chapter as the Volkshaus, a community center for events, coworking, and learning. The space will also become the headquarters of Action Tank, a local non-profit organization focused on civic engagement.

Leading the refurbishment is Action Tank and OTR ADOPT, both nonprofits are committed to preserving Cincinnati’s history while supporting its longtime residents. OTR ADOPT has been performing historic preservation work since 2010 and finds caring and caring occupants for vacant buildings.

Just as Action Tank began to search for space, 123 E. McMicken Ave. became available from OTR ADOPT via a request for proposal. It was the perfect fit and the perfect time for both nonprofits.

Action Tank Executive Director Ioanna Paraskevopoulos said that even though “trust in government is at an all-time low,” people still invest time and energy in community engagement. Volkshaus will be a powerful resource for organization and education, she said.

“We feel like we want to capitalize on this momentum while people are still ready to speak up and engage in local government issues,” Paraskevopoulos said.

The renovation of the Volkshaus is supported, in part, by historic federal and state highly competitive tax credits. It is the vision of OTR ADOPT and Action Tank that Volkshaus will be accessible to all.

Volkshaus – German for “people’s house” – will open its doors to all neighbors and residents of Cincinnati as a space to gather and work. The first floor will be available for community events, and the first and second floors and patios will serve as sliding scale coworking spaces. There will also be a quiet conference room on the second floor which opens to a cast iron balcony overlooking McMicken. The offices of Action Tank will be on the third floor.

“The goal is to bring the traditional Over-the-Rhine feel into a comfortable space that transcends race and class,” OTR ADOPT Executive Director Danny Klingler said on the Volkshaus website. “Think of it as the renewal of Kaldi, with a social mission.”

Click to enlarge A rendering of the Volkshaus yard - PHOTO: SUPPLIED BY ACTION TANK

Photo: provided by Action Tank

A rendering of the Volkshaus courtyard

Renderings of Volkshaus resemble a cozy space on the Harry Potter campus at Hogwarts, with antique banquet tables, fireplaces, floor-to-ceiling shelves, and an owl mascot. And the goal is to renovate this historic building while protecting the community from the high costs associated with gentrification.

“Much of Action Tank’s work and my personal interests are focused on promoting investments without displacing existing residents,” says Paraskevopoulos.

Action Tank has a diverse Equity Advisory Board and has developed both a Historic Preservation Action Plan and a Community Benefit Agreement Toolkit. Action Tank and OTR ADOPT are committed to keeping residents involved and taking their needs and feedback to heart not only now, but for years to come.

“We’re actually in the middle of a formal community engagement plan,” says Ashley Feist, Community Liaison Officer for OTR ADOPT. “It’s something that will be part of the process all the time – not just one or two after it’s already built.

Community involvement also takes the form of getting to know the neighbors. Feist, Paraskevopoulos and their colleagues spend time introducing themselves to local residents and gathering feedback on how locals might actually use the space. Their community engagement strategy for Volkshaus is slated until 2022 and will continue to develop. They’ll start by going door-to-door to personally communicate with neighbors, and when the weather warms up, Feist and Paraskevopoulos will start hosting neighborhood gatherings like barbecues, block parties, and focus groups.

The events “will solicit feedback and feedback on our programming choices for Volkshaus, build relationships with residents, and raise awareness of the mission and services of Action Tank and Volkshaus,” said Paraskevopoulos.

“We never claim to be able to prescribe a just world or what would be an ideal landscape on any block we work on,” Feist said. “But we know who we want to be involved in the process, and we know we want that reflected in the landscape. We would like residents to be involved in whatever this particular part of the OTR becomes.

Keeping residents involved means both talking with individual Volkshaus neighbors and reaching out to community groups like the Over-the-Rhine Community Council. OTR ADOPT and Action Tank both met with the Community Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee, which voted in favor of the project. (Those who are not members of the OTR or Neighborhood Community Council but want to contribute to the conversation can connect to OTR ADOPT by sending an email [email protected]).

Volkshaus is expected to be operational by the second quarter of 2023, depending on contractors, supply chain issues and the city’s licensing processes. In the meantime, organizers are planning fundraisers to help reduce mortgage payments. They already sell a special Volkshaus coffee blend through a partnership with La Terza, with the proceeds supporting Volkshaus operations. There is also an ongoing fundraiser through ioby.org which offers a discounted membership to Volkshaus.

Follow Volkshaus development progress and find ways to donate to the project at actiontankusa.org.

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Jill E. Washington