Terrace Plaza Hotel Developer Promises Public Space, Reopened Gourmet Room

Article originally appeared on Cincinnati.com.

This article and podcast episode are part of The Enquirer’s Future of Downtown series.

The historic Terrace Plaza Hotel is one of Downtown Cincinnati‘s most recognizable buildings − and arguably, one of the city’s most controversial pieces of architecture. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, but its midcentury-modernist design is loathed by many Cincinnatians. It’s also full of mold.

Now Indianapolis-based developer Tony Birkla is transforming it into the Terraces, a mixed-use residential complex that will feature 30,000 square feet of amenities, like a pool and communal workspaces, for both the public and its private residents. (The Gourmet Room is also coming back.)

Birkla sat down with The Enquirer’s That’s So Cincinnati podcast to talk about the appeal of development in downtown Cincinnati and his other high-profile projects like the Terraces, changes coming to the AT580 Building and his plans for a parking lot on Main Street.

Developer Tony Birkla poses for a portrait at The Enquirer studio on Wednesday, August 9, 2023.
Developer Tony Birkla poses for a portrait at The Enquirer studio on Wednesday, August 9, 2023.

Who is Tony Birkla

Birkla, 51, has mostly stayed out of the spotlight but shared his story in a wide-ranging interview.

A California native, he got his development start in Cincinnati and lived in Northside in the early 2000s before returning to Indianapolis. He worked for Pedcore Companies, a development and management firm, and later for developer William Brisben, building out Brisben Cos.’s Midwest market.

Cincinnati was a target market for his namesake company, Birkla Investment Group, when it opened in 2007. But Downtown Cincinnati specifically?

Birkla wasn’t seeing much development activity. His first conversion project, bringing the 1973-built 580 Building to the market as residential, was completed in 2016.

“A lot of the local developers just weren’t eager to take on that project,” he said. “It was a little nerve-wracking. In fact, financing that project was difficult because people would question, you know, ‘What are you doing? Why are you going to the [central business district]?'”

Almost a decade later and Birkla owns three major buildings Downtown − all residential conversions − and has built a reputation for taking risks that others won’t.

“We take on very unique projects, ones that take a long time to do,” he said. “They’re not easy, they’re not rubber stamps.”

The Gourmet Room featured a mural by Spanish painter Joan Miro that is now on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Ezra Stoller, Ezra Stoller

The future of the Terraces

With the help of Turner Construction and a loan from the city, Birkla Investment Group just completed a “make safe plan” at the old Terrace Plaza Hotel, meaning it’s now not going to crumble under the weight of years of water damage and neglect. It’s structurally stable. “We really thought we had to prove ourselves to the city and to the community that we’re going to be a good steward of this building,” Birkla said.

The former Terrace Plaza Hotel at 15 W. Sixth Street was declared a public nuissance before Birkla Investment Group bought it in 2022. Since then, contractors have worked to remediate the interior and stabilize the facade. Sam Greene/The Enquirer

He plans to go before the city for more funding to cover the renovation process in the coming weeks.

As part of the plan, he wants to reopen the hotel’s former eighth-floor lobby to visitors, not just to residents, and add more public space.

“We’re looking to do an overbuild whether it’s an outdoor venue or some sort of conference center or wedding venue,” he said. “…And then ultimately [we’ll be] bringing back the Gourmet Room.”

The Terrace Plaza Hotel’s Gourmet Room was a fine-dining hotspot set inside a silver circular structure atop the building. It operated there for 44 years. It famously featured a colorful Joan Miró mural within the dining space that’s now on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Birkla’s other projects

On the podcast, Birkla also went into detail about his other developments and why he thinks Downtown will attract new residents:

Listen to Tony Birkla’s full conversation with “That’s So Cincinnati” for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Media and other podcast listening platforms.