New Year’s Eve, 2019, marked the final checkout for the Millennium Hotel in downtown Cincinnati. Its 872 rooms, restaurants, and rooftop pool welcomed downtown visitors and guests of the neighboring convention center for more than four decades.
The once bustling hotel is now eerily silent. A quiet darkness looms in cavernous spaces designed for crowds. The building awaits demolition as city and county leaders work on a plan to increase convention space and hotel capacity.
The Port of Greater Cincinnati purchased the hotel for redevelopment. It faced a challenge in preparing the massive structure to come down. What do you do with all the “stuff” left behind in a closed hotel?
A liquidation sale in early 2020 cleared some of the Millennium’s TVs, furniture, and kitchen equipment. For the rest, the Port contracted with Easterseals Building Value to join a massive materials donation and recycling effort.
“Donating household items so critically needed by families and organizations in our area is consistent with the mission of The Port: to transform our region by making real estate work for all,” said Laura N. Brunner, President and CEO of The Port. “With these donations we can help transform lives by providing families and organizations some needed essentials that many simply don’t have.”
Building Value is part of the Easterseals construction training pathway. It provides paid work experience to underemployed and underserved adults who are interested in pursuing careers in the skilled trades. The crews typically deconstruct buildings and salvage reusable material for resale at the Building Value store in Northside.
Taking apart a skyscraper hotel is a first for the social enterprise, which opened back in 2004. “We’ve never done it before. We’ve taken apart lots of houses, barns, but never a hotel, and it’s a massive undertaking,” said David Rich, director of Building Value for Easterseals. “It’s not a great technical challenge, but it is very labor intensive.”
The air is warm up on the 8th floor. The building systems were shut down months ago, and the lack of air movement is noticeable. Nigel and Jah are two of the Building Value employees clearing the guest rooms.
“We’re working steady and trying to pace ourselves. Staying hydrated, because it’s hot,” Nigel says.
A seemingly endless supply of executive desk chairs rolls down the hallway.
“We’ve been focusing on one thing at a time. We had all our focus on the mattresses, so all the mattresses are out in the south and north tower. Now we’re working our way on the next objective which is getting these chairs and anything with material on it,” Nigel explains.
Nigel first heard about Building Value when he completed a training program through Cincinnati Job Corps. “I ended up picking up a trade in automotive, but I came to find out I really didn’t have a passion for it,” Nigel says. “The bright side is I learned skills that I’m going to need for the future. “
Coming to Building Value has given Nigel additional opportunity to explore other trades he’s more interested in for a career. “My goal is to transition into a plumbing trade. I have relatives in the plumbing trade, and they taught me a few things. I’m going to try to do it all from industrial to residential to commercial plumbing.”
Jahcionce, who goes by Jah, is down the hall removing the plastic covers from the AC units in the room. He’s happy to be working on a project that is not only salvaging and recycling materials, but is giving him a shot to explore careers where he can work with his hands.
“They not only give you a job, they help you keep a job and help with your career no matter what you want to do,” Jay says. “All you have to do is show them that you’re a hard-working person, and that you’re a genuine person, and that you really want to be here.”
Jah’s family has a background in construction. Like Nigel, he’s interested in a career in plumbing and eventually becoming a journeyman.
They both know they have a lot of work ahead, and appreciate the coaching that Building Value employees like Stanley Warrenhuffman provide to them.
“He shows me the tough love and gives me constructive criticism on things that I should be able to work on. I’m learning how to listen more, being more efficient,” Nigel says.
“They’re not going to hold your hand. They’re going to tell you the truth,” Jah says. “Everybody is going to mess up sometimes, but you just have to stay consistent as best you can and show them that you really want it and work to show that you deserve it.”
Back on the ground floor, there are heaps of electronic fixtures like lamps that have outlived their useful life in their current form. A team of workers from Easterseals Disability Services has joined the work effort by preparing the metal and bulbs for recycling.
The crew has set up a three-station “dis-assembly” line to scrap all the useful parts. It starts with separating the shades and bulbs. Then the lamps are broken into their smaller elements. Even the cords have useful materials for new products. The parts will be shipped to Cobalt, a division of Cohen Recycling, for processing.
Beyond the recycling, the many items within the hotel are going to a number of nonprofit agencies to benefit local families. Among them are Transformations CDC, Santa Maria Community Services, Community Matters, and Seven Day Savior House.
For Easterseals, the opportunity to work on the Millennium Hotel project aligns with the core mission of Building Value. It provides paid workforce development in our community at a time when many people are facing unemployment and limited opportunity because of the coronavirus. It also helps to preserve the environment by keeping tons of material out of the trash.
“Everything here starts with the Port doing everything the right way,” said Rich. “The Port recognized the value of supporting workforce development, of putting paychecks in local people’s pockets, and in doing so, they’re helping to recycle maybe 15-20 tons of material. Everything from desktop computers to electrical components to lamps and linens that another company would have sent to Rumpke Mountain.
“With us, it’s being recycled, repurposed, and it’s kept local.”
It’s still not determined what will be built at the Millennium site, but one thing is certain. The building is coming down.
On Sept. 25, the Cincinnati Business Courier reported that the Port has started awarding demolition contracts to clear way for redevelopment. The paper reported that demolition is expected to take a year to complete.
Brunner told the Courier that building a more diverse workforce and stronger minority owned businesses will be an ongoing focus of the project.
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