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Guest Speaker at All Aboard Ohio: Steven Kenat, AIA

The Southwest Chapter of All Aboard Ohio recently welcomed guest speaker Steven Kenat, AIA, Principal & Director of Community Development at SHP. 


Kenat is an accomplished architect, specializing in projects that promote economic vibrancy, societal health, equity, and the unique urban condition of cities like Cincinnati. His portfolio includes TOD mixed-use and affordable housing, cultural and civic organizations, and social profits. He has spearheaded numerous large-scale planning & design projects in Cincinnati, notably the $220 million restoration and reinvention of Cincinnati Union Terminal with Museum Center, completed in 2018. Kenat is also an active participant in policy-making that supports urban neighborhood reinvestment and is a member of the Urban Revitalization Council of the Urban Land Institute. He volunteers with ULI Cincinnati, LISC, and YWCA, and resides in downtown Cincinnati with his family. 


The History of Cincinnati’s Union Terminal 


According to Kenat, Cincinnati’s Union Terminal has a rich history that dates back to when Cincinnati had five train stations, each owned by individual railroads. A nationwide movement began to consolidate rail transit into grand stations, akin to New York’s Grand Central and Buffalo’s Central Terminal. 


Constructed in 1930 at a cost of $41 million (equivalent to about $770 million in 2024), Cincinnati’s terminal was a monumental project led by architects Alfred T. Fellheimer and Steward Wagner. The project encompassed 22 structures, 287 acres of land, 94 miles of track, and the Western Hills Viaduct. Designed to accommodate 17,000 passengers per day (roughly the seating capacity of Madison Square Garden), it briefly reached a peak of 34,000 passengers. The terminal, a “Temple to Transportation,” was complemented by a grand boulevard of Lincoln Park leading up to the building. 


However, the terminal’s grandeur was short-lived, as it was built towards the end of the US passenger rail boom. The last trains passed through its tracks in 1972. 


Repurposing the Terminal 


Kenat explained that the terminal needed a new purpose. Ideas for repurposing included transforming it into a football stadium, offices, or even a new city hall. From 1980 to 1985, the terminal was converted into a mall with 20 stores. In 1990, the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC), still the main tenant today, moved in as an experiment. The project to accommodate the CMC had a modest budget of $80 million, insufficient for a full restoration. Despite this, the CMC was a success, attracting 2 million annual visits and securing Union Terminal’s place in modern Cincinnati. This success spurred advocates to embark on a mission to renovate the building. 


Restoration 


In 2006, master plans were drawn up to renovate the space. In 2010, a small renovation of the southwest corner of the building began to test the feasibility of a full-scale renovation. 


In 2013, a task force led by Bob McDonald launched the Save the Icons campaign to preserve Music Hall and Union Terminal. The campaign achieved a significant milestone in November 2014 when a $176 million portion of the $212 million project cost was approved by a 63% voter majority. The project’s ambitious goals were to preserve the historical integrity of the buildings, maintain their status as national historic landmarks, and enhance the Cincinnati Museum Center experience. 


The restoration process was meticulous, involving 3D scanning of the entire building and thorough investigation of any structural damage. Notably, the concourse cap where platforms once were, had been bowing since the cessation of train service. 


Throughout the nearly 2.5 years of construction and 2 years of preparatory work, Kenat and the project team engaged the community with monthly hard hat tours and even constructed a temporary lobby within the Union Terminal lobby to facilitate ongoing operations. 


The restoration efforts extended to the beautiful Losantiville Dining Room, which was returned to its original function as a lunchroom, and the Mezzanine level, which saw significant improvements to access and flow. This level, which now serves as museum space, was a parking deck back in 1932. 


“The sense of pride the community had in wanting to preserve this was really special,” Kenat remarked at the end of his presentation. We wholeheartedly concur.

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