Cincinnati.com video and article:
Urban architect builds career on OTR revitalization
Martha Schickel Dorff is the force behind Bakery Lofts – the first new Gateway Quarter project in more than a year and the biggest Dorff has tackled.
All but two of the nine condos have sold, evidence of strong design and OTR’s growing appeal as a hip place to live.
“She came to us with a proposal for this building, and we felt very confident in her,” said Chad Munitz, executive vice president of 3CDC, which is managing development of the Gateway Quarter. “She is a true pioneer in Over-the-Rhine.”
The condos range from one to three bedrooms and are priced at $150,000 to $350,000, in a pair of attached 100-year-old buildings on Race Street. They offer plenty of exposed brick, high ceilings and hardwood floors, as well as custom touches like a tall, lit niche in the kitchen of one.
“I love the idea of collaborating with our ancestors on a building like this,” Dorff said. “They had their ideas and parameters, and now we’re using what they created. We’ve got new people moving in, but it still has an element of them in it.”
Over-the-Rhine wasn’t the most obvious place for Dorff’s career to end up. She began working for her father decades ago at Schickel Design, a art and interior design company specializing in church properties.
There, she created commissioned artwork and designed interiors for institutions. She also raised four kids with husband Dan Dorff, an artist and musician.
In the 1990s, she went back to college to be an architect, receiving a master’s degree from Miami University.
In 2004, when there was lots of buzz about revitalizing Over-the-Rhine but little concrete action, Dorff and her husband decided to take the plunge. They bought a building and renovated it into an office for Schickel Design, a home for themselves and a second office space that they lease.
“I had confidence in the basic world-class neighborhood that was already here,” Martha Dorff said.
Schickel Design continued its institutional work after moving; hospital clients include Good Samaritan and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. But urban redevelopment has grown as the second half of its business.
Dorff had the vision for City Home, a three-phase Gateway Quarter project on Pleasant Street that includes a dozen new townhomes and 10 condos in renovated old buildings. She brought together Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and Eber Development as developers in conjunction with 3CDC.
“It was an early collaboration between the affordable housing group and the market-rate group, and I’m proud of that,” Dorff said.
But when it came to getting City Home built, Schickel Design was the architect and designer – not the developer. The $2.35 million Bakery Lofts gave Dorff the opportunity to get involved at that next level, working with contractor Graybach Construction.
“It’s a much more complete responsibility,” she said, including the budget and sales. “If things fall apart we’re a little more directly on the hook.”
Dorff relished the challenge of being the developer, and is looking forward to doing it again.
Taste of Belgium owner Jean-Francois Flechet is among those who have given her current project a stamp of approval: He bought the largest condo, a two-floor, three-bedroom unit with a rooftop deck.
“It looks good and is a nice structure,” the Belgian native said.