In 1871, Henry Probasco gave the city of Cincinnati the Genius of Water sculpture and fountain. Her home became Fountain Square, and the square has been the center of the Queen City ever since.
Fountain Square has been renovated multiple times. The most recent began in 2005 under the tutelage of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC).
When this renovation began, the naysayers were crawling out of the gutters with venomous statements about the waste of money, defect in design and speculation that downtown would continue its rapid death. I heard over and over again from illinformed nitwits that $42 million was being spent to move the fountain 12 feet. The reality, of course, is that the fountain had to be removed to fix the roof of the garage under the square.
The movement of the fountain was cost neutral. It had to happen. The money was spent on improvements and reconstruction of the space, not the movement of the Genius.
Of the $42 million spent on the renovation, only $5 million came from the city of Cincinnati. That was just about the cost of fixing the garage.
As is normal for the glass-is-half-empty types who are vocal in criticism but remiss in constructive suggestions, little has been said about the tremendous success of the new and improved Fountain Square.
This past summer at almost every lunchtime and almost every evening, there were throngs of people enjoying the reinvented Fountain Square. It’s now a true meeting place of old and young, black and white, affluent and those not so high on the hog. It’s become the meeting and melding place of our city. It’s what 3CDC said it would be. In addition, 3CDC was adamant about the additional development that would happen in the “Fountain Square District.” Since the 2005 announcement, there have been new restaurants and clubs, reinvestment from existing establishments, movies and TV shows filmed, political speeches given both live and on the giant screen TV and a general rebirth of the heart of the Tristate.
3CDC didn’t always do a great job of keeping the community informed of what was going on, but in the overall scheme of things Fountain Square has been the best thing to happen downtown in a long, long time. And it happened in a big part because government stepped back and let a quasiprivate development group take the lead and run with it. I’ve been parking on downtown streets, alleys and parking garages for almost 12 years. I’ve been ticketed for staying at a parking meter too long, not remembering to move my truck from the rush hour lane, lingering in loading zones and just tempting fate. I’ve been towed several times but have been given a break more than once. My tickets are all now paid, as best I know. Everything I’ve gotten, other than the breaks, I’ve deserved.
Yet several months ago I was parked at a meter and remembered it expired at 11:30 a.m. I made it back to the cash cow at 11:25 and reached into my pocket to feed it more money — which I think is actually illegal (remember the older woman who got arrested several years ago for trying to thwart the parking meter maids/masters?).
As I started to put in my change, a uniformed man got out of a car behind my truck and informed me I didn’t need to spend any more money because he’d already called the tow truck since he discovered I had outstanding tickets.
I respectfully asked him to allow me to go to my apartment, get my money, dash to the Courthouse, bring him the receipt showing I’d paid my debt to society and not tow me to the dreaded impound lot. I even offered him my truck keys as a symbol that I wouldn’t flee to the Promised Land across the river.
“If you get back before the tow truck gets here, I might decide to not have you towed,” the man said. “Maybe.” I made it from Elm and Garfield to the Courthouse, stood in line to pay the disgusting amount I owed and, for a man of my advanced age, got back to my truck in a mere 35 minutes.
I thought I’d set an Olympic record, but the tow truck was quicker than I. The meter master had his prey captured and removed.
I freely admit I was in the wrong. I got my just punishment, I confess, but I do have a general problem with the parking meter enforcement people.
I’ve known several of them. Some are polite, appear to be happy with their job and are willing to work with us violators as long as they’re treated with respect. On the other hand, a lot of these enforcement people appear to be angry at the world because they didn’t have the mettle to become real cops and had to settle with being parking meter maids/masters.
Cincinnati Police (CPD) have had to go through seminars on how to deal with the public in a respectful yet convincing manner.
My overall experience with the parking division, which doesn’t report to CPD, is that they use their power in a manner that’s not conducive to a city striving to be user friendly. I was in the wrong and probably will be again. I accept my responsibility. But a little courtesy now and then would go a long way toward making our city a more friendly place.
At least smile when you’re towing my truck. Gloating shouldn’t be an option.
DOUG TAYLOR is the former editor of The Downtowner newspaper. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org