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Plans Waiting for Action

By Stephanie Dunlap · March 2nd, 2005 · All The News That Fits
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Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) officials updated city council Feb. 22 on their progress after a year and a half of work to redevelop Over-the-Rhine, the Banks and Fountain Square.

Over-the-Rhine is the only development that's moved beyond planning stages. The Kroger parking deck should be done by May 1, said Joe Pichler, head of 3CDC's Over-the-Rhine work group and chairman of Kroger. The Art Academy of Cincinnati opens on 12th and Jackson streets in late August. The Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati is considering expanding to the south. A number of condos along Central Parkway are close to being livable, including the "Gateway Condos" project connected to the Kroger garage. Washington Park Elementary School is moving so Washington Park itself can expand 2.6 acres northward. The park's southern boundary will be the site for a new School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA).

Councilman Jim Tarbell questioned the need for a revamped SCPA, especially in light of quickly declining Cincinnati Public Schools enrollment. He called the more immediate need for housing "conspicuous."

Stephen Leeper, president of 3CDC, said he plans to return to council in 45 to 60 days to introduce a financing plan to fill the gap between the high cost of renovating historic buildings and the low post-renovation appraisal values.

Community development organization ReStoc was also scheduled to present its plans for Over-the-Rhine (see "Lofty Liberty Lost" on page 11) but got short shrift in a two-hour window of time.

ReStoc Director Andy Hutzel had 15 minutes to explain ReStoc's own plans for the Washington Park area. Among the ideas are renovating a vacant church into a community center, building a public plaza at Race and 15th streets, demolishing about 14 structures and widening alleys, building pocket parking lots and incorporating many private interior courtyards into renovated housing structures.

Hutzel told council that ReStoc's one meeting with 3CDC went well.

"ReStoc's done a great job of getting things started," Leeper said. "We would do best to jump on that bandwagon and use that as a template."

Meanwhile, the Banks project is stalled on parking issues and stadium game-day revenues, said Jack Rouse, who leads that arm of 3CDC and also chairs the Port Authority.

"The issue of parking revenue, as boring as it sounds, is as critical of an issue as we could focus on," Leeper said, noting those were central to the leases he negotiated with the Pirates and the Steelers as head of the Pittsburgh Sports and Exhibition Authority, for which he's come under some fire in his hometown (see "Leeper of Faith," issue of March 17-23, 2004).

"The lessons learned from Pittsburgh are in direct parallel to what is going on here," Rouse said.

As for Fountain Square, Leeper said the real key to a revitalized square will be its programming and promotion, not the design itself or whether the fountain is moved. He suggested removing the large stage and replacing it with a smaller one. A new skating rink, an LED video board and an entertainment venue such as a cinema or a nightclub could contribute.

"We really do think there's a need to create an atmosphere of energy and activity," Leeper said.

Tarbell warned 3CDC not to overlook the importance of housing, while Mayor Charlie Luken said it would be easier to get excited if 3CDC could reveal the names of interested retailers.

Though information introduced during council and committee meetings become part of the public record, it wasn't easy to get a copy of 3CDC's presentation. When a reporter pointed out that the information was public record, spokesman Kevin Armstrong said she could try getting a copy from council members.

"We are not going to release it to the media primarily because the presentation includes a lot of plans, but it's not our final plan," he said. "We've had some challenges in the past with prospective plans being reported as final."

He's likely alluding to the flak 3CDC caught for proposing to move the Tyler Davidson Fountain on Fountain Square. Leeper said media reports estimating the cost of that move at $3.5 million were vastly overblown.



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