John Schneider on the ‘Cincinnati Process’

When millions of fresh eyes recently trained on our city, Great American Ball Park (GABP) bore no scars from its labored birth which required a divisive election, moving an interstate highway, and seven years from the evening it was sketched-out on a restaurant placemat until the first pitch was thrown.

Nested comfortably in Cincinnati’s new riverfront, GABP’s unlikely location in the former eastbound lanes of Fort Washington Way (I-71) entailed narrowing the highway by half and extending downtown’s street grid to the Ohio River shore. Consolidating the garage and roadway budgets for the Reds and the Bengals in one place gave us a flood-proof waterfront for the first time in our 225-year history and provided the foundation for The Banks.

The construction of Great American Ball Park on the riverfront allowed for the rest of the land to be lifted out of the Ohio River floodplain, thus leading to the development of The Banks and Smale Riverfront Park. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

Proponents of an alternative ball park site at Broadway Commons park gathered signatures to place the stadium location question on the November, 1998 Hamilton County ballot. Shown how the Reds could be the keystone of a new neighborhood on the Ohio, the site at Second and Main won by a 2-1 margin.

Great American Ball Park wasn’t the first time Cincinnatians resisted progress. In the mid-Nineties, we actually voted not to build the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Influential arts patrons feared its construction would cause the abandonment of Music Hall. So they put a proposal to scuttle the project on the city ballot, and it passed. But the Aronoff was a project of the state of Ohio, which built it anyway.

Remember the ridiculous debate about moving the Tyler Davidson Fountain? Many influential Cincinnatians opposed 3CDC’s total renovation of Fountain Square a few years ago, which was the decisive building block for a 24/7 downtown. Getting property owners to underwrite Downtown Cincinnati Inc. also took some doing, but the central business district is now clean and safe with energized stakeholders.

Not building Great American Ball Park at Broadway Commons has allowed for that site’s development into the new Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati in Pendleton. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

We argued about expanding our convention center, but that eventually got done too. More meetings came to Cincinnati, a spiffy new hotel opened, another will open soon, and money flowed into our economy.

So tell me, had the naysayers prevailed, which of these civic assets would we happily do without?

Such is The Cincinnati Process. We reflexively enforce the status quo, yet we often succeed spectacularly in spite of ourselves. Detractors can easily challenge any public proposal if they set their minds to it. They can exploit uncertainty. They can delay and drive up the costs. And they have the referendum as a ready tool. Successful sponsors learn to right-size their projects for local appetites, adapt in response to new information, and gain supporters as complex issues are resolved. The ironic result is that the most criticized ideas—the ridiculed ones, the ones they said would never happen—those are often the ones able to run the gantlet and exceed expectations.

The circumstances that shaped our 21st century waterfront were so rare and of such scale they won’t be repeated in any of our lifetimes. Fortunately, agile planning and execution has given us momentum and confidence for seizing other opportunities for improving our city. Going forward, Cincinnati can have progress or The Process but probably not both.

This guest editorial was authored by John Schneider, who led citizens’ efforts to build Great American Ball Park and the Cincinnati Streetcar, and was originally published in the November 15, 2012 print edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The editorial, however, was never published on the Internet until now with permission from the Cincinnati Enquirer. If you would like to have your thoughts published on UrbanCincy you can do so by submitting your guest editorial to

  • Downtown’s have many purposes. For many Cincinnatians, downtown’s most important function has been as a containment area for poor people. They like knowing were the poor people are, and aren’t. it’s understandably useful to have the ‘usual suspects’ and scapegoats gathered in one place. They also like coming to slum, to distribute ‘charity’, and to remind themselves how much worse their lives could be. They like having a place where the poor can live so they don’t come to where they live. The ‘Cincinnati Process’ John describes is led by those who were trying to hurt Downtown so that it would remain a containment area for poor people, so they can continue to isolate and control them. The only reason they haven’t won is because corporate interests do want a successful downtown. This isn’t just ‘Cincinnati conservatism’. It’s corporate elites versus middle class workers.

    Those in successful parts of Cincinnati like Hyde Park, Mt. Lookout, and Oakley, in working class areas like Westwood, and in other such areas beyond Cincinnati’s borders actually have an interest in downtown’s failure. The working class areas were actually right to fear a more successful downtown Cincinnati. Westood, Fairmount, Price Hill, and Colerain and Springfield townships have seen big increases in crime as the desperate and criminal are being pushed out by the new investment and people in their traditional haunts in and near downtown.and the mid-town areas. Cynical as it sounds, they were right to think that downtown Cincinnati’s gain was their lose. Even if downtown Cincinnati’s larger success is a net benefit for our metro’s economy, that will hardly compensate those in areas on the west side and to the north beyond Cincinnati’s borders who are experiencing more declines in property values and more crime because of the dislocations caused by downtown’s success.

    • yingyang

      Can you explain why Hyde Park and Mt Lookout have an interest in seeing
      downtown failure? Your point about Westwood, et al. is well taken but I
      do not see the same dynamic at play with the relatively more affluent
      east side neighborhoods. If anything I would think that many of those
      residents would want downtown to be a better place. Many of them work
      there and I don’t see how a burgeoning downtown hurts their

    • They now have to compete for downtown and otr for public investment and they feel that they may lose some of the political power they had in the past on city council. Without a more appealing downtown, the new re-creation of Mason currently being built in Oakley would have been much more likely to have been ‘new-urbanist’ because the unmet demand for such a place would have been much more clear. Now they get a sea of parking that will be empty half the time, earning no tax income for the city. If downtown had continued on the path it had been taking, the eastside could have made itself the new ‘downtown’ of the entire region, like midtown and buckhead did in Atlanta, Clayton did in St. Louis, and the Country Club area did in Kansas City.

  • Wanting the stadium at Broadway commons is resisting progress? How about a refresher on what the debate actually was-

    • I’ve discussed this topic many times, with many people. While I still would have preferred to see Great American Ball Park built at Broadway Commons, I do understand the argument for placing the stadium along the river.

      Something to remember, at the time of the Reds stadium issue Nky officials were trying to poach the Reds for themselves, and Marge Schott was threatening to possibly build the stadium on the Nky riverfront if she couldn’t get it on the Ohio side.

  • One thing that I both like and dislike about Cincinnati is the exhaustive debate held to discuss any new idea to the region. I understand we want to make smart choices, but sometimes the risk doesn’t justify the lengthy debate.

    For example, the debate surrounding the renovation of Fountain Square seemed silly then and even sillier now. The vast majority of the funds were coming from private sources, so even if no positive benefits followed, you would have renovated the parking garage and spruced up the region’s primary public gathering space. What we got was that plus tens of millions of dollars worth of private investment surrounding the square, and a public space that is now vibrant and active at all hours of the day.

  • I’m kind of wondering when the tipping point will be when this process is no longer the way things work in Cincinnati? I’ve seen massive changes in the attitudes of people down there everytime I come back. There are even increasing numbers of positive stories from the mainstream media and small changes that are happening everyday that represent a shift in attitudes towards urban living. Its hard process with many battles, but will there come a point when people’s attitudes have changed enough that the idea of change is no longer as hard to fight for?

    For instance I’m pretty shocked that there is actually a debate with the neighborhood of Pendleton regarding parking on the SCPA development site. I don’t think there would have been these sentiments as little as 5 years ago. Not to mention the increasing numbers of bicyclists I see around town, even saw more than one who was avid enough to do it in 30 degree weather – again something that would have been rare 5 years ago.

    • I still am confused, although not really surprised, when I talk to life-long Cincinnatians who have no idea what is happening in their own city (i.e., no idea that The Banks exists, no idea that OTR is the new hotspot for restaurants and bars, no idea that Washington Park was renovated). There are plenty of people who never visit except for a drive-in-drive-out trip to an office building or the stadiums, and if you don’t read sites like UrbanCincy, Soapbox, or Building Cincinnati, you don’t get much information from our local mainstream media regarding the tremendous changes that have taken place downtown. So, it starts to make sense why these people are so unwilling to invest in anything that improves our downtown.

      I think a lot of the change is coming from non-natives who have moved to the city, and younger generations who are rejecting the ideas held by their parents’ generation. This is happening not only in Cincinnati but in cities across the country. As more people are choosing to live or spend time in the urban core, we will slowly start to see more people in favor of ideas (transit, arts, etc.) that benefit downtown, which will in turn benefit the entire city and region.

    • Travis, I think you’re right that the change is being driven by new residents and younger natives. Many of the older natives (due mainly to generational differences) seem to believe anything that the Enquirer tells them without seeing much for themselves. Much of the positive story has been either warped or omitted from many of these natives’ perception of their own city. All they see are the rundown of mugshots and robberies within the city limits from every local evening news station and a picture of perpetual city government dysfunction every time they look at the front page of the Enquirer. No wonder they’re afraid to come down and see it themselves! They grew up trusting these news sources and many will never come to realize they’re being swayed. The new and young check it out online and then go out and experience it. The internet is changing everything, but because these older natives still have the money it is going to take some time until the demographics change. What has happened recently is the beginning of this change as the young generation works in spite of the current system, but the tipping point will only come when the younger generation gains enough influence to have the system become a wind at their back (after the old generation retires/dies out).

      I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these changes are happening after the passing of some of Cincinnati’s oldest guard of corporate titans.

  • Matthew’s comments highlight that peculiar undertone of racism that in 2013 is still so openly tolerated in a place as otherwise wonderful as the Queen City. Do you have any idea how palpably offensive it comes across to visitors from other parts of urban America? From the outside looking in, it’s your biggest embarrassment, and totally understandable as an economic liability that corporate interests might seek to delegitimize through wise redevelopment.

    • The demogaging of racism in American today means that it is often just a trump card played when someone has no other car to play. Are you suggesting that those who disagree with you, and me, do not somehow have ‘legitimate” democractic right to represent their views and interests? Are you suggesting that corporate interests ARE somehow “legitimate” (corporate personhood) because they work against the interest of those who you think are racist. Talk about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Racists are nonetheless citizens. They have rights, votes, jobs, property, and pay taxes. I seek to avoid and contradict them in everyway I can, but I am not interested in working to undermine their political rights as citizens in our American republic. That is the road to (non-racist) authoritarianism. There are even greater sins than racism.
      Who do you mean by “you” and “your”? I’m describing others, not myself. I think that a regional system of local govn’t has many benefits. Hamilton County’s libraries, the Metropolitan Sewer District, increasing open enrollment between local school districts,inter-state movement toward a new toll bridge, and a new Hamilton County Port Authority are signs that regionalism can work here. We have to make the most of the people who are here and improve the educational, housing, and transportation choices for all.
      My comments above are my characterization of OTHERS who oppose my vision with a religious fury. I don’t think that pretending they aren’t passionately committed to the desctruction of regionalism helps to foster regionalism. “Know thine enemy” has always been my philosophy in matters of strong disagreement. I’m just describing what I see.

    • charles ross

      Having spent lots of time on the east coast, I certainly understand the askance looks at some of our Zinzinnati zitizens’ bubble behaviors. Marge Schott was an exemplar. But Cinci has a unique ethnic history developed at a particular location and historical time, giving it wonders and horrors in its undertones. It has that north/south hybrid thing baked in unlike any other city.

  • I am impressed at the amount of progress over the past 7 years since leaving Cincinnati. Makes me miss home. Amazing Architecture in a great city.