Second Phase of Newport on the Levee to Come More Than 15 Years After First

Newport on the Levee was the talk of the town in the late 1990s. It was to be one of the most prominent development projects in the urban core for some time, and transform Newport’s riverfront into a place that would attract tourists year-round.

There were also lofty visions that the development of Newport on the Levee would spark a wholesale redevelopment of the Northern Kentucky river city, including virtually every neighboring property and the development of the 1,000-foot-tall Millennium Tower.

These ambitions, however, were never fully realized. Newport on the Levee experienced a number a setbacks and never fully embraced the mixed-use nature that would ensure its success, Millennium Tower was cancelled almost as quickly as it was proposed, and while surrounding development has taken place, it has come at a much slower pace than envisioned.

Earlier this month developers took the next step forward with a plan to build on the long vacant Lot B next to the Purple People Bridge that would aim to address those issues.

According to Capital Investment Group (CIG), the investment would total $80 million and add 238 residential units, 8,000 square feet of street-level retail space, a 150-room hotel and an 800-space parking garage.

Newport city officials and CIG representatives say they intend to start construction in July 2015 and wrap-up a year later.

While this is good news for Newport on the Levee, it is certainly not when or how developers and city officials had originally envisioned the riverfront development taking shape.

In 2000, the plan was for Newport on the Levee to include a mall with a movie theater complex, an aquarium, a state-of-the-art 3-D IMAX theater, and a second phase of development that would begin just two years later and be anchored by a 200-room hotel.

Problems arose almost immediately when the 3-D IMAX shut down just two years after it opened in 2001. The retail portions of the mall also never seemed to live up to expectations, perhaps following in Tower Place Mall’s footsteps and illustrating that enclosed shopping malls tend to not work in urban settings.

As a result, the mall portion of the development has seen a constant cycle of tenants in and out, and more recently the replacement of most retail inside the mall structure by office tenants. Several restaurant operations have even relocated across the river to The Banks development. The former 456-seat IMAX theater has since been filled by the successful Newport Aquarium.

Shortly after the opening of the first phase of work at Newport on the Levee, city officials also pursued the USS Cincinnati submarine in an effort to dock it along the shore of the Ohio River next to Newport on the Levee. Those plans never materialized and now only a portion of the submarine vessel will be returning to the region – at a location in a future phase of Smale Riverfront Park along Cincinnati’s riverfront.

During all of this Newport Aquarium has been a particularly bright spot for the development. It is consistently named one of the nation’s best aquariums and is a constant draw for tourists and locals alike – attracting more than 11 million visitors since it opened 15 years ago.

With the Great Recession now in the past and new competition from The Banks, Newport officials and developers are looking to jump start things once more. The second phase of Newport on the Levee may be more than a decade behind schedule, but it will add a critical component that was sorely missing from the original development.

Full-time residents and a hotel at the site will help drive more business to shops and restaurants operating outside of the typical weekend hours popular for tourists. The revived talk of extending the streetcar system across the river also shows a new sense of collaboration and possibility that did not exist in the lead up to the new millennium.

VIDEO: New Views of Ohio River Opened Up with Latest Excavation Work at Smale Riverfront Park

Lots of visual progress has been made on Cincinnati’s $120 million Smale Riverfront Park over the past few months.

Since the last construction update in June, project manager Dave Prather explains that the steel framing for Carol Ann’s Carousel is now taking shape, and that the Vine Street fountains and steps have now fully taken on their form. These steps and cascading fountains will be similar to the Walnut Street fountains and steps already completed to the east.

Prather also takes us inside the rentable event space beneath the carousel and fountain plaza.

While it is still quite messy with construction activity, Cincinnati Parks officials are actively promoting it and booking reservations now. Park officials tell UrbanCincy that the Anderson Pavilion will have two event spaces – Longworth Room and Mendenhall Room – that can accommodate up to 300 people. Special events can be booked through Premier Park Events at 513-221-2610.

During the nearly 12-minute video, you can also now see a new view of the Ohio River now that excavation has begun on the park’s great lawn. This area of the park will bring visitors as closer to the water than anywhere else.

Most all of the work profiled in this latest video update is anticipated to be complete in time for the 2015 MLB All-Star Game at Great American Ball Park. The week-long festivities leading up to the weekend of games is expected to being thousands of visitors and millions of eyeballs to the city’s central riverfront.

Just how valuable are America’s iconic urban parks?

We all value and love parks, especially iconic ones like New York’s Central Park or Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, but what are they really worth?

Using a rather straight-forward, but potentially overly simple calculation, data gatherers determined the real estate value of 10 of America’s most iconic urban parks. While not yet complete, one can imagine that Cincinnati’s Smale Riverfront Park would rival some of these parks in terms of real estate value once fully built out. More from Urbanful:

The existential value of public parks to city dwellers has fueled their expansion and sheltered these urban oases from encroaching neighborhoods. No developer will ever be able to purchase Central Park because it is priceless to New Yorkers; however that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting hypothetical.

Suppose Central Park was developable. This would change the entire fabric of the city, making specific property values inaccurate because these values are predicated on the existence of the park in the first place. Working forward from this assumption, apply broad averages for the development pattern and a rough estimate for total value can be established.

Using this example, Central Park has an area of 843 acres, or 36,721,080 sq ft. According to Trulia, New York has an average property value of $1,396 per sq ft, assuming mixed use development. This means, as a single story development, Central Park would be worth over $51 billion. The calculation is not quite finished yet. Using an estimate of 10 stories for average building height, the park would really be worth a staggering $510 billion based on this estimate.

Construction Pace Picking Up on $120M Smale Riverfront Park Project

As is often the case in construction, warmer weather brings greater progress on the site. This holds true for the $120 million, 45-acre Smale Riverfront Park.

According to project manager Dave Prather, work has picked up in recent months and significant elements of the ongoing phase of work are now becoming visible.

One of the elements that is very quickly nearing completion is the Heekin/PNC Grow Up Great Adventure Playground that sits immediately beside the Roebling Suspension Bridge, and is on schedule to open in spring 2015. Significant progress is also now noticeable on the Vine Street Fountains & Steps, which are almost identical to their existing Walnut Street counterpart, and the Anderson Pavilion.

In the latest video update from Cincinnati Parks, Prather walks viewers through all the progress and mentions that a great deal of additional work will be completed in the near future.

“It’s really starting to come into focus,” Prather said in the 15-minute video update. “The next time we film, which will be in late summer, you’ll see the slides and pick-up sticks in place, all the stone climbing walls will be there, and you’re really be able to get a feel on what we’ll have to offer in this next extension.”

One of the things significantly different about the portion of Smale Riverfront Park west of the Roebling Suspension Bridge is the Anderson Pavilion and Carol Ann’s Carousel. These two features will create the most significant building structure at the central riverfront park to-date, and serve as potential sources of revenue to maintain the sprawling park going forward.

The implementation of the full vision for the park will not come for several years, and is still seeking additional capital funding. Some capital funding help, however, has been found this year in the form of a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The ongoing work is also being aided by $4 million from the City of Cincinnati that was approved last year following a one-time allocation of resources from a property tax supported bond increase in 2013. The recent budget quickly passed 6-3 by City Council, however, included no additional capital support for Smale Riverfront Park.

Project officials estimate that an additional $30 million will be needed to complete the park.

In April, the American Planning Association presented its National Planning Excellence Award for Implementation to Cincinnati for its execution of the Cincinnati Central Riverfront Plan, which included the reconfiguration of Fort Washington Way, and the development of The Banks and Smale Riverfront Park.

PHOTOS: Cincinnati’s Dramatic, Decade-Long Transformation Visualized

The changes that have been taking place in Cincinnati over the past decade have been felt and noticed by many. There is a palpable buzz surrounding the Queen City these days.

The city’s central riverfront has almost entirely been transformed following billions of dollars worth of public and private investment, Over-the-Rhine’s renaissance continues to be touted nation-wide as one to be admired, and thousands of more residential units are being developed in the center city as we speak.

For those who live outside the city and may not have been back recently, or for those out-of-towners who have not yet been able to make a visit, it could be difficult to even recognize some places now.

Thanks to a new feature from Google Street View, we can now go back in time and compare Google’s most current Street View images with those they have taken since 2007 when they started the service.

Here’s a look at some of Cincinnati’s more visually impressive transformations, but it is certainly not all encompassing. Simply drag the arrow bar back-and-forth to compare the old and new images.

Clifton Heights at W. McMillan Avenue and Ohio Avenue:

Clifton Heights in September 2007
Clifton Heights in September 2012

 

Evanston at Dana Avenue and St. Francis Way (formerly Woodburn Avenue):

Xavier University September 2007
Xavier University August 2012

 

Over-the-Rhine looking south on Vine Street near Fifteenth Street:

Vine Street September 2007
Vine Street June 2012

 

Over-the-Rhine looking north on Vine Street near Fourteenth Street:

Vine St September 2007
Vine St June 2012

 

The Banks at Freedom Way and Walnut Street:

The Banks July 2007
The Banks September 2012

 

Smale Riverfront Park along Mehring Way at Main Street:

Smale Riverfront Park July 2007
Smale Riverfront Park August 2012

 

Avondale on Burnet Avenue near Northern Avenue:

Mt. Auburn September 2007
Mt. Auburn June 2012

 

Columbia Tusculum at Delta Avenue and Columbia Parkway:

Columbia Tusculum August 2007
Columbia Tusculum June 2012

 

College Hill on Hamilton Avenue near Elkton Place:

College Hill August 2007
College Hill September 2013

If you are having difficultly viewing both the before and after images, try to just drag the arrow bar back-and-forth instead of clicking on the images in an attempt to reveal the after.

And for what it’s worth, we totally stole the idea for this post from The Washington Post. What other areas did we miss? Let us know in the comment section.