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Oakley businesses prepare for a construction-free holiday shopping season

Construction work on and around Oakley Square is nearing completion, but city officials say that remaining water main and streetscaping work will be put off until the beginning of 2011 to avoid construction during the all important holiday shopping season.

Construction crews are currently finishing the Oakley Square streetscape, and officials plan to have all traffic lanes re-opened by this weekend well in advance of the critical holiday shopping season.

What began as a $50,000 grant request from the Oakley Community Council to study ways to improve the safety and walkability of the public square has leveraged enough other sources to include sweeping improvements throughout the neighborhood business district. A previously dangerous and confusing five-direction intersection has been reconfigured for the safety of pedestrians and drivers. Streetscape improvements around Oakley Square including rain gardens, street lighting, outdoor dining space, street signs and meter posts, street trees, pedestrian crossings and other traffic calming measures are now complete.

The Cincinnati Park Board says that it will be putting the finishing touches on their contribution to the project by completing the much anticipated Geier Esplanade Park over the next four weeks. Once complete, the park space will include an expanded lawn, movable outdoor furniture, and a multi-use stage area. Combined, these elements are expected to become the social and civic hub of Oakley.

Michael Cervay, director of Cincinnati’s Department of Community Development, says that remaining water main work on Madison Road and streetscaping throughout the district will be put on hold until January 2011 to allow businesses in the district to have a construction-free holiday shopping season.

“The City’s goal is to work with residents and businesses alike to create thriving places, such as Oakley Square, that act as amenities to our neighborhoods,” he explained. “Construction work is pausing through the holiday season to assure an even more positive shopping experience.”

The improvements have sparked several businesses to expand or invest in the district. Sonoma American & Mediterranean Grill which opened on Oakley Square last month hiring 20 new employees, and the historic 20th Century Theatre recently launched a restoration project of the theatre’s historic tower.

“This project was a huge part of why we chose to invest in Oakley,” detailed Sonoma American & Mediterranean Grill owner Ryan Kassis. “It shows a long-term commitment to the neighborhood and added the character that we were looking for.”

Although business owners acknowledge that weathering the construction has been a challenge, the result they hope will be a re-energized Oakley Square that is safer, greener, cleaner, and poised for long-term success.

By Randy A. Simes

Randy is an award-winning urban planner who founded UrbanCincy in May 2007. He grew up on Cincinnati’s west side in Covedale, and graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s nationally acclaimed School of Planning in June 2009. In addition to maintaining ownership and serving as the managing editor for UrbanCincy, Randy has worked professionally as a planning consultant throughout the United States, Korea and the Middle East. After brief stints in Atlanta and Chicago, he currently lives in the Daechi neighborhood of Seoul’s Gangnam district.