Cincinnati Park officials have celebrated a string of openings at Smale Riverfront Park over the past month. While a few more openings remain, the vast majority of work in the latest major phase of the $120 million park is now essentially complete.
In the latest video update from project manager Dave Prather, he explains what all has taken place and what remains before work slows down considerably. At this point, Prather said, attention will turn to raising funds for the next wave of work, including the boat dock and western reaches of the 45-acre park.
The latest additions to the central riverfront park are more active than what has been developed so far. There are more of the popular family swings overlooking the river, an interactive foot piano, a flying pig playset, water pumps and channels, Carol Ann’s Carousel, and the P&G go Vibrantscape. Where railyards once existed, there are now even movable picnic tables sat atop rail ties.
Two of the larger features of the latest expansion are actually passive spaces. The Great Lawn is now nearly complete and the “beach” is in its early stages of formation. Once complete, visitors will be able to walk all the way down to the water’s edge, although this “beach” will not be made of sand due to the risk of erosion.
Two unique historical features are also part of this latest work. The first is a cornerstone marker in the middle of the Great Lawn that shows where the first addressed building in Cincinnati was situated. The second is a collection of foundation walls that were uncovered during the park’s excavation. These foundations, historians say, remain from 19th century buildings developed along the Ohio River.
This is expected to be the last video update from the Smale Riverfront Park development team for some time. As development at The Banks catches up, the park will soon be able to continue its westward expansion.
Officials overseeing the development of The Banks have announced that they will soon proceed with the design and construction of the infrastructure needed for the next phase of the massive riverfront project.
Yesterday, at a special meeting of The Banks Steering Committee, the eight-member group unanimously voted in favor of moving forward with what they expect to be $29.3 million worth of work, which would then provide the platform for millions more in private investment in the form of offices, residences and retail on what is referred to as Lot 24.
As has been the case with all prior phases of the mixed-use development, the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will build out the utilities and roadway network, and construct a 690-space, two-level parking garage that will lift the site out of the Ohio River floodplain. Carter and The Dawson Company – the private development team selected for the project – would consider what elements should be included and then proceed with building and leasing out whatever is built on top of the parking decks.
A guiding principle that has not changed since the beginning of the development process is that the underground parking garage will be reserved for public parking, leaving Carter-Dawson to develop additional above-ground parking to satisfy the City’s mandatory parking requirements.
The Steering Committee said that the public work will be funded through the issuance of $22 million in tax increment finance bonds, and $7 million from the State of Ohio. Project officials say issuance of the bonds is expected to come within the coming months.
While the Carter-Dawson team has not yet decided the exact mix for this third phase of work, it is widely expected to be primarily residential. In total, the zoning and infrastructure for the site will allow for around 320,000 to 400,000 square feet of developable space.
The timing of the announcement could not be better, with work rapidly progressing on General Electric’s 338,000-square-foot Global Operations Center, 19,000 square feet of retail space, and the 291 apartments at the phase two site to the immediate north; and with the announcement that AC Hotels will develop the long-sought hotel along Main Street in front of Great American Ball Park.
Phase two work is expected to be completed in phases throughout 2016, while AC Hotel by Marriott is expected to open in spring 2017.
While management with the Cincinnati Bengals expressed some concern over the loss of one of the team’s few remaining tailgating lots, The Banks itself is evolving into more of an entertainment district than many had thought.
Project officials say the phasing of construction at the 18-acre site has been carefully coordinated between the district’s various stakeholders, along with the construction schedule of Smale Riverfront Park. As park work has moved west so has work at The Banks, and with the latest work on the park taking place just south of phase three of The Banks, the timing makes perfect sense.
If all goes according to plan, this next phase of infrastructure work could begin as soon as January or February – just after the conclusion of the Bengals football season.
NBC Universal reached out to UrbanCincy last week asking if we would be interested in conducting an interview with Jake Robinson – a Cincinnati native now living in New York City as a professional actor.
He stars in NBC’s new television series, American Odyssey, which follows the journey of a group of three strangers navigating their way through global politics, corporate espionage, and military secrets in an effort to uncover the truth behind an international conspiracy.
While UrbanCincy does not typically cover entertainment news, we wanted to take the opportunity to gauge Robinson’s thoughts on his hometown. The following interview was conducted by email and has been published with minor editing for formatting purposes.
Randy Simes: How would you describe your upbringing in Cincinnati? Did you visit the city all that often? What were your perceptions of the city? Jake Robinson: My upbringing was very rural. I grew up in Maineville most of my life. My parents rented a house on an old Quaker property that had been part of the Underground Railroad. I had woods, ponds, streams, and rivers all within exploring distance from my house. It was an incredible place for me to stretch my imagination. I did not go to the city very often. Occasionally we would go for Reds games or to the library, which was my favorite place to be. But the city itself always felt really big and intimidating to me.
RS: Do you have any notable memories of city life in Cincinnati that stand out from your time growing up here? If so, please explain one that really stands out to you. JR: The one that stands out the most to me was getting to play peewee football at Paul Brown. The stadium had just opened and I remember being totally awestruck when I walked onto that field.
RS: How much do you stay engaged with what is happening in Cincinnati these days? JR: I still listen to high school football games and follow Cincinnati sports. Also a lot of my family is still in Cincinnati. My brother and his wife are both professors at UC. Everyone that is still there is very involved with the community. So whenever I come home we are always talking about what’s happening in and around the city.
RS: A lot has changed in Cincinnati over the past several years. From when you grew up in the area, Over-the-Rhine and the central riverfront may now be entirely unrecognizable to you. What do you think about the changes that have taken place? JR: I am so incredibly excited about the changes that Cincinnati has gone through. Downtown is now a destination for me. Whether it’s Fountain Square, The Banks or OTR, the entire city has a new life to it. I always tell my parents if I could do what I do in Cincinnati, I would move back. My two favorites are Rhinegeist and Senate.
RS: While living in NYC, is there anything specific that you miss about your hometown? JR: I always miss the people, particularly my family. There is a way of life that’s really special in Cincinnati it’s why people keep coming back to the city. I have many friends who have returned to Cincinnati to settle down.
RS: Late last year Cincinnati business and community leaders went on a week-long trip to NYC to showcase Cincinnati’s arts and business prowess. Did you engage with anyone or any of the events at that time? JR: I went to the May Festival concert at Carnegie Hall because my uncle was involved in the chorus, but I did not get engage with anyone else or any of the other events at the time.
RS: More and more films are selecting Cincinnati as a location for filming in recent years. There are varying reasons for this, but what would you think of being offered the opportunity to perform in something filmed locally? JR: Cincinnati has done a great job encouraging film makers to come to the city. I think it has a wonderful history and that is a major draw for people. I would be so honored and thrilled to do a project locally. It is definitely a goal for me going forward.
RS: If there is one thing about your experience living elsewhere that you would like to see in Cincinnati, what would that be? JR: Public transit and transportation in general. Updating and bringing more carriers to CVG, as well as improving suburb to downtown public transit and commute times. I think this is key in continuing to see growth in the downtown area.
RS: Cincinnatians are famous for their TV viewing habits. With this in mind, are you or any of your friends/family planning any special viewing parties/events? JR: I actually threw the first episode viewing party in NYC, but I know my parents religiously watch the show. I hope everyone is tuning into the show. NBC has some really impressive programming right now and American Odyssey is a big part of it. You can catch up on the show on Hulu or NBC On Demand.
RS: What attracted you to this role in American Odyssey? JR: The script was the single most important thing when picking this project. I loved how fast-paced and intense it was. Reading it had me on the edge of my seat and watching it has me even more engaged.
RS: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what is your favorite Cincinnati-style chili? JR: Skyline all the way.
For those interested in watching the new series, you can catch it Sunday nights at 10pm ET on NBC.
Each Wednesday in July, UrbanCincy is highlighting Fort Washington Way (FWW), the I-71/US-50 trench bisecting the Cincinnati riverfront from its downtown. Part-one of the series discussed what the area looked like prior to reconstruction a decade ago, and how that reconstruction made way for the development along Cincinnati’s central riverfront. This week’s piece will discuss some of the unseen assets included in the project that continue to benefit Cincinnatians in a variety of ways today, and will continue to do so well into the future.
Those who enjoy spending their summer evenings at Great American Ball Park to watch our first-place Reds, or our defending AFC North Champion Bengals, have probably seen the stairway entrances to the Riverfront Transit Center. Below Second Street, along the southern portion of FWW, lies an underground multi-modal transit facility. Demonstrating a tremendous amount of foresight, engineers constructed a transit center reportedly capable of moving 500 buses into and out of the heart of downtown in an hour. This is in addition to Second Street which is designed to also accommodate light rail and streetcars at street level while the underground portion is capable of accommodating light rail, commuter rail, and buses. And all of this was designed with future transit connections to Northern Kentucky via the Taylor Southgate Bridge, and Cincinnati’s eastern and western suburbs via Riverside Drive and Longworth Hall respectively.
As The Banks development continues its exciting march toward completion, its visitors along with those frequenting Great American Ball Park, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and Paul Brown Stadium will use the anticipatory infrastructure available at the transit facility that could eventually be home to trains serving downtown on a regional light rail network – an inclusion that will eventually save taxpayers millions of dollars once light rail begins to serve Cincinnati central riverfront.
But the Riverfront Transit Center is not the only instance of transportation foresight included with the FWW redesign ten years ago. The roadways that span FWW at Main and Walnut streets were both built to withstand the weight or rail transportation. Furthermore, the sidewalks on each of the roadways connecting Second and Third streets over FWW are some of the widest in the city. Knowing the untapped potential of the area that would later become The Banks development, engineers and city officials determined it prudent to build the spans to support pedestrian, vehicular, bus and rail transportation. Now, as the city builds the Cincinnati Streetcar, it can easily and seamlessly connect the central riverfront to the rest of downtown and beyond because the engineers planned for it a full ten years ago.
Another problem along Cincinnati’s central riverfront was the presence of combined sewer overflows (CSOs). The CSOs are the result of an outdated sewer and water pipe system that becomes overloaded during heavy rainfall events. The result is the combination of solid waste and water runoff into our natural waterways like the Ohio River and its tributaries. Due to the health and ecological concerns, the city and county are under a decree to fix the problem over the next decade or so.
Ten years ago, during the reconstruction of FWW, engineers knew that the problem needed to be addressed eventually, so they built storage tunnels along the trench below Third Street. These pipes act as de facto storage tanks when it rains, allowing runoff and raw sewage to stay in the pipes until it can be treated. From this foresight, the number of raw sewage spills in the immediate area has decreased from about 150 per year to around four or five – an achievement determined by ORSANCO to have provided “measurable water quality improvements to the Ohio River.”
Had the engineers not thought to include the transit center below Second Street, installed wide sidewalks for pedestrians, included the capability to safely transport a streetcar, and built water pipes that can withstand the rain, current and future taxpayers would be burdened with the cost of redoing something we constructed a mere decade ago. Building these features before the need arose ensured that the area is not in a constant state of construction. Furthermore, it allows development to proceed more quickly and without additional unnecessary costs.
Ignoring long-term needs is a foolish, dangerous, and potentially expensive way to run a city. While some city leaders of yesterday and today do indeed deserve criticism for a lack of long-term planning, we ought to give credit where credit is due. And the reconstruction of Fort Washington Way is one of those instances. The decisions made by city leaders over a decade ago have saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
Next Wednesday’s segment will discuss how a project involving so many different interested parties could even be accomplished. In the final article, we will provide ideas for the future of the area, and seek feedback from our readers on what the city can do to make the area more inviting.