With so much attention focused on the riverfront lately - stadiums, 20-screen cinemas, parks, museums and millennium towers - it's easy to forget about the heart of downtown Cincinnati. Which is where all this discussion about saving Cincinnati started, way back three or four Fountain Square West proposals ago.
But as more pieces of the riverfront puzzle fall into place, there's a stronger sense of purpose and promise for the retail mix along Fourth Street. The riverfront is breathing life into downtown. Sources downtown tell me hopes for bringing in a Nordstrom's department store are on the "up" escalator.
No lease has been signed for a new Nordstrom's. No site has been selected.
But many fingers point off the record to the shuttered McAlpin's location on Fourth across from Tower Place.
More hand gestures indicate prospects for an Eddie Bauer superstore next door.
These and other retail additions to the downtown core hinge on the final blueprint for the riverfront.
It's partly a matter of traffic flow. When both stadium sites are locked in, and plans are firm for a revamped Fort Washington Way, then retailers eager to plop their stores by the busiest sidewalks and streets can make their moves.
The last thing a major deparment store chain like Nordstrom's wants is to jump on a site and then find out a new state-of-the-art store will anchor a dead-end alley.
Again, no Fourth Street deals have been cut yet. But people sure know what I'm talking about.
"I can't mention the N-word (Nordstrom's) in any form," said Mark McKillip, downtown division manager for the city's Economic Development Department.
"We love Cincinnati and continue to monitor sites in your city," said Eddie Bauer spokeswoman Cheryl Engstrom.
"We don't discuss possible sites," said Brooke White, Nordstrom's media director. But she would discuss the business of opening a new store.
Nordstrom's opens four or five new stores every year. The snazzy department store chain's store-opening schedule is booked up through the year 2001, which leaves us out till the next millennium. "It's a long, slow process," said Cincinnati's Mark McKillip. "From the talking stages to where people can walk into a store and shop takes four to six years."
So put off your Christmas shopping for the year 2002 until we hear from the home office in Seattle.
Two of three
Back at the home office, Brooke White says a city must have three things in place before Nordstrom's comes to town.
- A good population of shoppers willing to spend money.
- Long-term economic health.
- A strong mix of stores already attracting shoppers.
We have the first two.
The shoppers are out there. Check the malls most weekends and bring a shoe horn for parking.
Cincinnati's economic health is good. We've weathered recessions and downtown still lives. After losing stores in numbers that have killed other downtowns, Cincinnati has saved Saks and is building a new Lazarus store and opening a Tiffany's in the heart of town. So it seems we have the location and the audience.
As for the mix of stores, downtown is a scene waiting to happen. Despite the opening of some interesting small shops, downtown still depends too much on stores you can find in the suburban malls. Now what about those other prospects?
I love the idea of Eddie Bauer downtown. This would not be a dinky 6,000-square-foot mall store. It would be three floors - 35,000 square feet - of clothes and stuff dedicated to the casual life. I'm willing to give Nordstrom's a try. Even though I was raised on the downtown McAlpin's.
What about you?
What would you like to see downtown? What would get you suburbanites in those mommymobiles downtown to shop?
Send me your shopping wish list for downtown. I'll share it here and pass it along to the people quietly puzzling out downtown's revival by the riverfront.
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.