Friday, January 16, 1998
City could grow profits
with riverside park

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Much to Cincinnati Park Board Director Jack Wilson's surprise, the idea of a downtown conservatory is suddenly back in the news. Smack dab at the top of Page 1 in Wednesday's Enquirer, in a story and map on the latest proposals for riverfront development.

Fans of the long-running downtown development soap opera may recall the Crystal Forest proposal, the high-tech conservatory of exotic plants and animals to sit on top of Fountain Square West.

And then there was the new Krohn Conservatory proposal. Part of the park board's 1992 master plan, that was to be built on the ball fields just below the old Krohn.

Both plans withered.

Now here's a ''Crystal Pavilion'' - pitched for a spot in the block bordered by Race and Vine and Third and Second streets - in the city's latest riverfront vision.

Park board idea? Nope.

The news story, he said, ''was the first we heard of it.''

Mr. Wilson has since learned that the proposed conservatory is a vastly scaled-down version of the other two rejected arboretums under glass.

Instead of standing 10 stories tall and covering a good stretch of land, this urban hothouse would only be a two-story structure on Fort Washington Way. The pavilion's main purpose would be to connect downtown to the riverfront.

''It's just a fancy sidewalk,'' Mr. Wilson said.

It's also another example of the city's inability to sustain a team approach to riverfront development.

The park board and its planners need to be involved in every phase of the riverfront re-do. They will be the ones integrating the bricks and mortar with dirt and green things. They'll be landscaping the re-worked Fort Washington Way and the Underground Railroad museum.

They'll also have to create the park that also appeared on the front-page map. Mr. Wilson sees it running from west of the new Bengals stadium to Cinergy Field.

City developers can talk all they want about putting stadiums, restaurants, and 14-screen movie multiplexes on the riverfront. They forget that the place everyone is going to use the most is a top-notch park.

Greetings from Cincinnati

Jack Wilson knows the kind of park he wants.

''It has to be a truly grand space. It has to be a park that everyone in Cincinnati will be proud to see and happy to show to visitors. We need a picture-postcard kind of image.''

To do that, Mr. Wilson knows, ''we are going to have to challenge other concepts.'' That's polite-speak for something has to give in the city's latest riverfront design. Trying to be everything to everybody with a dollar to spend, it's heavy on shops and restaurants, light on green space.

To make its case, the park board starts public hearings in February to see what the people want. A design team will be hired and plans drawn up. Mr. Wilson hopes to have a riverfront park blueprint by summer's end.

Quality of life

Jack Wilson expects some opposition from the business community and some City Hall factions. People with dollar signs in their eyes have trouble seeing the value of a riverside park.

''But if you start looking at the numbers that a million people going to the park for festivals, et cetera, might generate in a year,'' he said, ''the park could have more of an economic impact than some of the other big-ticket items being programmed for the riverfront.''

I also think there's merit in counting on parks to bring in bucks. But more than money, how about the quality of life in Cincinnati? You can't put a dollar amount on the pleasure and escape green space provides, nor the image it conveys when visitors first see us in brochures or in person.

Parks don't have to win league championships to draw people. And they don't have to serve booze or sell T-shirts.

They just have to be pretty, well-conceived and available.

Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.