Friday, January 29, 1999

School plan, shelter space needn't clash

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One man's dream is another man's nightmare.

        Erich Kunzel dreams about building a $99.2 million public arts school on a sprawling campus next to Music Hall.

        The Cincinnati Pops conductor told me he envisions the kindergarten through 12th-grade school “opening lots of doors in the community and the world for Cincinnati.”

        The proposed school gives nightmares to Pat Clifford. The general coordinator of the Drop-Inn Center fears the school is going to close the homeless shelter's doors.

        Preliminary plans unveiled this week show the school's campus extending down Central Parkway. Part of the campus' footprint would step on the plot of land where the buff- colored, two-story Drop-Inn Center now stands in Over-the-Rhine.

        Pat Clifford refuses to find a new home to take care of the 10,000 people the center serves each year. He equates moving the center with shutting it down.

        “We would never be able to relocate,” he told me. He feels building and zoning codes work against finding a place big enough to shelter 250 people every night and conduct programs for drug and alcohol abuse.

        The center, he added, is lucky to have a home. Not everyone wants a homeless center for a neighbor. So, Pat Clifford is digging in his heels.

        He told me flat-out:

        “We won't go.”

        I have a dream, too. In my dream, Over-the-Rhine ceases to be Cincinnati's ghetto, a dumping ground for the poor, the unfortunate and the ailing in mind, body and spirit. It becomes a neighborhood where people from varied backgrounds want to live, where everyone feels safe, where powerful forces stop clashing over their own self-interests and start working together for the good of Over-the-Rhine.

        This can happen. Erich Kunzel's dream can come true, and Pat Clifford's nightmares can come to an end.

        But first, both men must become good neighbors. Not antagonists.

Hold your fire
        Plans for the school, dubbed the Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center, are still in the talking stages. Ground has not been broken.

        Yet battle lines have been drawn.

        “By asking us to move, they have turned this into a confrontation,” Pat Clifford told me on Thursday. “We will take this to the people.”

        Memo to Pat: This is not the '60s.

        When I spoke with Erich Kunzel, he sounded a bit more flexible. “Our responsibility is to help the center relocate. We will pay for their move. And their new building. We won't shrink from that.”

        But, he dug in his heels about finding new digs for the shelter.

        “They asked if we had located a new site for them,” the maestro said. “We have not. That would be presumptuous on our part.”

        Memo to Erich: Anticipate every move.

Work it out
        Erich Kunzel must do everything in his power to make his dream become a reality. If the Drop-Inn Center wants him to find a new site for the shelter, do it. If the homeless shelter encounters a knotty problem with the zoning codes, untangle it.

        Too much is riding on this project to let it founder on disagreements. The conductor believes the fame created by the school and the business generated from it can revitalize Over-the-Rhine and save Music Hall from being an isolated island of culture.

        The conductor tempers his hopes for the school with concerns about the area's safety. In 1996, Buddy Gray, the Drop-Inn Center's founder, was gunned down inside the shelter by a man who was being helped by the facility.

        “Any time you build a school, the prime issue is safety,” Erich Kunzel said. “The location has to be safe for children.”

        That issue is not up for debate. Students should never have to worry about their safety as they go to and from school.

        So Erich Kunzel's concerns are well-placed. But he should be able to resolve this impasse. He's a conductor. He knows how to encourage people to work in harmony.

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

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