Wednesday, February 02, 2000

City plans big bash to unveil fountain




BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati plans to throw a two-day party to unveil the restored Tyler Davidson Fountain. It's going to be a big bash. Everybody's invited.

        And, we're going to take some extra time to do it right.

        Mayor Charlie Luken will introduce a resolution at today's City Council meeting calling for the big party by establishing a Fountain Celebration Advisory Committee.

        The mayor told me Tuesday he wants the dates to be Saturday and Sunday, May 6, 7. That's a month after the original date, which coincided with the Reds' Opening Day.

        Mayor Luken wants the dates changed because of a time crunch. “We can throw a better party if we have more time to plan it,” he said. “The weather's better in May. The streets have to be filled with people having a good time. This is a celebration of our history, of our roots. This is a chance to give everyone a reason to be proud of Cincinnati.”

        I couldn't agree more.

        A two-day homecoming for the Tyler Davidson Fountain is only fitting and proper. The fountain has been the city's symbol for 129 years. It is the heart of this town. After years of use and abuse, it's being restored to its original bronze beauty. A fountain this special deserves a festival of its own.

        The timing is right. No other street festivals are booked for that May weekend. The Reds are in town and so is the Cincinnati Flower Show at Ault Park. People will be out and about.

        Initially, the fountain was sharing its big day with the Reds. The bronze was to be restored by April 1. Time enough for the water to be running on April 3 during the Reds' Opening Day parade, the traditional day the fountain comes back to life after winter.

        The April date did not allow much time for festival organizers to prepare for the party. And it did not give the restorers any wiggle room.

        “I'll have it done by April 1 if all goes well,” said Tom Podnar, the conservator in charge of the restoration project. “Would I like to have another month? Absolutely.”

        The extra time will allow us to plan a proper rededication for our fountain, which had fallen on hard times.

Ailing landmark
        An inspection of the fountain in 1998 found the city's symbol to be in terrible shape.

        The bronze lady on top, the Genius of Water, was listing to one side. The figures surrounding the lady were cracked. The base suffered from stress fractures. The plumbing leaked. The concrete foundation was crumbling.

        If repairs were not made, the fountain would collapse. Cincinnati's heart would be broken.

        The cost to repair, restore and establish an endowment fund to preserve the fountain came to $3 million. Work began on the fountain while the funds were raised.

        This May, the people of Cincinnati will be able to gather once more around the fountain to celebrate a historic moment.

Party favors
        The fountain festival's plans are sketchy at present. The mayor did tell me he is opposed to exclusive, black-tie, big-ticket events. “This has to be open to everyone.”

        Wayne Bain, director of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission and the city's point man for the event, wants the celebration to be “for the entire family.” He envisions concerts, jet flyovers, fireworks displays, face painting, jugglers, short speeches and a grand unveiling at dusk on Saturday. “With stirring music, something nostalgic from when the fountain was first unveiled in 1871.”

        Do I hear a Sousa march?

        Scott Santangelo's Santangelo Agency was hired last week as the festival's producer. He sees streets closed to traffic around the square. The pavement covered with food booths, performers and a huge crowd. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. And we're going to treat it as such.”

        He's open to ideas and volunteers, and aims to set up a group called Friends of the Fountain “to help in the planning and presentation.” If you want to get involved, contact him at 531-1300 or via e-mail at santangelo@compuserve.com.

        “We want to give the people what they want.”

        Good idea. The fountain is dedicated to the people of Cincinnati. It's our landmark. Now it's our party.

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

RADEL ARCHIVES