Saturday, October 09, 1999

Big projects aren't key to city's rebirth, expert advises


Gratz: Develop urban center before The Banks

BY LUCY MAY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Author Roberta Brandes Gratz has seen what's brought struggling cities back to life.

        And despite promises that new stadiums, bigger convention centers and other mega- projects will spark rebirth, they don't, Ms. Gratz said Friday at the Cincinnati Preservation Association's Fall Forum benefit.

        “If half the promises were true, we would see the evidence,” she said. “And the evidence is contrary to the promises.”

        That's not to say Cincinnati is doing everything all wrong, Ms. Gratz stressed to the nearly 400 people packed into the Omni Netherland Plaza's Hall of Mirrors.

        She praised the community for saving historic structures such as the Omni. She praised Hamilton County for its adaptation of old buildings downtown for county offices. And she hailed developers for bringing downtown housing to historic buildings.

        But she suggested putting the brakes on The Banks, the plan to construct a neighborhood on the waterfront on top of parking garages between the Bengals' new Paul Brown Stadium and the new Reds ballpark.

        “The plan has all the essential elements. It emulates a real city,” said Ms. Gratz, author of Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown.

        “My real skepticism about it is The Banks will be nothing and will not even be marketable if the city you now have, the urban core, is not strengthened.”

        Cincinnati City Councilman Jim Tarbell applauded Ms. Gratz's comments.

        Mr. Tarbell has praised the Cincinnati Riverfront Advisory Commission for the passion it put into its plans for The Banks and some of the ideas the plan includes. But he argues the riverfront development should wait until after the city “finishes what we started” downtown.

        Ms. Gratz argued that if “modest investment” in smaller, downtown housing development and the like is continued instead, “when your growth really demands it, that project (The Banks) will make sense.”

        She was similarly skeptical of the push for a $405 million expansion of the Dr. Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center.

        “I just can't get excited about one more convention center because once everyone has them, it's going to cost you money to get the business,” she said. “Give them a city that will make them want to have a convention here.”

        Mr. Tarbell, who supported city funding for the convention center, said he thinks Ms. Gratz is right.

        “I did it for one simple reason,” Mr. Tarbell said of his support. “To satisfy selfish interests in Cincinnati in the hopes of getting their support to do other things I've always known were more important. Like doing downtown housing.”

        Cincinnati Preservation Association Executive Director Beth Sullebarger said Ms. Gratz's presentation reinforced that “real urban places” are what matter to a city's health.

        “The success of new development depends on the success of what we already have,” Ms. Sullebarger said. “That indicates that historic preservation is an important part of economic development.”

       



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