Wednesday, October 25, 2000

RADEL: Riverfront Park


Remember our ties to the Ohio River

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        All this talk about deadly coal sludge oozing into the Ohio carries with it an unspoken reminder.

        Cincinnati is a river city.

        For better or worse, this town is married to the route of water passing by our front door. Our fortunes flow with the Ohio. We must stay in touch with the river, see, hear and smell it. Even get wet in it.

        Cincinnati's vital connection with the Ohio River is not lost on Dave Prather. He's the city park planner responsible for designing Cincinnati's $78-million Central Riverfront Park.

        Now a sea of parking lots between two riverfront stadiums, Fort Washington Way and the Ohio's northern shore, the proposed 52-acre park will someday be the city's front yard.
       

Up to us

        The park's appearance depends on us. Will a vast lawn connect Greater Cincinnatians directly to the river? Or will the expanse be crammed with so many attractions no one will know there's a river out there? It's up to our tax dollars and Dave Prather's plans.

        This week, the park planner is getting ready to spend $1 million of our taxes. Made available last month through Ohio's Department of Natural Resources, the funds will allow the 20-year city employee to get specific measurements — soil analysis, tons of ground to move — so he can continue planning the park.

        My hope is that our tax dollars will take us to the river. Walk us to the water.

        Let people wiggle their toes in the muddy Ohio. Design the park so visitors can hear the current and watch the river flow. Inspire them to dream about where all this water came from and where it's going.

        Turns out, Dave Prather is way ahead of me.

        “We want pedestrians close to the river,” he said. His plans call for the park's 12-acre great lawn to slope gently until it comes in contact with the river. A set of steps and ramps will also connect people to the water.

        “That,” he said, “is the plan.”

        For now.
       

Resist temptation

        The temptation is great to do otherwise. Developers drool over the park's land. This is prime real estate.

        There are pressures to commercialize this park. The riverbank could be lined with a German beer hall, a carousel, a cinema complex, a marina.

        Dave Prather is resisting those pressures. He is a river lover.

        “Just last Friday night,” he told me, “I was canoeing on the river right across from where the park will be.”

        This park planner sounds like the right man for the job.

        But he can't do it alone.

        Periodically, I plan to check on Dave Prather's progress, to see how he's bearing up under the pressure brought by commercial interests and to encourage him to stay true to his mission.

        Architects can build their bookend stadiums on this riverfront. The Banks complex of shops, parking garages and housing can come together. All will, in some way, restrict access to the river.

        But this park must be built as planned, open and free, running straight to the Ohio.

        Cincinnati is a river city. We must maintain our connection to the Ohio. That body of water gave birth to this city. The waterway is our lifeline and our destiny.

        The river is the reason why we are here. We must keep in touch — literally — with its waters.

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

       



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