Monday, November 27, 2000

Wanted: Ideas for gaping hole

        Cincinnati is no “me, too” town. Independent as a hog on ice is more like it. The city and its people — from natives to newcomers — are fiercely independent. And proud of it.

        That's why during the Thanksgiving weekend the whole town wasn't exactly crying in its cranberry sauce over the news that the deal to land a Nordstrom store downtown was dead.

        Life went on. City Council started making plans to pave over the store's proposed site. The hole in the ground at Fifth and Race would be turned into a parking lot — until the next bright idea comes along.

The city is stuck with this vacant lot at Fifth and Race across from the Lazarus store.
(Enquirer file photo)
| ZOOM |
        A bright idea is needed at that spot. Something innovative. Something other cities don't have. Something that shows off the best of Cincinnati's independent streak.

        Pulling the plug on Nordstrom made sense. Sure, stores in the Seattle chain are famed for swank goods, swell service and a piano player in every lobby.

        In the end, Nordstrom became what Cincinnati already has — an out-of-town department store with troubles in top management and the bottom line.

Wrong number
               Mayor Charlie Luken got the phone call that killed the Nordstrom deal on Thanksgiving Eve at 1:50 p.m. — 10 minutes before the weekly City Council meeting.

        Officials were on the line from Eagle Realty, the preferred developer of the hole at Fifth and Race. They said: Money-troubled Nordstrom wanted to put the deal on hold, maybe for a year.

        Once bitten, twice shy, the mayor told them: “The deal is dead.”

        Between then and Friday no one reported jilted shop-a-holics storming City Hall. But I wanted to make sure scads of people weren't phoning in their displeasure.

        So, I caught up with the mayor on Friday. When we spoke, he was between official mayoral duties, opening the Titanic exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center and lighting the Christmas tree on Fountain Square.

        Mayor Luken told me the total number of calls, outraged and pleased, he had received since Thanksgiving Eve stood at: “None.”

        A Nordstrom-challenged woman at the Museum Center did ask: “Where will I buy my shoes?” But he didn't take her seriously. “She was laughing when she asked.”

Suggestions wanted
               Mayor Luken is not laughing. But he's not crying either. He's looking ahead. Feeling optimistic.

        “Every disappointment can become an opportunity.”

        It can, if we tap our own resources. Every day, Cincinnati-based independent thinkers help create extraordinary developments from skyscrapers to amusement parks around the world.

        The mayor told me he's toying with forming a blue-ribbon panel of these creative types to generate some fresh plans for this valuable bit of real estate.

        Great idea. But, ask for the people's input, too.

        Until the mayor acts, I'll take your ideas for what I call the Miracle at Fifth and Race. Call or fax me at the numbers below. Or write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202. Or e-mail

        With the holidays coming, time is tight for everyone. So, I'll give you a few weeks. A selection of your ideas for what should go on the Miracle at Fifth and Race will appear in a column just before Christmas.

        I'm betting your ideas will be more creative, more independently minded than a parking lot. Or a hole in the ground.

        Or, even a department store with a piano player.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at (513) 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Nordstrom buzz turns to sting

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