Friday, January 11, 2002

Riverfront


No money? Planner keeps faith

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        Dave Prather wants to unpave parking lots and put up paradise.

        To him, paradise is Cincinnati's planned $78 million, 52-acre Central Riverfront Park.

        Delays in riverfront development don't bother Dave. As the city's planner coordinating the park's design, he's moving ahead. Tweaking plans. Testing soil. Raising money. Even planning to break ground.

        Never mind that paradise is still missing its linchpin. The parking garages that will act as the foundation for The Banks project remain a dream. The reason: No money.

        The county can't afford to build the garages. So, the city's front yard continues to be paved with parking lots. Right between the two riverfront stadiums. Right where Dave plans to plant paradise.

Calm, cool, collected

        A lesser man would be stymied. Chewing on pencil erasers. Not Dave.

        He appeared calm when I paid him a visit this week at his Avondale office. We met as part of my periodic progress reports on the park that is going to reconnect Greater Cincinnatians with the riverfront and the river.

        Dave told me he's not going to let the absent parking garages stop him.

        “Plans are moving ahead,” he said.

        He pointed to rolls of blueprints and stacks of papers. “We've been sorting through applications from design teams,” he said. “We intend to select one for the park by the end of January.”

        Looking ahead, he noted that if federal and state funding continue, “we could break ground on phase one of the park later this year.”

        The park's first phase will cover the riverfront beyond the Great American Ball Park's right field wall.

        Dave unrolled a blueprint showing phase one's plans. They call for a garden where home-run balls could land, an expanded Public Landing and a boat dock. If funds allow, a pier will extend Main Street over the riverbank.

        “Phase one could be finished in time for the opening of the Reds' new stadium,” he said. “That way, the land around the Great American Ball Park won't look like a construction zone for six years and we'll get an idea how parts of the park are going to fit.”

Park place

        Dave works in the home Cincinnati philanthropist Cornelius Hauck willed to the park board in 1967.

        Situated across from old Bethesda Hospital in the tree-lined former Hauck estate called “Sooty Acres,” the rambling house with its layered woodwork and wood-burning fireplaces offers a fine atmosphere for turning dreams into reality.

        Dave's office used to be the home's master bedroom. Wall sconces, their original crystal pendants intact, once flanked the headboard of the master's bed. Now they overlook drafting tables.

        Grabbing what he calls “Old Faithful,” a well-worn artist's rendering of the riverfront park, Dave ran his finger along a reconfigured Mehring Way. He talked about stone walls that were found when a track hoe dug down to what will be the park's ground level.

        “Those stone walls are foundations from houses built in the 19th century,” Dave said. “They're in great shape. They could be used as walls for structures in the new park.”

        As he spoke, his eyes danced. He was clearly having a good time envisioning what paradise will look like once a park appears on Cincinnati's long-ignored, under-developed and over-paved riverfront.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.

       



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