Wednesday, January 16, 2002

River park's value debated

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — The city is moving ahead with initial planning for a river park below the Newport Aquarium, but some city commissioners still have concerns about the scope and expense of the proposed project.

        City administration and architects from Brandstetter Carroll Inc. of Lexington presented the commission with a concept drawing of the park last week, to fill the space formerly occupied by Barleycorn's floating restaurant and parking area. It would include a plaza, at least one stage, a river walkway and links to the Taylor Southgate Bridge.

        At Monday's meeting, Commissioner Ken Rechtin said he had a hard time understanding why the city would spend $3 million or more for what he called an event site.

        “Do we want to be in the event business?” he said. “What it comes down to is, we're going to compete with (Cincinnati) for events. I'm not sure that's what we want to do.”

        The riverfront location was the site of five events last year — the Newport Arts and Music Festival, Italianfest, the Great Inland Seafood Festival, Riverfest, and the Kentucky Chili Cook-offs and car show. The chili event and car show are expected to move back to the original site along Monmouth Street for this year.

        “We're talking about spending $3 million for five events,” Mr. Rechtin said. “Let's figure out how we're going to pay for this before we build the Taj Mahal on the river.”

        Mr. Rechtin and Commissioner Jerry Peluso also voiced concern that in spending $3 million on a river park, the city's other parks would be neglected when they are all in need of upgrades and additions.

        Newport City Manager Phil Ciafardini said the city intended to begin the process of applying for state and federal grants that could defray much of the cost of the park. And he said the city will approach certain companies, especially beer and soft-drink companies, about sponsorship that would further reduce the cost.

        “I believe we can get the funding to pay for the debt service on this project,” Mr. Ciafardini said. He said he would have “a rough list of potential sponsor companies” to present to the commissioners at the Jan. 28 meeting.

        When asked by Mr. Rechtin why the city should spend so much money on a park on the riverfront, Pat Hoagland, a planner with Brandstetter Carroll, said, “People want to be near the river. Studies have proven that. The most popular parks, regardless of where you go, are on the rivers and the lakes.”

        Mayor Tom Guidugli and Commissioner Beth Fennell both pointed out that something must be done with the site, a large tract of broken asphalt and concrete.

        “We can obtain sponsorship for this park that we can't get for our other parks,” the mayor said. “I think we have to move ahead with this plan and hope we can come up with the necessary funding.”

        The commissioners voted to accept Brandstetter Carroll's proposal for a preliminary design of the park and to apply for grants to help pay for a park.

        Mr. Ciafardini said the city needed to continue to work with Brandstetter Carroll on the concept and begin the application process for grants if the park is to be completed in time to open in 2003 to dovetail with the opening of the Reds' Great American Ball Park and the arrival of Tall Stacks.


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