Sunday, April 20, 2003

Meet the Purple People Bridge

One-of-a-kind crossing to open Saturday

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEWPORT - Of the nine bridges crossing the Ohio River at Cincinnati, only one is purple. Starting Saturday, it will be the only one just for people, too.

Newport Southbank Bridge, the "Purple People Bridge," connects Pete Rose Way in Cincinnati to Third Street in Newport
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
After a $4 million restoration, the former L&N Railroad Bridge between Newport and Cincinnati will reopen as a pedestrian walkway. Officially named the Newport Southbank Bridge, the "Purple People Bridge" will be the longest connector of its kind in the country that links two states.

"Everybody has already been calling it the Purple People Bridge," says Wally Pagan, president of Newport-based Southbank Partners, a non-profit group promoting economic development in Northern Kentucky's river cities.

"Because of the color, it's a name that is going to stick."

The bridge - it's 2,670 feet, or just over a half a mile long - has been redesigned to provide an easy way for people to move between the two states. It also could link the riverfronts of Ohio and Kentucky in a seamless collection of entertainment, dining, nightlife, festivals, parks, attractions and more that could bring hundreds of thousands to the river's edge.

It's a vision officials on both sides of the Ohio have pursued for years.

"The purple bridge will help bring people back and forth between Ohio and Kentucky," said Anastasia Mileham, vice president of Downtown Cincinnati Inc., which promotes downtown commerce and development. "Nothing else like it exists in this area. It's what regionalism is all about."

Within a 20-minutewalk from either side of the bridge you can:

• Watch the Reds or Bengals at Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium.

• Grab dinner at a range of restaurants, from the five-star Maisonette and Montgomery Inn Boathouse to Jeff Ruby's Tropicana and the German-themed Hofbrauhaus in Newport.

• Shop at something as exclusive as Tiffany & Co. near Fountain Square to something as fun as the Wacky Bear Factory in Newport.

• Have a picnic at Cincinnati's Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point and Yeatman's Cove or along the floodwall in Newport.

• Catch a concert at the US Bank Arena or a movie at the 20-screen cinema at Newport on the Levee.

• Tour the Newport Aquarium or the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center near the Roebling Suspension Bridge when it opens next year.

The Purple People Bridge marks the first time in Greater Cincinnati's modern history that a span is dedicated exclusively to pedestrian traffic. It will bring two of the Tristate's most important entities - downtown Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky's river cities - even closer together, officials say.

"It's a very exciting and unique way to cross the river more freely and easily and it helps everybody by bringing people to the entertainment, parks and other attractions and areas on both sides of the river," says David Pepper, a Cincinnati City councilman.

At 17 feet wide, the bridge probably isn't wide enough to host festivals and other events. But the approaches on both sides of the river can host events, festivals and private gatherings, Pagan says.

On the Ohio side, the bridge begins on Pete Rose Way near the entrance to Sawyer Point. In Kentucky, the bridge drops onto Third Street in Newport, just east of Newport on the Levee.

No other bridge in the region will be like it.

Developers say they have transformed a rickety structure that hasn't been used by trains, vehicles or people since 2001 into a new community icon.

They want the bridge to be used by strolling romantics, energetic skaters, fun-seeking families and suburbanites wanting to establish ties to the muddy Ohio River.

Its official opening comes Saturday. That's when several thousand people will cross it in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. The 8 a.m. race to raise money for breast cancer research will be the first public event on the new bridge. A private kickoff party Friday night will raise money for the bridge's maintenance fund.

The bridge will be outfitted with park benches, wrought-iron handrails, gooseneck streetlights, security cameras, call boxes for emergencies and trashcans.

There will be lanes for walkers, bikers and in-line skaters.

Lights may be eventually strung on the trusses, but with a price tag of $800,000 that part of the project will have to wait on more state or private funding, Pagan says.

The bridge is expected to be a magnet for people.

"People used to get off work, open a beer and sit in front of the TV," says Raymond Buse, spokesman for the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

"Now, young professionals and creative people who have been sitting in an office or a cubicle all day want to get out for informal recreational opportunities. The bridge will provide those opportunities while connecting all the dots between the two states when it comes to all the projects and activity taking place along both riverfronts."

Burke Lofland, 20, of Fort Thomas, said he and his friends often go to Newport on the Levee and are looking forward to checking out the purple bridge.

"It sounds like it is going to be pretty cool," says Lofland, a political science student at Northern Kentucky University. "You'll be outside and you can get out and walk across the bridge instead of driving. People are probably really going to like it."

A new tourism tool

The bridge's party potential will become part of the marketing campaign used by Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"It's another attraction to the area," says Sheree Allgood, the bureau's communications director. "Our sales force is using it as a place for receptions and special events for the conventions that come to town."

And while locals certainly know how the river separates two states, out-of-towners could care less. They are just looking for fun places to visit, and the bridge will make it easier to do that, says Julie Calvert, vice president of communications for the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Our research shows that convention groups and leisure visitors don't really know where the boundary is between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky," she says. "The bridge is going to create an environment where people can just take a nice walk across the river and enjoy a lot of the development that has happened in Kentucky. The bridge bodes very well for helping bring people to town."

Though work is still being done on the Cincinnati approach, enough of the job will be completed in time for the opening, says Cincinnati city architect Bob Richardson.

"The Cincinnati side will be consistent with what Kentucky has done on its side of the bridge," Richardson says. Lighting, traffic barriers to prevent cars from entering the bridge and an improved apron that will serve as a commons for gatherings will be included on the Ohio side.

Projects such as the bridge could help the city and the region attract young professionals, Buse says. That's a big concern for the city, which has seen a "flight" of the young creative class in the last decade.

A return to the past

There have been plenty of attempts to link Ohio and Kentucky through some mode of transportation.

Ideas have ranged from water taxis - such as the one operating now for Reds games between Covington and Cincinnati - to monorails and trams to individual people movers that Pagan described as "something out of The Jetsons."

Most were too expensive, too difficult or too far-fetched to pursue.

"That's why we really are excited about the bridge," Newport City Commissioner Jerry "Rex" Peluso says. "It's a new idea but it goes back to the very first method of bringing the areas together, bridges over the Ohio River."

At the urging of Kentucky House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, Kentucky legislators agreed to spend $4 million in 2000 to restore and paint the span, which was jointly controlled by the state and CSX Railroad.

CSX donated its portion of the bridge to Newport. The city will transfer ownership of the updated bridge to a new corporation, the Newport Southbank Bridge Co.

That firm will own and operate the bridge and oversee its maintenance. The company's board members will include members of Southbank and representatives of the city of Newport and possibly Cincinnati.


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