Thursday, June 5, 2003

Downtown challenges 'grave,' consultant says

Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tear up the skywalk. Demolish Fountain Square's performance stage. Promote new housing and a bustling arts and culture district in the blocks ringing Over-the-Rhine's Washington Park.

Those are among Cincinnati's main challenges over the next five years as the city attempts to revive downtown's deteriorating economy and fix social troubles, according to John Alschuler, a New York consultant hired by the city and business leaders to craft a development plan for the region's core.

"I think your challenges are grave," Alschuler said Wednesday at a speech hosted by the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati and the Mercantile Library. "The key is picking things you can win and getting them done in the next five years."

Among Alschuler's "Center City" plan recommendations:

• Improve policing of Fountain Square and surrounding blocks and Over-the-Rhine. Otherwise, visitors and businesses will skip the city for safer suburbs.

• Polish the city's symbolic heart, the "profoundly mediocre" Fountain Square, by removing its skywalk links and stage, recruiting a diverse mix of hip shops and restaurants and improving lighting to create a warm, inviting place for all races and ages.

• Reclaim Over-the-Rhine's Washington Park with new apartments and condominiums for all income levels and relocate the neighborhood's social service agencies. Also, use Cincinnati Public Schools new School for Creative and Performing Arts as a magnet for an arts and culture district.

Unveiled in January, the plan developed by Alschuler and New York design firm Cooper, Robertson & Partners has been refined over the past four months following numerous meetings with downtown property owners and city leaders. Alschuler expects action over the next month or two as critical details such as cost and priorities are addressed. City Council, too, must approve.

At issue is Cincinnati's ability to transform into a "market-performing" city that can support new housing, shops and entertainment projects without millions of dollars in public subsidies. If problems aren't fixed soon, he warned Cincinnati could experience urban failures such as St. Louis and Detroit with empty stores, few downtown employers and little hope for revival.

He warned that Cincinnati's governmental and civic groups have been "too generous" in the past by supporting bad ideas. Just as important is deciding which projects not to fund, Alschuler said.

He called the Banks plan a "terrible risk" because it would steer limited public dollars away from a weakened Fountain Square. While mid-rise, riverfront housing can eventually be developed, he said new riverfront shops would detract from downtown's core retail district. He also said companies will continue to migrate to the suburbs because it's cheaper and more convenient. Downtown's goal is to retain "high-value employers" that pay lucrative wages and attract creative workers.


Chabot's anti-abortion bill near law
Mayor poses election change
Hospitals cash cows for city
Lying juror sent to jail
Prank kills peacock at Mason High

Photo: Queen of the river

Dog breath bragging rights

Downtown challenges 'grave,' consultant says
City hires company despite warning
Obituary: Marjorie Miller Stine was nurse, socialite

Tristate A.M. Report
Suburban Insider
Civil War buffs, books get together
Good News: Photo show is a peek at history
Obituary: Frank E. Lang taught at SCPA

Football star facing drug charge
Apartment owner, county face off
Water leak traced to warehouse
West Chester dog festival Sunday
Local murder focus of TV show
Fatal crash goes to grand jury
School Notes

River needs yearly sweep

School boss retiring to his farm

Damage caps don't curb premiums
Ohio guard duty will last year
Combat air crews donate memorabilia
Ohio Moments: Black Laws cast pall over state
Wife killer gets death sentence
Ohio village loses speed trap
Young obese prone to gum woes

Pendleton officials tour Grant Co. jail
Boone Co. nurse running for House
River rescue unit may be cut
Around the Commonwealth

Indianapolis archdiocese cuts jobs