Thursday, June 26, 2003

Can't we do more than park cars for $15 million?

Laura Pulfer

To: Joseph A. Pichler
Chairman and CEO
The Kroger Co.
Downtown Cincinnati

Dear Mr. Pichler:

We don't know each other very well, but I carry your card on my key chain, and I often buy your deli potato salad, slice a hard-boiled egg on top and take it to picnics, pretending I made it myself. And my taxes will pay some of the $15 million your company says it needs to stay downtown.

So we are not exactly strangers.

May I say, sir, that you appear to be a very good citizen? Our mayor likes you, he calls you "Joe" and says you could have run off to one of those other cities that would offer Lord-knows-what to get you to relocate. Plus, you spiffed up the Kroger store on Vine. It's not a superstore, but at least it's clean. And although I would quibble with the unusually large display of malt liquor, I notice the lettuce is considerably less, shall we say, elderly than it used to be at this location. I suppose your stockholders in Boca Raton don't really give a darn about Cincinnati's inner city, so maybe you pushed this about as far as you could. On the other hand, your earnings have not disappointed Wall Street, so I'll bet nobody would object if you try something bold.

Such as helping us build the best parking garage on the Planet Earth. Look what happened when the Contemporary Arts Center decided to combine brains with bricks and mortar. Suddenly Cincinnati is on the arts map - Charlie Rose and the New York Times and the New Yorker are saying nice things about us. Your new parking garage could be - and I don't think I am exaggerating - a turning point for Over-the-Rhine, and therefore, Cincinnati.

We have already had the misfortune of watching as the Pogue's lot helped suck the life out of Fourth Street. Imagine what might have happened if some visionary had insisted that big footprint on Fourth be a parking lot plus retail and maybe some housing at street level.

You have even more clout around here than you do on Wall Street. You could help the mayor put together a real Dream Team of architects, retail specialists, residential developers and structural engineers. Right now. Before beams are in place that won't work for anything but stacks of cars.

The location - the northeast corner of Vine Street and Central Parkway - is the back door of the central business district we want to preserve and the front door of the Over-the-Rhine we want to renew.

Cincinnati's City Council agreed Wednesday to spend $15 million to build your new parking garage. Clearly, we want all those Kroger employees - about 1,300 by the end of this decade - to work downtown. Even better, maybe they'd live downtown in apartments below or above your parking. People could walk to work at Kroger's headquarters and shop at your Over-the-Rhine store. Some of them might not even need a car, which would leave more spaces for visitors.

I'll bet you'd draw some of those "creative class" workers everybody is raving about. Creative types would love the location - with neighbors like the Ensemble Theatre and the new School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Their very presence would crowd out the winos and druggies in Washington Park. In fact, you could have the company picnic there.

I'll bring the potato salad.

E-mail or phone 788-8393.

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