Friday, August 8, 2003

Parks get new look for Tall Stacks fest

By Andrea Uhde
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point, seen from the 26th floor of One Lytle Place Apartments downtown, is one of the parks undergoing a makeover to get them in shape for the upcoming Tall Stacks celebration.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
October's Tall Stacks festivities are spurring the Cincinnati Recreation Commission to spend about $850,000 to refurbish central riverfront parks and assemble what will be one of the largest playgrounds in the city.

The commission had been planning a thorough renovation, said Jim Garges, director of the recreation commission. But facing a prospective crowd of 500,000 for the five-day Tall Stacks riverboat festival, the commission has decided to speed things up.

"It's a nice opportunity for us, and it's neat to get ready for a big event like that," Garges said.

Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point, the 20-acre park adorned with flying pig statues in celebration of Cincinnati's 200th anniversary, celebrated its 15th anniversary in June.

It's starting to show its age. So is neighboring Yeatman's Cove, a much smaller park constructed in the mid-1970s. It was spruced up with nearly $7 million in 1995, when a wading pool was added and walkways paved.

Now, light fixtures in both parks need to be replaced and trees planted. Walls require resurfacing and the Showboat Majestic at the Public Landing needs paint.

"We're painting everything metal that doesn't move, from flagpoles and light poles to benches and tables, those types of things," Garges said.

Painting started a few weeks ago, and the Serpentine Wall is being repaired when the Ohio River is low. The rest of the work is scheduled to start in the next few weeks.

All work should be done in time for the Tall Stacks kickoff Oct. 15. That's when thousands of children will be romping around "Sawyertown," eyeing a 2,000-gallon aquarium, 1800s-style dancing and a bicentennial art gallery that will be at the mile-long park.

On the river, 17 ships will offer about 200 cruise options - from history trips to the SpongeBob SquarePants family cruise.

This year's extensive park makeover is paid for with $228,000 from the park's Board of Visitors trust. Another $300,000 comes from parking and rental profits, and $315,000 from a Procter & Gamble trust fund will put a new structure over the P&G Pavilion.

Cincinnati City Council allotted $500,000 to repave the wall on the river at Yeatman's Cove. The wall is deteriorating because of flooding.

Most visitors these days chasing Frisbees in the grass next to the shimmering river aren't likely to notice that such expensive renovation is needed.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent each year to maintain the riverfront, said Jeff Koopman, supervising engineer for the recreation commission.

"It's been a little while since made major improvements, but there's been a whole host of minor improvements," Garges said.

The upkeep is important when about 750,000 people come each year to take advantage of the scenery, exercise equipment, and tennis and volleyball courts.

As the largest regional waterfront park along the Ohio River, Bicentennial Commons hosts several special events each year that attract millions of people, including Riverfest, the All-American Birthday and Queen City Blues Fest.

But its popularity makes it vulnerable to wear and tear: "It's just like your house - the more it's used, the more it gets abused," Garges said.

Scrap yard to lush riverside

In its pre-park days, the area off East Pete Rose Way was the city's scrap yard.

With $1 million in city and private donations, the land was cleared. One year and $14 million more later, the area was a riverfront jewel.

More than 500 companies and foundations supplied the money for Bicentennial Commons, and the Board of Visitors trust fund was formed with about $2.5 million to cover renovations.

The park's purpose was "to draw people back to the river and make better use of the front door to our city," said Richard Greiwe, who was executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Bicentennial Commission when the park opened.

Some 200,000 people came to cheer the park's opening on June 4, 1988, and another 150,000 came the following day.

Though there was much debate over the four flying pig statues at its entrance (many Cincinnati residents were shaky about a pig becoming the city's symbol, even though it represents Cincinnati's main industry in the 1800s), the park became a popular area for sweethearts and families.

In those days, 5,000 people came daily.

"The daily attendance of the park surprised everyone," said Greiwe, now the commissioner of the Ohio Bicentennial Commission. "It really is a park everyone in the whole Tristate region feels is their own."

Eileen Joyner would agree. The 84-year-old downtown resident recently brought her brother, who lives in Canada, to sightsee at the park.

"It's really beautiful," she said. "I'd like to start coming here (more) often, read a book, eat lunch."

A playground fit for a kid

Soon, it will be a place for thousands of kids to enjoy, too.

Starting Sept. 9, volunteers with the 1,000 Hands Project will be assembling a more than $100,000 playground under the Interstate 471 bridge. The playground, shaped like a riverboat and covering 10,500 square feet, will be accessible for children with disabilities. The grand opening is Sept. 20.

The playground in place now - much smaller and not adapted for disabled children - will remain.

"We have so many hundreds of thousands of people who attend events down at the Bicentennial Commons, and we wanted to make sure everybody was able to have fun there, whether they were disabled or not," said Bunny Arszman, a recreation commission spokeswoman.

Children will be able to entertain themselves in the playground's small village, a music area with drums, swings, slides, smokestacks and a big paddle wheel.

"It'll be something different to do," said Cheri Tegenkamp, 26, a Bridgetownmother of three girls who visited the current playground last week. "Anything to keep them happy keeps me happy."

Sara Reynolds, 9, Rollerblades through the park with her father as often as they can. The Middletown girl says she thinks the new playground will be fun: "I'll want to come over here everyday."

Garges, who plans on adding bubblers and other equipment to the shallow pool in Yeatman's Cove in the next few years, said the new playground will be a welcome addition.

"From day one, the Bicentennial Commons has been a beautiful space," he added. "What we're doing now is making sure the space continues to be a great asset to the region."


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