Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Randy Simes: Cincinnati’s Dramatic, Multi-Billion Dollar Riverfront Revitalization Nearly Complete

[ I don’t know how much money Cincinnati has spent promoting itself, but in my book nobody has done more to get the positive message out about what is going on in central Cincinnati than Randy Simes and his site UrbanCincy without one dime of city support. Continuing in my series of writers giving us positive stories in what’s going on in their Midwest towns, Randy fills us in on Cincinnati’s riverfront transformation. Growing up as a Reds fan in the 70’s and 80’s, I spend my share of time in Riverfront Stadium and its bleak environs, and so know this story is real – Aaron. ]

Several decades ago Cincinnati leaders embarked on a plan to dramatically change the face of the city’s central riverfront.  Aging industrial uses and a congested series of highway ramps was to be replaced by two new professional sports venues, six new city blocks of mixed-use development, a new museum, a central riverfront park, and parking garages that would lift the development out of the Ohio River’s 100-year flood plain.

Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals, was one of the first pieces of the puzzle to fall into place.  The $455 million football stadium kept the Bengals in Cincinnati and has since received national praise for its architectural design while also entertaining sold-out crowds.

Downtown Cincinnati in the 1980’s

The next piece to fall into place was the reconstruction of Fort Washington Way which consolidated the stretch of highway and opened up land critical for the construction of yet another stadium and the mixed-use development which became known as The Banks.  The 40% reduction in size was not the only accomplishment though.  The reconstruction project also included the Riverfront Transit Center designed to one day house light rail connections and a sunken highway that could be capped with additional development or park space.

Following the reconstruction of Fort Washington Way, Riverfront Stadium was then partially demolished to make room for the construction of the $290 million Great American Ball Park.  Once complete, Great American Ball Park began entertaining baseball fans at 81 home games each year and at a new Reds Hall of Fame & Museum.  The new venue eliminated any need for Riverfront Stadium and thus led to its implosion in 2002.

The removal of Riverfront Stadium then freed up room for the construction of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center atop the first piece of a two-deck parking garage intended to both lift the new riverfront development out of the flood plain, and provide enough automobile parking to replace what was previously there in the form of surface lots and satisfy new parking demands created by the development.

The most recent piece of the puzzle has been the development of the initial phases of both the Cincinnati Riverfront Park and The Banks.  The two separate projects are developing in complimentary fashion and are on similar time tables, and are both developing east to west from Great American Ball Park to Paul Brown Stadium.  Recent news will add a modern streetcar line running through The Banks development that will transport people from the transformed riverfront into the Central Business District, Over-the-Rhine and beyond to Uptown.

The 45-acre, $120 million Cincinnati Riverfront Park is expected to become the crown jewel of an already nationally acclaimed Cincinnati Park System.  The Banks meanwhile will bring thousands of new residents, workers and visitors to Cincinnati’s center city.  The initial phase of both projects is expected to be complete in spring 2011 and will include 300 new residences, 80,000 square feet of retail space, Moerlein Lager House, Commuter Bike Facility, additional components of the two-deck parking garage, and the first elements of the park.

The transformation of Cincinnati’s central riverfront from aging industrial space to a mixed-use extension of downtown that includes residential, office, retail, and entertainment options is not complete, but the two decade old, $3 billion vision is finally nearing reality.  And with that, one of the remaining traces of Cincinnati’s industrial past will be replaced by a new vision for a 21st Century city and economy.

Randy A. Simes is an award-winning Urban Planner, who graduated from the University of Cincinnatis nationally acclaimed School of Planning in 2009.   Mr. Simes currently works for CH2M HILL as a Community Development Planner and specializes in public policy and local government management.  He writes regularly about public policy and urban development for UrbanCincy.com and Soapbox Cincinnati, and his work has also appeared in the Cincinnati Business Courier and the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

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Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

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