River“front” Yard

Photos Courtesy Of Heather Noe

Photos Courtesy Of Heather Noe

A Cincinnati Parks Master Plan called for a new riverfront park that would extend the chain of existing waterfront parks and reconnect the downtown area to the Ohio River. The park was intended not only to serve as the new “front yard” for the city and entire region, but also to act as a catalyst for the development of a new downtown neighborhood—The Banks. The city got more than it bargained for, however, when the range of notable features was revealed—waterfalls and cascades, a series of glass balconies, interactive fountains, a labyrinth, public art, unique gardens, family-sized porch swings, gardens, walkways, an event lawn and stage, and even a regional bike center.

Since 1997, the park board has partnered with many entities, including the city, county, developers of The Banks, and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, to fund and build the SmaleRiverfrontPark. A private fundraising campaign has brought in more than $40 million, which was matched with more than $25 million in city funds, $11 million in federal funds, and more than $3 million in state funds to-date. Fundraising is ongoing to complete future phases. Park-board staff has acted as the project-management team for this projected $120-milllion project. The primary designers are Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Mass., and KZF Inc. of Cincinnati. Phase I of SmaleRiverfrontPark opened on May 18, 2012, and consisted of $21.4 million in infrastructure. Phase II opened on May 13, 2013, and included an additional $5.3 million of infrastructure. The next phase is projected to open in spring of 2014, with $2.2 million of additional infrastructure.

Challenges And Solutions

Many challenges have been addressed in getting the project to where it is today, including:

  • Convincing the city and county governments to partner in building the infrastructure and to transfer properties
  • Constructing part of the park on top of a new public-parking garage to lift that area out of the 100-year flood plain
  • Obtaining funding from a variety of sources
  • Dealing with the challenge of working with the Corps of Engineers and Ohio River navigational interests
  • Identifying a restaurant-development team that could build a compatible restaurant within the park on leased property.

Creative solutions to funding the maintenance of the park have included negotiating an agreement with the adjacent private developer for tenants to pay a common-area maintenance charge on all residential and commercial space to help defray park-maintenance costs, and negotiating a lease with a developer to construct a restaurant in the park and pay rent to also offset maintenance costs.

All Aglow

Additional amenities within the park include:

  • Tree groves
  • Promenades
  • A visitor’s center
  • A restaurant/brewery
  • An event lawn
  • A covered stage
  • Public restrooms
  • A series of illuminated water jets set into granite plazas
  • Water curtains dropping from glass-lined balconies
  • Shade structures.

The Ohio River Bike Trail also was recently extended from Smale Park to the public landing east of the park. Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects is the programmed display of LED lights that illuminate all of the water features, creating a constantly changing environment of colors.

Green Initiatives

The bike center is the first of its kind in Cincinnati, and provides bike commuters with showers, lockers, and bike storage, as well as bike rentals, repairs, and tours. It is one of the “green” initiatives of the park—to encourage bike commuting and reduce car trips. Other park strategies to achieve sustainability include:

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