Sunday, August 01, 1999

Riverfront project needs precise timing

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        To understand the complexity of Cincinnati's central riverfront redevelopment puzzle, consider this: A significant delay in constructing a $10 million garage just east of Firstar Center could throw off the whole $1 billion project.

September 2000 plan
        That garage must be finished before partial demolition of Cinergy Field and its garage can start. That demolition must begin on time to keep construction of the new Reds ballpark on schedule. And that construction must stay on schedule to keep the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and central riverfront park on schedule.

        Get the picture?

        “It really does become a ... puzzle as to what has to happen first in this fairly tight time frame,” said Greg Rhoads, chief executive officer for KZF Inc., the architecture firm that studied the scheduling for the city.

        “These things have to happen in this order. If one of them fails, it throws the sequence of the entire schedule off track.”

        The riverfront project — which one consultant called one of the most complicated projects being built now in the United States — has produced problems for Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials time and time again.

        The latest: Finding hundreds of thousands of dollars in the coming weeks for engineering work needed to keep the whole project on schedule.

        And that's just the start. In time, the city will have to identify as much as $59 million for construction of roads and sidewalks and the relocation of utilities.

        Deputy City Manager Richard Mendes said negotiations with Hamilton County officials will determine how to divvy up the costs.

        But county officials, who already have pledged to build sports facilities and garages at a cost of more than $800 million, say they don't have extra cash to contribute.

        “Do we intend to pick up the cost of the roads? No,” said Hamilton County Administrator David Krings. The county, he said, is focused on building a new Bengals stadium, a new Reds ballpark and parking. “The rest of it, we're willing to work with them.”

        At issue: an estimated $13 million to move utilities and $46 million for new roads and sidewalks, and dirt and retaining walls to raise the elevation of some streets.

        City and county leaders are confident the funds will be found in time to keep the billion-dollar riverfront proj ect on track. But the money serves as the latest reminder of what a complex project the riverfront transformation is.

        The dozens of smaller projects that make up the redevelopment depend on each other to get built on time.

        For example, before construction can begin on the $45 million National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in August 2001, a garage must be built to serve as the museum's development platform. That garage has its own time line that depends on other projects.

        Construction of the museum also hinges on the development of riverfront streets, the rerouting of traffic from the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge and the demolition of Cinergy Field, said Susan Redman-Rengstorf, the center's associate director of development and government services.

        “We're one of those many balls in the air,” she said.

        If other projects, like the garages, get delayed, those delays jeopardize the museum's opening in 2003.

        So far, everything has gone according to schedule, she said.

        “It's kind of scary,” Ms. Redman-Rengstorf said, “but it's also very exciting.”

        The Reds ballpark has another set of projects that could either keep it on schedule or foul up the time line.

        First, there's the new parking that must be built to help replace space that will be lost when part of Cinergy Field's garage and seating bowl is demolished to make way for the new ballpark. That demolition is scheduled to start next summer.

        Already, county officials have put out bids for the new garage to be built between One Lytle Place and the Firstar Center. That garage will have from 1,025 to 1,200 spaces and could cost $9 million to $10 million.

        Then there are the garages that will stretch between the Bengals new $404 million Paul Brown Stadium complex to the west and the Reds new $297 million ballpark to the east.

        County commissioners haven't approved a final configuration or budget for those garages, but they are expected to cost as much as $100 million and will have between 6,000 and 8,000 spaces in all.

        The tentative plan calls for building those garages in phases, with some to be completed in 2001 and others in 2002. In addition to serving baseball and football fans, the parking will provide more spaces for office workers and help relieve downtown's parking problems.

        One of the final projects planned for the riverfront is the $65 million waterfront park to stretch between the ballpark and football stadium and up to development planned between the two sports facilities.

        The city's schedule shows that park will be complete in early 2006, but park officials hope to have parts of it finished before then, maybe in 2005, said Dave Prather, who is overseeing the park plan for the Cincinnati Park Board.

        “For us to start our project, we have to be able to move Mehring Way, and we can't move Mehring Way until Cinergy Field is gone, and Cinergy Field can't be gone until Fort Washington Way is finished,” he said. “That puts us behind everything.”

        The fact that the city hired KZF Inc. to determine what has to happen whento keep the riverfront on track shows how complicated the redevelopment project is.

        The April 22 Central Riverfront Street Infrastructure Study that KZF prepared includes a master schedule. City and county officials update the schedule as needed.

        The city's first step in keeping everything on track is to hire a firm to complete engineering work needed for roadwork on the redeveloped riverfront. That engineering must be done in August or September and could cost as much as $800,000.

        The city has identified some of that money by shifting funds from other road projects, said City Architect Bob Richardson.

        He wouldn't say how much the city has identified for fear that making that information public would end up costing the city when it comes time to issue bids.

        He did say that the city expects the county to pick up a “share” of that work, something county officials haven't agreed to.

        The county is paying for its part of the riverfront redevelopment with proceeds from a half-cent countywide sales tax increase approved by voters in 1996 to fund stadium construction.

        The tax brings in millions each month and is expected to generate $41 million this year alone for the riverfront projects. But those revenues are nearly tapped out for football, baseball and parking, said Suzanne Burke, the county's director of administrative services.

        “We have a finite amount of money we have to deal with,” she said.

        The city, on the other hand, has no specific revenues for its share of the riverfront project.

        For the nearly $280 million Fort Washington Way project, the city cobbled together funds from its own resources as well as from the states of Ohio and Kentucky, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, Hamilton County, the federal government, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Sewer District.

        City and county cooperation is crucial for keeping the riverfront projects on track, and, lately, the two governments have gotten along.

        In June, the city agreed to transfer to the county the land needed for construction of the garage just east of Firstar Center.

        The city transferred the land in exchange for the county-owned Allen House in Price Hill, which the city will transform into a senior center and recreation facility.

        But relations between the governments haven't always been so civil. Top city and county leaders held down-to-the-wire negotiations early last year to keep the Bengals stadium deal alive.

        The talks resulted in a detailed riverfront redevelopment agreement between the two governments, which specifies who must pay for what on the riverfront.

        It says the city will pay for the street grid. But city officials say that agreement doesn't cover land east of the Roebling suspension bridge. County officials agree.

        That means there will have to be an amended agreement that covers the whole riverfront between the new stadiums.

        And that means more talks between city and county leaders.

        But officials are confident the problem can be resolved without the nastiness that marked the city-county talks concerning the Bengals stadium project.

        “I think everyone learned a lesson from that,” Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus said. “I think those days are behind us.”

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