Wednesday, January 30, 2002

City Hall

Building's condition is statement

        When she starts work in March as Cincinnati's city manager, Valerie Lemmie should clean up City Hall. It looks shabby.

        Peeling paint. Rust. Crumbling concrete. Chewed up wood. Tarnished brass. Litter. Bird droppings.

        And that's just on the outside. I couldn't bring myself to go inside this week.

        Besides, the weather was too nice. Springtime in January. Perfect for walking around downtown.

        My feet took me to City Hall. Around the old building I went, looking at it not as a native, but as a tourist. Or as a businessman in town for the first time with a downtown development project.

        From a distance, the place still looks impressive. Superb architecture, befitting a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. New roof — spiffy and historically accurate — nearing completion.

        But, up close, City Hall resembles Cincinnati. Both have fallen on hard times.

        The needed repairs aren't major. City Hall's not in danger of collapse. But the repairs are necessary.

        City Hall's appearance should match its architecture and its status. The place where the people's business is conducted stands as the city's showcase to the world.

        Employees in the city's facility-management division told me some of the repairs will be tackled this summer.

        Until then, the exterior will show its age.

To-do list

        City Hall's main entrance on Plum Street is free of the scaffolding used to install the new roof. But it's not free of eyesores.

        Orange cones mark a section of sidewalk where chunks of concrete have buckled. Scraps of newspaper, empty bags and a strand of toilet paper rest near the building's foundation.

        City Hall is in an urban setting. Litter happens.

        But not rust.

        Near the orange cones, reinforcing rods red with rust jut from a flower bed's broken concrete border.

        The red granite steps leading to the Plum Street doors pass by a rusty iron frame whose paint is peeling in quarter-size pieces.

        Beneath a brass chandelier, bird droppings pile up on the granite steps. It's unsightly. And unsanitary.

        Birds do the same from a chandelier above City Hall's entrance on Central Avenue. That's the entrance Mayor Charlie Luken often uses when he walks to work.

        Rust has eaten through the base of the iron frame holding up the entrance's decorative gate. The tarnished brass handrail is worn from use. Mortar between the stone steps is either broken or missing.

        City Hall's side entrances also need work. The wooden doors to the building's Ninth Street entrance appear to be in the worst shape. Paint is needed. Putty, too. Fingers pulling on the handles have left deep gouges in the frame. The wood looks as if a carpenter had been carving on the door with a chisel.

Civic pride

        No doubt, a building whose cornerstone reads “1888” requires constant maintenance.

        I'm not pointing fingers at who let City Hall get run-down. This is just another instance where the city must clean up its act, literally and figuratively.

        For this town to emerge from under the dark cloud that has hung overhead since the April riots, City Hall must be spotless — in word, deed and appearance.

        A gleaming City Hall declares: This is a proud city. Cincinnati takes care of its people and its landmarks.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail


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