Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Big dreams for Blue Ash center

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BLUE ASH - A plan to build a performing arts center at Raymond Walters College appears to have fizzled, while City Council discusses an ambitious idea for an $18 million entertainment and convention complex.

City leaders cautioned that the concept for 8 acres on Cooper Road might be a pipedream. It calls for a 1,000-seat performing arts center with banquet and meeting facilities and a two-story office building for a radio broadcasting company.

As Mayor Rick Bryan put it: "There's a pretty high likelihood that nothing fitting that description would end up being there."

Council recently got its first glimpse of the idea as part of the city's proposed $47 million five-year capital improvement plan, authored by the city manager and finance director.

Bryan said he was surprised to see that talk of a performing arts center - that would host dance, theater and musical acts and ultimately become a second home for Cincinnati's ballet, opera and symphony - had ballooned into such a large-scale development. The site, which the city purchased about a year ago, is located across Cooper Road from the recreation center near Reed Hartman Highway.

"There are people who would like to see that land used in other ways, to leave it as nature, convert it into some sort of a park," Bryan said. "A convention center, performing arts center and office building seems to be a pretty intensive use of that space."

He also questioned whether building a convention center so close to Sharonville would be wise.

Sharonville opened its 28,000-square-foot convention center in 1994. The center is so busy that city leaders are talking about expanding in the next five years.

The city was talking with Raymond Walters College for more than a year about building a performing arts center there and splitting the cost.

Bryan said the plan "lost focus" in recent months when deans changed at the college. Councilwoman Stephanie Stoller said some on council, fearing a lack of control over the project, were not in favor of building the center on the college campus.

Council is expected to discuss details of the capital improvement plan, such as the arts center and a new $2.3 million clubhouse at the municipal golf course, at its Oct. 23 meeting.

Convention space in Greater Cincinnati

Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center, 244,000 square feet, 162,000 for exhibition.

Sharonville Convention Center, 28,000 square feet, 16,554 for exhibition.

Northern Kentucky Convention Center, 193,000 square feet, including 46,000 for exhibition.


E-mail smclaughlin@enquirer.com

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