Friday, October 17, 2003

Land swap: Two-way bridge

By Tony Lang
The Cincinnati Enquirer

'Weekend memos' give our editorial writers a chance to express their own opinions, comment on topics they have been writing about, or take a lighter approach. The opinions in 'Memos' do not always follow the Enquirer's editorial positions.
The Montgomery Inn restaurant people last week stirred hopes that development on the Cincinnati end of the Purple People Bridge could someday compare with Newport's $215 million Levee complex. It would be great if foot traffic on that pedestrian bridge could someday be two-way year-round - drawn to convenient attractions on both the Ohio and Kentucky shores.

You'd never know it this week from Tall Stacks crowds surging across to the Cincinnati side, but most other weeks, the dollars flow almost exclusively in a southerly direction. Cincinnati made some timely improvements on its end of the bridge to welcome steamboat-lovers and music-goers this week, but after Creedence Clearwater Revival has wailed a final "Proud Mary" and B.B. King has taken his final licks on Lucille and the crowds have all gone home, the Purple People Bridge will go back to routing crowds mostly one-way south. The bridge feeds, and I do mean feeds, directly into Newport on the Levee, a popular mix of restaurants, shops, movie theaters and aquarium. Stragglers who cross in the opposite direction end up on an empty sidewalk on Pete Rose Way, facing office buildings and parking lots, overshooting Cincinnati's riverfront parks, which are spectacular recreational assets but on ordinary weeks almost totally devoid of revenue-generating retail.

Montgomery Inn owners propose to change all that with a land-swap deal with Cincinnati. They want to double the size of the 375-person Montgomery Inn Banquet Center located just west of the Purple Bridge, build a 500-space parking garage and find a developer to create a bigger complex that could include shops and maybe even a hotel. MI owners already have made a substantial investment on that strip with their Boathouse ribs restaurant and the banquet center. They also have a proven track record of getting things built. No wonder City Hall officials are excited, even if the land swap tilts in Montgomery Inn's favor. The Inn gets 1.67 acres of city-owned land valued at $1.86 million in exchange for an MI-owned one-third of an acre valued at $500,000. The difference will be the city's contribution to the project. The swap isn't final until Montgomery Inn has a developer under contract, and will be granted at least three years to show development is progressing.

Northern Kentucky has been quicker to capitalize on its waterfronts and bridges for retail development. If Montgomery Inn owners produce more action at the foot of the Purple Bridge, ahead of the stalled Banks project between the stadiums, who cares? It can only help.

The Purple Bridge was an instant success as soon as it opened in March. Other bridges such as Roebling Suspension Bridge have pedestrian walkways, but the all-pedestrian Purple Bridge feels like a real land bridge, a five-minute stroll connecting two states. It's like Ohio-Kentucky's purple version of the land bridge to the New World. No telling how many will cross if we can get rib-tickling attractions on both ends.

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