Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Riverfront still stuck in the mud


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At the Hofbrauhaus in Newport, people spill out the doors like a draft Heineken poured too fast. At Newport on the Levee, crowds stroll from movies or the Newport Aquarium to trendy new restaurants and nightclubs.

It's easy to spot the visitors from the Ohio side of the river. They're the ones slapping their foreheads, muttering, "Dang! Cincinnati shouldda done this."

But Cincinnati did not.

The good ideas all seem to stick to Newport and Covington like clever magnets on our regional refrigerator. And that makes the Cincinnati side look like leftovers that need to go back in the oven: half baked.

Cincinnati has two stadiums. And a Freedom Center. And a skyline that looks like a movie backdrop. But the entertainment, shopping and nightlife that we were promised are all in Kentucky.

When it comes to great ideas, Cincinnati has the Chicago Cubs curse, and Northern Kentucky is the expansion team that wins it all.

The skeptics who mocked Noah, made fun of Chris Columbus and predicted the Wright Brothers would crash and burn - they were probably from Cincinnati.

The story goes this way: Someone has a Big Idea.

Cincinnati snorts and backs away like a pig at a water slide. Newport and Covington jump in and make a big splash - and Cincinnati slaps its head again and says, "Dang! We shouldda done that.''

It has been that way since 1846, when Kentucky tried to build a bridge across the river and Ohio shot it down.

"On the Cincinnati side, lots of people made their living on the ferry trade. Anybody connected to river traffic opposed it,'' said Scott Gampfer, director of history collections at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

The Cincinnati experts thought a bridge would sink riverboats, cause dangerous whirlpools and even aggravate flooding, he said. Finally, Ohio gave approval - as long as it did not line up with any Cincinnati streets.

Now, 150 years later, Cincinnati is spending $1 million to hook up the off-center Roebling Suspension Bridge to downtown streets.

That's right: The Roebling, our favorite landmark, was Kentucky's idea and Cincinnati's stepchild.

"If it had lined up with Vine and Scott (in Covington), it would have made a grand vista all the way up to the foot of the hill in Clifton," Gampfer said. "It was so obviously a good idea.''

So obvious, Cincinnati missed it - the same way Cincinnati missed the boat on railroads (we had canals), a subway, an airport and - can we say it now? - baseball on Broadway Commons.

It's time to say, "I told you so." I still have the artist's drawing of a ballpark right in the heart of downtown, surrounded by nightclubs and restaurants.

Instead, there's not a spark of new business by the ballpark. Even the lonely restaurant in Great American Ball Park is closed for the winter.

They promised the half-cent tax would build a new riverfront along with stadiums.

They promised it would get rid of a sea of surface parking.

Instead, City Hall is shopping for doctors to put shock paddles on Main Street. A ballpark at the east end of Over-the-Rhine would have opened sooner and spread development like spilled beer.

Instead, Kentucky got the bubbles and Cincinnati got the dregs again. Dang.

We shouldda done that.

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E-mail pbronson@enquirer.com or call 768-8301.




ENQUIRER OPINIONS
Bronson: Riverfront still stuck in the mud
Good things happening
Korte: Inside City Hall

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