Sunday, December 28, 2003

Road work adds to neighbors' worries



By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Bartender Graig Davidson waits on Claire Slemmer and Paul Gibby at the Blind Lemon on a recent December weekend.
(Tony Jones photo)
This distinctive hilltop neighborhood of steep, narrow streets, unique restaurants and pubs boasts breathtaking city and river views.

But there's high anxiety on the hill.

Road construction for the next two years will make it tough to get up to the neighborhood's 17 bars and restaurants and the homes and parks that cling to the hillsides.

For many in Mount Adams, the upcoming road work will be one more battle in an ongoing challenge to keep their neighborhood vibrant.

The hill is already reeling from the planned relocation of Clear Channel Communications from St. Gregory Street to Kenwood. The radio group, which is Mount Adams' largest employer, will move about 250 employees next spring, a kick in the economic teeth of the community of 1,514 residents.

In addition, there's worrisome crime news for a community dependent on tourism. Police report that thefts from automobiles increased from 24 to 61 this year through October compared to the same time last year.

Overall, Mount Adams enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the city. But like other neighborhoods, Mount Adams is seeing a rise in thefts from cars.

"We have to always be vigilant," says Tina Russo, 55, a resident for 25 years and member of the Mount Adams Civic Association.

"Everyone says that Mount Adams is one of the gems of the city, and we need to keep it that way."

The immediate challenge: State transportation officials plan to spend $8.5 million to replace the Columbia Parkway bridge into downtown. That requires closing the Martin Drive exit off Columbia Parkway to Mount Adams for nine months next year.

Once that is complete, the Martin Drive exit onto Columbia Parkway from Mount Adams will be shut down for seven months.

In all, traffic will be disrupted for about two years.

Jerome Tokarsky, president of the Mount Adams Civic Association, says the community has become accustomed to road work and detours.

"It seems there's always some part of the entrance or an exit area for Mount Adams that is under construction or that is a problem," he said. "It's almost a way of life now. It doesn't mean we're happy about it, but I think many people just understand it's necessary."

Others aren't as optimistic.

"It's going to be a mess," said Mike Mitchell, 44, of East Walnut Hills, who frequents Mount Adams. "It's an inconvenience for people when they come up on a Friday night from downtown."

Merchants fear smaller crowds

Some fear the new construction will be just one more reason for customers to spend their Friday and Saturday nights at other places, such as Newport on the Levee in Northern Kentucky.

"The city says they want people to come downtown, and Mount Adams is basically downtown," said Robert Bolan, 53, as he chatted with friends at the bar on a recent weekend night at the Wine Cellar on St. Gregory Street.

"But now with this construction, everybody will go to Northern Kentucky, which is a beautiful place, and simply bypass Mount Adams."

Merchants are especially worried.

"It is already hard to get people here," said Pat Sheppard, who owns the Mount Adams Bar & Grill and Blind Lemon on Hatch Street. "A lot of times you end up with people going, 'You know what? Never mind. We missed Mount Adams. I think we'll go over to Hyde Park now.' "

She and other business owners requested clearly marked detour signs to help direct motorists and customers when the Ohio Department of Transportation recently discussed the project with the Mount Adams Civic Association.Some Mount Adams business owners complained that the transportation department should have come to them sooner with details.

"We read about it in the paper before we even learn about it, and they come to us the night before it goes out to bid to tell us what they are going to do," said Steve Kramer, a co-owner of the Wine Cellar.

Wanted: Directional signs

Members of the Mount Adams Business Guild are miffed because the transportation department never notified them of the road work, said Neil Quinn, president of the 35-member guild. .

He stresses the importance of signs to direct motorists.

"The restaurants and bars in Mount Adams are so unique, they are destination spots," said Quinn, also director of commercial properties for Towne Properties. The company is the founding developer of Mount Adams, and its corporate offices have been on Monastery Street for 40 years.

"People are determined to get into Mount Adams to eat at the restaurants and to shop at the shops. We just need to figure out a way to get them up here. The temporary signage will be extremely important to show the way to the top of the hill."

At Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, which draws more than 185,000 patrons a year, operators are waiting for a definitive start date before updating directions on its Web site and newsletter, said Christa Skiles, spokeswoman.

Transportation officials pledge cooperation. "We will work with them to develop the best solution and to address their needs and concerns," said Ron Mosby, a transportation department spokesman.

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com.




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