By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NEWPORT - It's amazing what a few coats of lavender paint can do for a rusty, 19th-century bridge.
Kevin Lawhorn (from left) of Hebron, David Hausrath of Fort Thomas, and Lois and Bob Knox of Terrace Park cross the Purple People Bridge during a lunch hour run.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/PATRICK REDDY
Since its transformation into a purple-hued pedestrian bridge last spring, the Purple People Bridge has hosted weddings, races and a commercial. Bridge operators estimate 600,000 people have used the colorful, mile-long span linking Newport and Cincinnati.
"You see all these Reds hats and red shirts before and after ballgames, especially if the weather's nice," said Eric Haas, co-owner of the year-old Hofbrauhaus at the Newport end of the bridge. "After the game, people like to walk across the bridge, sit out in the beer garden and have a beer."
To mark the 132-year-old span's first anniversary as a pedestrian bridge, the Newport Southbank Bridge Co. is hosting a community celebration today on the bridge and its entryways. The nonprofit group hopes to convince the public to "buy a piece" of the bridge by donating $10 or more to defray costs of lighting, insurance, security and cleanup.
Supporters say the span is a tourist magnet because it offers a five-minute, scenic stroll between two states.
"It's the largest pedestrian bridge in the nation linking two states," said Wally Pagan, who led the bridge's conversion as part of his role as president of Southbank Partners, an economic development group for Northern Kentucky river cities. "On the Cincinnati side, you have a beautiful park system. On the Northern Kentucky end, there's a big entertainment area.."
Stephanie Splete, director of sales for Hofbrauhaus, said Louisville officials recently visited the span to see if a pedestrian bridge could benefit that riverfront city.
When: Noon to 6 p.m. today.
Where: Along the span and at bridge entryways.
Features: Hole in one challenge from the bridge into the Ohio River, live music, balloon artists, clowns and mascots, fire department display, classic car show and sale of craft items.
Special events: 1 p.m. Ice Cream Making Contest; 2:30 p.m. "Wienerwurstl'' Hot Dog Eating Contest; 4 p.m. Purple Puppy Paw Contest for dogs and owners dressed in purple
Donations: "Buy" a piece of the bridge for $10 and receive a bridge pin and certificate of ownership or send a check for $10 or more to the Bridge Maintenance Fund, 421 Monmouth St., Newport, Ky. 41017.
Contest information: (859) 655-7700
Edgewood resident Donna Williamson, also known as "Purple Donna" because of her penchant for purple apparel, thinks the paint job "makes the bridge snazzier."
"Purple stands out," said Williamson, 58. "It's a fun color, a happy color. Anyone who loves purple would think that bridge is really neat."
On the Cincinnati side, officials received $230,000 from the Ohio Department of Transportation to create a glittering gateway to the bridge this summer, complete with layers of cable covered with twinkling lights, said Bob Richardson, a Cincinnati city architect.
Last year, the city partnered with Southbank to do planters and benches on the Cincinnati entryway after some criticized the Queen City for doing little to improve its end of the bridge. Signs directing visitors to Sawyer Point and Bicentennial Commons also were added.
"The river's a main street for the entire region," Richardson said. "Before last year, there was just a little sidewalk on the bridge. Now it's a true pedestrian bridge linking numerous attractions on both sides of the river."
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