Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Public views vary on polishing the Square

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Some urged demolition of Fountain Square's "Soviet-style" stage while others said it should remain as a platform for free speech.

One man derided downtown's skywalk as an ugly relic while another said it gave downtown shoppers and workers protection during harsh winter weather.

Many said the square needs to be safe, clean and free of unruly teens, but an Over-the-Rhine nun said everyone must feel welcome at the heart of downtown.

About 125 people Tuesday night attended the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp.'s last of six public meetings on the planned Fountain Square overhaul, and nearly everyone, it seemed, offered a different view on the best way to polish downtown's showpiece.

The development group known as 3CDC said it now would share the public comments with its consultants, who will work to produce a preliminary design by summer and a final design this fall. The group believes that a revitalized Fountain Square with new shops, restaurants and attractions is a key to pumping new life into downtown.

While no price tag has been discussed, the private development group seeks to raise $100 million from the city of Cincinnati and other government sources and $50 million from private interests. Last week, the Bush administration approved $50 million in tax credits to spur investment downtown and in Over-the-Rhine.

So far, the development group has offered few public suggestions on the square. 3CDC consultant John Alschuler has been critical of the square's look.

Alschuler has said removing the skywalk leading to Fountain Square and better landscaping are among the keys to creating a more inviting place.

Stephen Leeper, 3CDC's chief executive, declined Tuesday to offer his opinion on the skywalk.

"It's certainly a topic that needs to be addressed one way or another," Leeper said.

The Pittsburgh native did, however, say that the public stage has "outlived its usefulness" and some of the cavernous square spots leading to the underground parking garage pose a public hazard.

Leeper said one of the first things his group must accomplish is reworking the garage.

While Leeper said many fixes must be completed, he said the square's location gives Cincinnati a major advantage.

"Many cities would die to have this much square footage in the center," Leeper said

Some people complained Tuesday that the plan to overhaul Fountain Square excluded too many.

"It seems to be skewed to people who are more affluent," said Alice Gerdeman, who works in Over-the-Rhine.

Others said that the overhaul should be designed to serve people who will use it the most - downtown workers and residents.


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