An ambitious new plan to redevelop the quarter-mile area around Cincinnati's Washington Park and Music Hall is all about getting the big pieces in the right place. Get those right first, and long-sought private development should follow. The re-shuffling could help that quadrant of historic Over-the-Rhine make a spectacular comeback.
Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) has rearranged pieces on the game board in a clever new layout that should make all the projects work better individually and as a whole. The school district, the city, the park board, the state, investors and private property owners need to rally behind the plan and make it happen.
3CDC discovered that separate plans to locate a new School for the Creative and Performing Arts next to Music Hall and construct a new Washington Park Elementary School at Central Parkway & Elm would have wiped out two surface parking lots that serve city-owned Music Hall. A total of 550 spaces would have been abruptly lost.
3CDC's counter proposal: Shift the proposed $52 million arts school to the Central Parkway-Elm Street site, construct a 750-space parking garage next to Music Hall, move the new Washington Park Elementary east to Mercer & Vine streets closer to where its students live, and tear down the old Washington Park Elementary to expand the park north to Fourteenth Street.
The arts school's fundraising board endorsed the site switch to Central Parkway & Elm, and Cincinnati Board of Education on Wednesday was generally receptive to the overall plan, which could save the district as much as $1.5 million. District officials are reviewing building plans in light of dwindling enrollments district-wide, including Over-the-Rhine. Kroger chairman Joe Pichler, who heads 3CDC's working group for OTR, says a new Mercer Street site for Washington Park Elementary would let the district "right-size" the school to fit the neighborhood.
Some parts of the plan face stiff deadlines. Fundraisers for the new arts school have been racing to raise $26 million from private sources to match another $26 million committed by the school district and the State of Ohio. The $26 million in private pledges for Cincinnati's arts school must be in place by the end of this month to meet the state's deadline for inclusion in Phase II of the district's massive rebuilding project.
Western & Southern Financial Group and PNC bank have agreed to sell the Mercer Street site at cost. Pichler says his group is meeting with Drop Inn Center officials to develop outreach programs to reduce crime in the area and keep Washington Park from being a hangout for the homeless. At the other end of Central Parkway redevelopment is on a roll with new apartments and condos, Kroger's Gateway Garage and the Art Academy's new home.
The Washington Park District Plan would add new assets to Central Parkway's grand line-up and push development well northward into Over-the-Rhine. It's the right strategy at the right time.
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