Saturday, June 26, 2004

Arts school is a win for the city


Now that the long-delayed "great idea" of a new K-12 Cincinnati arts school near Music Hall is finally going to happen, this community should play it for all it's worth to keep the redevelopment momentum going.

Friday, Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel's visionary arts group announced it had raised more than $23.7 million in private capital dollars and another $3 million in special grants to match Cincinnati Public Schools' promised $26 million. The successful private fund drive by the Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center should meet Ohio's June deadline for CPS' second round of school construction and not make the project wait another five years.

It is a huge win for arts students, for Over-the-Rhine revitalization, for CPS, for Music Hall, for the city's redevelopment hopes, for the entire region - and for Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), which only weeks ago proposed a better site for the school.

Kunzel's dream of linking a new School for the Creative and Performing Arts with Music Hall's world-class performers was always about more than just a new building, or just merging SCPA and Shiel Primary School. It's not even just about creating a first-of-its-kind arts school. That school will help ensure future audiences and performers for Music Hall, spur more housing in Over-the-Rhine's Washington Park district and raise SCPA's national reputation to new heights.

Kunzel's group plans to extend its fund drive to raise a full $26 million in capital dollars. Patricia Corbett and the Corbett Foundation gave more than $5 million. Corporations including Fifth Third Bank, Procter & Gamble, US Bank, Union Central Life and Western Southern gave $11.5 million. Individual donors gave $2.4 million. The school board and state still need to give final approvals.

Now that the school's a sure thing, other donors may surface. While the architects redesign it, Kunzel said his group will work on forming school partnerships with the symphony, ballet, opera, Children's Theater and others.

3CDC's strategic shift of the school site southward to the block east of Elm Street and Central Parkway should allow for even better access and design, including a student theater with fixed seating. The arts school fronting on Cincinnati's grand parkway gives 3CDC a strong anchor for the rest of its Washington Park plan to transform Over-the-Rhine. It adds to the momentum of redeveloping downtown.

Monday, 3CDC officials go before Council's Community Development Committee to present Fountain Square redesign concepts developed partly from public sessions held last month.

In April an arbitrator ruled in favor of the teachers union that objected to CPS' special agreement giving the arts group five votes on the new school's advisory council. City officials also have yet to resolve a glut of homeless and other social service dependents near the school site. Those issues deserve attention, but the $52 million school is one of the most hopeful coups for Over-the-Rhine in decades, and city leaders should not let anything obstruct or derail this project.

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