Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Plan for square looks promising


Cincinnati's most famous fountain could be on the move again. Monday, Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. director Steven Leeper presented council with preliminary concepts to move the Tyler Davidson Fountain to the center of a redesigned Fountain Square.


The figure known as the Genius of Water in her 133-year history has faced east, then west. If 3CDC's plan gets built, she would face south, but whatever direction, she needs to look out on a square restored as a favored gathering place.

The hope is that redesigning this public space as a year-round destination will pump new life into the heart of the city and attract an even stronger mix of retail to the nine-block "Fountain Square District." A makeover of the square invests in the city's future. Do it right, and it could pay dividends for decades.

The greener, parklike plan unveiled at City Hall grew out of suggestions from public sessions in May and 3CDC's design consultants. 3CDC would soften the edges by removing outer walls, demolish the massive arched stage, remove the skywalk, and eliminate stairs, nooks and crannies that slow access and diminish visibility. Leeper called them "ups and downs." The square has a bad case of ups and downs.

So does the underground garage, which some complain is dirty and "scary." It too is targeted for a makeover.

One untested proposal for easier access to the square from the south is to take a traffic lane from the north side of Fifth Street. That would force buses going east along Fifth to execute an even sharper dogleg turn at Vine Street. Traffic engineers will need to judge if it's doable.

New design unveiled for Fountain Square

3CDC's drawings add shade trees for casual dining and tree-lined promenades. Leeper insists they will not block sight lines, and a half-acre will remain wide-open for big gatherings.

A new round of public comment sessions begins July 12. Final design, costs and funding plans won't be done before fall. It sounds expensive, but other than the monumental task of moving the fountain, much of it is more landscaping and demolition than major construction. Fifth Third Bank fronting on the square has been involved from the start. McKnight Development, new owner of the 525 Vine Street tower, plans to add a new street-level lobby with shops. 3CDC's sign-up of retail for around the square will follow the public makeover, since most retailers would not want to move in, then face a square under construction.

3CDC's vision for a greener, livelier square looks most promising. It could restore Fountain Square as one of the best public spaces in the nation.

What do you think?

Do you think redoing Fountain Square with restaurants and other new attractions circling it can spark a revitalized Central Business District? Write us at Enquirer Editorial Page, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; or send e-mail to letters@enquirer.com; or fax (513) 768-8610.

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