By Ken Alltucker and Kevin Aldridge
Enquirer staff writers
A private development group's ambitious plan for a multimillion-dollar Fountain Square overhaul calls for moving the Tyler Davidson fountain to the square's center, adding tree-lined pathways and softening the square's edges to make it easier to walk across.
The plan unveiled Monday at City Council's Community Development Committee also would eliminate the performance stage, remove the above-ground skywalk crossing the square and entail a top-to-bottom fix of the city-owned garage below the square.
These design fixes would introduce a parklike setting to Cincinnati's showpiece and ultimately encourage more people and businesses to shop, work, live and visit a revitalized downtown, said Stephen Leeper, chief executive of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., also known as 3CDC.
Mayor Charlie Luken, who called Fountain Square the most important public space in Cincinnati, said he liked the design drawings. He said the design had an old town-square feel to it.
"The makeover of Fountain Square is a crucial component of the revitalization of the city," Luken said.
Design ideas were drawn from more than a half-dozen public meetings arranged in May by the private development group, chaired by Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley. Now, the development group will display renderings for public critique during five sessions scheduled in July and August. The development group expects to return to City Council this fall with a more detailed design, cost estimates and potential funding sources.
Luken and council members were encouraged by the initial proposed look, but they also expressed worry that the redesign didn't include a space for the public stage.
"You've got to have the ability to make Fountain Square a place for public celebration," Luken said. "People have to have their soapbox."
Leeper said it was a mistake to eliminate the performance stage without suggesting a replacement. That omission will be fixed during the next design round, he said.
"It's the heart of our city, and everybody has observations and ideas of how to make it more appealing," said Councilman David Crowley, who chairs the Community Development Committee. "What catches your eye, though, is the number of trees and the size of the trees."
Leeper said the most important factor is to showcase the landmark Tyler Davidson Fountain, repaired in 2000 at a cost of $2.2 million. By moving the fountain north toward the center of the 2-acre square, it would no longer be in the shadow of Fifth Street's skyscrapers. It also would be visible from Fifth, Sixth and Vine streets.
Other suggestions include ripping up the square's cobblestone covering and making the square a single level, and flattening the marble and concrete edges that now block the square's view and impede pedestrian flow.
Instead, a tree-lined path would grace a new walkway that would replace the skywalk in front of Fifth Third Bank's headquarters. Tree groves also would sprout at the square's eastern and western edges amid outdoor cafes and restaurants, shops and seats.
Also, the plans call for enlarging the square by taking Fifth Street's north lane that fronts the square's southern edge.
The lost traffic lane would be recouped by carving out part of the sidewalk that now fronts the Westin Hotel at the south edge of Fifth Street.
Leeper said the square's southern expansion must pass muster with transportation planners, especially because it would widen the "dogleg" that now requires cars and buses traveling east on Fifth Street to veer right along the edge of the square.
The city-owned garage, too, must be repaired. The plan calls for adding an enclosed lobby along Vine Street with restaurant space. Valet parking and clearer signs would make it easier for cars, pedestrians and bicyclists to use the garage.
While Leeper said it's too early to estimate the cost of the project, some private developers have said they expect the bill could exceed $10 million. Potential funding sources could include parking garage revenue, $50 million in federal tax credits and future property tax collections generated by the square's improvements, Leeper said.
Luken said retooling the square would be an expensive venture to which the city would lend funds, but he added that the city also expects some private participation.
Already, the private development group has shared the plan with private property owners abutting the square. Fifth Third, which owns two office buildings on the square, has expressed a willingness to offer retail space for lease.
Owners of the Westin Hotel also will consider leasing the Fifth Street property's lobby to a potential user, Leeper said.
In all, the private development group has identified 25,000 to 40,000 square feet of retail space for attractions such as a small movie theater, a bookstore or a grocer.
Councilman Jim Tarbell liked the redesign because he believes it's a nod to Fountain Square's roots. "What you are doing is replicating what was there for 100 years," Tarbell said.
Hearings on plan
The Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. plans five public meetings to get comments on its Fountain Square renovation plans.
The meetings are scheduled for:
July 12, 7 p.m., at Terwilliger's Lodge, Dulle Park, 10530 Deerfield Road, Montgomery.
July 13, 12 noon, Aronoff Center for the Arts, Seventh and Walnut streets, downtown.
July 14, 7 p.m., Cintas Center, 1624 Herald Ave., Evanston.
July 19, 5:30 p.m., Hyatt Regency Cincinnati, Fifth and Elm streets, downtown.
Aug. 12, 7:30 a.m., Southbank Partners office, 421 Monmouth St., Newport.
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