Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Square's denizens hope for ambience


Shade, shopping part of new plan

By Ken Alltucker
Enquirer staff writer

DOWNTOWN - Sun-worshipping office workers enjoying a lunchtime getaway at Fountain Square on Tuesday largely said more shade and shopping would be a plus for downtown's favorite hangout.

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A Fountain Square makeover plan unveiled Monday envisions tree-lined walkways, new shops and restaurants ringing the square. It also calls for moving the Tyler Davidson fountain, demolishing the performance stage, removing the aboveground Skywalk that connects to the Fifth Third Bank complex and leveling the square's peaks and pits.

The plan was based on comments gathered during a half dozen public meetings held in May and from suggestions by a team of consultants hired by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., known as 3CDC.

The public will have a chance to scrutinize renderings depicting the revamped square at five meetings in July and August before 3CDC sends its final plan - along with cost estimates and potential financing sources - to City Council for consideration this fall.

The Fountain Square plan is the cornerstone of 3CDC's proposals designed to recast downtown as a more desirable place for shopping and socializing. The private development group also sees commercial and residential redevelopment of Over-the-Rhine and along the riverfront as additional linchpins to economic growth of the area.

On Tuesday, people who frequent the square focused on elemental ambience and basic business sense in their initial assessment of the plan.

Jay Dedden, 45, of Burlington, said the square's wide swath of concrete and cobblestone makes for a dreary landscape. More trees would provide shade and a parklike setting that would encourage people to spend time and money at the center of downtown, he said.

Lounging on the performance stage, Tricia Laib, 27, of Linwood, agreed that extra trees would make the square more attractive. "But not if they'll bring more pigeons," said Laib, as a trio of the birds scrounged nearby for discarded food crumbs.

James Warden, a Norwood resident and 23-year-old University of Cincinnati graduate architecture student, said he attended one of the half dozen public meetings arranged in May by 3CDC. Warden said the new plan is a true reflection of the priorities discussed at the meeting he attended.

But he wonders whether the square's new retail offerings would steal shoppers from more established downtown retailers.

Though 3CDC hasn't named any target retailers, it has said it will pursue a mix of entertainment and establishments such as a cinema, a bookstore, a toy store or a grocer. The group expects retailers attracted to the square to draw shoppers into streets in the surrounding neighborhood.

Yet others say downtown's major flaw is a lack of full-time attractions. Restaurants and shops are crowded during lunch, but some are virtually empty on nights and weekends.

Northern Kentucky's riverfront development boom should be a model for downtown leaders seeking to recharge Cincinnati's entertainment offerings, said David Enright, 25, of Newport.

"It's imperative to compete with Northern Kentucky. Look at how crowded Newport on the Levee is every weekend," Enright said.

Whether Fountain Square takes on the cachet of sidewalk cafe society or a nightlife mecca, the price tag is still to be determined. No official estimate has been set but the project is expected to cost at least several million dollars. Downtown advocates say the investment will pay long-term dividends.

Erin Witte, 25 of Independence, expects the dialogue surrounding the Fountain Square makeover to be lively because of the square's place in the traditions of the city. "People around here aren't used to change," Witte said.

E-mail kalltucker@enquirer.com




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