Saturday, October 2, 2004

Square planning rejiggered

Developer says final version should be ready in early 2005

By Ken Alltucker
Enquirer staff writer

The final plan for renewing Fountain Square has been delayed until early next year.

The private development group in charge of revitalizing the riverfront through Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), has been tinkering with the plan since releasing an initial version this summer.

The draft suggested relocating the Tyler-Davidson Fountain to the square's center, demolishing the skywalk crossing Vine Street and planting tree groves along the square's southern and western edges.

Now, the group wants more time to pore over the public's critique of suggested design changes and negotiate with downtown property owners to recruit a new retail mix to the square.

"The goal is that we can get this moving in the early part of next year," said Stephen Leeper, the group's chief executive officer.

Among those who criticized the initial plan was board member and Western & Southern Financial Group chief executive officer John Barrett. He said the original plan could be too costly, and he suggested installing smaller, satellite fountains instead of relocating the Tyler-Davidson fountain.

"We're still vetting through all the comments," Leeper said.

"Some of the components were very much worth noting and we are going to give it some strong consideration. We're not going to start from scratch."

The design changes also give 3CDC retail consultant Lehr Jackson more time on a plan to recruit a new mix of shops and restaurants.

Areas targeted by Jackson include the Westin Hotel lobby and abutting retail space along Fifth Street.

3CDC is trying to piece together a deal with White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which owns the Westin.

Leeper said Starwood is giving the retail plan "strong consideration" but it wants to make sure any shop space complements the hotel.

Potential uses being discussed for that space include a bookstore or restaurant.

Jackson, who did not return a call Friday, has made progress in other areas.

He has a deal with Fifth Third Bank to recruit retailers to the square's empty shop space formerly occupied by Hunt Club Clothiers and Hallmark. A third space - the former Hit or Miss space on Vine Street now used as a Fifth Third Bank mortgage office - will be another shop for Jackson to fill, too, said a Fifth Third Bank spokesperson.

Leeper said his group still doesn't have a cost estimate for the square's overhaul, but he expects $50 million in federal New Market tax credits will be used to help pay for the plan.

Towne Properties Partner Arn Bortz, a member of 3CDC's Fountain Square working group, said it's important for the public to see action early next year.

"We have to show the public a tangible step forward by next spring," said Bortz, a former Cincinnati mayor. "We've got to get a good deal done with people seeing the results."



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