Once upon a time, Hamilton County’s decision to build two brand new pro sports stadiums on the riverfront was somewhat controversial. Some people argued that Broadway Commons (now the location of Horseshoe Casino) would have been a better home for a new Reds stadium, as the ballpark would have been integrated into a mixed-use neighborhood and created new development opportunities nearly.
However, John Schneider points out that it was a wise decision to put the stadiums on the riverfront, as it allowed us to fund several infrastructure projects to improve that part of the city. After all, people seem willing to spend a great deal of money on sports; citizens overwhelmingly approved a new sales tax to pay for the stadiums. But can you imagine Hamilton County passing a “riverfront redevelopment” sales tax earmarked for narrowing Fort Washington Way and building Smale Riverfront Park and The Banks? No way.
I recently re-discovered several comments that John Schneider left on an old UrbanCincy article, and I wanted to collect them all here in one place for future reference:
It’s probably worth writing an article about, but it wasn’t only “old money” that wanted the ball park on the river as the keystone of a plan to make the waterfront habitable.
Since 1788, the problem with Cincinnati’s Central Riverfront has been that it floods fairly regularly. Cincinnati never had the means to build a flood-proof riverfront until the massive infrastructure budget that accompanied the two sports facilities was on the table. It’s only because of the teams’ demand for game-day parking revenues that money was set aside to build 4,500 structured parking spaces between the two stadiums; otherwise that area would still be stuck in the mud today, used for ten Sundays a year for Bengals’ parking and marginal parking for downtown office workers.
So by putting both teams down there, we were able to lift the riverfront out of the flood plain, flood-proof a billion dollars worth of new development and create a parking bank that has cured downtown’s chronic parking deficiency (which, incidentally, serves to preserve olders buildings that might have otherwise become parking lots). Historians will reqard the city’s riverfront investment decisions of 1995-2000 as some of the most significant ever.
On a net basis, we’re better off with the Reds on the river. And beside, the Broadway Commons site was too small for a major league ball park, something that Channel 9 established beyond any doubt in the closing week of the 1998 campaign. It would have made for a good AAA ball park. Jim Tarbell would probalby tell you the same thing today.
I’ll hazard a considered guess that if the Great American Ball Park wasn’t exactly where it is today, then the State of Ohio would have never found the money to narrow Fort Washington Way from 750 feet to 375 feet and that the “unfriendly ribbon of concrete” would have been left the way it was, putting our riverfront on ice for another thirty or forty years.
Peter Bronson wrote, curiously, that “Remodeling Fort Washington Way had nothing at all to do with The Banks project.”
Peter Bronson is totally wrong on this. Narrowing Fort Washington Way gave back to Cincinnati 14 acres of land that was once wholly located within the Fort Washington Way (I-71)right-of-way. This land is precisely where The Banks is being built today. As the editorial page director of the Enquirer all through the period when FWW was planned and built, he should know better.
Bronson should also understand that you don’t rebuild almost a third of a major city’s downtown in a few years. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a generation to complete The Banks. And it probably will if it’s done right.