Increasing the Odds

Architects gather public input for Broadway Commons

Michaele Pride kicked off the Feb. 20 casino design charette at the Art Academy of Cincinnati with a reiteration of one point everyone in the room needed to remember.

“We are not in doubt about whether or not a casino may be built,” said the urban design chair of the Cincinnati chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). “We are saying, ‘Yes, a casino is coming at Broadway Commons. How do we make it the best we can?’ ”

And with that, the roughly 200 architects, designers, creative types and concerned citizens who packed a lecture hall split into talkative groups, many hoping their collective brainstorming would play a role in the final look and feel of the casino coming to Cincinnati soon.

The charette, essentially a design brainstorming session, was held by the AIA’s Cincinnati chapter. Given the contentious history of casino legalization in Ohio and the highly visible location of the proposed casino, it seemed an appropriate topic, said event organizer Jeff Raser.

In November, Ohio voters approved the construction of gambling resorts in four cities. Detroit-based Rock Ventures LLC is building the casinos approved for Cincinnati and Cleveland, with the Queen City’s casino planned for a 30-acre plot known as Broadway Commons, sandwiched between downtown and Interstate 71. It’s slated to open in 2012.

“We want to come up with design guidelines and principles that can be used for the design of the casino,” said Raser, who noted that the event was an AIA event, not the work of any single architect angling for the as-yet-awarded contract.

AIA Member John Kornbluh said the magic of the charette comes from its all-inclusiveness; roughly a third of the attendees at the free event weren’t designers or architects, just concerned residents.

“You get everyone in one room who has a stake,” Kornbluh said. “They interact and get their ideas out and at the end of the day you can come up with some really good ideas.”

Participants split into four groups, each focusing on a different aspect of the casino site’s design. Tim Reynolds, Metro’s planning director, said he joined the Building Scale group to gain a better sense of how the development will affect bus travel in the area.

“It has a massive transportation impact,” Reynolds said. “They’re going to need to get visitors to and from (the casino) … and I would imagine there’s going to be a need to get people to jobs.”

For Westwood electrical engineer John Eby, who attended the morning’s Quality of Life issues session, the discussion was one about aesthetics and sensitivity to the neighborhoods within site of the casino, which include Mount Adams, Pendleton and downtown.

“I don’t want a four-story box with glaring lights on it marring the face of downtown,” Eby said. “I want to make sure it’s done right.”

Judging by the energy in the four sessions — which also included Environmental/Energy and Urban Design Scale issues — Eby wasn’t the only one concerned about a job done right. AIA facilitators handed markers, drawing paper, Post-it notes, notepads and site maps to small groups of four and five participants. It only took a matter of minutes before papers bearing half-drawn designs were tacked to walls and placed over maps so the participants could trace their ideas in marker.

Each group worked in a different manner: Some stayed with flip boards and lists, while others used the academy’s multi-pane windows as a canvas for flowing collages that grew and spread as the sessions progressed.

The end result, said Raser, will be a report recommending design guidelines for the eventual architect to use. The document would be presented to City Council.

Although the report doesn’t hold any binding power, charette participant and Cincinnati Architectural Review Board Chair Dick Rosenthal said he expects Rock Ventures will take the suggestions to heart.

“They’ve been very open to ideas,” Rosenthal said, noting that the company has had representatives at various city meetings about the casino. “They really, really want to be good corporate citizens.”

Common themes developed among participants. Every group noted access around the casino as a major concern, along with parking and the actual design of the facility, which will be visible on all sides from the highway, office buildings and residences in the area. About 40 architects and designers took the rough results of the brainstorming and spent several hours consolidating the masses of notes, drawings and diagrams into direct, interpretable points.

As the architects and designers dove into the task of turning pure, unfiltered ideas into usable recommendations, Raser bustled around the room, checking in with colleagues and staying on top of the massive idea session.

“We’ll get there,” he said. “It’ll be rough, but we’ll get there.”

MORE PHOTOS from the Feb. 20 design charette are here.