Cincinnati Park Board to Consider Burnet Woods Proposals This Week

The public can weigh in on the plans at the Park Board's monthly meeting Dec. 19 at 8 a.m.

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click to enlarge Burnet Woods - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Burnet Woods

Want to have your say about potential changes to one of Cincinnati's largest parks? This week is your big chance.

At its monthly meeting Dec. 19, the Cincinnati Park Board will consider proposals to put a new arts center and a camping education facility in Burnet Woods, a 90-acre urban park nestled between the University of Cincinnati, Clifton and Avondale. Public comment at that meeting begins at 8 a.m. The meeting was originally scheduled for Dec. 20, but the date recently changed.

The CCAC has been on the hunt for a new site since it lost the cavernous Clifton School building it leased from Cincinnati Public Schools last year. But its proposal back in May to build a 25,000-square-foot, three-story arts facility on the park's Brookline Drive elicited some controversy fueled by those who oppose more construction in the park.

After feedback, CCAC commissioned preliminary concepts for a potential building in the park. It also shifted its focus to two different potential locations: one in a vacant field on the southwestern edge of the park where Clifton Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard intersect, and another location in the interior of the park south of its iconic bandstand just off Clifton Avenue.

CCAC representatives Nov. 15 presented those initial plans, along with an outline for how it would pay for the estimated $8 million construction costs and its ongoing business plan, to the Cincinnati Board of Park Commissioners.

The CCAC will use about $1.5 million it received via a settlement with CPS, another $1.5 million in New Market Tax Credits and $5 million it plans to raise from private donors.

One potential plan on the edge of the park could have a facility with a footprint of about 14,000 square feet, with the whole location taking up 17,000 square feet. The other proposed facility in the park's interior would be about 10,000 square feet, with the entire site there encompassing about 12,300 square feet. Both facilities would be two stories tall and would have 40 parking spaces around them, mostly on existing pavement.

CCAC would lease either site from Cincinnati Parks, though it's unclear at this point what the lease price would be.

That's pertinent because the suggestions come as Cincinnati Parks looks for ways to fund upkeep and improvements to the city's parks.

The system needs some $58 million in deferred maintenance, parks officials say, and it's unclear where that money would come from. “We don’t have any new buckets of resources falling out of the sky," Parks Director Wade Walcutt said when first presenting options for additions to Burnet Woods in May. "I’m not interested in making changes for changes' sake. But if there’s an opportunity for all of us to get more people into the parks, I think that’s worth exploring. If we have to do that by talking to different partners, that’s worth exploring too.”

Another possibility — a "living building" occupying 2,500 square feet south of the lake in Burnet Woods by Hyde Park-based Camping and Education Foundation, a 50-year-old nonprofit that operates urban nature education programs and camping outings locally and at sites in Minnesota. The foundation partners with Cincinnati Public Schools and other area public schools to provide nature education and camping experiences to youth who might not otherwise be exposed to environs outside urban areas. It also partners with the University of Cincinnati on two nature education courses. Camping and Education Foundation President Hugh Haller says the proposed facility in Burnet Woods would be a great fit for the organization's mission.

“Why Burnet? It’s centrally located," Haller said. "If we’re going to reach all urban youth, we need a central location. As much as we’re not embedded in this neighborhood like CCAC is, we really value this neighborhood.”

Programming at the building, which would cost roughly $625,000, would include boat-building classes for public school students. Those classes generally run about two weeks and teach students about using basic tools. Other classes would include nature systems education for students aided by the facility's potential geothermal heat, solar panels and other green technology.

Meanwhile, some Burnet Woods fans still aren't happy with the idea of building there. A petition drive has garnered more than 2,600 signatures asking the park board to leave the woods alone.

"What remains of Burnet Woods is now a rare urban preserve, home to diverse plant and animal species," the petition states. "The few structures within the park serve only to provide enrichment and enlightenment for park visitors. Since the middle of the last century, the Cincinnati Park Board has not allowed the construction of additional buildings proposed for Burnet Woods. Envisioned structures would have served the community, but their bricks and paved parking areas would have destroyed more of the surviving parkland."

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