Porkopolis: Playhouse Out of the Park?

Curly Tales of the City

Geoff Raker

Da Muttss put on a drive-by concert for the Opening Day parade.

The city's large daily newspaper last week confirmed CityBeat's report — first published on the Porkopolis Blog — that Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park might move to Fifth and Race streets downtown. Influential business leaders are floating a plan to build a multiple-theater complex downtown to house the Playhouse, Children's Theatre of Cincinnati and possible events from Cincinnati Ballet and Cincinnati Opera.

Eagle Realty, the real estate unit of Western & Southern Financial Group, had planned to break ground in summer 2003 on a two-story retail complex and a parking garage on the property; the project was estimated to cost at least $50 million. Since that time, however, no development has occurred. City officials already extended Eagle's option to develop the site once, in 2004, but that term expires Aug. 9.

The revelation of the possible theater development last week prompted Eagle to tell city officials it now envisions a development including up to 500 condominiums, 1,400 parking spaces and retail space at a cost of more than $100 million.

"Right now, we're waiting on Race Street Development (an Eagle-affiliated firm) to give us details about the project to determine if they are feasible," said Meg Olberding, the city of Cincinnati's spokeswoman. "They have to show us more than the concept drawings. They have to give us a market study, price points and material like that."

Sources told CityBeat that businessman Jack Rouse, who also heads the regional Port Authority, is floating a plan to build a new theater complex at the site.

The plan envisions renting out theater space when not in use, and Ballet and Opera board members have been contacted to gauge their interest. The project envisions the theaters located on the lower floors of the structure, topped by either office or condo space.

In 2005, Playhouse in the Park said it was considering building a new $70 million theater as part of The Banks, a shopping and housing district planned along Cincinnati's riverfront. With no progress made along the riverfront, though, Playhouse representatives said last June that they would launch a new fundraising campaign to build a facility at its current site in Eden Park.

The block at Fifth and Race is the site of Eagle's failed plan to lure a Nordstrom department store here in the late 1990s. In June 2000, Cincinnati officials approved $36 million in public subsides to attract Nordstrom, but the firm canceled the deal that winter amid financial problems. The city later spent more than $1 million to fill in the parcel and use it as a parking lot until another project is found. Including $10 million spent to raze the site and move several businesses and another $3.7 million to help settle a lawsuit involving Eagle's relocating a Walgreen's across the street, the city has spent about $15 million on the canceled projects during the past seven years.

Mayor Flops; Hooters Girls Resplendent
You couldn't ask for a better Opening Day — unless your name is Mark Mallory. The mayor of Cincinnati had the honor of throwing the first pitch in the Reds game April 2. He took the assignment seriously, practicing pitches at the University of Cincinnati and at Great American Ball Park itself. But when he finally let loose from the mound — well, he actually stood in front of it — the ball went 15 feet to the right of the catcher and straight into the ground.

The crowd's laughter made complete a day marked by humiliation from the start. During a morning appearance on WGRR (103.5 FM), Mallory talked about his pre-game preparations. Then DJ Janeen Coyle threw him a curveball: "Your bodyguard, Scotty (Johnson), is here," she said. "Are you going to take him out on the mound with you?"

The Reds beat the Chicago Cubs to start the 2007 season. The annual Findlay Market Parade before the game drew thousands downtown on a balmy spring day. The parade was, as always, a collection of genuine talent, including child unicyclists, marching bands and well-groomed Hooters girls; spectacle, including a giant pig and a giant Pete Rose head; and politicians, including incumbents and wannabes. CityBeat's entry featured local Hip Hop artists Da Muttss performing on a flat-bed truck as it sauntered through Over-the-Rhine and downtown.

For the first news on downtown development and many other topics, visit CityBeat's Porkopolis blog at citybeat.wordpress.com.

Porkopolis TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 138) or pork(at)citybeat.com

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