Some people think The Banks, a sprawling $800 million residential and shopping district being built along the Ohio River, is Cincinnati’s best hope for increasing tourism and luring more people to live downtown; others call it a waste of money and an unnecessary gamble during tough economic times.
The project is so controversial that Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes recently refused to cut any more checks to fund it until county commissioners get their financial house in better order. The squabble is mostly a symbolic one and hasn’t stopped any work.
No matter where you stand on The Banks, though, there’s more construction underway next to the project site that we should all feel good about and rally around.
After years of planning, the initial work to build the city’s Central Riverfront Park has begun. Envisioned as the Queen City’s version of Chicago’s Grant Park, it will be the primary place along the river where people can gather for festivals, concerts, to eat, play or just hang out and soak up some sun in a spectacular setting.
Unlike the fancy new Bengals’ and Reds’ stadiums, you won’t have to ante up a stack of cash to get inside. Depending on how plans are finalized, many of us might not be able to afford the apartments or shops that will fill The Banks. Despite the use of hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars, many people will never see a direct benefit from those projects.
But the park will be a truly public space that’s open and available to all: young and old, rich and poor.
The first phase of the 45-acre park is scheduled for completion in late April 2011, but passersby will be able to see signs of progress at the site throughout the coming year, according to project manager Dave Prather.
During this winter, when construction must take a break due to the cold weather, planners will be approving designs for restaurants and cafes that will be included in the park, as well as overseeing the quarrying of stone, so crews can get busy when spring arrives.
At that point, Mehring Way will be relocated to make room for Phase One’s attractions. They will include a large tree grove; a stone labyrinth; a grand stairway connecting the downtown side of the park to a lower level along the river; and a monument commemorating the history of the Black Brigade, a military unit of African-American men organized during the Civil War to ward off a possible Confederacy attack on Cincinnati.
Other features will include the Walnut Street fountain and a series of waterfalls and cascades; an event lawn and stage; a bicycle station; welcome center; public restrooms; and the Moerlien Lager House, a restaurant and brewery centered around the local brand of beer.
Future phases will include the Roebling Green, a large green space near the Suspension Bridge that’s expected to serve as the new home for festivals like Taste of Cincinnati and Oktoberfest. Additionally, it will feature a display of early 19th-century artifacts uncovered in the area; a promenade with oversized swings overlooking the water; boat docks; a bike path that will connect to the Little Miami Trail; a large carousel and “Adventure Playground,” based on the theme of Cincinnati’s seven hills; and more cafes and restaurants.
Not too shabby. Total cost for the park is estimated at $66 million. Of that amount, private donors gave the initial $1 million. Congress has given $3 million for the design work and will give up to $50 million for construction. More federal funding is likely.
Once completed, the Riverfront Park will connect Bicentennial Commons and Sawyer Point to form a nearly three-mile corridor of public space snaking along the riverfront.
This is the type of public investment that we think is a perfect use of taxpayer money and a good partnership between local, state and federal governments.
If you know any Democrats who still support President Obama’s disappointingly lackluster efforts at health care reform and favor the bill passed by the Senate, show them a copy of the Dec. 28 column by New York Times op/ed columnist Bob Herbert. It’s fascinating reading.
We’ve complained that the bill, in its current form, is really a boon for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries and does little to contain costs. Herbert, however, makes a convincing argument that it will actually reduce the number of insured Americans over time and imposes an unfair burden on the middle class.
The columnist notes the bill would place a 40 percent tax on so-called “Cadillac health plans,” beginning in 2013. Those are plans that exceed $23,000 annually for family coverage and $8,500 for individuals. Because of the skyrocketing costs of health care, more and more families would reach that threshold with each passing year, according to Herbert.
“Within six years, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation, the tax would reach a fifth of all households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 annually. Those families can hardly be considered very wealthy,” Herbert wrote.
Meanwhile, provisions in the unseemly bill virtually ensure that profits for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries will continue to grow. That doesn’t meet any definition of “reform” that I know.
Herbert continued, “Proponents say the tax will raise nearly $150 billion over 10 years, but there’s a catch. It’s not expected to raise this money directly. The dirty little secret behind this onerous tax is that no one expects very many people to pay it. The idea is that rather than fork over 40 percent in taxes on the amount by which policies exceed the threshold, employers (and individuals who purchase health insurance on their own) will have little choice but to ratchet down the quality of their health plans.”
That means higher out-of-pocket costs for most everyone. No reform is better than bad reform that will worsen the situation.
It’s time for Congressional Democrats to put the interests of Americans above those of Obama’s political fate and start over again from scratch.