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Local officials renew efforts to cap Fort Washington Way

Local officials hope to finally move forward on capping Fort Washington Way in Downtown Cincinnati. The city is applying for a federal grant of up to $2 million to design the project.

Mayor Aftab Pureval says the project will be a collaboration with the county and business community, with lots of public input.

“The process will be very intentional; it won't happen overnight,” Pureval says. “But this is a very important first step to achieve the goal of putting caps on Fort Washington Way and connecting the river to OTR.”

Early renderings show the four-block area between Second and Third Streets could be open for events like Oktoberfest, or could include new developments up to four stories. Pureval says the design phase would take a year and a half.

The city is the official applicant, but Hamilton County Commission President Stephanie Summerow Dumas says the project is a group effort.

“The city and the county would go 50/50: we will commit $200,000 and the city will commit $200,000,” Summerow Dumas said. “The project will generate new and long-term property taxes, which is good for everybody.”

The idea dates back two decades to the original Riverfront plan and the narrowing of Fort Washington Way. That project was designed specifically to allow for “caps” or “lids” down the line.

“The foundations are in place to allow us to do these decks over roughly three, four blocks of the city,” said Tim Sharp, chief strategic officer for KZF Design. “They were designed either to hold a park type space or a small structures, four-story structures.”

Sharp is one of several people who worked on the original Fort Washington Way as well as early designs for the caps. KZF Design has been working with design firm WSP and the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber on initial plans that are part of the city’s application for a planning grant.

“It could be a place where citizens from all over this region come to play, they come to for events, they come to celebrate together,” Sharp said. “But it also is a place where economic development is encouraged, where people want to live, people want to invest in economic development.”

See below for more information on KZF and WSP's initial designs (story continues after):

Actual construction would cost up to $110 million. Officials say other federal grants could help pay for construction.

Previous efforts to get grant funding to cap Fort Washington Way over the last 20 years have been unsuccessful. Pureval says the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year changes things.

“This is a unique once-in-a-generation opportunity to have the funds to do the projects that we've all been dreaming of; these huge civic projects that not only will help the central business district but also help communities that have been negatively impacted by our infrastructure from the past,” Pureval said.

This application for designing Fort Washington Way caps is for a portion of the infrastructure law’s Reconnecting Communities Pilot: “The primary goal of the RCP Program is to reconnect communities harmed by transportation infrastructure, through community-supported planning activities and capital construction projects that are championed by those communities.”

Applications that serve “economically disadvantaged communities” will be prioritized. The deadline is October 13.

The city is also working on a separate application for a Reconnecting Communities Pilot grant for a project in Evanston. That $5 million grant (with $5 million local matching funds) would reconnect parts of Evanston that were split by I-71 with pedestrian bridges.

The city’s first grant from the federal infrastructure law is $20 million to redesign corridors in the West End, Queensgate and Lower Price Hill.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.