The Cincinnati Park Board has approved a $6.9 million contract to expand Smale Riverfront Park. It will also serve as the outdoor concert area for the new music venue being built at The Banks.
Parks Commissioner and former City Council member Kevin Flynn had proposed delaying the project because of the current economic conditions facing the city and Hamilton County.
"It seems imprudent to move forward with a capital project that will cost approximately $5.5 million of public money to benefit a private concert venue that will have an estimated 20 events per year," Flynn said.
Flynn also said without a vaccine for coronavirus, social distancing guidelines may even prevent the music venue from opening later this year. And that could continue into next year.
But the four other park commissioners disagreed, and none of them would second Flynn's motion to delay the project.
"We're trying to finish this park," said Commissioner Susan Castellini. "It's not always going to be used as a music venue, it's going to be used as part of Smale Riverfront Park. Let's get on with it."
Commissioner Jim Goetz said he was not willing to re-discuss or deliberate the park expansion.
"The timing of it, yes that is a question," Goetz said. "But if we have funding sources identified, construction is one of the few pieces of our economy that is continuing to work."
The funding for the Smale Park expansion is projected to some from the following sources:
- $1,450,000 MEMI (private firm constructing the actual music venue)
- $1,450,000 City's Miscellaneous Permanent Improvement fund
- $1,300,000 City's Miscellaneous Permanent Improvement fund
- $2,000,000 State of Ohio capital budget
- $654,0002 Parks Riverfront fund
Of that funding, $3.3 million is contemplated, but not actually guaranteed or in the bank. That includes the $2 million of state money and $1.3 million from the City Miscellaneous Permanent Improvement fund. Those funds could be in jeopardy because of the revenue shortfalls related to COVID-19.
The Park Board has pledged $2 million from its accounts to cover the state grant portion. Right now, there's no backup plan for the city's $1.3 million.
The Park Board awarded the construction contract for the park extension, but a city lawyer told the group that it will not be executed until the full funding is secured.
The separate Cincinnati Parks Foundation executive board is reportedly recommending that the full foundation board agree to a fundraising effort to cover the $3.3 million if necessary. That fundraising commitment would be spread over five years.
Park officials said the park extension will be connected by stairs and elevators to both Mehring Way and Race Street.
The initial phase of construction will include the following features: a performance lawn with a capacity of 8,000 people; treelined promenades; tree grove; granite pavers; planters and landscaping; lighting; water fountains; and irrigation systems.
Meanwhile, the Hamilton County commissioners Thursday approved a $2.4 million contract for continued work on the parking garage that will support the music venue and the Smale Park expansion.
That money will be used to finish the garage including signage, cameras and waterproofing for the roof of the garage.