River"front" Yard

By Deborah Allison and Heather Noe
Photos Courtesy Of Heather Noe

A Cincinnati Parks Master Plan called for a new riverfront park that would extend the chain of existing waterfront parks and reconnect the downtown area to the Ohio River. The park was intended not only to serve as the new “front yard” for the city and entire region, but also to act as a catalyst for the development of a new downtown neighborhood—The Banks. The city got more than it bargained for, however, when the range of notable features was revealed—waterfalls and cascades, a series of glass balconies, interactive fountains, a labyrinth, public art, unique gardens, family-sized porch swings, gardens, walkways, an event lawn and stage, and even a regional bike center.


Since 1997, the park board has partnered with many entities, including the city, county, developers of The Banks, and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, to fund and build the SmaleRiverfrontPark. A private fundraising campaign has brought in more than $40 million, which was matched with more than $25 million in city funds, $11 million in federal funds, and more than $3 million in state funds to-date. Fundraising is ongoing to complete future phases. Park-board staff has acted as the project-management team for this projected $120-milllion project. The primary designers are Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Mass., and KZF Inc. of Cincinnati. Phase I of SmaleRiverfrontPark opened on May 18, 2012, and consisted of $21.4 million in infrastructure. Phase II opened on May 13, 2013, and included an additional $5.3 million of infrastructure. The next phase is projected to open in spring of 2014, with $2.2 million of additional infrastructure.

Challenges And Solutions
Many challenges have been addressed in getting the project to where it is today, including:

  • Convincing the city and county governments to partner in building the infrastructure and to transfer properties

  • Constructing part of the park on top of a new public-parking garage to lift that area out of the 100-year flood plain

  • Obtaining funding from a variety of sources

  • Dealing with the challenge of working with the Corps of Engineers and Ohio River navigational interests

  • Identifying a restaurant-development team that could build a compatible restaurant within the park on leased property.

Creative solutions to funding the maintenance of the park have included negotiating an agreement with the adjacent private developer for tenants to pay a common-area maintenance charge on all residential and commercial space to help defray park-maintenance costs, and negotiating a lease with a developer to construct a restaurant in the park and pay rent to also offset maintenance costs.

All Aglow
Additional amenities within the park include:

  • Tree groves

  • Promenades

  • A visitor's center

  • A restaurant/brewery

  • An event lawn

  • A covered stage

  • Public restrooms

  • A series of illuminated water jets set into granite plazas

  • Water curtains dropping from glass-lined balconies

  • Shade structures.

The Ohio River Bike Trail also was recently extended from Smale Park to the public landing east of the park. Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects is the programmed display of LED lights that illuminate all of the water features, creating a constantly changing environment of colors.

Green Initiatives
The bike center is the first of its kind in Cincinnati, and provides bike commuters with showers, lockers, and bike storage, as well as bike rentals, repairs, and tours. It is one of the “green” initiatives of the park—to encourage bike commuting and reduce car trips. Other park strategies to achieve sustainability include:

  • Using two geothermal systems to heat and cool the restaurant, the bike center, and the public-toilet rooms

  • Using water from the geothermal wells for irrigation purposes

  • Installing solar panels on the stage canopy, and at the garage and bike center entrance

  • Constructing a vegetated green roof on the portion of the building containing stairs, and the elevator to the garage below part of the park

  • Using the entire event lawn as a green roof on top of the garage.

Extensions of the geothermal systems will be used to heat and cool future structures, as well as to provide water for irrigation and future water features.

Looking Ahead
The Cincinnati Parks Foundation recently received a $5-million gift to fund the construction of a new carousel. It will be built at the foot of Vine Street on a tree-lined plaza filled with water features. As part of the design, the plaza construction will include a lower floor with a banquet center and park offices. This new event space will open onto Mehring Way and overlook the lower area of the park. The carousel will be a one-of-a-kind creation that depicts the culture, history, and visual character of Cincinnati, the “QueenCity.” A boat dock, an adventure playground, a unique series of interactive play gardens, and additional water features are still to come.

Deborah Allison is the Manager of Business Services for the Cincinnati Park Board. Reach her at (513) 861-8970, or deborah.allison@cincinnati-oh.gov .

Heather Noe is the Digital Marketing Manager for the Cincinnati Park Board.