imagine celebrating Oktoberfest at the top of a highway. Or watch the NFL Draft next to The Banks.
“Uniting Downtown with The Banks has been a dream for so long, it’s time to make bridges a reality,” Hamilton County Commissioner Stephanie Summerow Dumas said in a statement. “Cities and counties rarely have the opportunity to add multiple blocks of prime real estate to their downtown campus.”
Mayor Aftab Pureval called it a “generational opportunity to reconnect communities, reclaim public space and transform the face of Cincinnati.”
What’s the news from Fort Washington Way?
During a press briefing on Tuesday, Pureval and representatives of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, KZF design and design office FSSF announced that the city and county would seek $2 million from the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Programan initiative of President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Act that aims to connect communities previously separated by federal highways.
The idea of taking down Fort Washington Way is not new. In fact, when the section of Interstate 71 was rebuilt and dug on the outskirts of downtown Cincinnati two decades ago, the city built several concrete structures to support future bridges that would connect Third Street to the riverfront – and now also The Banks. The construction of this foundation cost $10 million at the time, according to the Cincinnati Chamber.
Where exactly could these decks go?
The proposal calls for covering half of the block between Elm and Race streets, the full two blocks between Race and Walnut streets, and half of the block between Walnut and Main streets. The amount of space created, including infill, would total 2.6 million square feet. “Not only is the location central,” said Pete Metz, director of the Connected region for the Cincinnati chamber, “it’s also the point where Fort Washington Way was built the deepest. Realistically and logistically, it’s where we got the permits to build one day.”
How much could this Fort Washington Way project cost?
The total cost of the project is estimated between 90 and 110 million dollars. This includes what it would take to build the infrastructure needed to support the bridges ($80-90 million) and the potential park on top ($15-20 million).
Where would the rest of the money come from?
The Reconnecting Communities pilot program offers applicants a planning grant of up to $2 million. The city would then conduct an 18-month engagement process with the community to discuss the highest and best use of the bridges. From there, another construction grant application should be submitted. The city and county would both offer up to $250,000 each, which is a requirement for grant funding.
What could be built on the bridges?
There could be up to four acres of parkland; two 0.7 acre bookend places; and concrete or “stick” structures (concrete foundation, interior retaining walls) up to four stories high. Metz said that over the years talks of building office buildings or residential units above the bridge have been quashed simply because of the lower return on investment that a limited number of tenants would bring. .
“We decided that we should instead build the type of new civic asset that we don’t really have in our region,” Metz said.
What could the space be used for?
The city and chamber envision a multipurpose outdoor space that could be used for Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, NFL Draft events, or other large-scale public festivals.
It could also be used for sports, musical performances, or a hangout during the warmer months for downtown office workers.
If the city prepared to build bridges 20 years ago, why build them now?
According to Metz, securing funds through the Reconnecting Communities pilot program is the main driver for trying to build the bridges right now. Biden’s Infrastructure Act is full of federal funding opportunities for cities like Cincinnati, he explained, and with planning and funding for the nearby Brent Spence Bridge project underway, the reimagining of Fort Washington Way is also a priority.
Another benefit of doing it now? Improved pedestrian access to the riverfront, banks, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Paycor Stadium, Andrew J. Brady Music Center and Great American Ball Park.
Cincinnati continues to invest in these complexes despite the downturn in the downtown commercial real estate market during the pandemic. With more apartments coming online downtown, the neighborhood will also need more space for resident recreation and the bridges could serve that purpose.
A schedule for the start of construction or completion has been set at this time.