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Cincinnati riverfront boat dock has new design, bigger price tag

Cincinnati Park Board 'remains committed'
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Posted at 6:16 PM, May 26, 2023

CINCINNATI — New renderings show a rooftop deck has been added to the boat dock planned for Cincinnati’s central riverfront. But a rising price tag could complicate the city’s long-running quest to make its waterfront more accessible to boaters.

“We remain committed to bringing this new, exciting feature to Cincinnati's waterfront,” wrote Cincinnati Park Board spokesman Rocky Merz in an email that contained the new images. “(We) are focused on ensuring the final project is designed and built to best serve the needs of current and future riverfront visitors for generations to come.”

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The dock would extend west from Cincinnati's Public Landing

H. Hafner & Sons Inc. has been working on the boat dock since December 2021, when it won a city bidding competition with a $2.2 million proposal that included a floating restaurant and dock space to accommodate about 20 boats at a time.

In the 17 months that followed, Park Board meeting minutes showed the project’s completion date was pushed back to 2024 after the city learned that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers would require a new permit for the project. Merz said the city applied for that permit in February and has yet to negotiate a final contract with Hafner & Sons.

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A floating restaurant was revised to include a rooftop deck.

In a March 16 board meeting, Parks Director Jason Barron confirmed there were “cost increases” that will have to be addressed before a deal is final.

“We’re going to have some robust negotiations,” Barron said.

Neither Merz nor Hafner Vice President Justin Cooper would comment on the new price tag. But Hafner said he expects the Army Corps to issue a permit for the project in June and the dock is “highly likely” to be built.

“I’m too far in now to stop,” he added.

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Hafner said design changes followed feedback from city officials.

The Cincinnati Park Board has been trying for nearly a decade to make Cincinnati’s riverfront accessible to boaters, using a $1.5 million state grant awarded in 2015. The first attempt failed in 2019, when the project’s cost spiraled to $5 million and a city bidding competition proved unable to attract a marina operator.

Next came an unsolicited offer by Queen City Riverboats to privately build and operate a riverfront dock in exchange for the $1.7 million the city had already set aside for the project. The Park Board unanimously approved the idea in November 2020, but critics questioned the deal’s financial terms and whether the new dock would block access to Cincinnati’s public landing.

That led to another bidding competition, which Hafner & Sons won in December 2021. Seventeen months later, the company has yet to finalize its contract with the city.

This is Hafner's original design for a riverfront boat dock, submitted to the city in the summer of 2021.