CINCINNATI — Organizers are in the early stages of drafting ideas for how to enhance parks and transform community spaces in northern Over-the-Rhine. Entitled the Findlay Recreation Project, coordinators are still in the thick of gathering community input to refine those ideas. Still, they are optimistic about how the major adjustments they are imagining will build on the vitality of the community.
“It's a really exciting opportunity to pause and reflect on where the community is right now,” said Lann Field, the VP of Development at the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), “and what the community needs and envisions for the future.”
3CDC held its latest community input session with the Cincinnati Recreation Commission Thursday night at the Over-the-Rhine Recreation Center on Republic Street. A few dozen residents and local stakeholders were present. During the session, representatives from the recreation project’s architect, Barker Rinker and Seacat (BRS), shared their suggestions on how to enhance Grant Park, the Elm Street Playground, Findlay Playground and the rec center itself.
In addition to renewing features at the Grant and Elm Street parks, BRS suggested updated features of the rec center’s facilities and offering programs that address the community’s needs in healthcare and childcare. The firm also suggested building a new recreational facility over part of Findlay Playground that would offer amenities like an indoor pool and gym. Findlay Playground would still retain some of its green space in the suggested design.
Kelly Adamson, the executive director of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, said she appreciated that the suggestions offered locals options for different kinds of facilities that appeal to various demographics.
“I feel like in the hybrid version of building a rec center, while also having the back of it in green space, is a really nice compromise.”
Other proposed features like a tech room, event halls and a kitchen for cooking classes also had favorable reviews. However, some attendees expressed concerns about accessibility, both for people with disabilities and the area’s low-income, vulnerable families with inadequate transportation.
Maurice Wagoner, the president of the Over-the-Rhine Community Council, raised the concern specifically about accessibility for families living on the east side of OTR – as the sites for renovation are further west in the neighborhood.
“The further west that it is or that it might happen, the more problems it is that it might be for them to access it, considering the parking issues that we have in Over-the-Rhine.”
Peter Hames, a former president and current board of trustees member for the Over-the-Rhine Community Council, says he has a visual disability.
“I didn't hear anything that was presented about accessibility,” Hames said. He is concerned that organizers might not fully appreciate how crucial it is to accommodate people with special needs. Still, he acknowledges organizers' effort toward what he called an “ambitious” project and says consultants have been “helpful.”
“I am concerned that the space at Findlay Playground actually may not be enough to accommodate everything on that list. On the other hand, I know that that's the dream list. And so the real test is coming. What can they actually put into a building? And where's the money going to come from? I think that's the big unknown, and that's the one that we're all going to have to work together on.”
Over-the-Rhine residents have long been calling for improvements to these troubled, underutilized areas. Findlay Playground was shut down for about two years following an outcry from residents. They complained that drug activity and violence in the park had migrated to other parts of the neighborhood. Months after it reopened last summer, 3CDC formed a capital-improvement program with the city to elevate these parts of the neigbhorhood, the effort that is now the Findlay Recreation Project. Both the city and 3CDC pledged $50,000 to start the project.
Otis Stevens, a small business owner in the neighborhood, said the suggested renovations were a good start. Still, he said he would be working with some of his community contacts to lead their own outreach effort to engage their neighbors who are too busy struggling to make ends meet to make it out to the community input sessions.
“What we have is the same people showing up and we get the same suggestions,” Stevens said.
“So we're not getting that broader base that I think that we'll need in order to make this process so inclusive…”
3CDC said Thursday’s meeting was one of about a dozen community engagement sessions it has held since May. Organizers will be reviewing feedback from the latest input session to continue refining their ideas for improvements to the area. Field said this second phase of ideation and community input will eventually produce suggested designs, budgets and a projected timeline. It’s not yet clear when those more definitive project elements will be ready to present to the public.
Monique John covers gentrification for WCPO 9. She is part of our Report For America donor-supported journalism program. Read more about RFA here.
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