(Fountain) Square

Fountain Square constructionFor the first time in my life I think I finally know why it’s called “(Fountain) Square”. With everything gone, the area wiped clean of the concrete and marble and stage and Skywalk bridge and, well, the fountain, that area – low-and-behold – is actually a town friggin’ square. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to go between the fence and tell the Dugan Meyer fellers it’s time to go home. We’re done. Thanks. Got it. We’ve got it from here. I’ll go grab some sod from Denny McKeown, lay it down and turn on the lawn sprinklers. We got ourselves a real, live civic center square. Woo-wee!

Out and about with my camera this morning, I snapped this shot of the renovation and (expected) revitalization of Fountain Square. Notice the fountain is, uh, not there. I understand it’s in Dan Hurley‘s basement, for safe keeping.

It’s hard not to be excited about what’s happening downtown. Looking across the square – minus the fountain and the concrete barriers – I can almost envision what it will look like when it’s done: a city-center thriving with people and commerce and entertainment and activity. That’s good stuff. And those of us who live and love downtown look on with eager hesitation about what’s taking place and imagine the possibilities. Can it really happen? Will people who abandoned this part of their city come back? I hope so. They’d be missing so much if they didn’t.

I stopped into a shop where I’d never been before. The proprietor tells me she’s been open there for decades and I ask her how business is going. I always ask the small-business owners downtown when I stop in. I want to know. I’m always afraid of their answer.

“Not good,” she said, shaking her head. “Just look around. Retail does not do well downtown anymore.”

I suggest that maybe the Square’s re-working will spread across to her a few blocks away and bring her more customers.

“They’ve been saying that (about downtown) for three years,” she said. Will she make it, I ask. “I don’t know,” she replies.

As I walk around downtown, just like I did this morning, I am reminded just again of the beauty of this place. Blah, blah. I know. Likely it’s been heard before. But if you look up as you walk along the sidewalk at the buildings, the light hitting the still-wet streets, or step into the Omni hotel, Dixie Terminal or the Carew Tower – the handsomeness of this town is evident no matter where eyes are cast.

I get wide-eyed with romanticized views of what it can be, especially when I read the very compelling pseudo-commentary written by John Schneider in the February 15, 2006 edition of CityBeat (though I would caution my beloved CityBeat, in my humble opinion, from printing pieces of analysis and commentary under the guise of a news story without labeling it as such until the very wee end of the article when we learn the true identity of the piece’s author). Cincinnati is no Portland, Ore. – but it could be. This article makes me think a few tweaks here, a few enlightened minds there and A.G. Lafley will be sitting next to me on the light rail train on our ways to work. Does anyone else think this? Or are we too consumed in our own race to the suburbs, the fear of being “caught in the cross-fire” in the city (as a few people have suggested; I’ve yet to be shot once), that buses will forever be for poor people and downtown, too? Will we re-configure into a doughnut-shaped city where everything happens on the perimeter, yet we say we are from Cincinnati but live out our lives on the rim? I hope not.

A person I know – not from here – poked fun, I think, mistakenly, in an online message that the slogan “Don’t Trash the ‘Nati” is actually a way for a billboard to remind citizens that this place isn’t so bad and we ought not talk badly about ourselves. Though the slogan was actually a possibly misguided attempt for the “Keep Cincinnati Beautiful” organization to discourage littering, it’s interesting that it was taken differently. Does an outsider see what some have suggested and many refuse to see? That we just don’t think we can change? We are who we are because, well, that’s what we are? As a native, someone who truly loves this place and sees potential just about everywhere I turn, I hope not.

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

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