We’ve got sound (and parking machines)

Fountain Square has been…been, a mess. The grand opening in October was – poet politicking aside – a wee bit early. Despite that, I understand the celebration was top-notch and the entertainment spectacular, a testament to what is likely to come (I was out of town that weekend).

In the days and weeks afterward, though, the number one comment heard about the Square wasn’t how wonderful it was that Saturday — but how empty it was afterward. There was no place to sit down, nothing to look at and the Fountain had been emptied and turned off and there was barely room to move with all the construction equipment.

But there is real good news to report today. This evening’s tree-lighting ceremony (beginning at 5 p.m.) will be on a Square that looks much more done that its October predecessor.

Though lots of construction still litters the perimeter, the Fountain is on, the garage is covered in a bright white epoxy that gives it a brand-new, fresh and vibrant look (it is quite amazing actually how nice the garage looks), the big, new ice rink is filled, frozen and ready to go. It appears today new lights are being installed. The two little tent-shelters located on the east and west sides of the rink are filled with snacks to be sold and skates to be rented.

There are also a couple of noteworthy additions in recent days/weeks:

  • About 20 Bose speakers have been installed on the Square, attached to light poles. Thursday they were playing sound — live CNN — from the large-screen display television above Macy’s. The new speakers will be helpful hearing Mayor Mark Mallory’s comments at this evening’s ceremony. He pre-recorded an announcement because he will not be able to be there.
  • Several “Pay Here Parking” machines are located throughout the complex, both on the Square at the garage elevators and below inside the garage. With the pay-on-foot system, parkers will get a ticket as they enter the garage, pay at a machine before returning to their car and feed the validated ticket into an automatic gate to exit.
  • Valet parking. Entering the garage from Vine Street and there’s a valet parking attendant location and a valet office nearby.
  • Though police officers on the Square said they were told the Fountain had been turned off for the winter, the fountain is on and looks gorgeous. Later, others said water was in the Fountain for the opening but had to be drained again to apply more water-proofing.
  • Video cameras were attached to light poles on the Square in recent days.
  • The Square closes. The hours are pretty convenient, but never has the Square had a closing time in its history. From 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. everyday the Square will be off-limits, except to those entering or leaving the parking garage.
  • A police officer from the downtown services unit is now assigned to the Square around the clock, according to one stationed there.

Privately, city leaders said they were very disappointed in the decision to rush the re-opening of the Square, feeling that the unveiling the city was having wasn’t an unveiling at all – it was a showcase too early of too little and a fear the public would right off the Square before its vision was fully realized.

They also said the delay was likely not the fault of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., or 3CDC, but that of the construction company hired to do the work. But it was 3CDC’s choice to move forward on the opening.

This was done, in part, because entertainers scheduled to appear had to be booked several weeks in advance. A major band scheduled to appear in September — when the Square was originally set to open — could not make the October opening, said Bill Donabedian,3CDC’s Fountain Square managing director, in September.

Despite the assertions to the contrary in recent weeks, 3CDC officials never said in the many months leading up to the unveiling they intended the Square to be a rolling open in any presentations I attended. I have heard the presentation countless times in the past few years and that was never mentioned until, well, it appeared that an uncompleted Square was inevitable. Officials from the private-public partnership did often say, however, that landscaping would not be complete. Why? Some of the trees, shrubbery and flowers to be planted would not be well-suited to being put in the ground in the fall.

Bringing the Genius of Water fountain – one of the city’s most identifiable landmarks – secretly on Sept. 2 without alerting the media, the public, or, well, anyone was as poor a stunt as the black-clad, briefcase-carrying “actors” that accompanied it.

Donabedian told at least one reporter who caught wind of the plans that telling the public of the plans to bring the fountain back amounted to us “ruining everything.” He told the Enquirer’s Sara Pearce that that “we tell people too much in this town.”

Frankly, we do not tell them enough.

Donabedian’s not-so-well-thought-out reason? People need to get in the habit of being downtown so they just happen to see the big happenings. Not good.

The morning the story ran in The Post and the few days after, I received so many letters, e-mails and phone calls thanking me for letting them know the Fountain would be coming back it was bit overwhelming. People in Cincinnati like to be told what’s going on — and they like it especially when their prized treasure is on the move. Some said this would be last local history-making event they would get to see in their lifetime.

Today, they have another chance to see something great. I look forward to tonight’s event and many more to come. There’s a good feeling around the Square — between restaurants opening and just general activity and the discussion of many things planned for nearby — that the public may catch the fever and create downtown’s much-needed and highly-anticipated long-missing buzz.

I hope I’m right.

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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