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The Banks Cincy

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Fundraising allows parks board to grow, develop new projects

Smale Riverfront Park has become the new front door of Cincinnati.

The park will cover 42 acres between Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium.

When you look at the amazing make-over happening on Cincinnati’s riverfront, half is made up by the Banks development, and Smale Park is the other half.

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The project carries a $120 million price tag, but taxpayers will not be on the hook for a significant piece of that, thanks to massive fundraising.

Fundraising is one of the ways the Cincinnati Parks Department has managed to grow and take on big projects at a time when the city’s budget is facing serious challenges.

Willie Carden, the director of parks for the Cincinnati Parks Board, calls the unique approach to funding programs “park-enomics.”

Carden realizes the financial realities and looks for ways to make big projects happen anyway.

“The (park) board’s goal and directive to me is, ‘Make this park system generate revenue so that we can take as much as we can off of the taxpayer,'” Carden said.

At Smale Riverfront Park, that means $41 million in private fundraising being paired with $27 million in city funding. State and federal funds make up the rest of the $90 million raised so far towards the project.

The Cincinnati Park system covers 5,000 acres, including dozens of neighborhood parks and playgrounds, along with big regional parks like Ault Park and Eden Park.

The network is so large that one out of every 10 acres in the city is inside a city park, making Cincinnati one of the top urban cities in the country for the amount of land dedicated to park space.

Washington Park is another example of the public-private partnership that has helped bring about change in city neighborhoods.

The park went through a $47 million renovation, paid for largely by 3CDC. Now, big events pack the park, improving public safety, bringing visitors to OTR, and changing opinions about the neighborhood.

Smale Riverfront Park is already a big draw, but it’s not even half done at this point. Where there is more construction now, west of the Roebling Suspension Bridge, soon there will be more gardens, water features and play areas for kids. There are plans for a riverfront boat dock, and Carol Ann’s Carousel. And none of it would be possible if the city had to pick up the full dime.

Even maintenance costs are offset through some creative revenue options. The Christian Moerlein Lagerhouse sits on park land, and the money they pay in rent helps to fund park maintenance.

There is a lot of excitement about what’s to come on the river.

“People are extremely excited about Smale Park — for one reason — it’s coming out of the river, it’s happening,” Carden said.