Sometimes, it seems that Cincinnati government functions a lot like the Bengals: even when it looks like things are going along pretty well, it manages to shoot itself in the foot. The City may have recently done this with respect to Riverfront Park.
At the September 2 City Council meeting this fairly innocuous-looking motion was on the agenda. Having originated in the Economic Development Committee, it sought to prevent any restrictions from being placed on the use of Riverfront Park (the city-owned and -operated park that will be part of the Banks) as a part of any deal with any developer handling projects on other Banks lots.
Because the September 2 meeting was another chapter in the budget soap opera, I watched the replay on Citicable. Admittedly, I wasn't paying much attention to other agenda items, but my interest became a little piqued when I noticed that Chris Bortz seemed unduly upset about something other than the budget. Thinking it'd be fun to watch Bortz pout, I turned the sound up and started listening. It turned out that this was not just Bortz crying over spilled milk. (Sorry...that was probably overly mean towards Bortz, who I think has acquitted himself well over the past month.)
It turns out that even though the Economic Development Committee had passed the no-restrictions motion back in June, the Parks Department had agreed to place restrictions on the hours during which amplified sound could be played at Riverfront Park. The agreement came in a covenant as part of an overall deal with one of the condo developers planning to build in the Banks. Every Councilmember who spoke on the issue was extremely upset about the contract, which had been signed by City representatives a few hours before the Council meeting. The agreement permits the covenant to be enforced by the condo owners association, which would presumably be formed once the condos are sold.
It never became clear during Council's meeting that day what the time restriction was. Eight at night? Bad idea. Two in the morning? Who cares? And since the last two weeks have been drowned out by budget hysteria, the traditional media haven't reported on this. But I've checked around, and it turns out that the agreement forbids amplified sound in the park after 11:00 at night.
It's an unfortunate agreement that may limit the park's use. On a day-to-day basis, of course, it's no big deal. Who's going to be at Riverfront Park on a Wednesday night in January after 11:00? But plans for the park are still very much evolving. When the park has been discussed here, some have suggested that Taste of Cincinnati (and other Fountain Square events) might move to Riverfront Park. But as it stands now, Taste goes until midnight each night, with live music on several stages. These restrictions would either prevent the move or force the event to end early. One can easily see other events (concerts, music festivals, perhaps even an extended Riverfest or Fourth of July party) for which Riverfront Park will now be a much less attractive venue.
It's not clear why the Parks Department--rather than the City Manager--was in control of these negotiations. It's not clear why the no-restrictions motion wasn't on Council's agenda until after it was too late to matter. And it's not clear how the Parks Department missed the clear direction from the Council Committee. Hopefully, this is an item that can yet be addressed. But as it stands now, it's a step (or at least a half step) backwards for the Banks project.