Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton neighborhoods will get a fully-renovated Ziegler Park in the spring of 2017, equipped with a deep-water pool, sprayground, vast green lawns and a 400-car underground garage.
The $30 million project ceremoniously broke ground Wednesday morning with roughly 100 city leaders, dignitaries and neighbors in attendance at the old Cutter Playground next to the former School for the Creative and Performing Arts at 14th and Sycamore streets.
The project – led by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., better known as 3CDC – has been about three years in the making.
The “renaissance of our city will continue in the best possible way by investing in green public spaces that bring people together of all ages and races, East Side and West Side, Downtown and Uptown,” Mayor John Cranley said.
“Look at this facade,” the mayor continued, motioning toward the former SCPA building, well on its way to becoming high-end apartments called the Alumni Lofts. “Maybe we have a mini-Lumenocity here sometime soon.”
Roughly $10 million for the park will be paid for with New Market Tax Credits, said Adam Gelter, executive vice president of development for 3CDC. New Markets Tax Credits are an alternative financing tool that allows private investors to receive federal income tax credits for making investments in low-income neighborhoods.
City Council approved selling another $10 million worth of bonds from its Park and Recreation Improvement Bond Fund to give to 3CDC. All members of council approved this funding, except for Kevin Flynn, who voted “no” and Christopher Smitherman, who abstained from voting.
Flynn shared concerns about the city opening a new park when park leaders have said they can’t afford to keep up with aging park infrastructure throughout the system.
The bonds will be repaid with tax-increment financing from the Over-the-Rhine East District.
The rest of the funding has not yet been raised, according to a 3CDC spokesman Joe Rudemiller. 3CDC’s equity funds are “providing a bridge loan to cover the $11.9 million gap so the project can move forward while we continue fundraising from both public and private sources,” Rudemiller said.
Gelter said this has truly been a community effort.
“Folks from neighbors to business owners, all participated in coming up with a vision for this park,” Gelter said. “I think we’ll all going to be excited about the vision that group put together.”
Park features include an aquatic center and diving well – unique among city pools.
There was talk early on of a climbing wall in the pool, too.
The community met for several planning sessions over the last three years, telling park and 3CDC officials that they want the safety of Washington Park. City officials have said, like Washington Park, the park and parking lot will be monitored 24-7 by security guards.
But the community also told city planners that they want the park to keep its neighborhood feel and not be a destination park like Washington Park.
City officials said the park would be more passive and not play host to huge events.
One of the financial backers is the Kantor family, which made a donation on behalf of its patriarch Milton Kantor, who died in 2012. Kantor founded Victory Wholesale Grocers, based in Springboro, and later in life moved to the Cincinnati area.
“My dad was the voice for people who were never heard,” Rick Kantor, of Montgomery, said of his father. “He was about making life, not only better for so many, but he always wanted people to know that he mattered.”
Rick Kantor declined to say how much money his family contributed to the park’s renovation but said they know he would be proud to support the project.
It is “the perfect combination of creating a sports venue, swimming pool, a place where children and families can enjoy themselves all summer in a safe and productive environment,” Rick Kantor said.
Ziegler Park is named for David Ziegler, Cincinnati’s first mayor.
Ziegler was born in Heidelberg, Germany and served as mayor in 1802 and 1803 after Cincinnati was incorporated as a village.