Sunday, December 4, 2011

Revisiting Cincinnati Stadia

 Cincinnati Riverfront Master Plan
+ Overview of proposed Smale Riverfront Park.

There's been a lot of talk lately about how to make the operations for the recently built stadiums on the riverfront profitable (or at the very least balanced) - with the funds annually threatening red, resulting in secret backroom deals, general anxiety, and who knows what else.  Since the plow hit the soil, it seems, questions persist as to whether the county received a bad deal (+), and whether stadium construction in general creates the substantial societal and financial impact that the public is promised.

Having taken the guided behind-the-scenes tours of both new riverfront facilities, and attended numerous events in all big four local stadiums, I've come away with these general observations of the existing Cincinnati mega-stadiums (click on any image for a larger view):

Great American Ballpark was designed comfortably - enjoyable just to meander throughout, with unique lures / stopping points spread between each section - and feels like part of a neighborhood, even when closed.  The attached Hall of Fame Museum adds to the stadium's perception of year-round accessibility, but the fact that the season is 6+ months long alone lends to its true viability.  When not watching the main event, there's plenty of family-oriented + adult-centric things to do to enjoyably bide the time.

Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati riverfront.
First-generation rendering of the new riverfront ballpark.
Image source: UrbanCincy + Hamilton County.

Lindner Family Tennis Center is actually comprised of four stadiums (Center Court, Grandstand Court + 2 additional with seating) + many other satellite courts. Located in Mason, there's room for growth indefinitely, and with its continued expansion (through bricks & mortar + tournament building) its relevance on the world stage is continually amplified. Even with its roomy suburban digs, the grounds are oriented so that meandering between matches on several different courts is easy, with the stadiums themselves airy and comfortable.  Great food, shopping and tennis facilities overall draw fringe jocks to socialites and everyone else in between, resulting in a vibrant mixture during the day or evening daily sessions.  It also doesn't hurt that the complex sidles the Jack Nicklaus-designed Kings Island Golf Center + Kings Island itself, among other attractions.  A veritable playground.

Lindner Family Tennis Center, Mason, Ohio.
The latest master plan expansion for the burgeoning Cincinnati tourney.
Image source: W&S Open.

Nippert Stadium is shoved so tight within UC's campus that it's hard for it to breath, so expansion proposals are often unique concepts (rarely ever actually realized) - though, this restriction is a blessing in disguise: Walking around a huge stadium without encountering acres of parking asphalt is a godsend.  Instead, it's surrounded by some of the most amazing architecture and a vibrant student population, which makes it feel like a lively city within a city, which is very cool.

Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati.
Nippert is just one part of UC's huge sports complex, which hosts
a ton of teams' fields, courts, etc.

Paul Brown Stadium - a huge leap from the Bengals original home in Nippert Stadium (1968-69) - is architecturally significant and provides great aerial shots, but when inside, the Brutalist-like concrete interior on cold game days kind of makes you feel like you're on the movie set of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich...or maybe a zoo holding pen.  It would be nice if pre- or post-game attractions were built into the stadium somehow to extend its gameday (or potentially game-week) life, but I'm not familiar with them (if they exist).  For the most part, tailgating is stuck to the underpasses and the rest to the bars, but I'll bet that those living in the Club-level have a much different take on this.

Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati riverfront.
Designed by NBBJ Sports and Entertainment Architects of LA.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Anyway, it's ironic that of all the stadiums in town, Paul Brown Stadium was the most expensive to build, has produced the least-winning teams, is used the least period of time (just 10 days/year for the Bengals), and most importantly, is the most shut off from the surrounding environment even though it lives in arguably the most prominent neighborhood in the city: the Riverfront District.  I'm no fair-weather fan and am glad we have a pro team, but... well, I'll leave it at that.

Still, overall, I'd say yes, the stadiums impact the city in a socially and financially significant (usually positive) way - its hard to imagine what the city would be without them. Not only do they draw international interest, but enliven the residents, and overall, make the city money.  They make our mid-size city feel much much larger, and frankly, we're lucky to have these assets.

The X-factor, of course, is the main event: whether we win or lose.  Even when the city went through massive renovation and growth (business and construction) primarily in the late-70's to 80s, I've heard some say that the optimistic air surrounding that "boom time" was attributed greatly to our dominance in pro sports.  That's the perception, and as a result, perhaps the true value of the stadiums - the city's collective attitude buoys with the teams' successes or failures, and thus, sometimes how the structures themselves are received.

Nevertheless, bucking the long-standing perception of Mark Twain (et al.) that the city is intolerant or slow to change, no matter the population numbers, economy, team scores, or outcome of concept, Cincinnati never ceases to dream big, which itself makes this this relatively small town always feel like a promising metropolis.

So, riding this optimistic wave of idealism, here's a short retrospective of some of the great initial, conceptual illustrations of these behemoths + fantastical stadium visions that never got off the drawing board:

Cincinnati Riverfront Rehabilitation proposal (1926).
Note the rudimentary football/track field in the middle, obviously unbuilt.
Image source: Cincinnati Transit.

Cincinnati Riverfront Redevelopment plan (1948).
Another unbuilt stadium proposal for another unbuilt riverfront concept (view larger).
Image source: Cincinnati Transit.

Cincinnati Riverfront Development proposal (1961).
Including an unbuilt baseball stadium concept (more info).
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer (2/19/63).

Riverfront Stadium concept (1966). 
A proposed domed stadium on the site of the then Riverfront Stadium.
Image source: Visual History Gallery.

Cincinnati Riverfront Redevelopment concept (early 1990s). 
Commissioned by the then-city manager during the city boom era & early talk
of The Banks, this shows the stadiums on opposite ends of the city from where they exist now.
Image source: UrbanOhio.

Riverfront Stadium / Cinergy Field renovation proposal (1997).
This plan would've saved some bucks by retrofitting the existing stadium
instead of building the new one we have today.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Cincinnati Reds stadium proposal, Broadway Commons (1998).
A failed attempt to move the new stadium to Over the Rhine.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Great American Ballpark, early concept (1998).
In the fight against the Broadway Commons proposal, the Reds released this rendering of
keeping the stadium on the river.  It obviously was built here, but with a different design.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Paul Brown Stadium + Great American Ballpark vision (1998).
A broader view of the riverfront with the Reds Stadium concept shown above.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Nippert Stadium expansion proposal, University of Cincinnati (2008).
Very cool unbuilt concept that fits in with the contemporary feel of the new campus.
Image source: UrbanCincy + Trahan Architects.

Cincinnati's 2012 Olympic bid, event facilities (2000).
A proposed retrofitted, domed Nippert Stadium would've hosted gymnastics.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Cincinnati's 2012 Olympic bid, master plan (2000).
This grandaddy of all Cincinnati master plans showcases a transformed riverfront which
would've included an Olympic Stadium, left, and other supporting fields/stadiums.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Read more about the general impact of stadiums: 
Do New Stadiums Have an Economic Impact? from Diehard Sport
Sport, Jobs, & Taxes: Are New Stadiums Worth the Cost? from Brookings Institution
The Stadium Gambit and Local Economic Development from Regulation Mag / CATO Institute
The Economic Impact of Sports Facilities from The Sports Digest
Corporate Welfare, Publicly Funded Stadiums (+ comprehensive link list) from AK Dart

Thursday, October 27, 2011

RIP Uncle Carl

"Carl Lindner waves, to a passing float as Reds President Marge Schott looks on
from the reviewing stand at the Norwood "Summer Daze" parade in Norwood.
Lindner was grand marshal" (1987).
Source: Cincinnati Enquirer. 

Carl Lindner Jr.: Intrepid capitalist, generous benefactor, and local icon. A true Cincinnatian that arguably built our city into what it is today.

As you can read on just about every local and national news site, Lindner swam through many different shark-infested waters successfully throughout his life - purchasing assets, rebuilding them, then eventually selling them for gain... and mostly for Cincinnati's gain. 

As Tom McKee (WCPO) noted, "During his decades as a Cincinnati businessman, Lindner built United Dairy Farmers, owned and moved Chiquita, Penn Central and Great American Insurance to Cincinnati and once owned the Cincinnati Reds, Cincinnati Enquirer, Provident Bank and Kings Island." (Source).  See photos of these holdings.

In addition, his more charitable efforts helped further support the region. Immense gifts to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Lindner Center of HOPE, University of Cincinnati's College of Business, UC's Varsity Village complex, Western & Southern Open, Cincinnati Museum Center, and 3CDC (in addition to many other local educational, religious, and political donations), just to name a few.  More of his contributions in pictures.

Richard Farmer (Cintas) said it best (source):
"He's got to be one of the most generous guys in Cincinnati. I don't know of any positive thing that's happened in Cincinnati that Carl has not been a part of." 

Carl Lindner, Jr. started with nothing, then turned aspirations of an up-and-coming dairy store into an American Financial institution, and Cincinnati was fortunate enough to come along for the ride.  As Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis said (source),
"He loved this city. Everything he did was for the benefit of the city..."

• • • • • • • • • •

As a child of the 70s-80s in Cincinnati - boom time for Carl's group and the city at large - it's hard to recall a time in my life when one of Lindners' holdings wasn't a part of it.  So, here's a quick retrospective of his work according to how it played a role in my early years:

I grew up in Anderson, and as a young kid spent a good deal of time trying to get to the mall - the thing to do in the 80s - which Carl Lindner helped to popularize in our area. He established and sold not only Surrey Square (in his home neighborhood of Norwood) and Kenwood Mall (now Kenwood Towne Center), but also my home-away-from-home, Beechmont Mall (now Anderson Towne Center).

Beechmont Mall (1977).

Beechmont Mall (undated).
Source: Abandoned.

The whole Beechmont Mall area became a central hub of commerce for Anderson Township, with several of Lindner's own properties holding leases, such as Thriftway and Hunter Savings.

American Financial's initial bank, Hunter Savings & Loan, was located at the head of Beechmont Mall, and thus became the holder of my first bank account. Though, for a young kid trying to save, the branch was not ideally located - an Aladdin's Castle beckoned right down the hall.

"In 1959, Lindner acquired what is now Hunter Savings & Loan.
American Financial acquired United Liberty Life Insurance in 1963" (1977).
Source: Cincinnati Magazine. 

Part of the Beechmont Mall complex, Thriftway Food & Drug was the stalwart grocery in our household.  Even though the more popular Kroger was right up the road, it was a hair closer, tucked behind the mall on Five Mile Road.

Thriftway, Anderson (199x).

After the closing of Thriftway in Anderson, Lindner's United Dairy Farmers became a surrogate grocery when Kroger was out of reach (which still continues to this day).

United Dairy Farmers first store, Norwood (1940).

I'm a big fan of walkable communities, and with the convenient stores able to fit in the heart of tight communities, UDF has become a necessary supplier of the staples during my stints in Clifton, Mt. Lookout, and in Mariemont today.

While in Mt. Lookout, I really dug the neighborhood mom-and-pop grocers such as Bracke's, and although they are increasingly shuttered, UDF is small enough to slide into any neighborhood and still maintain somewhat of a community feel.  Now, if all the UDF's just looked like the one in Clifton...

United Dairy Farmers, Clifton (2009).
Source: Steve Hagy. 

Also, needless to say, during those 1980s heydays I spent many a summer at Kings Island - part of a bundle deal when Lindner acquired Taft Broadcasting in 1987.

Hanna-Barbera Land, Kings Island (1973).
A conglomeration of brands owned by Lindner. Actually, it probably
looked a bit more like this when Lindner owned it.

A little later, I resided for a short while at this condo complex in Anderson:

Guess who built it?

"Carl H. Lindner, right, and Robert D. Lindner inspect development plans for
The Commons of Anderson, a luxury condominium home development
in Anderson Township" (1973).

These were the years that I was really pouring time into extracurriculars, and luckily, there was a tennis court at The Commons - I recall many nights of my trainer ruthlessly making me run the lines after a full lesson. And as the seasons wore on, an increasing hold on the sport brought me many times to the Lindner courts big and small.
Lindner Family Tennis Center, Cincinnati (the early years).

Most people will remember Lindner for gaining ownership of the Reds from Marge Schott (and protecting it from potential non-local entities' control), and bringing Ken Griffey Jr. back home.  A few more actions that speak to his dedication to and love of Cincinnati.

But personally, I'll remember him more for his contributions to the Western & Southern Open, in addition to smaller community-oriented tennis facilities of which I played numerous times throughout the years.  Primarily, Cincinnati Recreation Commission's Carl and Edyth Lindner Family Tennis Center at Lunken, and the Carl Lindner Family Tennis Pavilion at Sawyer Point.

The Lindner family has sponsored the international tennis mega-tourney in Mason for decades, Western & Southern Masters, culminating with the recent huge gift that further expanded its facilities, continued its lure of big name players, and turned it into a men's and women's combine. Like the Reds nameplate, Cincinnati tennis continues to maintain national recognition and prominence through the support of the Lindner family.

"Carl Lindner, center, and his brother Richard Lindner, right, chat with
tennis great Rod Laver at the Jack Nicklaus Sports Center" (1997).

And how did I ease the cramping from all those years of extended court play?

"Reds CEO Carl Lindner displays a Chiquita banana from the Reds
training table at the spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla." (2000).
Source: Cincinnati Enquirer. 

Chiquita is obviously a big name in Cincinnati, which again was of Carl's making - he brought it to town, and hopefully it will stay.  Fortunately, I was able to experience the company and its many amenities because a member of my family worked directly for the head(s) of the company for many years.  This not only allowed me access to the top chef cooking in the company cafeteria, but access to the creme de la creme of all company holiday parties...

"Carl H. Lindner and his wife Edyth, left, greet guests at the annual Christmas party
at Music Hall that Lindner gave for employees and friends. The party featured
national entertainers. On this occasion, it was Sammy Davis Jr." (1972).

I never personally worked for any of the Lindner companies, but was fortunate enough to attend a couple of the storied annual Christmas events through approximation.  Some of the more notable years showcased Bill Cosby and Frank Sinatra.  They all were great, but witnessing Sinatra sing New York, New York, followed by a high profile ballroom shindig and free UDF ice cream certificates upon exit, was definitely the highlight of my stints at the annual employee party as a non-employee.

So that's about it.

Of course, there are other times where I've run into pretty much all of his other businesses at least once (including many Reds games during the Lindner era), and stories here that could be expounded upon with posts of their own, but these were the highlights. While they were seemingly fleeting and transitory, they helped form the basis of my youth, and in a roundabout way have aided in development of my continued interests.

For that alone, thanks Carl.

• • • • • • • • • • 

• Here's what happened to the businesses: 

Beechmont Mall was eventually sold to Prudential, then reached the fate of most enclosed malls in the US - slow deterioration, partial demolition, then restructuring as an outdoor "lifestyle center" (in this case, by Victory Investments).
Related: Nostalgia for the old Beechmont Mall

 Anderson Towne Center by Victory Investments.

Hunter Savings & Loan bought Home State Savings Bank after it collapsed in the S&L crisis, then sold off it's branches. Hunter was later bought by Provident Financial Group (Provident Bancorp, in which Lindner had a minority stake), which was then bought by National City in the early 2000s, and National City by PNC in 2008.

"A crowd lines up to get into Home State Savings Bank
at Fifth and Race streets downtown" (1985). 
Source: Cincinnati Enquirer.  

Thriftway was sold to Winn-Dixie in 1996, then all stores closed in 2004 (Source). The new Anderson Towne Center renovations have turned this particular lot into office buildings (specifically, GHA Anderson).

Thriftway Anderson shuttered (pre-redevelopment).

UDF continues its viability and expansion. 

The Commons of Anderson is still neatly habitable.

The Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason recently expanded (again), aiding in a huge new duel mens and womens event (the Western & Southern Masters and Women's Open) along with amazing new world-class facilities. Read about the history of the tourney and Western & Southern Open's response to Carl Lindner's passing.
Related: The grounds prior to renovations.

 Lindner Family Tennis Center master plan expansion, Mason (2011).
See more concept art of the new grounds & West Grandstand concept art here.

Taft Broadcasting has its own storied history, which you can read here (and it's relationship with Lindner's Great American). But notably, it sold off Hanna-Barbera Productions (to Turner/Time Warner) and Kings Island (to Paramount, then Cedar Fair), then Clear Channel bought and eradicated the name in 1999. More about the Kings Island side of the history here.
Related: Hanna Barbera's ode to the Cincinnati Union Terminal. 


•The majority of imagery / content listed in this post came from:
Cincinnati Enquirer (
Cincinnati Business Courier
Cincinnati Magazine (February 1977)
Cincinnati Magazine (October 1986) 
• Local articles:
WLWT NBC 5 Cincinnati
WCPO ABC 9 Cincinnati
WKRC CBS 12 Cincinnati
WXIX FOX 19 Cincinnati (AP) + Public Memorial Parade route 
• National articles:
"Only in America" Celebration Tour & Rememberances (CBS Business Library)
FOX Sports (AP)
New York Times (AP)
Washington Post (Bloomberg News)
USA Today (AP)
Twenty Billionaires That Started With Nothing (Bloomberg Businessweek)
TCPalm (AP)
• General info about Lindner and AFG:
Personal bio (Wikipedia)
Personal bio (American Financial Group)
American Financial Group/Lindner info & assets (Wikipedia)
American Financial Corporation history

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Back on the Train

Scenic Railway, Coney Island [1908].
Via Shorpy.

Here again, folks. It's been one heck of a long, quiet ride over placid lakes of workaday redundancy since my last visit here almost a year and a half ago. 

I've jumped ship from my most recent professional escapade - one that kept Cincinnati Revisited in hibernation - and it feels great to be back on the gut-shaking, knobby rails of "reality" again.  The blood is finally flowing.

New attractions imminent here at Cincinnati Revisited.  Thanks for reading.

Another great image from the Shorpy archive above.

• Learn more about the early coaster days of ole Coney Island at the indelible Cincinnati Views library here, and the great "classic" rides at today's Coney here.