Cincinnati’s Jewel: Smale Riverfront Park


The Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park is a 32-acre park in downtown Cincinnati that follows the banks of the Ohio River. The park is framed by Cincinnati landmarks like the Roebling Bridge, the National Underground Freedom Railroad Center, the Paul Brown Stadium and the Great American Ballpark. With implementation currently underway, the park completes a necklace of open spaces on the river, links statewide recreation trail and bike systems and reconnects the heart of downtown Cincinnati to the river. Massachusetts-based landscape architecture firm Sasaki Associates, Inc., designed the park as a fitting backdrop for the Roebling Bridge — a historically significant architectural icon — with areas for large gatherings, passive recreation and programmed events.

Previously underused space that needed a significant makeover. In the spring of 2011, John Smale, former Chairman of Procter & Gamble, gave the Cincinnati Parks Foundation a $20 million gift to honor his late wife Phyllis, who spent decades working to raise funds for the city’s green spaces. Additional funding was provided through a mix of city, state and federal resources. The park is expected to bring over one million visitors downtown annually and have a positive economic impact on downtown Cincinnati overall. The park also provides an excellent venue for major events and festivals, and includes space for restaurants and other leisure facilities.

The park provides a setting and a catalyst for civic activities and entertainment venues, and is supported by partnerships with private and public funds. Typical park events range from small picnic-like activities to larger pre- and post-game activities for local sports teams the Bengals and Reds, concerts, and Tall Stakes, a music, arts, and heritage festival that brings 350,000 visitors downtown. The park includes several interactive water features, a performance stage, a sculpture play area, a pavilion, bench swings, water gardens and Cinergy Trace, a 1,000-foot-long riverfront promenade. Public landings, seasonal docking and wharves serve the public and commercial cruise boat traffic.

Park amenities are enhanced by a series of sustainable strategies. A geothermal heating and cooling system supports a new restaurant pavilion, integrated bicycle-commuting center and public restrooms. The bicycle center was included in the design to encourage alternative means of transportation among park visitors. The event lawn has a green roof with trees that cover the top of the garage structure below, and solar panels on the garage, bike center and stage help provide electricity to the park. In the surrounding waterfront district, plans for a six-block, mixed-use development will bring roughly 400 residential units and office and commercial activities to the area. Phase one, which was recently completed, includes the Schmidlapp stage and event lawn, the Walnut Street steps and interactive fountain, the Main Street interactive fountain, the Black Brigade Monument, tree groves, a meditative labyrinth, the Cincinnati Bike and Visitor’s Center, and the Moerlein Lager House. Phase two, which is under construction, includes the Women’s Committee Garden, an adventure playground, a marina, a boat dock and other features.