CINCINNATI — The City of Cincinnati and residents of Over-the-Rhine hope a newly remodeled portion of Ziegler Park can stop a nearly two-year uptick in criminal behavior along that stretch of Main Street.

What You Need To Know

  • Officials from Cincinnati and 3CDC joined OTR residents to formally unveil the expansion of Ziegler Park

  • The $3 million project aimed to more safely connect Main Street to a pool, playground and other amenities

  • The project closed former streets to traffic and added more lighting to help improve public safety

  • Officials plan to activate the park with regular programming to improve vibrancy on the street and deter potential criminal behavior

On Tuesday, the city joined Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), the Cincinnati Police Department, Black Art Speaks and OTR residents for a ribbon-cutting marking the official opening of the expanded, nearly five-acre urban park.

The eight-month, $3 million project added a pedestrian-only walkway and play area onto Woodward Street and a portion of Yukon Street, which backs into the park. The goal, according to 3CDC, was to better connect Main Street to the recreation area, swimming pool and playground on the Sycamore Street side of Ziegler Park.

Designers added new tables and chairs, elevated sunscreens and a roughly 25-yard-long stretch of synthetic turf that can be used for playing or even a movie night in the park. The project also added new, brighter lighting and two vertical landmark signs that bookmark both sides of the park’s Main Street entrance.

“The city of Cincinnati is known for its vibrant civic spaces and Ziegler Park expansion is no exception,” said Brandy Del Favero, development director of 3CDC.

Combating 18 months of crime, violence

The latest Ziegler Park work is the continuation of the $32 million renovation that wrapped up in 2017. Led by 3CDC, that project added the pool, a splash park, enhanced public restrooms and a playground. New benches and chairs made the area more inviting families looking to hangout or enjoy a picnic.

Over the past six years, 3CDC has directed family-centric programming at Ziegler Park. Events ranged from a swim team and a basketball program to workout classes and movie nights.

Mayor Aftab Pureval stressed those things led to a reduction in crime, especially gun violence, in that part of OTR. But he said things started to change 18 months ago.

The city of Cincinnati convened the Main Street Task Force following a mass shooting in August 2022. (Spectrum News 1/Casey Weldon)
The city of Cincinnati convened the Main Street Task Force following a mass shooting in August 2022. (Spectrum News 1/Casey Weldon)

In August 2022, nine people were injured in a shooting near 13th and Main streets, roughly a block from the former Woodward Street.

Beyond that shooting, Pureval said the area surrounding Ziegler Park had become “kind of chaos,” especially when bars were letting out on weekends. Large groups loitered in the park and there was a lot of dangerous vehicular traffic, he added.

In response, the city convened the Main Street Task Force. The collection of residents, business owners and community stakeholders looked to come up with non-police solutions to address violence and other criminal activity in the area.

One of their solutions was to add more lighting and activations to Ziegler Park, particularly on the Main Street side. Pureval said Yukon Street had become a known area of criminal activity.

Better activation of Woodward Street gives the city, and the neighborhood, “greater control” over the area, Pureval said. He described creating a “thriving” public space, with regular events and activities, as being an anathema to criminals.

“It’s definitely a disruption,” the first-term mayor said.

Improving quality of life on Main Street

Specific programming plans for the Ziegler Park expansion are still being developed, according to 3CDC’s Joe Rudemiller. But he said children in the Ziegler Park summer camp are already using the space.

“We believe the programming and positive activity taking place in the expanded area of the park will result in a safer area and an energy that will spill out onto Main Street and benefit the whole community,” he added.

Carla Oden, a longtime resident of OTR, believes the new-look Ziegler Park is great for the neighborhood and the children who live there.

3CDC plans to have regular family-minded programming ranging from workout classes to movie nights. (Spectrum News 1/Casey Weldon)
3CDC plans to have regular family-minded programming ranging from workout classes to movie nights. (Spectrum News 1/Casey Weldon)

“It’s going to give them a place where they can get together and have fun, while feeling safe and being comfortable where they’re at,” she added.

That’s big, Oden said, especially considering a citywide surge in gun violence this summer. As of June 7, the city had seen 140 shootings so far in 2023, including 52 since the start of May.

Oden admitted that hanging out on Main Street can become “a little scary sometimes.” She believes the park is going to have a positive impact overall by making it safer for people with “with good intentions” to hang out there.

To bring positive momentum to Main Street, 3CDC launched the Main Street Pop-Up Program — another recommendation from the Main Street Task Force — just last week. The program offers short-term leases, potential financial incentives, to fill vacant storefronts along throughout the business district.

The OTR Chamber is also hosting daytime events, such as the monthly Second Sunday on Main street festival. Buskers and musicians will perform regularly as part of The Street Stage Project supported by ArtsWave.

The Cincinnati Police Department has officers working overtime and out on increased foot patrols, particularly near downtown and during weekends, throughout the summer.

“We like being around here,” Oden added. “We don’t plan to go anywhere.”

Oden said there’s cautious optimism among OTR residents about the changes to Main Street. If the work and programming are inclusive of the residents in the area, Oden’s fine with it. She said, though, it feels there are becoming fewer places where she and her neighbors can get together and hang out.

“We don’t have front yards or backyards in OTR,” she said. “These parks are where we can hang out together and kick it with our friends and our kids.”

Reclaiming neighborhood spaces through public art

Pureval compared the Ziegler Park expansion to the success the city has seen with Imagination Alley, a pocket park in the heart of OTR’s Vine Street business district.

The space had always great potential, given its location, Pureval said; however, it’d been underused for years and as a result had become wrought with public safety issues.

Artists pose with murals being painted on Yukon Street. (Spectrum News 1/Casey Weldon)
Artists pose with murals being painted on Yukon Street. (Spectrum News 1/Casey Weldon)

The 2021 Imagination Alley “facelift,” was Rudemiller called it, invested $850,000 in plants, lighting and seating. The team made a point of preserving the colorful tile mosaics and prominent archway for which the park is known.

Pureval described public art as vital part of these types of projects because it gives the community a way to “take back their spaces.”

Black Art Speaks, a local nonprofit, is collecting feedback from residents about art they’d like to see at Ziegler Park. Adoria Maxberry, one of the artists, is creating a colorful 100-foot-long by 15-foot-wide mural near the park’s Main Street entrance.

Maxberry is still in the development stage. But she said park-goers can expect the piece to incorporate words and images that “exude hope” and “reflect the vibrance of the neighborhood.” 

“That’s the power of public art,” Maxberry said. “It can bring people together by transforming a space into an inviting place where people want to grow and live.”