Washington Park reopens amid mixed reviews

Rally against the redo of Washington Park
Rally against the redo of Washington Park

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Workers made last minute touches to Washington Park Thursday as city officials prepared to celebrate the re-opening of the landmark Friday morning.

Since construction began, the park has been expanded from six acres to eight. Visitors can now enjoy a 450 space parking garage located underneath the park, along with a water feature, stage, and many other new elements.

The renovation and expansion came with a price tag of $48 million. Just over half of the money came from public funds with nearly 22 million from private dollars.

"I think it's a great idea. I think the park is beautiful," Sade Griffin said.

Griffin, who has lived in the area for seven years, says the external changes in the park mirror the internal changes in her own life.

"I was once a part of this park and once you get in here you get stuck in here," she explained. "I came here every day. I was an alcoholic and it felt like I had nowhere else to go but here."

Now that she is in recovery, Griffin is glad to see old temptations have been cleared out.

"As soon as my changes started coming, this park changed too. They say old people, places and things … stay away from them," Griffin said. "So I'm glad this place is changing."

"They've been able to clean that all up and I think with the new program of beautifying and everything I think it's been really an upgrade," Lord's Gym volunteer Larry Tanner said.

Across the street at Lord's Gym they have been watching the changes take shape.

"I think it's all for the best," Tanner offered.

Not everyone in the neighborhood is convinced, however.

"A lot of people that live in this area just feel like they're just at the bottom end of the totem pole and they don't feel like people welcome them and embrace them," Debbie Burstion explained.

Burstion has been coming down to the Washington Park area since 1995 working as a health educator.

"I can almost feel that most people won't feel comfortable going back into the park setting," she said.

"I can understand cleaning it up or whatever, that's fine," one neighborhood resident said. "That's no problem, but we don't want to be run out of our neighborhood because you want to bring in the rich, bring in what you need instead of helping the minority that's out here to bring in businesses also."

The resident, wanting only to be referenced by her first name Mary, says she has lived in Over the Rhine for more than fifty years. She says while the old park walls may have been taken down, she argues an invisible wall has taken its place.

"I do not feel like it's going to be our park anymore, no," Mary said.

Burstion, however, has hope the park can help bridge the gap in the neighborhood now increasingly home to a diverse population of varying backgrounds and income levels.

"Over the Rhine has always been a hub of diversity for people that live in Over the Rhine and I'm hoping that the park will be more conducive to embracing that diversity in the neighborhood," Burstion said.

She says the park has come to stand for something much greater than the trees and grass that now line the eight acres.

"It represents more than just that," Burstion said. "It represents people's history and people's feelings that just because they're at a lower income class status they should be able to mix and mingle just as well."

A rally is also being held Friday morning against the park's renovations.

The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless says the "rally will be to notify the public of the discriminatory process that took place to re-do Washington Park."

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