Hamilton’s Marcum Park has been named one of five Great Public Spaces in America by the American Planning Association, which honored the park for the fun it provides, the economic development it is creating, and the way Hamilton reclaimed property that had become a brownfield site.
The award is something the APA takes very seriously, said Kurt Christiansen, president-elect of the organization. Since the program began in 2007, public spaces that have been honored include New York’s Central Park and Grand Central Terminal and Chicago’s popular Millennium Park. Cleveland’s beloved Public Square was another public-space winner this year.
Butler County residents “should be extremely impressed,” Christiansen said. “They should be honored, and there should be celebration.”
Several things about the park earned the APA’s praise, including, “the whole story behind how the park was created,” Christiansen said. “The fact that it was a hospital site that had been vacated, that it was a brownfield site in the downtown, and that the city had successfully reinvented the space as a community space and park that would have lasting impact on the community for decades or centuries.”
Also, he noted, the Marcum family stepped in and contributed to the effort, which he called “something that is not common in today’s world. And the fact that down the line, you had a brownfield next to the Great Miami River, and that was corrected.”
“It took something that could be considered a liability for your community into a shining-star place,” Christiansen said.
When the park, located on property once occupied by Mercy Hospital, was dedicated in May of 2017, Mayor Pat Moeller announced the $3.5 million gift by Joe and Sarah Marcum as “the largest-ever private donation for a park in the city of Hamilton.”
He and others at the ceremony said they envisioned the park becoming the city’s back yard, or living room.
Joe Marcum, who addressed the audience during the ceremony, said he was delighted by the description of the park as Hamilton’s “new living room,” given its location near the center of the city.
The park routinely draws thousands of visitors to evening concerts, most of them free, at its RiversEdge Amphitheater, which are made possible by many Hamilton volunteers. The park offers downtown green space, a playscape for children and an interactive fountain.
“This is an honor that is not given very often, and only to the best of the best,” Christiansen said.
Other area winners from past years include Cincinnati’s Findlay Market as well as its Hyde Park and Over-the-Rhine neighborhoods; Columbus’ German Village neighborhood; Dayton’s Fifth Street; the Village of Mariemont; and Cleveland’s West Side Market; as well as the Historic Licking Riverside neighborhood in Covington, Ky.
The APA accepts nominations from its members and non-members, “and we look at places that transform communities —where people want to be, where people want to spend time,” Christiansen said. “Being a park in the downtown is a catalyst for economic development and economic enhancements.”
Already, the park spurred creation of the adjacent Marcum project of apartments, restaurants and retail.
Aside from the Great Public Spaces, the program this year awarded a total of 15 Great Places nationwide, including neighborhoods and streets.
“This is the flagship program of this organization, and we take these designations very seriously,” Christiansen said. “They’re reviewed and looked over, and to receive one of these is quite the honor from our organization.”
City Manager Joshua Smith called Marcum Park “one of the top reasons for Hamilton’s resurgence, attracting thousands of visitors to our urban core every year.”
He said it has twice been named the top concert venue in Greater Cincinnati, and thanked the volunteers who help with the shows.
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