Organization Info

Cincinnati Parks Foundation
Type: CBO
Sector: Recreation
City: Cincinnati
Best Practice: Earned income streams at Smale Riverfront Park

Organization Mission

To build broad-based private/public partnerships supporting the conservation and enhancement of Cincinnati’s parks and green spaces
Cincinnati Parks Foundation

The Cincinnati Parks Board and the Cincinnati Parks Foundation have developed multiple creative revenue streams to help underwrite the development and maintenance of the beautiful 43-acre Smale Riverfront Park.

Creative Earned Income Ventures are Key to the Fiscal Health of the Smale Riverfront Park

Cincy Parks Fdn Smale Riverfront ParkOn September 29, 2008, Cincinnati residents were treated to something very special: the grand opening of the John G. and Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park. Hugging the Ohio River in between the city’s two major league stadiums, the 43-acre park boasts gorgeous fountains, walkways, gardens, playgrounds, a splash park, a restaurant, and concert venues. And it is not yet all that it will be, since development of the park is still underway. Upon completion the price tag may reach $120 million. Annual operating costs for the park are estimated at about $1.3 million.

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation is the nonprofit charged overall with fundraising and advocacy for the city’s extensive parks system (5 regional parks, 70 neighborhood parks, and 34 nature preserves). Its small staff seeks to complement the resources provided by the city by obtaining individual and corporate donations as well as state and federal grants. Already the Foundation has raised $40 million towards the development of Smale Riverfront Park.


To ensure that the Park Board will be able to handle the ongoing operating costs of the park, Cincinnati Park Board senior staffers Willie Carden and Marijane Klug incorporated several creative earned income elements into the Smale Park’s design.

First they envisioned restaurants within the park that would pay a percentage of their income, as a ground lease, into the Parks system. This is already a current reality with the onsite Moerlein Lager House restaurant on the park’s East side. In addition, they negotiated a “common area maintenance charge” (CAM) with developers of The Banks—a residential and retail complex adjacent to the park. “We receive 35 cents for every square foot of commercial development and 8 cents for every residential square foot of development,” explains Marijane Klug. The idea is that The Banks greatly benefits from its highly attractive and desirable location at Smale Park and so these funds provide ongoing revenue for the Park’s upkeep.

CincyParks Fdn Fountain Photo

Future earned income streams planned include slip charges at the park’s soon-to-be-built marina. “People will be able to pay to dock their boats temporarily, for a day or weekend, at the marina. You could think of it like a parking fee,” Klug says. Construction is also underway for a carousel at the park, and, underneath it, a major conference venue. “I predict a lot of brides are going to be booking this space,” chuckles Suzy Doward, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Parks Foundation. “I know I would!” The Riverfront Park already includes other venues, such as beautiful lawn space and a concert stage, that generate revenue from events and rentals. Additionally, on the Park’s western side there will be a large green parking lot. Ten times per year it will be used for overflow parking for the nearby football stadium but on the other weekends it will generate income for the Parks Foundation. Finally, the Smale Riverfront Park (as well as some others in the Cincy parks system) incorporates alternative energy systems that can both save money and lower annual utility expenses. Geothermal wells dug underneath the Park’s grounds produce the power for its fountains, restrooms, and the heating and cooling of the Moerlein Lager House. The associated “pump and dump” system that taps into a major aquifer will provide fresh water that the Parks Foundation can sell to the hotel to be developed within The Banks complex and will also reduce the overall utility costs for Smale Riverfront Park.