Aerial Gondola Lift at the Banks

This is a concept for an aerial gondola lift system that crosses the Ohio River from the Banks in downtown Cincinnati to Covington and Newport, Kentucky.

Aerial Gondola Lift System
An imagined aerial gondola lift system that could connect the IRS redevelopment site in Covington, the Banks development in Cincinnati, and Ovation development in Newport.

First, some context: much recent development has taken place and is planned for both sides of the river.

On the Cincinnati side of the river at the Banks, work has just been completed on the Andrew J. Brady Icon Music Center.  The beautiful event center lawn will be used for outdoor concerts, and serves as an extension of park space at other times.  The Black Music Walk of Fame is the next attraction that is planned, celebrating local African American artists.

On the Kentucky side of the river, official planning has taken place to replace the sprawling IRS building that has dominated several blocks of downtown Covington for decades.  On the riverfront, the new Covington Plaza has opened, providing two overlooks with dramatic river and skyline views, an amphitheater, canoe and kayak access, and a walkway alongside the Roebling Murals, which depict the history of Covington.

Cincinnati skyline as seen from the updated overlook at Covington Plaza

In Newport, Newport on the Levee just underwent a renovation, and construction is underway at Ovation, a mixed use development at the point where the Licking and Ohio rivers meet.  The Ovation development will feature its own music venue, PromoWest Pavilion.

Two large Ferris wheels were proposed for the Cincinnati and Newport riverfronts, but the plans for both have fallen through.  Perhaps this could present an opportunity, however, as an aerial gondola lift could fill this role, and more.

A gondola lift system between Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport would benefit tourism to our region.  In contrast to the relatively stationary view from the top of a Ferris wheel, gondola lifts between Cincinnati and Kentucky would provide a spectacular, immersive moving view of the Cincinnati skyline, Kentucky river cities, Ohio River, and the Roebling Suspension Bridge.  This view and experience would be unique among our Midwest regional and peer cities, indeed rare in North America.  It would change perceptions of our metro area by commanding the attention of television and social media.

A gondola lift system could do all this with the added benefit of being able to circulate people between the riverbanks.  The cities of Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport put on many festivals each year along or in walking distance of the river, seemingly every weekend during the summer, as well as a multitude of sporting events and concerts.  This gondola lift system could serve as an added attraction during these events, and help visitors access parking, restaurants, hotels, and more, no matter which side of the river their destination is on.  Our annual events could expand and grow in scope and reputation as a result.

To get a better idea of the excitement an aerial gondola lift over the Ohio River could create, check out this video of the cable car in Koblenz, Germany crossing over the Rhine River:

There is value of an gondola lift system in this location to our transit systems.  The Covington terminus would be a few blocks away from the main transit center of TANK, the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky.  The Cincinnati terminus would be a few blocks away from Cincinnati streetcar stop #1.  Since gondola cabins continuously circulate, a gondola be could a quick no-wait connection for transit riders to get across the Ohio River. The gondola system as shown could also facilitate travel in between Covington and Newport across the Licking River (via Ohio.)  

A gondola lift system traversing the Ohio could contribute to all the development that is planned along the riverfront.  The market for new mixed-use development is getting quite crowed, with cities now competing with far-flung suburbs, and a gondola lift system could be the exclamation point to help the planned riverfront developments stand out.  General economic development could be aided by the gondola lift system creating additional links between the walkable urban cores that exist on both sides of the river.  Zooming out even further, a gondola lift system could help our metro region compete for national and international companies who could set up campuses spanning both sides of the river.

There is potential for the nearby Northern Kentucky Convention Center to expand with the redevelopment of Covington’s IRS office site Perhaps, if the organizations in charge of the Cincinnati Convention Center could partner and begin strategic planning with those in charge of the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, an entire tourism ecosystem corridor could be built up in between the two. This could lead to additional hotels and entertainment options coming.  A gondola lift could be a centerpiece and a critical link for such a corridor.

For those wondering what a gondola lift is and what it could look like, this feasibility study for a proposed gondola system across the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., provides pictures, technical details, and even cost estimates for construction and operations.  The Cincinnati-Covington and Cincinnati-Newport proposed routes I have put forth here are about about 3,300 ft. in length each. The D.C. proposal was for a single length of about 3,600 ft. and estimated to cost $80-$90 million in 2016.

Gondola graphic 1
From the Georgetown-Rosslyn Gondola Feasibility Study Technical Summary
gondola graphic 2
From the Georgetown-Rosslyn Gondola Feasibility Study Technical Summary