Who: City of Cincinnati Parks Department

Landscape architect: Sasaki Associates Inc.; Watertown, Mass.
General contractor: Monarch Construction Co.; Cincinnati
Installer: Progressive Construction Services; McCordsville, Ind.
Granite supplier: Coldspring (formerly Cold Spring Granite); Cold Spring, Minn.
Type: 22,000 square feet of Prairie Brown granite in Diamond 10, Rock Face, Rock Pitch, and Split finishes


Ohio’s third-largest city often substitutes granite for concrete in high-traffic areas: curbs, sidewalks, and meeting places like Fountain Square, a downtown Cincinnati focal point laden with shops, restaurants, hotels, and offices.

Though initially more expensive than precast concrete, a lifecycle cost analysis often justifies natural stone’s upfront premium. An igneous rock, granite is much less porous and much stronger. As a result, it’s much less susceptible to cracking from freeze-thaw cycles and staining or degradation from air pollutants and acids in cleaning compounds. These traits translate to much less maintenance over the material’s average 50-year service life.

Granite is also beautiful. Formed beneath the earth’s surface out of slowly cooling magma, granite’s large, easily visible crystals of feldspar, quartz, and mica give the stone a distinctive appearance in a variety of colors.

The material’s durability and aesthetics are why the city’s parks department approved using granite for many elements of a major renaissance project: Smale Riverfront Park and an adjacent development called The Banks. The park’s fountains, art installations, promenades, gardens, playgrounds, and boat dock complement The Banks’ residential units, office space, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Conceptualized in the 1990s and under construction since 2008, the three acres that opened to the public last year have drawn thousands of visitors and millions of dollars into the local economy.

The opportunity to redevelop the once-dormant area arose, in part, because of a 1-mile stretch of state highway that had severed access between downtown Cincinnati and its riverfront since the 1960s. In addition to not providing enough capacity, Fort Washington Way’s labyrinth of on- and off-ramps consumed a huge swath of riverfront. Leaders working to unify the city reconfigured the roadway to be less intrusive and provide better access.

“The redesign allows the city and county to repurpose about 100 acres, including the critical 50 acres between the stadia, expressways, and the Ohio River,” says David Prather, project lead for the Cincinnati Park Board.

The 32-acre area is in a flood plain. Salt is used to de-ice sidewalks, driveways, stairs, ramps, and parking lots in winter. Thus, walkways had to minimize department of public services maintenance staff capabilities and eliminate concerns about short- and long-term failure.

“We frequently recommend granite because it lasts forever,” says Mark Dawson, managing principal of landscape architects Sasaki Associates Inc. in Watertown, Mass. “It takes hundreds of years to wear down. If a repair is needed, you can lift off and repair the stone or order a new piece that matches very closely. Concrete in cold climates where salt is applied can deteriorate over time.”

Three strengths

  • Chemical resistance. Granite is primarily composed of silicate minerals, like feldspar and quartz, which resist acid attacks.
  • Hardness. The average density of granite is 165 pounds to 180 pounds per cubic foot. Compressive strength is typically greater than 19,000 psi.

Granite flooring should last 100 years and exterior granite applications for decades, according to the Natural Stone Council.

  • Porosity. The more impervious a material is to water, the more durable it will be. Water absorption causes staining, stone size changes, and freeze/thaw fractures.

Hardscape material with an absorption rate of less than 3% is considered frost-resistant. Granite’s ranges from 0.01% to 0.04% by weight.

Finally, like concrete, granite can be etched. Most civic plaza-type work has a special finish to meet Americans with Disability Act requirements and the designer’s aesthetic goal, which can include graphic designs or detailing. Cost varies, depending on the type and extent of detail, thickness, and size.

The Cincinnati Park Board, however, was concerned about reliability of quarry — not only for the project’s first phases but for later phases as well. This phase of the project was completed in 2012.

“When taking on a project like this, a major consideration is, ‘who can I trust to pull this together?’” explains the park board’s Prather. “Many stone companies exist; few can eliminate risk.”

That prompted Sasaki Associates to recommend Coldspring (formerly Cold Spring Granite) as the natural stone supplier. Based in Cold Spring, Minn., the 115-year-old company owns and operates more than 30 quarries and five domestic fabrication locations throughout North America. Having worked with the company before, Dawson knew Coldspring would facilitate construction in addition to providing a beautiful product by:

  • Value engineering. Is there a better or different way to build the same piece? In one instance, Coldspring worked up a 3D profile of a bicycle ramp, figured how to most effectively detail the railing, and, when faced with a seat wall that was a bit wider than traditionally detailed as a veneer, helped determine how to set the stanchion without damaging the railings.

“They told us if we did it as a solid piece it would be cost-neutral,” says Dawson. “More granite is used, but no concrete or concrete tradesman are necessary.”

“The cost of the stone has been consistent throughout the years of this project as well,” says Prather.

  • Fast-tracking to meet deadlines. Deliveries had to be on time to meet completion deadlines and to be complementary to the other simultaneous construction projects.

Coldspring ensured shop drawings were prepared six months earlier than needed. This enabled the company to receive, work on, and deliver material on schedule.

  • Transparency and collaboration. Coldspring craftsmen carve by hand or by water jet. Sasaki Associates designed decorative details and then collaborated with Coldspring on how best to accomplish certain effects.

“It’s always about color and texture, but it’s also about sensitivity as it relates to color,” says Dawson. “There are so many different manufactured textures you can get.”

He also took parks department employees and parks board members to Cold Spring, Minn., to show how the company approaches an assignment. The company tracks a project’s stone throughout the fabrication process, from the quarry to jobsite delivery.

“Seeing the plant in action helped us to know what production processes are most cost-effective for our desired effects,” says Prather. “Everyone you meet there is smart, hard-working, and has a passion about their trade. They all know stone.”

It will be completed in progressive steps. The project’s fourth phase is in the design stage; two more phases follow. This year, the area open to the public will double to six acres. Next year, another five acres will open and more steps and a fountain will be completed.

Dan Rea is senior vice president, building materials, for Coldspring of Cold Spring, Minn. E-mail [email protected]; visit www.coldspringgranite.com.

Specifying granite

Concrete is quoted to set parameters with cost determined by how many yards are required at a certain thickness and a certain psi. Since many plants produce concrete, comparative bidding is possible.Granite is completely different. Every attribute — color, cut, thickness, and finish — is custom. Specifying the appropriate stone for a project is a team effort involving architect, supplier, contractor, installer, and owner:

  • Usually, an architect chooses color and finish.
  • The installer buys the material based on bid.
  • The general contractor relies on the installer working with granite supplier to provide suggestions for controlling costs during construction.
  • The supplier is chosen based on the product they carry, ability to meet specifications, deadlines, and ability to help the contractor and installer make the best use of the granite to control costs.