The Purple People Bridge spans the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio and Newport, Kentucky, and was opened as the Newport and Cincinnati Bridge on April 1, 1872. The bridge was the region’s first railroad crossing over the broad river. To the north, the crossing connected to the Little Miami Railroad, later known as Pennsylvania Railroad’s Oasis Line. It also provided a connection to the Cincinnati Street Connecting Railway, which followed the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati. To the south, it connected to the Louisville, Cincinnati and Lexington Railroad, which connected Cincinnati to Louisville.
In 1897, the bridge was rebuilt with a larger and stronger truss, and a 20 ft. wide vehicular path was constructed alongside the original railroad span. Constructed between the vehicular and railroad span was a streetcar track, and another was constructed on the western fringe of the bridge.(3)
In 1904, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad replaced the Louisville, Cincinnati and Lexington. The span received continuous use until the 1940s, when the streetcar was discontinued.(3) The center streetcar track became a pedestrian walkway, while the western track was abandoned. In 1987, the bridge closed to railroad traffic, followed by the closing of the automobile lanes in October 2001.
The Newport and Cincinnati Bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 17, 2001.(3)
People Purple Bridge
In late 2001, planning began for the restoration of the former railroad span into a pedestrian bridge between Newport, Kentucky and Cincinnati. The city of Newport partnered with an economic development group, Southbank Partners, and used $4 million in state funds from Kentucky to convert the crossing into a pedestrian-only bridge. Of the more than dozen focus groups that were focused solely on the color of the bridge, the color purple and green were among the top choices, with purple eventually garnering the popular vote.(19) The “Purple People Bridge” term was soon coined by local residents. The span was transferred from the state of Kentucky to Newport-Southbank Bridge Co. for maintenance.(2)
On November 9, 2005, Dennis Speigel, a Cincinnati theme-park entrepreneur, unveiled plans to install a series of steps, ladders and walkways on the westernmost truss of the bridge as part of the Bridge Climb Experience.(2) The $3 million project would attract 85,000 to 100,000 climbers yearly, Speigel projected, and create 100 jobs, and would join only three other cities in the world with bridge climbs: Sydney and Brisbane, Australia, and Auckland, New Zealand.(4) The 2.5 hour tour would include an indoor “mock climb,” and a tour with historical information on the bridge, the Ohio River and the region.
Construction on the Bridge Climb Experience began in January 2006,(7) although not without controversy. Soon after construction began, Thomas Jackson, a Cincinnati lawyer, filed a lawsuit demanding at least $25 million claiming that Speigel copied his idea of the tourist attraction.(8) The lawsuit named Speigel and his company, International Theme Park Services, Inc., the Purple People Bridge Climb LLC, Ross Sinclaire Associates, a bank, and other investors.
In the lawsuit, Jackson stated that he created the project in 2003, bringing Speigel in as a consultant.(8)(12)(14) After presenting with the bridge’s owner in June 2004, Speigel quit without notice, the suit claimed. Continuing, Jackson stated that six months later, Speigel paid $1,000 for the right to purchase the project in the future for $50,000.
The Bridge Climb Experience was to open on June 1, but was delayed by weather delays that compounded last minute installations. The attraction opened instead on June 13.(10) The climb was the first in the northern hemisphere,(9) and was expected to draw an estimated 80,000 climbers per year with an economic impact of $25 million for each year, according to data compiled by the University of Cincinnati Economics Center for Education & Research.(11)
The program cost $60 per person, although night-time, sunrise and sunset climbs commanded higher prices.(5)(6) Within six weeks of opening, the company slashed the prices in half due to disappointing attendance figures,(13) which was reduced again in January 2007.(15)
In early February, the lawsuit Jackson filed against Speigel was dismissed.(16) On April 13, one day prior to the attraction’s season opening, Jackson filed a second lawsuit claiming that Speigel failed to pay him for rights to the project.(17) Speigel stated that he planned to file a counterclaim, accusing Jackson of filing a nuisance suit.
On May 23, the Purple People Bridge Climb ceased operations, citing declining attendance figures and lawsuits over rights to the project that cost over $440,000 in legal fees.(18)(20) A little over 10,000 climbed the bridge in 2006, far short of their expected target. An unspecified company announced in October that it was interested in purchasing the operation to have it open by spring 2008.(20)
- Designation: Purple People Bridge
- Crosses: Ohio River
- Bridge type: Truss
- Total length: 2,670 ft.
- Number of lanes: 2
- Tipton, Rick. “The PRR in Cincinnati.” The Pennsylvania Railroad in Cincinnati. By Rick Tipton and Chuck Blardone. Altoona: Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society, 2004. 3-103.
- Driehaus, Bob. “New bridge challenge: Climb it.” Cincinnati Post 9 Nov. 2005. 8 May 2009.
- Mecklenberg, Jake. “L&N Bridge.” Cincinnati Transit. 9 May 2009 Article.
- Rutledge, Mike. “Harness up, climb the Ohio River.” Cincinnati Enquirer 10 Nov. 2005. 9 May 2009.
- Rutledge, Mike. “Bridge climb a thrill ride above the river.” Cincinnati Enquirer 14 Nov. 2005. 9 May 2009.
- Rutledge, Mike. “Bridge climber prices to rise for certain times.” Cincinnati Enquirer 9 Jan. 2006. 9 May 2009.
- Driehaus, Bob. “Bridge climb to open in May.” Cincinnati Post 26 Jan. 2006. 8 May 2009.
- Coolidge, Sharon. “Lawsuit seeks halt to bridge plan.” Cincinnati Enquirer 28 March 2006. 9 May 2009.
- Rutledge, Mike. “A view to a thrill.” Cincinnati Enquirer 3 May 2006. 9 May 2009.
- Rutledge, Mike. “Bridge climb pushed back.” Cincinnati Enquirer 25 May 2006. 10 May 2009.
- “Purple People climbers’ impact: $25 million.” Cincinnati Business Courier 12 June 2006. 11 May 2009.
- McNair, James. “Battle over bridge climb.” Cincinnati Enquirer 26 June 2006. 11 May 2009.
- Newberry, Jon. “Bridge climb prices slashed.” Cincinnati Enquirer 26 July 2006. 12 May 2009.
- McNair, James. “Judge reviews bridge lawsuit.” Cincinnati Enquirer 15 Dec. 2006. 12 May 2009.
- “Bridge Climb cuts prices in half.” Cincinnati Post 12 Jan. 2007. 12 May 2009.
- McNair, James. “Bridge-walk suit dismissed.” Cincinnati Enquirer 26 Feb. 2007. 12 May 2009.
- McNair, James. “Bridge climb creator tries again.” Cincinnati Enquirer 14 April 2007. 12 May 2009.
- “Bridge Climb closes.” Cincinnati Enquirer 23 May 2007. 12 May 2009.
- Crowley, Patrick. “Why pick purple?” Cincinnati Enquirer 20 April 2003. 12 May 2009 Article.
- Rutledge, Mike. “Bridge climb may be back.” Cincinnati Enquirer 25 Oct. 2007. 13 May 2009.