Back in the 1870s it made sense: With some big checks from a local fat cat, Reuben Springer (no apparent relation to that former Cincinnati Mayor and current international celebrity Jerry), a massive brick edifice was constructed in Over-the-Rhine.

It was built atop the site of a paupers' graveyard and adjacent to a former "Lunatic Asylum" to house musical concerts, public assemblies and "industrial exhibitions." The cost was about $500,000 "” a shocking amount that would have sent the 19th Century Tom Lukens and Chris Finneys into apoplexy.

Music Hall remains an impressive physical presence across from Washington Park.

A Piece of History

In 1880, it hosted the Democratic National Convention, generating sacrificial lamb General Winfield Scott Hancock who succumbed to the ill-fated Ohio Senator James A. Garfield that November.

In 1884, Music Hall was the stepping-off point for the city's bloody "anti-crime" riots that left the courthouse in shambles and more than 50 dead. (It wouldn't be the last time that OTR riots shook the city and made national headlines.)

Music Hall is still the third largest symphony hall in the nation, the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the opera, ballet and occasional high school graduations and proms. Some of us baby boomers remember seeing Bruce Springsteen unplugged there too. And there are the ghost stories, no doubt tied to that paupers' graveyard.

But Music Hall is no longer the focal point for community life that Reuben Springer imagined. We've got the city-owned Duke Energy Convention Center, U.S. Bank Arena, county-owned stadiums for the Bengals and Reds, and the Aronoff Center, too. There is even a renovation of the Emery Theatre, the first home of our symphony.

The grand lady of Elm St. is showing its 135 years. A collection of generous arts patrons have planned a $165 million makeover that would "right size" the auditorium for a shrinking high-brow music audience.

Time to Step Aside

Sounds like a good time to step aside and let the blue book crowd "” latter day Reuben Springers "” take this on, right?

But when the Music Hall Revitalization Co., organized to raise the dollars for the Music Hall remake, asked that the city transfer ownership for $1, and commit $10 million to the renovation, city council began waving yellow flags. The city can't simply turn over this great piece of our history to a private entity, can it?

Yes, you can, council members. ASAP.

What may have once been a focal point of civic life in the 1880s has become a much more rarified venue by 2012. The symphony and opera may still draw an audience, but it's hard to argue in an era of living on less that taxpayer dollars should go to replacing those hard, narrow seats with something a little cozier to nod off in during a scintillating Mahler Movement.

Does this make me sound a tad unrefined? True, I would rather take in the Bengals than Puccini.

The fact that there are real live patrons willing to underwrite Music Hall is not an opportunity to waste. It's time for city council to let well-meaning benefactors like Otto Budig take charge.

City council should focus on providing traditional public services "” safety, transportation, sanitation, water, road repairs "” rather than worrying about the acoustics for the Pops.

It's hard to argue with putting our local home for classical music in the caring hands of private arts patrons. Whether the renovation occurs as planned or not, why should the taxpayers be on the hook?

As a parting shot, wouldn't it be nice if council demanded one performance of "Springer, the Opera" when Music Hall re-opens? Reuben Springer might be tickled.