The catchphrase "Any port in a storm ..." has taken on new meaning these days along the banks of the Ohio River. While the Kentucky side of the riverfront flourishes "” you need only scan our Bill Butler profile on page 22 to see what's there and what's soon to come "” Cincinnati's central riverfront district remains a sea of parking-lot asphalt.

Other cities treat their waterfronts as prime real estate to draw entertainment and dining dollars. We've relegated our central shoreline, between the bookends of the Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium, to automobile storage. The original "fix" "” a special Hamilton County sales tax OK'd by voters and intended to generate enough extra revenue to fund central riverfront development in addition to building the two stadiums "” isn't working.

The Cincinnati Port Authority is the white knight charged with devising a new plan. Growing up in Philly, I know a region-wide port authority (or Philadelphia Port Corp. as it was known in its early days) can throw some serious weight around when it comes to developing a riverfront.

The Port Authority project labeled The Banks has emerged as the most likely salvation for our shoreline. In Phase One, the port's plan urges the construction (with public money) of a 1,000-space garage just west of the ballpark. The garage would then serve as a deck to rise above the flood plain, since flooding is a primary deterrent to private development. Depending on whom you listen to, private money would then begin flowing to fund anything from a riverside hotel to restaurants, condos and upscale shopping.

The Port Authority and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) are attempting to line up all the likely participants to make Phase One a reality "” city, state, federal, not to mention the Cincinnati Reds and the Cincinnati Bengals. And since the land is actually owned by Hamilton County and not the city of Cincinnati, the county becomes a serious player as well.

Go to the web site, www.cincinnatiport.org, and the Port Authority's mission becomes crystal clear: "Nowhere else has approximately 15 acres "” eight city blocks "” of prominent waterfront property been pre-assembled, at one time, with the opportunity to tap into surrounding anchors that generate approximately 5 million visitors annually."

What will it take? Some $25 million in grants from the state and feds, to start with. And convincing the Bengals, the Reds and Hamilton County to give up riverfront parking income.

It's no coincidence that Jack Rouse, board chairman for the Port Authority, made the Cincy Business Power 100 this issue "” as did at least four of the Port Authority's board members.

If Rouse and his troops rally enough of the major players behind a grand plan, this city will witness a remarkable transformation of its central riverfront.

If not, we'll just find ourselves stuck with one big pain in the asphalt.

Felix Winternitz is editor of Cincy Business. Email him at winternitz@cincybusinessmag.com.