The tallest peak in the downtown mountain range is massive beyond description. From street level, there is no way to look at it without risking a sunburn on the roof of your mouth. You have to stop, plant your feet firmly, lean back and stretch your neck back far enough to make a chiropractor cringe.

The granite base occupies an entire city block, filling Fourth Street like a fat man fills an elevator. Everything else near it shrinks to matchbox scale, even before you get to the top floor, 665 feet above Third Street.

"You're actually looking down on Highland Towers on Mount Adams," says John Barrett, CEO of Western & Southern, which is building the tower through its subsidiary Eagle Realty Group. "Everything looks flat from up there. You can look down and see the entire field in the Reds ballpark. It makes 30-story buildings look old-fashioned."

It's true. The view from the top is what hawks must see: the chocolate Ohio River looping through rolling green hills, past Leggo-toy stadiums and slot-car freeways.

Coming north on I-75 from Kentucky, the Great American Tower at Queen City Square is the Matterhorn of the skyline Alps. Blue-tinted glass reflects the sky, creating a 41-story video of passing clouds, framed in gleaming stainless steel.

But the biggest building project since Carew Tower in 1930 has been overlooked, as politicos and mediacrats chatter about streetcar fantasies and the geologic progress on The Banks. While City Hall itches to spend more than $100 million on trolleys, while county leaders lean on chrome shovels and declare victory on the 14-year Banks promise, the $400 million Great American Tower has risen from the ground like Jack's Metropolis beanstalk.

It has created 5,000 construction jobs, with 70 percent local contracts. It will house 6,100 office jobs in 800,000 square feet (more than 1 million including the sister 303 Broadway building). Its 11-story parking garage will offer 2,200 spaces "” nearly three times the Western & Southern ramp at Third and Broadway.

In less time than it took to name The Banks or buy one streetcar, Barrett and the Lindners at Great American Insurance have remodeled Cincinnati. "We had the vision, but we also had the muscle and the determination," Barrett says. "So many talk, but don't have the muscle to get it done. We've had enough of that."

The key, he says, is collaboration.

Ford doesn't build factories for Toyota. But insurance giant Western & Southern is building offices for another Cincinnati insurance giant, Great American. "All of our guys and their guys are good friends," Barrett says. The companies are "parallel but different businesses."

And that's in the tradition of Carl Lindner Jr., who has brought thousands of jobs and company headquarters to Cincinnati. "All of this was negotiated by Carl III and Craig Lindner. When people wonder what is the sons' commitment to the city, it's huge," Barrett says.

They could have moved to Mason or elsewhere, he continues. Instead, Great American will lease 60 percent of the new building. Local law firm Frost Brown Todd has claimed another 20 percent. With JP Morgan and other new tenants, the offices will be 100 percent full for the opening on Jan. 1 "” that's 1/1/11, Barrett points out.

Very few cities can take on such a project in a down economy, says Mario San Marco, president of Eagle Realty Group. "It's a statement of our strong community commitment."

Keeping Great American downtown saves 8,000 direct and indirect jobs. The new tenants are leaving offices that are 30 to 40 years old, he says. "Every landlord knows you have to fix up the space, and you can't do that with tenants in place."

Once updated, that office space can be used to lure more jobs and companies.

But let's take another look at that tower. It went up like a rocket leaving a silo, on budget, on time, at the speed of one floor per week. Each story was hydraulically jacked up to make room for the next. The floor plan has no supporting columns, so offices can be rearranged easily. "I was told that everything is going wireless, so we decided "¢let's go with lots of glass and stainless steel' because that works best with wireless," Barrett says.

He and the design team visited the greatest buildings in America for ideas. San Marco says the new tower honors landmarks such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. And it salutes the setback-style of Carew Tower. But when the 130-foot tiara at the top is lit from within, sparkling like diamonds in moonlight, it will be one of a kind.

"We wanted something recognizable for Cincinnati," San Marco says. "It's a great bookend. It balances the skyline."

It's something to look at. But it takes more than a casual glance.



Hip to be Square
Not just a new office building "” a whole new neighborhood