Dennis Speigel is dashing about his office space in Walnut Hills, barely able to contain himself. The ebullient president of International Theme Park Services Inc. busily bounces from one room to another, showing off an invention here, a marketing plan there, a schematic downstairs, a gigantic artist's rendering upstairs. His pace is nearly frantic.

"It's going to be a very entertaining, exciting kind of tourist attraction, the first one of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere," boasts Speigel as he climbs a staircase in his very un-corporate corporate headquarters, where a giant, inflatable dinosaur shares space with toys, a working popcorn machine and arcade games.

"It" is the Purple People Bridge Climb, which opens for business next month"”a $3 million project spanning the Ohio River and offering Cincinnatians the chance of a lifetime: to scale a bridge.

Speigel and his company are using an existing landmark, the Purple People Bridge, to create the venture. The former railway overpass"”which was spray-painted purple a few years back and converted to a pedestrian link connecting Great American Ball Park on the Cincinnati side of the river with Newport on the Levee on the Kentucky side"”is ground zero for the region's newest, and perhaps most ambitious, amusement attraction.

The experience? It's a 2 1/2-hour guided tour, where participants ascend the bridge on a specially-designed transparent pathway constructed exclusively for this purpose. Don't think of rock climbing or any such daredevil pursuit. This is a mere stroll, albeit a vertical one.
Walkers will don purple-and-yellow jumpsuits and find themselves tethered by a unique "transfastener" to a steel cable strung along the entire span (in other words, suicidal jumpers need not apply). "If you want to jump, sorry, go find another bridge. Once the harness is on you, only the guide has the key to unlatch you," Speigel says.

Outfitted with helmets and radio headsets, walkers will scale the superstructure while listening to the patter of the guide as they take in the windy 360-degree vista of the region.

"The bridge is perfect. It has all the existing infrastructure you could want"”existing parking garages, and existing food and entertainment" at the adjacent Newport on the Levee and Newport Aquarium. Since the levee, aquarium and Cincinnati Reds together already draw millions of visitors each year, "you have an existing critical mass that I don't have to create."

The superstructure climb is loosely based on three similar attractions in Australia and New Zealand, recounts Speigel, who began his career managing Coney Island amusement park and Paramount's Kings Island before he was tapped to build Kings Dominion in Richmond, VA. His firm now consults amusement venues around the world, but the executive claims "this project, which has been a year in the making, is every bit as intense as building a theme park."

A self-described goofball, Speigel brags that "I have sneaked into every theme park in America, just to see if I can beat the system."
Speigel stresses the climb is for the young and not so young, at any fitness level. The only cutoff: participants must be age 12 or over, and at least 48 inches tall. "It's not strenuous. Anybody can do it that's in basic good health."

Climbers will begin their experience at a base camp at the foot of the span (translation: a gift shop selling souvenirs to help climbers memorialize the adventure). Yes, T-shirts, videos, hats, photographs, bridge miniatures and more will be for sale. Tickets will retail for a hefty $59.95 for the day climb, and $79.95 for the sunrise, sunset and moonlight climbs.

After "training" on a simulator, participants are required to pass a Breathalyzer alcohol test and walk through metal detectors. No items that could potentially dislodge and strike the pedestrians below are allowed. Changing lockers will be provided for your civilian gear. Jumpsuits will have eyeglasses attached and are emblazoned with sponsor patches, a la NASCAR. After all this, participants can begin their journey atop the catwalks, which are designed with personal safety in mind. (Despite all the safety precautions, climbers will be required to sign a liability waiver.)

"We'll introduce climbers to new technologies they've never seen before," Speigel proclaims. The headsets involve one such technology, allowing walkers to hear the guide's voice through the bones in their skull, leaving their ears unfettered to take in the sounds of the ambient environment at "the top of the world."

Each of the climbs"”which will depart in groups of 12 people each"”is a varied experience, with different views and employing various technologies (the moonlight tour, for instance, includes helmets with halogen headlamps). There will also be "themed" climbs offered, such as a package that includes a gourmet meal prepared by chef Jean-Robert de Cavel of Jean-Robert at Pigalls. For this gig, climbers will wear mock tuxedos jumpsuits as they indulge in a meal that in French translates to "the savory crossing of the bridges."

A complimentary group photograph is taken at the bridge's apex, as harnessed participants stand on a Plexiglas platform suspended 140 feet above the rushing river waters. Each "rider" of this particular thrill ride gets to ring a Verdin Co. riverboat bell that is hung atop the bridge, as a way of celebrating a successful ascent. All along the journey, guides will share scripted anecdotes and historical tidbits about the area.

The company is hiring about 100 new employees for the venture. "Our guides will have to go through auditions," says Speigel, with all the enthusiasm of the carnival showman that he is. "We only want entertainers, true performers. We want tour guides who are FUN. We can teach them how to guide."

The Purple People Bridge is the longest and only pedestrian bridge in the country that links two states. Some 2,670 feet in length, the span opened in 1872 as the L&N (Louisville & Nashville) railroad trestle. The bridge is privately owned by the Newport-Southbank Bridge Co., which has signed a 20-year lease with Speigel. "Southbank is essentially a partner. They share in the revenue."

With all his excitement, it's hard to deny Speigel the chance to say what is clearly his favorite soundbite: "This attraction is something that's going to be REALLY over the top."