Saturday, August 12, 2000

New stadium will also be party place

Designated areas available for wedding receptions, meetings

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Between graceful pigskin passes, there will be awkwardly hurled bridal bouquets.

[photo] An area of the stadium designated for private parties has 60-foot-high glass panels for a view of the downtown skyline.
(Craig Ruttle photos)
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        In addition to yardage statistics on quarterbacks, there will be quarterly revenue projections for manufacturers.

        The new Paul Brown Stadium is going beyond football. Beginning with a Sept. 13 trade-group gathering, it becomes a rental facility for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, corporate meetings and other private events.

        About a dozen areas in the stadium have been designated for outside rentals on dates that don't interfere with Bengals football. Rates: $1,000 to $3,000 an evening, depending on sizes and views. Food, beverage, services, and parking are extra.

        It's a new concept, one that already has spread to the Reds' Great American Ball Park, due to be complete in April 2003. At least three areas will be available for private parties there, for crowds as big as 300 people.

        Except for major concert draws, such as 'NSync, George Strait, the Rolling Stones and the jazz festivals, Cinergy Field, aka Riverfront Stadium, has been used exclusively for football and baseball. Getting the stadium for big-time concerts can cost promoters as much as $100,000.

        Already, the Bengals organization has scheduled two private business meetings in the stadium, according to events coordinator Ellen Ritter.

  If a fancy spot in the new Paul Brown Stadium is likely to make your party merrier or your meeting more productive, here's what you can get:
  • West Club Lounge, Ohio River view, dance floor, window wall, 1,000-person capacity.
  • East Club Lounge, downtown view, dance floor, window wall, 1,000-person capacity.
  • Press box and spaces adjacent, overlooking field, 800 people.
  • Overlooks (balconies) above each club lounge, 50 to 100 people.
  • Party suites (five), overlooking field, 35 to 40 people.
  Rates: $1,000 to $3,000 per event, depending on spaces and views. Each room has a bar. Large-screen televisions are on walls and smaller TVs are mounted in columns in some areas.
  For more information, call Ellen Ritter, events coordinator, 455-8357.

        “It's an interesting and unique place in Cincinnati to have a party,” she said. “People are ready to try something new, and this is definitely it.”

        Shari Einsel, director of the Greater Cincinnati Restaurant Association, said the Tristate could use some more banquet facilities, but expressed doubts about the stadium meeting those needs.

        “It'll work at the beginning,” she said, when it's a novelty. “People will want to say they did it. "I've been there.' It's just human nature.”

        There are 145 “banquet rooms” listed in Cincinnati's Yellow Pages. Operators of upscale facilities say their rooms are booked for as far as six months into the future.

        Ginny Herrmann, manager at the Plantation, a banquet and catering facility in Harrison Township, says she had heard about plans to rent spaces in the stadium, but didn't seem to be worried by the notion of new competition.

        “I imagine it would be quite expensive” to throw a party there, she said. “And it probably would be geared more toward corporate banquets than weddings.”

        The space-rental program was part of original plans for the $450-million publicly funded building, said Troy Blackburn, Bengals director of stadium development.

        “We're trying to do some fun things and very much looking forward to it,” he said. “There's a lot of money being spent (on the stadium project), and we thought it ought to be available to the public year-round.

        “We spent a lot of time designing the (two) club lounges to make them work great for fans during games and for meetings, conferences and receptions year-round.”

        The club lounges, with massive window walls 62 feet tall, offer views of downtown and the riverfront.

[photo] Phil Eisenberg (left), executive chef at Paul Brown Stadium, and sous chef Larry Lowe prepare food in a stadium kitchen.
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        In Charlotte, N.C., the Carolina Panthers business office rents out portions of Ericcson Stadium for eight to 15 private events a month, said Beth Ann Robinson, sales manager. Room rates are $1,250-$2,450 for four hours, evenings and weekends.

        All the money goes to the Panthers owners, who paid for the building.

        In Cincinnati, all the money goes to the Bengals owners. Some critics question that arrangement because the stadium is owned by Hamilton County.

        Tim Mara, the local lawyer who led a campaign against the 1996 sales-tax increase that attempts to fund the stadium project, said, “It's a further example of (Bengals owner) Mike Brown squeezing every dollar out of taxpayers.

        “The voters' intent was to make them a profitable football team — not a profitable banquet facility.”

        Further, he said, “I'd be a little upset if I were in the banquet business and I lost (business) to the Bengals — a subsidized competitor. Immensely subsidized.”

        Andy Roth, president of Janell Concrete & Masonry Equipment Inc., rented a club lounge overlook with a west-side view of the Ohio River for the Sept. 13 meeting of the Greater Miami Valley Chapter of the American Concrete Institute.

        “It's very, very nice. First-class,” he said.

        “It's overpowering. Just beautiful,” Ms. Ritter said. “You would never know you're in a stadium.”

        But the concrete institute, a trade group of concrete suppliers, architects and engineers, had other reasons for choosing the site. For research and education purposes, it has been following construction at the stadium. The meeting was scheduled along with a final tour of the facility.

        As many as 100 members were expected to attend.

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