Friday, April 12, 2002

Businesses counted on Jazz Fest crowd

Event one of city's 5 biggest

By James McNair,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The cancellation Tuesday of the nation's biggest rhythm and blues festival will take a financial bite out of Tristate hotels and a host of businesses, big and small.

        Festival promoter Joe Santangelo called off the three-day music fest because the event had lost Coors as its lead sponsor, ticket sales had declined, and drawing performers during an economic boycott had become an iffy proposition.

[photo] Rob Gauthier, general manager of the Millennium Hotel complex downtown, has had to give refunds for rooms reserved for Jazz Fest since the event was canceled Wednesday.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
        Consequently, millions of dollars that would have been spent on organizing the Cinergy Field event will no longer change hands. A University of Cincinnati study in 2000 valued the jazz festival and the overlapping Ujima Cinci-Bration at $8.2 million in direct spending — $16.9 million when business receipts are counted. Ujima 2002 has also been canceled.

        “It's one of the biggest festivals of the year,” said Julie Harrison, spokeswoman for the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The festival has attracted upwards of 50,000 to 55,000 people per year, and it represented about $4 million a year in hotel bookings.”

        In a city that lives for its festivals, the jazz fest was in the top five for attendance and economic impact, according to the UC study. Oktoberfest Zinzinnati and Riverfest head the list with $42.3 million apiece in estimated direct and indirect spending. Taste of Cincinnati and the Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion are right behind.

        Rob Gauthier, general manager of the 872-room Millennium Hotel complex on Fifth Street, expects a big dropoff in business on what would have been jazz festival weekend. He's giving refunds on more than 1,000 prepaid rooms.

        “It was one weekend out of a handful that we sold out last year,” he said. “It meant having a full staff of employees. The restaurant was very busy. The attendees are heavy drinkers and like to party, so the bars were full. We loved it.”

        The sting will be felt for a long time by small-business owners who depended on the festivals for a burst of revenue. De Asa Nichols, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce, said that revenue can't be replaced.

        “That's how a lot of these businesses make money — from festival to festival,” Ms. Nichols said. “Whether it's the Indiana Black Expo, the jazz festival or Ujima Cinci-Bration, most of their dollars are made during the summer months. It's a huge loss of income.”

        Francesca Butler is one of those who cashed in on the crowds jamming her table at Fifth and Vine. She designs and sells children's shirts. She said she sold out every year during the jazz festival and Ujima.

        “It's one of the major events that I depend on every year,” Ms. Butler said. “I've been doing the jazz festival for the last 10 years. I have a clientele that looks for me every year. It's going to affect me big-time. I was really upset about it, but I knew there was nothing I could do.”

        Ms. Butler added that 90 percent of her jazz festival customers come from out of town and wouldn't know where else to find her.

        Over its 40-year history, the festival has attracted top draws such as Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle and Natalie Cole. As musical tastes and styles changed, it became more of an R&B event, one that put Cincinnati on a more diverse cultural map.

        “Cincinnati doesn't want to be known as having black events and white events, but ... a large number of African-Americans attended the jazz festival,” Ms. Nichols said.

        “When people are planning their activities for the summer, they plan on seeing Disney World, Ujima and other signature events,” she added. “Ujima and the jazz festival were definitely signature events. A large number of people and families planned their special activities around those events.”

        Even though some downtown restaurants closed during the jazz fest and Ujima — prompting accusations of racism in 2000 and a push for the restaurants to stay open in 2001 — other merchants welcomed the crowds.

        “The festivals create demand by themselves,” Mr. Gauthier said. “Without them, there's not a whole lot of reason to come to the city other than to see a ball game.”

MACs set to change into Stars
- Businesses counted on Jazz Fest crowd
GE's quarterly decline 1st in 7 years
Spring refreshes retailer sales
Electricity shopping 'steady but slow'
Industry notes: Manufacturing
Business Digest
Tristate Summary
Morning Memo
What's the Buzz?