Saturday, October 18, 2003

Ballpark eatery falls silent

Some expected Machine Room to be open year-round

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A year-round restaurant overlooking left field at the new Great American Ball Park shut down last week and won't reopen until next year.

Elected officials and construction managers at the Hamilton County-owned ballpark didn't notice the Machine Room had closed until Friday, as tens of thousands of visitors crowded Cincinnati's riverfront for the Tall Stacks celebration.

"I'm sure people walked up, tried to get in and couldn't," said Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. "This happened without any real notice to the county. Our expectation was that it was supposed to remain open throughout the year."

The restaurant's closing is the latest sting for taxpayers who paid more than $280 million for the Reds' new home. Neither Reds officials nor officials with Sportservice, which operates the restaurant, returned calls Friday.

Customer service operators answering phones at Great American Ball Park said the restaurant closed two weeks after the end of the season because of a lack of business.

"If I had a nice restaurant on the river, I would want it to be open this weekend," said County Administrator David Krings, who was surprised by the restaurant closure.

Despite promises from the Reds it would be a year-round restaurant, county officials said the Machine Room is under no contractual obligation to stay open.

"That is the decision of the operator," said Eric Stuckey, assistant county administrator. "They might be missing an opportunity (with Tall Stacks), but that is a business decision that they make."

The themed sports bar, with its name harkening to the powerhouse Big Red Machine teams, was often crowded during games. When the season ended Sept. 28, crowds thinned dramatically.

Portune said he wants the decision revisited now, before the end of Tall Stacks, which is the city's biggest riverfront event of the year.

Operators indicated there was no way to reopen the restaurant this week once staff was let go and food stocks were returned, Portune said.

"This reinforces the belief that I and other people had about where the ballpark should be located," Portune said.

"It should be in a place where it is a part of the fabric of everyday life, not isolated and separated from downtown on the riverfront."


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