Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Festival seating likely to return


Vote on repealing ban today

By Jane Prendergast
Enquirer staff writer

As Cincinnati City Council today prepares to lift the city's ban on festival seating at concerts, a police officer who helped plan the concert that turned deadly and sparked the restrictions says repealing the rule is a terrible idea.

Dale Menkhaus was a Cincinnati police lieutenant Dec. 3, 1979, who coordinated and supervised events including The Who concert at then-Riverfront Coliseum. Eleven people were killed when the crowd crushed into the arena, fighting for the best seats, after hearing the rock group's sound check begin.

City Council is expected to repeal the ban at its meeting this afternoon and replace it with new rules that promoters have to follow if they want to sell open seating on the floor of concert venues.

The measure passed the Law and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday with no opposition from any members or citizens.

Menkhaus, who works at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, was working that fatal night 25 years ago at the Coliseum, now U.S. Bank Arena. But no one pushing the repeal has asked him what he thinks.

"They probably won't like what I have to say,'' he said Tuesday.

"My opinion? This is all about money. Facilities, promoters are always looking for ways to cut costs. Is festival seating worth the risk? My opinion is, it's not.''

Bill Donabedian, founder of the MidPoint Music Festival, an independent original music festival and industry conference annually in Cincinnati, spoke in favor of the repeal at the committee meeting Tuesday.

"This is a huge cultural and economic opportunity for the city,'' he said. The new rules will require promoters who want to offer concertgoers a general admission seat to apply to the city's fire chief. The chief will make the final decision.

The rules include following National Fire Protection Association standards for crowd size, which requires 7 square feet of space a person, Cincinnati Fire Chief Robert Wright said. Promoters will be required to calculate how much area would be left for such seating after space is taken up by the stage to figure out how many general-admission tickets they could sell.

The rules also would give city officials the ability to order more doors be opened and more security added when they deem it necessary. Officials can also order an event stopped.

But those restrictions don't convince Menkhaus.

He said he doesn't believe claims that Cincinnati is losing concert dollars because the city has not allowed general-admission seating at concerts.

"Those kids at The Who concert were just going to have a night of fun, and they ended up dead,'' he said. "It was just an awful thing for them, the city and the industry. It's mind-boggling to me that anybody would want to make this change.''

E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com




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