Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Wanna party? Sports, music, Oktoberfest await

By Jim Knippenberg
Enquirer staff writer

Parties don't get much bigger than this: almost 1 million people pumping $72 million into the local economy and occupying just about every hotel room in sight. And that's just for one weekend.

Cincinnati's final summer blowout, six months in the making, is expected to bring more than 750,000 - some say as many as a million - into the downtown area Friday through Sunday.

With dozens of major events to choose from, this weekend is going to call for some tough decisions. Music? Football? Baseball? A brat and a cup of cold beer with 500,000 of your nearest and dearest?

Only you can decide, but here are some of the events you might want to put at the top of your list.

Football classic: The P&G Ohio Classic pits the Grambling State University Tigers against the Bethune-Cookman College Wildcats for the game, then pits their marching bands against each other in a battle of the bands, then delivers a post-game show with rappers Ludacris and Twista. 1 p.m. Saturday, Paul Brown Stadium, 1 Bengals Drive, downtown. $15.50-$52.50. In the midst of all this, you can sample the Jamboree Festival. It's 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, all free and all around Paul Brown Stadium.

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati: A half-million people can't be wrong. This is a huge festival with entertainment on five stages and more than 80 booths selling beer, soft drinks, souvenirs and tons of German and German-American food. 11 a.m.-midnight Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday, Fifth Street between Race and Broadway.

Backstage Bengals Bash: It's a new event that will happen every Friday before a Bengals home game. Set in Backstage Alley (off Walnut across from the Aronoff) it's one where you're allowed to drink your beer outside. And here's the best deal: It's just a buck a beer all night in the alley or at Nicholson's, Trattoria Roma, Bella, Rock Bottom, Palomino, Havana Martini Club, LaNormandie or Uno's. It's 5-8 p.m. Friday, free.

Buddy Walk: Newport on the Levee is expecting 3,500 people to gather and then march across the Purple People Bridge in this fund-raiser for the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati. After the hike, hang around for the all-day scarecrow festival. Learn how to make them and be part of the world record the Cincinnati Horticultural Society is trying to set for the most scarecrows in one place at one time. Buddy Walk assembly begins at 8 a.m. and hikes at 10 a.m. Saturday, free.

The classics: The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra kicks off its 2004-05 season with Paavo Jarvi tackling Beethoven and Sibelius with mezzo-soprano Charlotte Hellekant, baritone Jaakko Kortekangas and Estonian National Male Choir. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Music Hall, 1241 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, $17-$73.

Van Halen: If the Symphony is too tame, let hard-rocking Van Halen spice things up with the band's classic guitar driven rock 'n' roll. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, U.S. Bank Arena, 100 Broadway, downtown. $75, $55.

FreaksUnite After-Party: After a full day of charging around to heaven only knows how many events, consider sitting down with a cocktail and, well, a bunch of freaks. It's a '60s-themed party with music and a costume contest with the cast and crew of Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival's Loves Labour's Lost. 10 p.m. Saturday, Hamburger Mary's, 909 Vine St., downtown, free.

The old ballgame: The Reds take on the Cubs, but the centerpiece of the day is a tribute to the Old Lefthander. Joe Nuxhall has been a hometown icon forever, first on the field, later in the broadcast booth. 7:10 p.m. Saturday, Great American Ball Park, 201 E. Pete Rose Way, downtown. $8-$200.

Quiet time: Take a break and remember why we're all here. The Area Wide Worship Service with music, reflection and guest Joe Beam is just the place. 2-5 p.m. Sunday, Northern Kentucky Convention Center, 1 W. RiverCenter Blvd., Covington, free.

More football: It's the Cincinnati Bengals' home season opener, an eagerly awaited game that brings the Miami Dolphins to town to take on the rejuvenated - and fun again - Bengals. 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Paul Brown Stadium, 1 Bengals Drive, downtown. Sold out.

The throng will have plenty to do: Oktoberfest Zinzinnati is Saturday and Sunday (500,000 people); the P&G Ohio Classic football game is Saturday afternoon (30,000); the Bengals open their home season with a sold-out game against the Miami Dolphins Sunday night (68,000); the Reds play the Cubs Friday, Saturday and Sunday (45,000); and Van Halen will perform at U.S. Bank Arena Saturday (15,000-plus).

All this activity is expected to produce a $72.7 million economic impact, according to the University of Cincinnati Center for Education & Research.

A large portion of that money will go to hotels.

"From Florence to Mason, they're all booked, and there are a couple of reasons for that," says Julie Calvert, Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau vice president. "One is because we have a major convention (2,000 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers) that doesn't start until Monday, but a lot of people are coming in early for the weekend. Another is because the Cubs are in town, and hotel occupancy always spikes when they or St. Louis are here.

"This is much bigger than Tall Stacks in terms of demand and occupancy. With Tall Stacks, people came in for the day and left. For this one, they're staying."

The average occupancy rate of Cincinnati hotels is 48-49 percent. For this weekend, downtown hotels have been at 100 percent for almost six months, and the suburbs are close to that now. The average room rate is $72 a night. This weekend, rates are running as high as $250 a night downtown.

Between Fridayand Sept. 25, area hotels have booked 11,220 room nights, a term that refers to occupancy: One room consumed for one night, meaning if someone checks in and stays three nights, it's three room nights.

"It's the biggest weekend in two years," Calvert said. The last time it happened was Red Hot Weekend, a similar weekend where several events overlapped and drew hundreds of thousands to Cincinnati.

Here's another indication of how big the weekend is: People are giving away Cincinnati weekends as contest prizes. Calvert knows of at least seven radio stations, one as far away as Vancouver, others as close as Indianapolis, Batesville, Evansville and Louisville, that have done it. Usually two of maybe three a year do giveaways.

All of that pleases the team behind Queen City Fusion, the official marketing effort that includes Saturday's P&G Ohio Classic and Jamboree football game and band competition.

"We're really happy about the way this has come together," says A.G. Lafley, Procter & Gamble's chairman and chief executive and one of the driving forces behind the coordination of the weekend's major sporting, arts and culture events. "We see this as an opportunity to bring together all the diverse segments of our city. Our hope is to have something to meet all the needs of the community, whether it's sports or arts and culture.

"I made a lot of calls (for corporate sponsorship and support), and just about everyone we asked stepped up to the plate."

It could also bring traffic headaches with Oktoberfest closing five blocks of Fifth Street and portions of Race, Vine, Walnut, Main, Sycamore and Broadway.

"Our biggest challenge will come Sunday night when the Bengals let out," Cincinnati Police Capt. James Whalen said. "Earlier, when people are arriving, it won't be as much of a problem because they arrive at staggered times. But all 68,000 of them leaving the stadium at once, plus the street closing, plus the largest outdoor festival of the year, it's going to put a strain on the infrastructure.

"Plus, you have such tremendous pedestrian traffic that people have to walk in the street, and that slows traffic, too."

Police will have details at every event ("I don't think anyone here will be getting the weekend off," Whalen said,) but they're expecting a peaceful weekend.

"No, no trouble at all. Every one of these events is positive. Even for Van Halen, which is hard rock, I think it's going to be a more mellow crowd."

The weekend will involve some police overtime for traffic details, but not much for the events.

Damon Jones, external relations manager at P&G and chairman of the committee of seven that coordinated the weekend, began working on coordination and promoting Fusion six months ago.

"We had the Ohio Classic already, but then we took a look at all the events happening this weekend and said: 'Oh my goodness. This is going to be too much at one time.' Then we looked at the flip side and said let's capitalize."

Says JoAnn Maly, marketing director of Newport on the Levee: "Queen City Fusion is a great example of what happens when a lot of entities get together and piggyback on each others' regional marketing plans."




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