Friday, September 17, 2004

City embraces jam-packed Fusion

'Come on down. But leave home early'

By Cliff Radel
Enquirer staff writer

Grace Gottenbusch, 3, from Newtown nibbles on a giant pretzel from Servatii's as she watches Oktoberfest Zinzinnati participants.
(Michael E. Keating/The Enquirer)
Elizabeth Harten of North Avondale takes her steins to the line with a little spillage in the Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati's, Gemutlichkeit Games "Sprint for the Stein," held on Fountain Square.
(Tony Jones/The Enquirer)
For years, Cincinnati has worried about too few people coming downtown to have fun. Now, the city's worrying about too many.

Such is the potential drawing power of this weekend's events.

Operating under the Queen City Fusion umbrella, the schedule includes sporting events - the Reds and Bengals are in town, as is the P&G Classic football game - and exhibits at the Contemporary Arts Center and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, plus concerts (the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's season opener and Van Halen at the U.S. Bank Arena) and the annual Oktoberfest Zinzinnati.

These attractions are expected to draw up to 1 million people downtown and inject $72.7 million into the local economy.

All those people coming together to spend money in the same locale has raised concerns that there will be gridlock on the streets, "Full" signs on parking garages and droves of pedestrians wandering aimlessly around town.

Sports, music, Oktoberfest
Parties don't get much bigger than the one Cincinnati's throwing this weekend!

Weekend schedule
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Oktoberfest Zinzinnati
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Park for $1 for the first two hours in one of four downtown garages: Fountain Square North, Gramercy, The Westin, and Fifth and Race. (Just look for the $1 Park signs.)

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Stop your worrying, say public officials and Queen City Fusion organizers.

"That's small-town thinking," said Damon Jones, Procter & Gamble external-relations manager and the head of the committee fusing the weekend's festivities.

"That's a mindset we need to change," he said. "It's holding the city back."

Instead, he advised, come on down. Everything is under control.

Just ask Steve Bailey. Questions about gridlock have been posed to the city traffic engineer in official planning sessions and unofficially from people on the street. "I don't expect any gridlock," he said.

He pointed out that traffic-pattern plans have been in place for two years - since 2002's Red Hot Weekend, when downtown hosted a University of Cincinnati-Ohio State football game, the last home stand at Cinergy Field and Oktoberfest. Everything is set for traffic to run smoothly.

Cincinnati police Capt. James Whalen goes Bailey one better.

"I'd be willing to bet that on Monday, people will say: 'That was as smooth as glass. There were no problems,' " said the District 1 commander whose territory covers downtown.

Whalen said he has "a full-time staff that does nothing but plan for events. We are prepared. We've got it covered."

Because of the multitude of events, however, Whalen has several requests of the public.

"Leave home early. Take your time. Don't leave valuables visible in your car. The bad guys know the schedule as well as the good guys."

Whalen identified two potential trouble spots.

• Saturday: Before the Reds' 7:10 p.m. game at Great American Ball Park and the 7:30 p.m. Van Halen concert next door at U.S. Bank Arena.

• Sunday: Before the Bengals' 8:30 p.m. kickoff.

"The Reds will be sold out Saturday," Whalen said, "for the Joe Nuxhall tribute." The team is honoring the old lefthander for his combined 60 years as a Reds player and broadcaster.

"The Van Halen show should draw 7,500," Whalen noted. "So, the area around the ballpark will be busy from 6 to 8 p.m."

Come Sunday, Paul Brown Stadium will be swarming with vehicular and pedestrian traffic "from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m."

Whalen's advice: "Don't arrive late and try to hurry. It just won't work."

The threat of weekend traffic jams has been on the mind of Vice Mayor Alicia Reece. When she addressed a Wednesday afternoon Fountain Square crowd to kick off Oktoberfest's Gemuetlichkeit games, she joked: "We've solved the parking problem: Get a hotel room and walk."

After the games, she gave two responses for worrywarts: Get over it. Get used to it.

"For so long, our downtown has been dead after 5 p.m.," she said.

"If we are going to be a progressive city in the 21st century, then we have to be able to compete with other cities by having more than one major event going on at the same time over a weekend."

She noted the investments the city has made in tourist-dependent venues. "We have the Contemporary Arts Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Aronoff and the restaurants," she said. "They could use several of these weekends a year."


Hurricane's wake won't spoil the show

Queen City Fusion weekend, for the most part, will be spared any inclement weather as an offshoot of Hurricane Ivan.

While there's a 60 percent chance of rain during the day today, the rest of the weekend should be dry and pleasantly warm. That means those attending Oktoberfest Zinzinnati Saturday and Sunday, the Bengals game Sunday night and other events in between won't need any rain gear.

Today's high temperature should be in the low 70s, while the mercury is expected to climb to the mid-70s Friday and Saturday, when the skies will be partly cloudy. There's a 20 percent chance of rain during the day Saturday, but there's no precipitation in the forecast for Saturday evening or all day Sunday.

Heavy precipitation as a result of Hurricane Ivan likely will stay east and southeast of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Don Hughes.

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