Wednesday, October 22, 1997
Flynt might hasten revitalization

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Roll out the red carpet. Larry Flynt's back in town. And he just might save our city.

Larry Flynt
| ZOOM |
The old porn peddler, a bloated, red-headed toad of a man, opens his dirty bookstore at 8 a.m. today in the heart of town.

Larry's smut shop - Hustler News & Gifts - occupies the old King's News, a run-down haven of longstanding for dirty magazines. It's on Sixth Street, across the street from Fountain Square, next to Batsakes' dry cleaners and just around the corner from the Aronoff Center, a potent symbol of downtown's rebirth.

Granted, a dirty bookstore is not one of the trophy retailers we had hoped to land for downtown.

It may be an embarrassing kick in the pants. But it has galvanized long-dormant aspects of downtown's revitalization.

A Hustler store will bring more people downtown. But only for a one-time, drive-by gawk. After they're gone, we're stuck with Larry.

At least one of his new neighbors is not worried. Before the latest battle in the city's war on smut is over, Jim Batsakes - co-owner with his brother, George, of J&G Batsakes Dry Cleaners - said, "This could be good for Cincinnati. It could get things moving."

He was not talking about moving copies of Hustler. He was talking about dunderheads sitting in offices. Instead of doing something, they stare out windows and dream about downtown development.

What's needed is an aggressive plan for attracting high-end stores such as Nordstrom and Crate & Barrel. And action.

Odd as it may seem, Larry Flynt is acting as the missing catalyst for action downtown. He moved city council to get off its collective duff and put on a rare display of unity.

Council hurriedly called an emergency hand-wringing session Tuesday to see what could be done about the red-haired menace. In a matter of minutes, and by a 9-0 vote, it closed a loophole in a piece of legislation that might someday put the Hustler store out of business. If only they could move that quickly on remodeling the riverfront. Over the next few days, council's sure to ask questions.

How did this happen? How can we make it go away? Whose fault is it? And why didn't we move faster to set up that porno ghetto? (That's the sexually oriented business district Councilman Phil Heimlich wants to place among the ash-heaps of Queensgate.)

But such things are trifles compared with the ultimate benefit this business brings to our city. Larry Flynt's bookstore delivers a much-needed wake-up call to Cincinnati's sleepy downtown improvement plans.

It also issues a fair warning: This is what happens when you let storefronts sit empty while you plan, dicker, debate and dither. Empty stores in a city's downtown are like broken teeth in a smile. Ignore them and decay sets in.

There has been progress downtown. The Aronoff is up and running. Show Boat's packing them in. There's life down there. The restaurants in the Backstage area are busy.

But we can't lose our focus. We need to build on what we've accomplished. Thinking about what good could come of Larry Flynt's bookstore, Jim Batsakes said:

"Maybe this will hasten the city's plans to move the Contemporary Arts Center here." His family's shop has long been discussed as the site for a new center.

If the Contemporary Arts Center moves in, the Hustler building and the McDonald's next to it will go, too.

So maybe they'll finally get serious and develop downtown, instead of just talk about it.

If that happens, we can thank Larry Flynt.

Maybe the mayor will give him the key to the city.

Along with a one-way ticket out of town.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.