Sunday, March 12, 2000

MainStrasse tensions boil over

Association, others seek compromise

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — A silent tension has been simmering for about 20 years between many of MainStrasse's long-time neighborhood residents and its burgeoning German-themed entertainment district.

        But it took last weekend's rowdy Mardi Gras — complete with celebrants urinating on everything from back-yard fences to police cruisers — to bring those simmering tensions to a boil.

        Members of the MainStrasse Village Association, which sponsored the event, said the Mardi Gras celebration grew too big too fast. They said unseasonably warm weather and successful promotion efforts tripled the number of usual Mardi Gras celebrants from 20,000 to 60,000.

        For bars and restaurants in the German-themed village, the event was successful, with some owners boasting about doing two weeks of business in two days.

        Eleven non-profit organizations from Greater Cincinnati also took in $25,000 at their beer booths. The festival organizers estimate their gross from the entrance fees and other revenues at $200,000 to $250,000, part of which will go toward public improvements in the village.

        But many residents say the financial success doesn't outweigh their costs. They were enraged by widespread public urination on private property, women baring their breasts, and other sexual activities in the open, as well as general rowdiness of the crowds, to say nothing of the mess they left behind.

        Dozens of residents called police and Covington city officials to voice their disgust.

        Last Thursday, a man who complained he “almost threw up” from the stench of urine outside his West Seventh Street home, filed a lawsuit seeking $1,500 in damages from the MainStrasse Village Association.

        “People were urinating everywhere, even on a policeman's car,” said Sandy Arnold, who added that her property also became a public toilet during the two-day event. “They were acting without regard for anyone's safety, and there were more people than the police could handle.”

        Upset by her inability to reach city officials, or get relief from police or the MainStrasse Village Association during the event, Mrs. Arnold called TV stations and offered Polaroid shots of celebrants urinating in nearby yards.

        Representatives of the village association said later that they told police of Mrs. Arnold's concerns, but were unable to get an officer to patrol the alley near her home Saturday night because of the need for officers where most of the celebrants were gathered.

        Covington officials and the village association have called a meeting for 6 p.m. Monday at St. Aloysius Apartments, 410 W. Eighth St., to discuss residents' concerns and talk about how to prevent similar problems at future festivals.

        As a result of complaints from Mrs. Arnold and other MainStrasse residents, next year's MainStrasse Village Mardi Gras has been cancelled. It is unclear how or if the celebration will be revived.

        “It's unfortunate that something has to get so out of control to really bring (the neighborhood's problems) to a head, but I'm hoping some good can come of it,” said Rachel DeLugish, a neighborhood development specialist with the Covington Community Center.

        “If people can't come to Monday's meeting, we're asking them to write a letter to the city commission, the MainStrasse Village Association or the Covington Community Center, and let them know what their concerns are.”

        Originally home to working-class residents of German and Irish descent, Mainstrasse Village on Covington's west side was transformed into the German-themed village in the late 1970s. A state grant and a national designation as a historic district further defined the are bounded by Fifth Street, Pike Street, the railroad underpass, and Interstate 75. Now more than 40 shops and pubs are set against a backdrop of Victorian and classic Italianate homes built in the mid- to late 1800s.

        The MainStrasse Village Association organized in 1983 to promote the area's image and help with tourism, business development, and public improvements.

        “When I opened here in the summer of '81, it was pretty much a depressed area, with older, run-down houses, and a lot of multiple family buildings that weren't in good shape,” said Cliff Kennedy, owner of Kaleidoscope Stained Glass Studios at 704 Main St., and three other MainStrasse properties.

        “The area's changed for the better,” Mr. Kennedy said.

        Nevertheless, the overall neighborhood is not a wealthy one.

        The 1990 census puts the neighborhood's median income at $15,762 annually, and shows that 46 percent of the residents lack a high school diploma or its equivalency, Ms. DeLugish said.

        That is changing with the recent infusion of younger residents and business people with more disposable income, she said. But it is generating conflicts.

        “The (Covington Community) Center is trying to get the residents involved in their community, and trying to bridge some of these gaps between the newer residents and the older ones, and the businesses and the residents,” Ms. DeLugish said.


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