Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Main Street trouble growing with crowds

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nightclub patrons dash across Main Street in front of moving cars.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        Cincinnati bills its hot Over-the-Rhine bar strip as the place to be if you're looking for drinking, dancing or a hottie.

        Police officers call it something else: Friday Night Fights, Big-Time Wrestling.

        On weekend nights, cops expect to be called to the Main Street bar district. And when all dozen bars let out at once at 2 a.m., police expect to break up beer-fueled fights.

        Two brawls in the last two weeks ended with cops hurt, one badly enough to need staples in his head.

        With colleges back in session, Main Street is clearly heating up — and business people and others in the eclectic neighborhood are growing concerned about safety and reputation.

        Officers routinely now shut down the street at closing time to protect the throngs of partyers spilling out of bars.

        Bar owners say fights are an unfortunate — but predictable — result of creating a successful club district that attracts thousands of people nightly.

        Patrons love the place — nowhere else in Cincinnati can you choose from so many bars, so many kinds of music, so many people to meet.

        “It's fun because there's so many places to go,” says Josh Coletta, 21, a University of Cincinnati student from Hyde Park who works at Bar Cincinnati, the newest club.

        “Plus,” he adds, “there's a lot of women.”

        One recent weekend, officers responded to fights in the district on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. In each, disorderly customers went to jail. Last weekend, the Cincinnati Police Division beefed up its patrols.

        “Right about 2:15 on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, the bars start to clear out and it's hundreds of people” in the street, says David Miller, co-owner of Kaldi's, a coffeehouse/bookstore on the strip.

        Says Cincinnati Police Capt. Vince Demasi, the District 1 supervisor: “It's been an unusual two weeks. It's my hope that it's going to calm back down.”

        The entertainment district started developing in the late 1980s. Neon's, around the corner from Main on 12th Street, was the pioneer, opening in December 1987. Kaldi's coffeehouse/bookstore arrived about eight years ago, opening about the same time as bars Rhino's and Japps. Art galleries and small shops followed.

        Since then, bigger clubs like Electra, Have a Nice Day Cafe and Bar Cincinnati — which opened about two months ago — have located in the district.

        The long-timers in the neighborhood attribute the current wave of problems to the newcomers. Newcomers, in turn, defend themselves by saying their establishments are attracting more people to Main Street than ever, making it more profitable for everybody.

        Krista Clark and Cynthia Hucker, 26-year-olds from Colerain Township, hit Main Street every weekend in their skirts and heels. They're more concerned about the safety of walking to their cars after closing in the edgy neighborhood than they are about bar fights.

        “It's a good mix down here,” Ms. Hucker says. “You have your choice of where you want to go.”

        Neon's owner Terry Cart er, who has been around longer than most neighborhood businessmen, said he has talked with newcomers about the keys to keeping safe: Vigilance at the door for potentially problematic people; and spending the $150 a night it costs for an off-duty, uniformed police officer to stand out front.

        Mr. Carter restricts his crowd to 25 and older after 9 p.m. That helps him handle the problem, he says, of people trying to drink underage: “I don't want babies in here.”

        Many bar patrons heard about the fight Sept. 15 that sent Officer Scott Owen to the emergency room.

        He and his partner were trying to break up a fight outside Have a Nice Day Cafe about 2:30 a.m. when the fighters turned on them. Two men were arrested; the officer missed several days of work. That happened five days after Sgt. Brian Ibold got punched in the face during a fight.

        “You're seeing a lot of young, rich white kids,” Mr. Miller says. “They haven't dealt with a lot of authority. And they're drunk.”

        The problems cut into Kaldi's business, he says — the crowd that frequents his place isn't the same as those who hit the bars. Other non-nightclub businesses on Main Street, most of which are not open late, haven't been so affected by the party scene, their owners say.

        Capt. Demasi says he continues to monitor the situation. If the calls and fights don't calm down, he says he'll approach bar owners to talk about some solutions.

        The possible first public airing: an Over-the-Rhine Safety Committee meeting Wednesday.


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