Wednesday, October 25, 2000

Sounds of South go sour

Dixie Chicks gig cited over access, parking

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Last week's Dixie Chicks concert might have been a sellout, but a Firstar Center executive says fans will mainly remember the access and parking problems.

        It's a song that center officials have been singing since construction began on the new Reds ballpark, but now they say there is proof.

        “Last Thursday's Dixie Chicks concert demonstrated that the parking and access concerns are real, as well, that they directly impact patrons, the arena and the community, and that they have not been addressed,” Douglas Kirchhofer said in a letter to the Cincinnati city manager and the Hamilton County administrator this week.

        “The concert ended on a sour note for far too many people,” he said. “We need commitments, from the highest levels of both the city and the county, that these issues will be fixed.”

        City Manager John Shirey said Tuesday that he had not seen Mr. Kirchhofer's letter and was unaware of any significant problems during the concert.

        “I haven't heard from our safety department,” he said. “I will have to find what problems there were.”

        Mr. Shirey said he has already pledged his support to the center. But he also said he is waiting for Mr. Kirchhofer to provide a list of specific things the city can do.

        “He promised to send in writing a list of suggestions. I am still waiting,” Mr. Shirey said, adding that the complaints raised by Mr. Kirchhofer are a “repetition” of earlier letters.

        Three weeks ago, Mr. Kirchhofer asked the city to help solve parking, staging and access problems that he says Hamilton County has refused to address. Firstar Center's request came a day after a Hamilton County judge ordered the county to pay the riverfront arena for seizing its property rights to build the new stadium.

        The county has appealed the verdict and Hamilton County Administrator Dave Krings says Mr. Kirchhofer is now using Cincinnati City Council to pressure the county into a quick settlement.

        Firstar owner, Cincinnati Entertainment Associates, filed a suit in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court in July to halt ballpark construction. Judge Robert Ruehlman refused, saying it would be too expensive and could delay the Great American Ball Park's 2003 opening. That allowed demolition crews to destroy parking spaces and other structures around Firstar.

        Mr. Kirchhofer said the problems experienced at the Dixie Chicks concert are a precursor to what attendees will experience next month. “Next month we will have a full 17,000 people for a Faith Hill/Tim McGraw concert,” he said. “I do not have much confidence that we can, with chewing gum and bailing wire, fix the system in time for next month's concert.”

        Mr. Kirchhofer said fans were stuck on the temporary bridge over Pete Rose Way and had to wait 20 minutes before leaving.Once they made it into cars, he said, it took them up to 45 minutes to leave downtown garages.

        He also said meetings with county consultants have failed to fix these problems. “We participated in those meetings because we believed that by working together with the county project team we could find solutions,” Mr. Kirchhofer said. “We were wrong.”

        Councilman Todd Portune, who introduced a motion asking Mr. Shirey to resolve access issues before approving the ballpark's design plans, said the city hasn't done enough. “Firstar Center is a valuable asset to the community,” he said, adding that the concerns are “very real and very legitimate.”


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