Saturday, June 02, 2001

Downtown boosters launch ads

Goal: Help businesses hurting in riots' wake

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Downtown Cincinnati Inc. has launched an ad blitz that aims to revive the fortunes of downtown merchants struggling to attract customers in the wake of April's riots.

        The downtown advocacy group and other business and civic organizations will offer free entertainment and discounts over the next six weeks in an effort to attract suburbanites reluctant to visit downtown and Over-the-Rhine because of the unrest and resulting protests.

        Newspaper ads that began Friday champion downtown “as a place we can all come together.” They feature images of a range of people — black and white, young and old.

        DCI President Rick Greiwe said the television, radio and newspaper ads are not meant to gloss over the racial tension and violence that erupted after a Cincinnati police officer shot an unarmed 19-year-old African-American man in an Over-the-Rhine alley on April 7.

   Highlights of DCI's advertising campaign:
    • Week 1: Free admission to Cincinnati Museum Center June 9 and 10.
    • Week 2: Discounted packages for Cincinnati-area residents who want to spend a night at a downtown hotel, or visit the Cincinnati Zoo or Newport Aquarium, along with other discounted entertainment.
    • Week 3: Free admission to Contemporary Arts Center.
    Other planned events include a tour of Findlay Market, discounted dining and free admission at Main Street nightclubs.
   Source: Downtown Cincinnati Inc.
        Rather, the campaign will stress the “inclusiveness” that downtown offers for people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, Mr. Greiwe said.

        “The campaign is not intended to ignore or minimize the problems the city faces,” said DCI Chairman Clifford Bailey. “This city has to be more progressive than it has been.”

        But Mr. Bailey added that other organizations — including Mayor Charlie Luken's race relations commission — are tackling the economic, social and racial problems that helped trigger the April 10-11 riots. Dozens were injured and more than 800 arrested as rioters smashed windows, attacked motorists and looted stores in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

        Downtown restaurants, hotels and retailers that employ many from the city's poorest neighborhoods are facing a sharp drop in business.

        “We must improve downtown, as well as bring a new constituency,” said Mr. Bailey, president of Techsoft Systems. “Our focus is making a viable downtown.”

        DCI did not reveal the advertising and promotional costs, but Mr. Greiwe said most of the media, including The Cincinnati Enquirer, have offered free space and air time to carry the message.

        The print ads and television spots were produced through a collaboration of several media firms.

        DCI board member Pat Bready acknowledged that the timing of the media campaign will be scrutinized. A week ago, African-American ministers led a protest of Taste of Cincinnati to call attention to the city's racial problems. And promoters canceled last month's popular music festival Pepsi Jammin' on Main because of poor ticket sales and threatened protests.

        “The timing is never going to be perfectly right for this,” said Ms. Bready, Cincinnati Bell's director of government relations. “But the tension in our city didn't begin just in April.”

        She pointed to last summer's Ujima festival, when many upscale downtown restaurants closed during the predominantly African-American celebration.

        DCI's campaign will encourage white residents to attend this year's Ujima celebration to promote racial harmony, she said.

        Arn Bortz, a former Cincinnati mayor and downtown developer with Towne Properties, said the advertising campaign needs to “strike a balance” between the practical needs of struggling businesses and the concerns of the African-American community.

        “For some of these downtown retailers, it's a minute-to-minute battle for survival,” Mr. Bortz said. “So they would welcome any attempt to bring people through their front doors. ... Some of these folks won't be in business when you get down to fixing all the problems.”

        The newspaper ads will continue over the next six weeks to accompany radio and television spots, which will air starting Monday.

        There will be special promotions each week, starting with an offer of free admission to the Cincinnati Museum Center next weekend. Other attractions, such as Findlay Market, art galleries, Main Street and the Contemporary Arts Center, will be trumpeted as the campaign progresses.

        Coordinated by DCI, the advertising and public relations effort includes contributions from several corporations, business groups and civic organizations.

        “Downtown is changing for the better,” Mr. Bailey said. “It is profiting from its past mistakes.”

       Enquirer reporter Cliff Peale contributed to this report.

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