Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Shooting at Square viewed as rare

Workers, visitors not scared off

By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A fatal shooting on Fountain Square this past weekend had downtown workers buzzing Monday afternoon, but nobody said it would keep them away from one of Cincinnati's best-known landmarks.

Officials from the Chamber of Commerce and the visitors' bureau say they aren't worried the shooting Friday night will taint people's view of Cincinnati.

"Downtown is one of the safest neighborhoods in the city," said David Ginsburg, a spokesman for Downtown Cincinnati Inc. "While no one wants this to happen, most people realize it can occur anywhere and it is not a commentary on the venue."

Antonio Owens, 26, of Millvale, was shot late Friday during an argument, and died Sunday at University Hospital, according to the Cincinnati Police Department. Officers are searching for two men who escaped from the scene in a brown Humvee.

"I was surprised when I heard a shooting happened here," said Sean Hensley, 29, of Mason, who walked through Fountain Square on Monday afternoon.

Hensley works downtown, but sometimes come back at night for a Cincinnati Reds game.

He believes Owens' death was a particular incident, and not indicative of downtown's crime climate.

Richard Joesting, 52, of Miami Heights, who also works downtown, walked by the Rock Bottom Brewery on the square during his lunch hour Monday to check out damage done in the shooting. Little remained of Friday's bloody fight.

Joesting often comes downtown at night for dining and the symphony.

"I won't stop doing that," he said. "I think that if becomes a regular occurrence, maybe, but this one shooting won't affect my plans."

Amit Netanel, manager of the T Mobile cellular telephone store on the square, said the shooting is a concern.

While he doesn't expect weekday business to drop off - business was as steady as usual Monday - he wonders what will happen next weekend.

"At first, people might be less likely to come down to enjoy the day or shop," Netanel said. "But as time goes on, people will forget if it doesn't happen again."

There are three conventions in town this week, bringing a total of about 1,000 visitors to the city. None of the groups contacted the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau about safety concerns, said Julie Calvert, a spokeswoman for the agency.

According to police department figures, violent crime in District 1, which includes downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the West End, was down by more than 15 percent as of the end of March, compared with the first three months of 2002. For those same time periods, overall crime was down almost 9 percent. Part 2 crimes, which include nonviolent incidents such as car break-ins, were up 2.9 percent.

Downtown advocates had been happy recently with the decline in crime and the new leadership at District 1. Capt. James Whalen took over the job in March and has tried to keep Ginsburg and others more informed.

"From a perception point of view, it's an awful event. Awful," said Mayor Charlie Luken. "The reality is, from what I've seen, crime downtown is way down, and so is violent crime. And police visibility is much higher."

Luken said the square appears to be "much healthier than a year ago. ... In the short term, we'll make sure there's a cop on the square almost all the time."

Gregory Korte and Jane Prendergast contributed to this report.

E-mail sturco@enquirer.com

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