CINCINNATI — Leaders of the host city for baseball’s All-Star Game say Cincinnati is ready for its close-up.
After more than two years of planning and sprucing up, organizers say everything’s in place for a smooth, safe and fun five days of events that began Friday morning with the opening of MLB’s fan festival. There will be concerts, exhibits, celebrity softball, the home run derby and other activities capped by Tuesday night’s game.
Cincinnati leaders are eager to showcase the city’s changes and shed any lingering images of a staid Midwestern burg with racial turmoil in its recent past. City Manager Harry Black said the five days will be “transformational” in how Cincinnati is perceived — and he predicted the world “will be impressed.”
So if you’re keeping score at home, it’ll be a good week for Cincinnati IF…
IT’S ABOUT PROGESS, NOT GROWING PAINS
The riverfront area around Great American Ball Park has transformed the last few years, with new restaurants and bars packed on event days, high-rise apartments now a short walk away and picturesque new waterside parks and family activities.
A downtown revitalization effort has helped draw trendy restaurants and new condos and make over a now-popular park in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood that was torn by 2001 riots. The downtown Fountain Square is regularly packed for everything from World Cup soccer watches to salsa dance parties.
“The city is a lot more vibrant, a lot more to do,” said Dan Carter, 39, a court investigator checking out preparations at the square Thursday. “It’ll be interesting to see what people think.”
Leaders acknowledge there’s still work needed, and a Fourth of July melee after a concert at the square is leading to a new assessment of things since, as Black said, “downtown is no longer trying to become a destination; it is a destination.”
POLICE ARE GETTING PRAISED, NOT PELTED
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch made Cincinnati her first stop in May on a national tour studying community policing because of reforms here such as increased training and community engagement in the aftermath of the 2001 riots sparked by the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man. Cincinnati’s police have been held up as a national model amid violent protests about police in other cities in the past year.
However, the July 4 outbreak that saw fireworks and bottles thrown at officers and one get punched in the face showed not everyone is at peace with the police. The department is also working to counter a surge in shootings this year.
Hundreds of officers will be on duty during All-Star events, and after months of multi-agency security planning also involving the FBI and Coast Guard, Black said Cincinnati will be “the safest city in America.”
TRAFFIC IS ONLY BAD, NOT NIGHTMARISH
Even on normal days, traffic is often an issue. With 100,000 or more extra people coming to town, many of them driving, “it’s going to be horrible,” predicted Lauren Gaulden, 26, of the northern suburb of Fairfield.
Many current All-Stars will be retired before a multi-decade project to upgrade the I-75 roadway, ramps and an outdated bridge that carries 160,000 to 170,000 vehicles daily over the Ohio River is completed. Spokesman Brian Cunningham of the Ohio Department of Transportation said there won’t be any new work started in the next few days, to try to ease congestion.
Police also will close some streets near the stadium and other event venues. They urge motorists to have a plan. And patience.
PETE ROSE IS IN THE MIDDLE OF CELEBRATION, NOT CONTROVERSY
A product of working class west-side Cincinnati, baseball’s all-time hit king was banned in 1989 and finally acknowledged in 2004 that he bet on baseball.
Now 74, Rose has petitioned for reinstatement, and there had been hopes locally that something might happen in time for the All-Star Game. Those hopes faded last month after ESPN said it obtained a notebook that shows Rose bet on baseball during his last season as an active player in 1986, not just afterward as manager.
Rose, who famously bowled over catcher Ray Fosse to give the National League victory in the 1970 All-Star Game here, has permission to be on the field Tuesday as part of MLB’s fan-voted Franchise Four promotion.
REDS FANS SAVOR RICH HISTORY, NOT FRET THE FUTURE
Cincinnati was home to the first openly professional baseball team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, who went unbeaten their inaugural season. There are tributes to the vintage players around the city, and former players will be in town from two other great Cincinnati teams — the 1975-76 World Champion “Big Red Machine” including Rose and the 1990 team led by Barry Larkin that swept the World Series over Oakland.
The immediate future doesn’t look so exciting. With the Reds on their way to a second straight losing season, talk radio and fans have been buzzing about whether current stars such as starting pitcher Johnny Cueto and closer Aroldis Chapman will still be around after the trade deadline later this month.
Dan Sewell can be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell