CINCINNATI - It's another big weekend for Cincinnati with tens of thousands of music and sports fans expected Downtown for the Macy's Music Festival and the beginning of the first-ever home training camp for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Macy's Music Festival will be held Friday and Saturday nights at Paul Brown Stadium. The Festival 513 street fair takes place on Freedom Way to the east of the stadium. The Bengals will practice on fields to the west of the stadium.
There are two words that city officials believe will make sure that every visitor has great experience: Operation Hospitality.
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory came up with the idea in 2006 as a way to promote the Macy's Music Festival.
"My view is that the city administration prior to me becoming mayor did not have the right approach to the event," Mallory said Thursday. "I thought it would make more sense to approach it from the standpoint of insuring that we were offering the greatest hospitality that we possibly could and the greatest coordination that we could so that we made sure the visitor experience was as great as it could possibly be."
The efforts of the Cincinnati police, fire and public works departments were coordinated for traffic control, safety and cleanliness. Restaurants were urged to stay open later. The festival was publicized as much as possible. Service industry workers were contacted. Everyone came to understand that they were ambassadors for the city.
The years of work have paid off.
"We've grown 'Operation Hospitality' into a method of operation and that's what we used to insure the success of the World Choir Games," the Mayor said.
The Macy's Music Festival is in its 50th year, having begun in 1962 at the Carthage Fairgrounds with the big bands of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Woody Herman.
"Over the years the music just kind of morphed and the jazz became pop and the pop became rhythm and blues," said festival promoter Joe Santangelo.
Friday night features Charlie Wilson, KEM, Ledisi, Eric Benet, Dennis Edwards and the Temptations Review plus Alex Boyd. Frankie Beverly and Maze, Jaheim, Monica, The O'Jays, Midnight Star and Zay Foggs perform on Saturday night.
Santangelo said the festival drew 45,000 people last year and he expects that number to top 50,000 this year. About 65 percent of the crowd comes from Chicago and Detroit.
"I really think it's the Mayor's fault," he said with a chuckle. "For 50 years it's only him I can point to and say that not only did he understand what was needed to be done, but he did it. I really lay a lot of the success we're having right now at his footsteps."
To prove his point, Santangelo said that groups from Chicago that used to bring two buses of people to the Queen City have now increased that to 14 buses.
"They're saying, 'Hey! Cincinnati is a hip place to be for a weekend. There's a lot to do. It's great to be Downtown,'" he said. "You didn't have anybody saying it was great to be Downtown 10 years ago. Now, you do."
The Bengals have held training camp out-of-town either at Wilmington College or Georgetown College ever since the team was founded in the 1960's. Bringing it to Cincinnati keeps the operation at facilities the players will use for the entire season.
Practices on the fields adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium have metal bleachers that can hold about 1,600 people, so fans are being urged to check the schedule on the team's web site.
Some practices will be held inside the stadium, which can accommodate a larger number of people.
There are cross-promotions planned with the Cincinnati Reds where fans can watch a Bengals afternoon practice, have dinner downtown or at The Banks and then attend a baseball game that night.
"We're sure people are going to come down here and have a great time," said Bengals Business Development Director Bob Bedinghaus. "We want them to get comfortable with coming downtown."
Bedinghaus is part of the Operation Hospitality team and gives Mayor Mallory credit for putting the program together. He also had high praise for the Cincinnati Police Department.
"The Cincinnati Police are very inviting and welcoming to people who come down to the music festival," he said. "I'm sure they'll be the same way to the folks that are coming down to our training camp. It really makes a difference."
At the Holy Grail, co-owner Paul Goebel said he sees the impact of Operation Hospitality every day.
"You see the streets are extremely clean. You see a lot of police officers. You see a lot more people that are making sure it's a success," he said.
That's in addition to the good customer service Goebel said he feels the Holy Grail staff provides each and every day.
"We're in the hospitality industry. It's the number one thing," he said. "The food has to taste good, but you have to provide a friendly atmosphere."
Holy Grail server Cody Patchell said as the customer service has improved, she's noticed a big increase in the