9 things to watch in Cincy's entertainment scene

Posted at 12:34 PM, Jan 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-06 12:36:09-05

CINCINNATI -- The new year is poised to carry forward the progress of 2015 with regard to arts and entertainment in the Tri-State. Here are nine things to watch.

1. More Movies?: The Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission promises the momentum from five major films shot in the region in 2015 will continue. Kristen Erwin Schlotman, the commission’s executive director, said Cincinnati could see two major movie productions in early 2016 and also hinted at a television series filmed here in the near future.

The only roadblock to the local film industry’s continued growth is the $20 million yearly cap on the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Incentive used to help bring those movies here. The incentive, which runs from July 1 to June 30, reached its cap in October 2015. 

Schlotman said the film commission had lined up local projects before that time but acknowledged the challenge of bringing future movie productions to Ohio.

“As we become more and more well known, we are hoping the state expands the program. We don’t want to have the reputation of ‘we are closed for business until next year’,” she said.

2. Riverfront Boom: We received a hint of what is ahead for the newest developments along the riverfront when Taste of Belgium announced it will open its sixth location in Phase II of the Banks in the spring. The popular brunch and lunch spot will occupy a portion of the 20,000 square feet of new retail space between the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Paul Brown Stadium.

Across the river, a $70 million expansion of Newport on the Levee, including hotels, apartments, parking and more retail space, is scheduled to open in 2016, too. There is also talk about building a 180-foot-tall “observation wheel” east of the Levee and the continued development of the 11.5-mile Riverfront Commons mixed-use trail project, which received $4.5 million in federal funds to connect five Northern Kentucky river cities, including Newport.

3. Southern Flavor: So far, local foodies can look forward to two Nashville-style hot chicken restaurant chains in the new year.

Nashville Hot, the brainchild of former Tom+Chee president David Krikorian, plans to open at the Buttermilk Shoppes in Crescent Springs in January. Krikorian said he wants to expand the number of Nashville Hot locations into Cincinnati and further north as the year progresses. Joella’s Hot Chicken, a Louisville-based hot chicken chain, is planning to open two locations, one in Cincinnati and another in Middletown. No firm dates for those openings have been announced.

Another Louisville-based restaurant, Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse and Oyster Bar, has announced it will open a location inside of the Freedom Center. No firm date has been set for its opening, either.

4. Over-the-Rhine's Revival Continues: The nightlife revival in Over-the-Rhine will likely move north of Liberty Street this year for two reasons. First, the Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee approved two new Community Entertainment Districts, which could double the number of liquor permits (meaning more bars and restaurants) in OTR next year. The measure still needs final approval by the full council. 

“This will jumpstart development near Findlay Market and in the Brewing District,” said Brad Thomas, an attorney representing the Corporation of Findlay Market, which petitioned for one of the districts.

The second reason? The streetcar. Once it starts operating, the three-mile light-rail loop will run from the Banks to just north of Findlay, then back through the heart of OTR. The streetcar could unify the neighborhood, which often feels divided by Liberty Street, and bring more visitors from Downtown. 

5. Renovating the Arts: Music Hall will close its doors in June so a $129 million overhaul of the historic facility can begin. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Pops and May Festival will perform their 2016-2017 seasons at the Taft Theatre, and the Cincinnati Opera will relocate to the Aronoff Center for the Arts. The Cincinnati Ballet will continue performing at the Aronoff until Music Hall’s renovations are complete in fall 2017. 

Neighboring Memorial Hall, owned by Hamilton County, closed in May 2015 for its renovations, which will run through fall of this year. OTR also will see the groundbreaking early this year for a new Cincinnati Shakespeare Company theater at the corner of 12th and Elm streets. The company’s new multimillion-dollar facility will open for the 2017-2018 season.

The Cincinnati Museum Center will start renovation work on its lower levels in January, and serious work on the natural history portion of the museum could begin in the fall. The Museum Center has no plans to close during the rehab, which will stretch into 2018.

6. Lumenocity: What does the future hold for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's popular music-and-light show in Washington Park? The end-of-summer extravaganza saw a major change in 2015 when organizers for the first time sold tickets for the event; it had been free in 2013 and 2014. Reasons cited for the change involved crowd control and funding. With Music Hall closed, will the Pops want to put on another show there? And did ticket sales help or hurt the potential longevity of the event?

7. Buckle Up Festival: The country music festival that premiered in the Tri-State in 2014 returns in 2016 after a year’s hiatus. Columbus-based promoter PromoWest canceled the 2015 event after buying both Buckle Up and the Bunbury Music Festival from founder Bill Donabedian. For Buckle Up’s second edition, the festival will move from Downtown's Sawyer Point and Yeatman’s Cove to Summit Park in Blue Ash. 


8. 'Downton Abbey' Comes to Taft: The Taft Museum of Art will host an exhibit of period costumes from the popular PBS Masterpiece show in the summer. “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” will be on display July 2 through Sept. 25. The exhibit will showcase nearly 40 costumes designed for the show’s aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, showing the evolution of fashion from 1912 to 1923. Tickets and pricing have not been announced. For updates, and to preview some of the costumes in the exhibit, go to

9. 'Toruk' Rocks: Cirque du Soleil’s "Toruk - The First Flight,” a new touring show inspired by the movie “Avatar,” will come to U.S. Bank Arena on May 6-8. The Cirque show depicts a world set thousands of years before the events depicted in the film. Buy tickets for the show by visiting the U.S. Bank website.