Column: Cincinnati's growth taking center stage

Posted at 8:50 PM, Jul 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-31 08:45:48-04

CINCINNATI -- The Queen City's future, at least from a cultural and entertainment standpoint, has never looked better.

For those looking for evidence to back this opinion, they need to only look at this past weekend.

From Thursday through Sunday, Cincinnati hosted one of the nation's biggest and oldest R&B music festivals, a food festival that showcased more than 60 local minority-owned businesses and a soccer match against a European soccer team. Each event drew thousands of people to the city. 

"Cincy feels like a big city this weekend," said Julian Rodgers, who organized the third annual Cincy Soul food festival.

Now in its third year, Cincy Soul attracted an estimated crowd of 20,000 people to Fifth Street between Vine and Walnut streets and Fountain Square between Friday and Sunday evenings. The event complemented the 2018 Cincinnati Music Festival, which took place Thursday through Saturday evening at Paul Brown Stadium.

PHOTOS: Saturday night at Cincinnati Music Festival 2018

The more-than-50-year-old R&B festival typically brings 60,000 people, 80 percent of whom come from outside the city, to downtown each year, according to the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau. Although attendance numbers were not immediately available for this past weekend's event, the bureau said last year's festival boasted more than 80,000 attendees -- one of its biggest crowds to date.

FC Cincinnati brought a little international flair Saturday. The 2019 Major League Soccer expansion team hosted La Liga side RCD Espanyol from Barcelona, Spain, for its second annual international friendly match. The game, which FC lost, drew more than 16,000 fans to the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium.

For those still not quite convinced that there's something for everyone to do in Cincinnati, the neighborhood of Pendleton hosted DangerWheel, an adult big wheel race that drew a sizable crowd from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday.

PHOTOS: DangerWheel in Pendleton

Local businessman Andrew Salzbrun and other people living in the neighborhood started DangerWheel four years ago as a way to showcase how much Pendleton had changed since 2005, when a UC report stated it was one of the most-trafficked areas for open-air drug deals. 

For good measure, Walk the Moon, a local pop band with a national following, performed inside Great American Ball Park Saturday evening after the Reds game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

"It's all about mentality," Rodgers said. "That's what's going to take us to the next level. Cincy can be a destination for tourism. When we go to the Miamis and Atlantas and Chicagos, we feel welcome. We experience something we haven't experienced before. It's good when you have options."

As Jason Dunn, the CVB's director of multicultural affairs and community development, pointed out, many of the weekend's activities are the direct result of years of hard work.

In 2016, the visitor's bureau launched Vibe Cincinnati to elevate its ongoing efforts to promote the city as a diverse place for people from around the country to visit. Cincy Soul food festival is part of that initiative.

This year, both Cincy Soul and the music festival even gained the attention of film crews from the Oprah Winfrey Network. The network filmed short video vignettes featuring activities from those events that will air during commercial breaks for an episode of "Love Is --" on Aug. 7.

"I think it's fantastic and is a proof point that the intentional efforts over the years and collaboration of our community partners is being recognized," Dunn said before last weekend. "Cincinnati is a multicultural destination and now the nation will know."

Rodgers said he's already planning next year's Cincy Soul. He hopes to add more vendors and grow the festival's footprint downtown. He said he is also assisting organizations in other cities such as Columbus and St. Louis that want to launch similar minority-focused small business food festivals.

"We're creatures of habit," Rodgers said. "These events kind of takes us out of our comfort zone. This is where you will have to go and try it (new things)."