News: A Summer of Sundays

Corryville council, police and city officials ponder $145,000 plan to keep the peace in Eden Park and on Short Vine

Jymi Bolden

Corryville Community Council President Lamont Taylor is pushing for Sunday night festivals with a $5 admission fee to reduce complaints about crowds that gather or Short Vine Street.

Lamont Taylor knows that summer is coming to Corryville. "The crowd has returned...," says Taylor, Corryville Community Council president. "As it gets closer to them getting out of school in June, the crowds get bigger."

At 26, Taylor, who says he is the youngest person elected to head a Cincinnati community council, sees his age as an advantage. After all, as he recalls what his mother used to say, "You have to pick and choose your battles and face them head on."

Sunday night crowds that flock from Eden Park to Short Vine Street in Corryville have long been at the top of Taylor's list. Also at the top, he says, is revitalizing Corryville with new housing projects and by working with the University of Cincinnati to increase business and create more jobs for minorities.

Fresh ideas, Taylor says, are bound to pay off, especially when it comes to dealing with the surge of young adults that gathers in Corryville on summer Sunday nights.

"You can't get rid of the crowd," Taylor says. "But we can look at what the priorities are and then concentrate on that."

One of those priorities is opening communication between the young crowd, business owners and the university, he says.

"I wanted to listen to what the kids wanted and go from there," Taylor says.

For the past four summers, the business district in Corryville has been battling the consequences of the large crowds of teen-agers and young adults that congregate on Short Vine Street.

The crowd, mainly young African Americans, spill over into the area after Eden Park closes at dusk.

Business owners complain that the large crowds do not patronize the businesses and drive away other potential customers.

Last summer, the complaints of some business owners escalated after several businesses like Pizza Hut and Perkins began to shut down or move to other areas.

The University Village Business Association met with the city manager and former Councilman Dwight Tillery to discuss its concerns.

Merchants in the area had been reluctant for several years to discuss the problem because they feared the publicity would keep customers away.

But after a highly publicized 1997 incident when two women, including one who was taking her sick child to Children's Hospital, were attacked, the businesses lost even more customers.

Police said that both attacks were racially motivated. In each incident, the women reported crowds of young African-American males threatening them.

After these incidents, emotions were heightened, Taylor says, because there was insufficient communication between the businesses owners and the community.

"When you have a lack of real communication, then all these negative perceptions start popping up," Taylor says.

The business owners were pointing the finger at the young crowd, and the teen-agers and young adults were just reacting back to what they thought was racial discrimination, he says.

Taylor says that because of his age and his position as a representative of the Corryville community, he can be the link between the two sides.

After he was elected in September, Taylor says he set out to look for solutions to the Sunday night problem.

He became an active participant in the city manager's Task Force on Youth and Young Adult Summer Activities, which created a forum where youths, police and business owners could sit down and discuss the issues.

"We had a private meeting in January where about 60 people showed up," he said. "It went really well. The youths listened to how the large crowd affected the community, and the youths got to explain why they hang out in Corryville. It was an extremely productive meeting where negative perceptions were broken down."

Wayne Bain, chairman of the task force and acting director of the city's recreation department, said that the youths who attended the meetings made their point quite clear.

"Corryville's a tradition and that's why they go there ... ," Bain says. "They want to hang. ... They want to be able to see their friends."

As a result of the meetings, the task force has made two recommendations to city council.

The first is an effort to reduce traffic flocking from Eden Park to Corryville with eight summer concerts at Seasongood Pavilion. The concerts, which will be regional acts performing music that interests the youths, will cost about $85,000, Bain says.

The other recommendation was created by University Village Business Association. It proposes a 12-week community festival on Sunday nights where the young adults and teen-agers that normally gather on Short Vine can pay admission to attend "diverse" attractions and activities. For this proposal, supporters are seeking an additional amount of about $60,000 in city funds, Taylor says.

The weekly event could include volleyball tournaments, food, concerts and an art venue, Taylor says. The admission price also would include a voucher that could be used at any business on Short Vine during the festival.

The proposal is pending with Cincinnati City Council's law and finance committees.

"This way, the youths get to have something to do, and the business owners get the customers they want," Taylor says. "I know these kids, and they know me. They don't have anything to do. So, I thought this would be a great plan."

If the opinions of several young adults interviewed by CityBeat May 9 at Eden Park are an indication, charging youths for a Corryville street festival will not necessarily bring objections.

"I think people would pay," says Deonna Holden, 20, who has been coming to Eden Park for the past four years. "It's at least something to do."

Shati White, 20, and her cousin Jameela White, 21, say the idea of a community festival will be great if it means less controversy over them coming to Corryville after Eden Park closes.

"I wouldn't pay just to stand around like we do now," Shati White said. "But if there was stuff to do on the strip, I would pay and go to the businesses."

Others say the festival will only work if there is "fair treatment" and organization.

"It has got to be fair," says Malik Smith, who has been coming to Eden Park on Sundays for as long as he can remember. "We don't want to patronize those businesses because they don't want us there because of our color. That is how we see it at least."

Smith says the festival is a good idea because it gives the teen-agers and younger crowd something to do.

"We need to make it international," he says. "We have to quit being so divided. Let's bring everyone together on this festival thing."

But David Hardy, 26, says he does not understand the reason for a festival or a free concert.

"I don't think us being in Eden Park is a big deal," he says.

But he welcomes the idea of an event every Sunday night.

"We are just trying to find something to do," Hardy says. "We are trying to spend (money) on something we can do."

Another problem caused by the lack of communication is the tension between the police and the crowd, Taylor says.

He says he has asked that the police come down from the horses and wear less formal uniforms.

"When they are up on those horses, it makes it look as if something is about to happen, and you're being guarded," Taylor says.

He would rather see more undercover police in the crowd to prevent any possible problems.

The changes that have occurred this year in Eden Park have allowed the police presence to be better received, said Ben Stenson, 27, who has visited the park every Sunday for the past 10 years.

"There used to be a lot of cops down here," he says. "Actually, there were more cops than anything else. It provoked a lot of the nonsense."

But now, he says, the police are using better organization to direct traffic and patrol the park.

Summer Hunley, 22, agrees that police are using better tactics to deal with the crowd.

"Right now, we like how the police have these cones set up and are directing traffic instead of 20 or 30 of them in the crowd and intimidating us," she says. "When they come in and communicate with us and there are not so many, then we don't feel threatened."

Cincinnati Safety Director Kent Ryan says police have been listening and trying to improve the situation ever since the beginning — when residents in the Eden Park area began complaining about Sunday night disruptions and acts of violence erupted in Corryville.

The safety division supports the proposed concerts as well as the Corryville Festival — as long as the festival is "inclusive," or inviting to the youths who gather there, Ryan says.

Taylor says that the business owners' efforts to control Sunday night crowds are simply a first step in the revitalization of Corryville.

He is working with the University of Cincinnati to get its shuttle bus, which transports people from the university's main campus to the hospitals, to stop on Short Vine during lunch to increase business.

He says he also is creating new housing opportunities for first-time buyers.

"Corryville Community Development Corp. is a non-profit group that is developing new housing like condos to attract new residents to the area," Taylor says. "When people own property they tend to take better care of the entire neighborhood. We want people to come and stay here, but ultimately we want them to be proud of the community."

An outdoor mall containing some of the area's businesses and outside businesses such as The Gap or Structure clothing stores is being looked at as a possibility to increase economic stability and diversity, Taylor says. But it is only in the idea stage.

"This community has embraced me, and I want to make sure that I don't let them down," he says. "There are so many paid politicians out there that have outside influences, they forget who they are representing. I don't ever want to become that so I won't run for those type of offices."

As for now, Taylor says he is happy with his position in the community and the progress Corryville is making. He has confidence that the area will flourish in the coming years.

"My mom always said, 'If left up to me, excellent it shall be.' " ©