In some circles, I've become known as a Cincinnati basher. No doubt bar owner and former Cincinnati City Council candidate Nick Spencer feels this way, but I'm simply trying to raise awareness about a problem.
What got this debate going was a Living Out Loud column I wrote in 2004 (see "They Closed," issue of Nov. 24, 2004) about how downtown restaurants and/or bars had difficulty keeping their doors open. Some recent items I posted on CityBeat's Porkopolis blog (www.citybeat. wordpress.com) have stirred up the controversy — and the backlash — again.
Spencer has taken me to task whenever I've complained about downtown restaurants and bars closing, and I think he and others — including blogger Brian Griffin — would like me to just shut up.
On his Cincinnati Blogspot (www.cincinnati.blogspot.com), Griffin posted a piece July 25 called "Looking for Logic in All the Wrong Places" that tore apart my original column — it was really satire, my friend — and said my more recent items contained lousy research and I was "living in the past."
At this writing, 55 comments have been posted to Griffin's site concerning his critical appraisal of me. A quick summary reveals that 15 commenters understand my original point that a measure of downtown's relatively unhealthly state is its inability to keep restaurants and bars open, 16 think I'm full of shit and most of the rest revolve around some kind of personal confrontation between three people named Joe, numb and jharrison9. I'll consider the comments a draw.
Griffin published another piece Aug. 8 titled "Is Larry Gross Really Rick Hines in Drag?" in which he comments on a blog posting I made about the sudden closing of Redfish at Seventh and Race streets.
Hines publishes the Cincinnati Nation Web site (www.cincynation.com) and, according to Griffin, his "anti-Cincinnati diatribes are well known."
All comments were and are welcome. I'm glad our Porkopolis blog got a good response from the citizens of this city and, as I told Griffin, I write my views to encourage debate and to get people thinking.
And I won't be stopping. I'll keep trashin' the 'Nati.
Criticizing Cincinnati doesn't mean I hate it. I've lived here on and off since 1973, and while I don't necessarily consider myself a cheerleader I do consider this town my home.
It's my choice to be here, but that doesn't mean I can't be embarrassed by some of what I see.
I'm not sure how much research it takes to know that a restaurant or bar has closed downtown. When the doors are locked and the lights are out, that pretty much tells the story.
I'm embarrassed that we don't have enough traffic downtown to keep these places open. I'm also embarrassed that we can't even sustain a McDonald's, a Burger King, a Taco Bell or a Frisch's, all of which are staples in other cities' urban core.
As far as entertainment, while Cincinnati should be proud of the Aronoff Center for the Arts and the Contemporary Arts Center, they aren't enough by themselves to bring tons of people downtown.
Back in the 1970s we had a least five movie theaters downtown. Today there are none. Why? I'm embarrassed that I have to go to Newport, Clifton or the burbs just to catch a movie.
We have two new stadiums on the Ohio River. Is it really better than just having good old Riverfront? When "living in the past," I remember going to Caddy's or Flanagan's or a restaurant down by the river after a game and having a few drinks or dinner. I'm embarrassed that I'm now encouraged to get in a car and simply go home.
I'm embarrassed when I look across the river and see all the nightlife happening in Newport and Covington, then look at Cincinnati and its rolled-up sidewalks. Getting The Banks project off the ground could help in restoring life to our riverfront, but I'm not holding my breath.
I'm embarrassed that the project has become stalled, that developers are losing interest in The Banks and that Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials can't step up and move the project forward.
Even if we do develop a more energized downtown — like when the renovated Fountain Square project starts to come on board this fall — will people come? I'm embarrassed that we now have record-breaking homicide rates in our city and that some people interpret that to mean it's not safe to come downtown.
I wonder if those perceptions — not enought to do, crime, etc. — have anything to do with the terrible attendance this season at Reds games, even with the Reds competing for a division title. The team is selling tickets at half price for the current series against the division leading St. Louis Cardinals, and they still can't fill the stands.
I can imagine steam coming from Griffin's and Spencer's heads because I'm trashin' the 'Nati again here and being all negative. It gets back to remembering the past, and maybe we need to do that to see the future.
Twenty years ago, the sidewalks were full at night, restaurants were crowded and businesses weren't constantly closing or trying again with new owners. There was more to do.
I don't think Cincinnati has moved forward over the past two decades in a positive way. And I don't know how to sugarcoat that opinion.
I know both Griffin and Spencer want to have a successful downtown. Believe it or not, guys, so do I. That's why I'll keep trashin'.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: lgross(at)citybeat.com. Living Out Loud runs every week at citybeat.com and the second issue of each month in the paper.