Round Peg in a Square Square

Other than striking a vein of gold during excavation of the parking garage, the best possible boost for the revitalization of Fountain Square came last week with the hiring of MidPoint Music Festi

Mar 29, 2006 at 2:06 pm
Matt Borgerding

Bill Donabedian, Fountain Square's new managing director, promises it will be both fun and a forum.

Other than striking a vein of gold during excavation of the parking garage, the best possible boost for the revitalization of Fountain Square came last week with the hiring of MidPoint Music Festival co-founder Bill Donabedian as the square's managing director. He started at 3CDC March 27 and already is gearing up for the square's reopening in September.

Two points are immediately striking about the hire. First, 3CDC seems to have learned from recent high-profile downtown development projects such as the Contemporary Arts Center and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center that you can't spend all your money and creativity on the construction process and have nothing left for programming, which is what keeps people coming back once the "new car smell" wears off. Second, Donabedian is the poster boy for Cincinnati's "creative class" of do-it-yourself entrepreneurs who, individually and collectively, are slowly changing the city for the better. His hire both rewards him (and his YP colleagues) for those accomplishments and recognizes that it's time for city leaders to finally turn to the next generation for leadership.

Donabedian, however, simply is ready to have some fun.

"Fountain Square is supposed to be a place for everyone in this community," he says. "That's my charge from 3CDC. The programming should reflect and showcase everything this city has to offer.

My number one goal is to remind people every day what a great city Cincinnati is."

The plan is to have something happening on the square seven days a week, ideally throughout the day. Donabedian envisions a typical day starting with live local TV news on the large video screen being installed over Macy's on Vine Street, along with a group exercise class on the square. Midday would see live music featuring everyone from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to local bands and/or "sneak peek" presentations of theater shows or events. The evenings could host just about anything.

"Through MidPoint, I think people know that I'm open to promoting new ideas and new faces," Donabedian says. "The local arts and music communities should feel they have a champion in me."

Donabedian is mindful of Fountain Square's other chief role in the city's life, that of being Cincinnati's central public forum. It's not simply a landscaped terrace for adjoining restaurants or an entertainment stage — it's the place Cincinnatians come together to celebrate big events and to express big ideas.

City Hall has had difficulty keeping up with the complicated demands of a public square, notoriously running in circles dealing with the Ku Klux Klan's efforts to erect holiday displays. Donabedian takes over permitting duties for Fountain Square and hopes to at least make the process more transparent for the public.

"I'm very aware that the square is a public forum and it's always going to be there for the public," he says. "My job is to manage events there. I'm going to enable people to register for event permits online and to see the calendar online so they'll immediately know the openings."

Modeling his new job somewhat after his role with MidPoint, Donabedian wants to develop a volunteer board for Fountain Square that would collect feedback from the public and help him make the square as welcoming as possible.

"Not everyone is going to be happy with everything they encounter on Fountain Square," he says. "But that's OK. That's life."

Prisoners Held in Shocking Conditions
The Kenton County Jail is a hellhole, with up to 530 prisoners crammed into facilities meant for 330, fighting over food, sometimes literally walking on top of one another, according to a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Cincinnati attorney Robert Newman, who represents the three prisoners suing the county, describes appalling conditions in the Covington facility.

"As a consequence of the literal pressing of bodies on bodies in these pods, human odors permeate the rooms, the noise level during waking hours is offensive, sleep at night is intermittent, tensions are raised and violent outbursts are frequent," the complaint says. "The jails in this cell are not fit for human habitation. They are degrading and injurious."

The lawsuit says prisoners are fed on a budget allotting just 86 cents per meal.

"Food is a precious commodity in an overcrowded jail and is the subject of fights, theft and bartering," the suit alleges.

The Kentucky Department of Corrections has repeatedly warned the jail that its population has been above acceptable levels. Newman is asking for certification of the suit as a class action, an injunction to end overcrowding and payment of damages for violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

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