The 2012 edition of the AVP Cincinnati Open is not the first. The tour has had a tour stop in the area since 2005, most of which were held at the Lindner Family Tennis Center north of the city in Mason, Ohio. Two years ago, the stop was cancelled because, well, the AVP went bankrupt.
Now backed by new owners, and a spotlight on beach volleyball thanks to this past summer Olympics, the tour is back. Local figures conspired to bring the tourney to the city proper and use it to help show off to the local public the revitalized city park in one of the city’s most historic and important neighborhoods.
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The organizers did a decent job of bringing in local vendors to offer some more unique options, as far as food. Along with Papa John's Pizza, Hawaiian Ice, and a few others, it was nice to have two local restaurants. The high-end hot dog place Senate, and Taste of Belgium, who specialize in Belgian waffles that started off selling in the Cincinnati downtown market and has now expanded into its own café were both on hand for the Cincinnati Open.
The city handled drink sales themselves with a built-in concession stand serving three Mexican beers and Bud Light, along with wine and mixed drinks. Alcohol prices were decent for a special event, 16oz drinks for $5. Also, bottled water and soda were $2.
It was pretty unusual to walk around the corner of Cincinnati's Music Hall to see Elm Street, not just shut down, but covered in sand with three beach volleyball stadiums built on top of it. On Saturday, there happened to be a wedding going on at Music Hall and the guests came out to watch the festivities from the theater's steps.
While the setting was really unique, the weather on Saturday failed to cooperate and many of the day's matches were washed out. Since there was little shelter, fans didn't stick around and the rest of the afternoon was lost, even when the rain trailed off. Sunday was what I had hoped to see for the rescheduled semi-finals and final matches, a filled stadium with enthusiastic fans. If only the weather had cooperated all weekend.
One cool feature that was a bit separated from Washington Park were the 'Survive & Advance' courts. These were elimination courts tucked away down an alley to the north of the park. You headed up a block past condos and came into a clearing with a rugged empty lot. The courts were set back in a corner with custom graffiti work welcoming you to the area.
This is definitely the most unique setting I've had the privilege of covering for Stadium Journey. As a Cincinnati native, to see the changes that have taken place at and surrounding Washington Park in just the past few years invokes a great sense of civic pride.
The park has been in this location since 1855, across from the towering Venetian Gothic structure, Music Hall (opened in 1878), the home of Cincinnati's Opera and Symphony in Cincinnati's Over-The-Rhine neighborhood, named as such because the early German immigrants who settled there used to walk over a canal to get to downtown, reminding them of the Rhine River back in Germany.
However, throughout most of my life, Washington Park has been a bit of a sketchy place. Arts goers avoided lingering outside and would basically flee the area as soon as their performances would end. It was not a place people wanted to spend any time in after dark.
Over the past ten years, there has been a movement to revitalize this part of the city, just south of the park. Surface parking lots were reclaimed and in their place a new School of Creative and Performing Arts was built. The surrounding structures, the nation's largest collection of Italianate Architecture, have slowly been refurbished and new residents and businesses have filled in previously vacant buildings.
In the summer of 2012, a two year process to rebuild the park and a 450-car underground garage opened. The park now has a bandstand, open grass fields, a dog park, a playground, and something really important for the kids in the neighborhood since pool funding seems to be an issue every summer, a small water park.
Cincinnati isn't really known for its love of beach volleyball. Shocking, I know. However, the curious fans that did come out seemed to be familiar with most of the competitors, especially since the Summer Olympics had left names fresh in peoples' minds. In fitting with the "beach" theme of the event, most people seemed content to hang out, watch the matches and have some drinks outdoors.
Washington Park sits just north of downtown in Cincinnati's Over-The-Rhine neighborhood. It's easily accessed by both highways that frame the downtown core. Parking is available in the garage directly under the park, but there is also Music Hall's surface lot and another garage on the other side of the hall. I took my chances on street parking and found plenty of free spaces on Central Parkway, a block west of the park.
Tickets for the Friday and Saturday sessions were $15 each, with the Sunday session (Finals) priced at $20. Since the ticketing was handled through a local ticket company, the horrible ticketmaster was avoided and the service charge was only $1 a ticket. I thought it was odd there was no option for a weekend pass to save some money, but there was a major 'buy 1 get 1 free' offer published in the local coupon magazine and pushed online prior to the event. Using that deal cut the cost immensely if you were going with a group.
As for parking, you would pay as much as $5 to park in the underground garage, or could find surface parking in the area for less. On Saturday and Sunday, I took my chances with street parking and found plenty of open spots a block over on Central Parkway for free.
A major point for such a unique setting, to see the change in this neighborhood over the past four years or so can't help but make a native feel a great sense of civic pride.
Another point for including local businesses from the surrounding neighborhood as vendors.
Despite the weather's effect on the tourney in 2012, I hope organizers with the AVP bring the tour back to Washington Park for many years to come. It was such a unique event, and a second go round here will hopefully bring increased crowds. The urban setting makes this the most unique event on the AVP tour and if it continues, it could become a signature event in volleyball circles.
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