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Saving a City

Bill Donabedian just laughs when asked if his job description reads, “Save downtown Cincinnati.”

“Turning around downtown is too big a job for one person,” he says. That task actually belongs to the Cincinnati Center City Development Group, the nonprofit agency better known as 3CDC. The group’s charge is fostering downtown development, but it turned to Donabedian to pump some life into the city’s heart: Fountain Square. A 2006 MBA graduate, he was tagged as managing director of Fountain Square as a result of his unique combination of work in the corporate world, life as an entrepreneur and founder of the successful indie-rock Midpoint Music Festival.

While reviving the Square is still a tough task, Donabedian at least had a brand new “stage” to work with. He was hired just as the finishing touches were going on the $43 million renovation of the Square and its parking garage. Combined with an aggressive programming effort, people now actually consider what’s taking place on the Square into their social plans. His secret: “I just did the things that make people happy.”

For being the heart of the city, not much ever seemed to happen on the Square other than protests, drab presentations or rare celebrations like when the Reds win the World Series. It really didn’t have much of an identity other than the Tyler Davidson Fountain in the opening of “WKRP in Cincinnati.”

Now there is a steady diet of music, family-oriented movies on the big LED screen overlooking the Square—which offer shades of drive-in theater days—and a feast of fests. Toss in quirky events like a fish toss, turkey bowl or rock-paper-scissors contests, and you have a recipe for success. “We’ll book it six days a week, twice a day during the summer,” he says. “If something doesn’t work, we try something different.”

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