CINCINNATI – Guests at the Garfield Suites Hotel were considering checking out of their rooms Wednesday in wake of the violence outside their windows earlier this week.
Hotel patrons, including opera artists from around the world performing with the Cincinnati Opera, were close to checking out, Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell told WCPO. After Wednesday afternoon’s police press conference outlining the circumstances surrounding the shootings on back-to-back nights downtown, he met with hotel and opera leaders to reassure them the police are doing everything that they can to ensure the safety of their employees and guests.
Police charged Fonte Williams, 22, of Westwood, in Monday's fatal shooting at Piatt Park downtown, and they believe Williams was also involved in the drive-by shooting that wounded three people at the park Tuesday night, Blackwell said.
“Point blank, people want to leave downtown – we can’t have that, not while I’m in charge,” Blackwell told WCPO.
Blackwell personally delivered two letters to the management of the Garfield Suites Hotel and Cincinnati Opera Wednesday night.
READ Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell's letter to Cincinnati Opera in its entirety below.
The guests have since decided to stay at the hotel. It was not immediately clear exactly how many guests were initially checking out, but one source familiar with the situation said about two dozen artists were scheduled to stay through July.
"After the first shooting, they knew it was isolated and an anomaly, but after the second, they were on edge," the source said on the condition of anonymity.
Cincinnati Opera General Director and CEO Patricia Beggs told WCPO her organization is committed to downtown and Over-the-Rhine, and it is in the Opera’s best interest that the areas are perceived to be safe and that they are successful.
“Bottom is line that we want our artists feeling comfortable and provide them with all the amenities they need for their prolonged stay, including a kitchenette like the ones offered at Garfield Suites,” Beggs said. “The hotel’s close location to Music Hall and other downtown sites is key – we’ve always had a long-standing relationship with the Garfield and we plan to continue to do so.”
The chief wrote in a letter to opera officials that police “have taken steps to increase our presence and visibility in the Vine Street corridor.”
When Blackwell paid a visit to the hotel at about 7 p.m. Wednesday, there were at least eight cops in Piatt Park and around the entrance to the hotel, including two on bicycles, one on motorcycle and another on a Segway.
Police visibility overtime dollars are being used to beef their presence around the hotel and other parts of downtown.
A front desk attendant at the hotel declined comment after Blackwell’s visit.
“Earlier today I was made aware that due to the unfortunate circumstances over the last couple nights, several residents of the hotel were threatening to move out and take their business to other communities,” Blackwell said. “I find that unacceptable – if that happens I’m not doing my job.”
Blackwell spent time with hotel guests in the lobby, including a group of Russian tourists. The tourists took photos and shook hands with the chief. Afterward, he received an update from the cops stationed in the area about activity since the shootings earlier this week.
“The last thing we want is the inflammatory nature of grieving to create another high-profile incident as they gather and quite often disorderly and reckless,” Blackwell said.
READ Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell's letter to Garfield Suites Hotel management in its entirety below.