Q&A with Michael Brown, the director of public affairs/development for Experience Columbus
Columbus is having a moment. The city has spent this season on the international sports stage, from January's NHL All-Star Game to next month's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. We came this close to landing next year's Democratic National Convention. John Travolta will be here filming a movie in March. Even Esquire recently offered (somewhat backhanded) praise of Columbus in a glowing review of Ray Ray's barbecue.
Whenever the city's in the spotlight one person you can thank is Michael Brown. Once the longtime communications director for Mayor Michael Coleman, Brown now spends his days at Experience Columbus as the Director of Public Affairs/Development.
CM: What does a typical day for you entail?
MB: There's no routine, but I often start the day at Katalina's or Café Brioso. Our staff is small, so we hustle all over, meeting with partners in sports and convention bids. We get to test everything new that can be experienced, see every corner of the city and hear ideas of what Columbus needs to bring major events to town.
CM: What's the biggest misconception about Columbus that you encounter?
MB: Columbus is a white board to people who've never visited: not good, not bad, just vaguely positive. Our generation is inheriting a city on the rise, so it is our job to fill in that white board with personality and swagger.
CM: Philadelphia? WTF?!
MB: I'm done with cheesesteaks! There is no doubt, Columbus would have been a fresh choice for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. We went toe-to-toe with heavyweights on Philly's and NYC's best political teams in a deeply detailed competition. We never before stepped up to play at this level, and it was rewarding. The question now is how to keep Columbus' momentum going!
CM: If you could take John Travolta out for drink when he's here, where would you go?
MB: Start at Hyde Park on the Cap, so he thinks we're classy, then embark on a proper mosey, stopping to make friends at the Short North Tavern, Mac's, Rigsby's and Union. Eventually it will get bizarre, like all epic Columbus nights, and we'll end up at Axis with Nina's crew before closing Mike's Grill. At some point I'd ask him what was in the briefcase.
CM: Do you have a favorite spot – a hidden gem – you don't tell people about so it doesn't get overrun with visitors?
CM: You serve on the board of directors of the Jazz Arts Group/Columbus Jazz Orchestra. How did you get involved with that group?
MB: Bill Faust, Angela Pace and Bob Breithaupt helped me discover one of the coolest bands in the U.S. back in January 2008. I saw them play with Mavis Staples, and I was hooked. Truly great musicians, led by a genius in Byron Stripling.
CM: In addition to being one of the city's top evangelists you are also an accomplished backyard pitmaster. Do you take it personally when an Esquire blogger writes that Columbus "barely knows what barbecue is"?
MB: Growing up in a big Ohio farm family, we lived farm to table, and I'm proud to do my little part to feed the people in the BBQ tradition. Esquire entirely missed our food-belt reality in that story. We can lay out a sophisticated table with the best, freshest ingredients any day of the week, and do it in high class or a backyard party. I applaud them for "discovering" the authentic greatness of Ray Ray's, but they should come back and discover the rest of Columbus.
Follow Michael Brown on Twitter at @DestinationCbus.