Sunday, July 02, 2000

Bengals stadium

Nacho worry, it's on time

        If Rumpke declared war on Home Depot, the battlefield would look like Cincinnati's riverfront.

        Fort Washington Way is the trench where Rumpke's Garbage Panzers took an artillery beating. Crushed, rusting buckets, Mountain Dew bottles, smashed orange barrels crammed with trash, paper cups and Doritos bags litter the ground.

        Closer to the stadium, it looks like Rumpke scored a direct hit on Home Depot's Hardware Battalion. Nails, washers, nuts and bolts, power tools, miles of extension cords, lumber scraps and a vast, mysterious assortment of gizmos, thingabobs and whatsits are scattered like fallout from a nuclear blast at the world's biggest do-it-yourself project.

        Which is what the stadium is for Cincinnati A giant remodeling job that is typical of every home-repair project I have ever attempted, complete with massive cost overruns, grudging compromises, cursing, chaos, disruption and hammered thumbs.

Beer in, beer out
        My guide for a 90-minute tour was the man whose thumbs have been pounded repeatedly by the Bengals and the taxpayers Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus, inventor of the half-cent sales tax that made it all possible.

        “Success has many fathers. Failure has Bob Bedinghaus,” he joked.

        Lately, he can afford to laugh, because the stadium will open on time on Aug. 19.

        There's even a money-back guarantee Bengals owner Mike Brown said he won't make the county pay millions for unsold tickets and late penalties. “With all due respect to Mike Brown, if we were late, he would,” said Mr. Bedinghaus, whose neck was in the Bengals noose.

        The stadium is still a mess. There's more cleanup than L.A. after a Lakers championship. But comfy seats with cup-holders and plush luxury boxes furnished like Closson's showroom are ready. The goal posts are being leveled in case the Bengals get to kick an extra point. If not — well, the nacho machines are plugged in and four-story windows frame the prettiest Cincinnati skyline this side of Kentucky.

        “I told them the first priority is to get beer into people and beer out of people,” Mr. Bedinghaus said. “Without that, it's not football.”

        And without football, it's not Cincinnati. “I'm making sure my Bengals stay put,” said Scott Gulley, a loyal West Sider who was installing seats. “I don't want my team to leave.”

        During months of carping about costs and the ingrate team, many taxpayers have forgotten that. The 1996 sales tax passed like a two-minute drill because Cincinnati loves its football.

        Sure, baseball rules, but hopeful fans have flocked to Bengals games each fall, even during the nausea '90s.

Without it, what?
        Another thing we forget “It's not about touchdowns and home runs, it's about changing the face of our community,” Mr. Bedinghaus said. Fort Washington Way, a new Reds stadium, the Underground Railroad Freedom Center, The Banks neighborhood, new riverfront parks and parking, Ken Griffey Jr. — all would still be nothing but rhetorical rugby if not for the Bengals' threat to leave town unless they got a new stadium.

        “This is the first concrete example of the rebirth of the riverfront,” Mr. Bedinghaus said. And $450 million buys a lot of concrete. Once fans see first-class Paul Brown Stadium, Cinergy Field will look like the Unabomber's cabin.

        “We thought we were smarter than everyone else, but we were wrong,” Mr. Bedinghaus said, apologizing for cost overruns. Sounds like every do-it-yourself job.

        It also sounds like it's time to call a truce in the stadium wars and enjoy our home-improvement project.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.