Sunday, September 7, 1997
Seeing red? Why don't we
just buy team?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

So - no kidding now - why don't we buy the Reds? You know in your heart that you think they belong to us already. Why don't we make it official? We could all take turns sitting in the owner's box and walking our dogs on the field.

It wouldn't be cheap, but apparently we have money to burn. We could get a piece of the ownership action for far less than the sacrifices we've offered up to the great god of football.

County officials estimate, for instance, that the Bengals' practice facility will cost us $10.5 million - if you can believe them, and I think they have trained us to believe that we cannot. In March, there was talk that the share of the Reds owned by Frisch's might be for sale for less than the cost of that practice field. Soon after, Hamilton County Treasurer Robert Goering proposed a change in the state law that would allow taxpayers to buy it.

Good investment?

''If we're going to spend all this taxpayer money to build a new stadium for the Reds, it seems only logical that we should have a voice in the operation of the franchise,'' he says. ''I wanted to buy it as an investment, but the legislature in Columbus doesn't think it's a good investment.''

Geez, I wonder where they were when we were deciding to spend $400 million on a football stadium project?

Mr. Goering says buying a share of the Reds would ''give us a foot in the door.''

We'd need more than that, according to Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes. ''There's nothing more limited than a limited partnership,'' he says. ''We need to buy the whole thing.'' The price tag on that, according to the auditor, who also is a stockbroker, would be ''about $140 million.''

A less generous appraisal from the June issue of Financial World magazine values the Reds franchise at $95 million.

But what's $45 million among friends? We're high rollers. We just found out that the original estimate for the football stadium didn't include union wages, which will be another $15 million. Somebody also forgot about inflation, which will add another $31 million to the cost.

Since none of us strapped ourselves to the big, red crane that began work Tuesday on the Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium, apparently we are resigned to multimillion-dollar surprises.

John Michel, a county public works official overseeing the stadium project, told The Enquirer's Lucy May the crane is there to check site conditions. ''It usually verifies what we've assumed,'' Mr. Michel says. ''Sometimes it saves you some money.'' I am wondering whether he managed to say this with a straight face.

Better than dollar dogs

Maybe we could compromise between Mr. Goering's foot-in-the-door plan and Mr. Rhodes' the-whole-enchillada plan. The Reds Certificate of Limited Partnership contains a paragraph that sounds as if Marge Schott could create and purchase five more shares.

She gets to buy them at the 1980 price of $750,000 per share. Wouldn't it be nice if she and her attorneys could figure out a way to pass these bargain shares along to the public? I think we would like that even better than dollar hot dogs.

We'd be at the table for all the meetings. We'd be able to protect our investment, and when the partnership ends on Dec. 31, 2000, maybe we'd be in a position to take over the whole thing. And our beloved Reds would be in Cincinnati as long as our city wants them. Forever.

This makes at least as much sense as building a $400 million stadium for a football team that could eventually leave it. It makes at least as much sense as gobbling up a big chunk of riverfront real estate to be used eight or 10 times a year. It makes at least as much sense as underestimating publicly by $200 million the cost of the football package.

Which makes no sense at all.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.