Thursday, January 8, 1998
Maybe we can still play ball

The Cincinnati Enquirer

It appears the Bob Bedinghaus Taxatorium and Testosterone Center may be in jeopardy. If a city-county dispute isn't resolved by Jan. 31, Bengals President Mike Brown has said he'll kill the stadium deal.

So far, they're still bickering. And the clock is ticking.

This is just what we wanted, isn't it? Haven't we been buying T-shirts that say ''Shoot Me - I Voted for the Stadium Tax''? Haven't we been horrified and sincerely honked off by the amazing exploding price tag?

Don't we think it's preposterous to build a bigger stadium for a team that can't fill the stadium it has?

So what is the big deal?

Thoroughly fleeced

Well, for one thing, we have no Plan B, which has been our problem all along. Perhaps the county wouldn't have been so thoroughly fleeced by the Bengals if we'd had something else in our back pocket.

What if we'd been able to say: ''Thanks, Mr. Brown, but this deal doesn't appear to be in our best interests. Your price is too high and your terms are too high-handed.

''We're sure some other city, one with money to burn and citizens with the brains of sand fleas, will make you very happy. We must regretfully conclude that we have no choice but to explore other opportunities.'' Maybe - and it pains me to notice this - Mr. Bedinghaus did as well as he could with the marching orders we gave him. We have been behaving as though the Bengals are the cornerstone of our economy.

Mr. Brown, a devoted student of military strategy, surely knows a weak flank when it presents itself. And, let's face it, my fellow citizens: We have been weak. We gave a blank check to a bunch of politicians. What were we thinking?

We were thinking that it might be the best investment we could make in the future of the city we love, that's what we were thinking. Surely nobody believes the citizens of Hamilton County approved this tax because we are all rabid football fans. We are Cincinnati fans.

We were hoping two new stadiums would revitalize the downtown and burnish our image as a Big League City. We were hoping the prosperity would travel in an urban ripple to Sharonville and Delhi Township and Oakley and Sayler Park.

That's probably a lot to ask of two great big buildings that are hardly ever used.

Wads of money

What if our Plan B is a great big building that gets used a lot? By respectable people who come here but do not ask us to educate their children or collect their garbage.

What if they bring in wads of money from faraway places and spend it at Kings Island, the zoo, the Maisonette, the Hyatt and the downtown Lazarus? They gobble up Skyline chili and Graeter's ice cream.

Most of them would come here on one of the many convenient Delta Air Lines flights. So we do not have to store their car on acres of riverfront parking or costly high-rise garages. We do not have to build new roads and access ramps for them.

Wouldn't that be terrific? Wouldn't that be a good deal? Wouldn't that be almost as good as a great big building used 10 times a year by people who stay only for a few hours and then take their money and go home?

So, if this Bengals deal falls apart, why don't we use the money to build a new convention center? A study by the University of Cincinnati Center for Economic Education found that an expanded convention center would pump an additional $146 million into local businesses, compared with $43 million from the Bengals stadium.

Tourists. Visitors. Let's play ball with them. They give nice little injections of cash to amenities that we residents like to use occasionally - the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Aronoff, the riverboats. Kind of subsidizing us, you might say.

They come, they spend, they leave.

And we get to keep the money.

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.