Tuesday, February 29, 2000

We're not just looking for dirt on stadium tour

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Part of the job description here is to be skeptical. Not cynical, as in “everybody is telling lies.” Skeptical, as in “show me.”

        So, I was getting my shoes dirty along with some other reporters and photographers touring Paul Brown Stadium on Friday. Even though officials said flood damage to the structure was minimal. Even though official word is that work is on schedule. I was just looking.

        Everybody was handed a hard hat and told that “this is a construction progress” tour. Oh sure, and the timing is incidental. Just after a flood. Just after an auditor dropped a $45 million bomb.

        As for the progress, Dan Streyle, the project manager, says about 70 percent of the work has been done. He says he thinks it will be finished by Aug. 19. Maybe not everything. But as long as it's “football ready,” taxpayers won't have to pay millions of dollars in penalties to the Bengals.

        If I were in his shoes, I think I'd hedge my bets. Just a little. Maybe I'd re-read the “act of God” clause in the Bengals' lease. Rain. That's up to the Big Guy, right?

        “We did not lose a substantial amount of time,” he said. “We're at the stage that we never lose a full day of work because we'll always be able to work in some places.”

        There goes our fall-back position — praying for rain. Or steel-eating locusts.

        “Dan doesn't tell you what you want to hear,” says Brooke Hill, Hamilton County's stadium spokeswoman. “He tells you what is.”

        He is trying to tell us about drywall, even though he thinks our interest is overwrought.

        “I can't believe how excited people are over a little warped drywall,“ he mutters as he strides through the corridors of the stadium. He doesn't appear to be hurrying, but his long legs cover ground, and we are galloping to keep up.

        Puffing a little, I tell him that I suspect he walks so fast to keep us from thoroughly inspecting the drywall. He grins. So do I. Nice guy, this Dan Streyle. He seems like the former Proctoid that he is.

        Decent and smart. With a good reputation.

Nasty surprises
        He came here 23 years ago from Pittsburgh to work at Procter & Gamble and is employed now by Getz Ventures, which led completion of the Carolina Panthers football stadium. His last job was renovation of Firstar Center. When the county commissioners are casting about for someone to blame for everything, I hope they don't land on him.

        The downpour, which caused flooding along Pete Rose Way, resulted in some water inside the stadium. Elevator-shaft pits on the west side of the structure had to be pumped out. A hydrotherapy pit in the team's locker room also took in water.

        “Some equipment needs to be cleaned,” Mr. Streyle says. He shrugs. Not major. But we have been trained to expect that we need to ask the questions again and again. That the answers change.

        On Valentine's Day, an auditor broke the news that the football stadium could cost as much as $45 million more than the $287 million maximum cost promised not long ago. It was the latest in a series of expensive surprises.

        So, maybe we voters just heard what we wanted to hear. We heard a half-cent sales tax for 20 years to build two stadiums that would cost $544 million.

        What we are getting — at last count — is football, baseball, parking, road work and interest charges that will total nearly $1.5 billion. We wound up building three practice fields on prime riverfront land. Bonds for the football stadium are to be retired around 2033.

        I am sure we are troublesome, snooping around through the construction site, asking about drywall, looking for mud. And dirt. Skeptics.

        Myself, I am working hard not to become a cynic as well.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 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. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com