Take a good long look at Cincinnati's riverfront.
A dowdy stadium shaped like a toilet bowl. A crummy, crumbling coliseum. Acres of parking lots. A river that's down there somewhere.
What you see, is not long for this world. They're redrawing the map of downtown Cincinnati this week for generations to come.
In the last two days, costly plans - $115 million worth of them - have been made for the riverfront. On Monday, the call went out for an $80-million Underground Railroad museum. On Tuesday, Riverfront Coliseum was formally sold for $21 million and renamed The Crown. Renovations of $14 million also were announced.
What a week. And, it's only Wednesday.
By Friday, Hamilton County's commissioners are expected to announce the site for another multimillion-dollar structure, the Bengals' stadium.
The location of the new Jungle has been narrowed to two choice spots of real estate. Both on the riverfront.
These announcements are good news for downtown's Broadway Commons - the plot of parking lots that would be a ballpark with Over-the-Rhine near the third base line and Mount Adams in center field.
What started out as the longest of long shots, according to a number of players in this discussion, now has a 50-50 chance of being the next home of the Reds.
Process of elimination
''Signs point more and more to Broadway Commons,'' Councilman Todd Portune says.
As a member of the city-county steering committee, he has a say in plotting what team will play where. He's come a long way since initially opposing the stadium tax.
Mr. Portune bases his thinking on a step-by-step process of elimination.
Step 1: ''Space on the riverfront is extremely limited.''
Step 2: Remodeling old Riverfront Stadium is ''not under serious consideration.'' Goodbye Cinergy Field.
Step 3: The Crown, formerly known as the Coliseum, ''cannot be wrecked without building a new arena first. And no one is even talking about that.''
Step 4: ''The wedgie site'' - shoehorning the Reds' ballpark next to The Crown - ''is putting a square peg into a round hole.''
That leaves Broadway Commons, the councilman says, ''in very good shape.''
Councilman Tyrone Yates is a member of the city planning commission. He recently voted with the 5-to-1 majority for baseball to be played at the Commons.
''Three months ago, it was a slam-dunk that the Reds' new stadium was going to be on the riverfront,'' the vice mayor said while mixing his sports metaphors. ''Today, the odds are even.''
County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus, the key player in this stadium-sized game of musical chairs, hasn't declared a favorite. He doesn't like putting odds on anything.
''Pete Rose got into a lot of trouble doing that.''
All he would say was that Broadway Commons ''remains a viable alternative, as are sites on the riverfront.''
If it were up to me, I'd put the odds in Broadway Commons' favor by 60-40, almost the same margin by which the stadium tax passed last March. It would be a bold move - smart and responsible, too.
Why? This is my argument, and I'm standing by it: A ballpark on the Commons would fit into the landscape. It would give a homey, street-level feel to a game that has grown distant and surly. It would also send our tax dollars to an area that could use a shot in the arm.
A stadium on Broadway would have a liberating effect on the riverfront. Instead of another huge concrete edifice walling off downtown from the river, it would connect us with the waters of the Ohio and give us the option of dipping our toes in the river on a hot summer day.
Best of all, it would give two parts of town, Over-the-Rhine and the riverfront, the chance to thrive. Generations from now, people will be able to say whoever made those decisions during the second week of February 1997 sure were forward-thinking. They took to heart a valentine that read:
To Cincinnati: Here's your future. Make the most of it.
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax 768-8340.