Monday, July 14, 1997
Downtown's team
needs quarterback

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Some Mondays I wake up and wonder who's running downtown development. And, amid all the wrangling, who's looking out for our interests. Is it the city? The county? The Bengals? The Reds? Aliens from Mars?

Whoever it is, what scale do they use when they weigh their decisions? What criteria do they use for the big choices that will soon be cast in concrete and steel, shaping the life of our city well beyond my lifetime?

As the jigsaw puzzle of the new downtown slowly falls into place, we seem to learn, after the fact, how decisions are made, how pieces are made to fit.

I'd like to know beforehand. That way I could join my neighbors and fellow taxpayers in making our voices heard, too.

But that would entail someone having a plan, a blueprint of what goes where.

That's not too much to ask. I live here. My taxes are paying for this. And I'm getting tired of wading through the debris of endless bickering while waiting for new stadiums to be built and the riverfront to be more than a patch of parking lots.

Which brings me to last week's spitball fight between the city and county over the Bengals' stadium deal.

Mayor Roxanne Qualls complained that the Bengals' lease gives the team veto power over the riverfront. (Bengals in charge.) Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus said that was nonsense. (County in charge.) Mayor Qualls said that was unacceptable. (City in charge.)

Everybody got mad. The city and the county stomped around. Then they sat down for the umpteenth time to figure out what's going on and who's in charge.

No decision yet.


Veto Mike

The repeated lack of regional or, gosh, even downtown cooperation in recent development projects has been a mighty stumbling block for Cincinnati. It creates fields of power for whoever is holding the upper hand at the moment.

Last week, it belonged to Mike Brown.

He can veto any plan for the riverfront. His domain extends from bridge to bridge, roughly from the Suspension Bridge to the Clay Wade Bailey. As his new stadium lease says:

"County shall make no improvements to the stadium complex without obtaining the prior written consent of team, which may be withheld by team in its reasonable discretion."

The idea of obtaining Mike Brown's "prior written consent" and dealing with his "reasonable discretion," before another piece of the riverfront development puzzle can be put in place, is what spooked City Hall.

I called Mike Brown. His position is obvious: He'll veto anything that conflicts with football on Sunday.

"If there was something built next to our new stadium that created traffic flow and parking problems," he says, "we would want to be careful about that."

Put a cinema complex next to his stadium and there would be no shows on football Sundays. The "Never on Sunday" rule would be in effect for a church, too.

"If they put the Cathedral of Tomorrow down there," Mike Brown says, "it would create the same problems. A church is a Sunday enterprise, too."

His honesty should come as no surprise. The Bengals are his world. Too bad he can control such a large part of everyone else's piece of the planet.

Start planning

As things stand, the city and the county have kissed and made up. "The good news," Mayor Qualls tells me, "is both sides are talking to each other, trying to work out the differences."

So, another skirmish is over. But another looms. Insiders close to the negotiations tell me they expect blowups at every step in the process.

To put an end to these spitball fights, all parties involved must stop acting like teen-agers and create a detailed blueprint for the riverfront. This takes cooperation. One person can't have veto power over the whole plan.

If everyone's using the same map, everybody will know where everything is going. That will go a long way toward avoiding petty spats, time-wasting delays and piecemeal development.

A block-by-block layout - coming together sooner rather than later - is a must. Otherwise, we'll wake up one day with a puzzle that's missing so many pieces its whole will never be greater than the sum of its parts.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.