The latest left turn on the bumpy road toward building a new Reds stadium finds Marge Schott behind the wheel of a used car.
Out of the blue and on her own, or so it seemed, she swerved suddenly and endorsed the idea of rehabbing 27-year-old Cinergy Field.
Sources close to the negotiations tell me she's not all by herself. They put Carl Lindner in the front seat of that used car, too. He may not be in the driver's seat. But as a part-owner of the Reds and the all-powerful Baron of Fourth Street, he's holding a road map and giving directions.
Those same sources say the financier and his emissaries made their stadium preference known in a pair of meetings early this week. The first was a session with Marge. The second was with county officials in the Hamilton County Administration Building. With the Reds' ruler in agreement, the Lindner camp championed Cinergy Field as a can't-miss fixer-upper.
Here's their argument in a nutshell: Rehabbing Cinergy Field can be done quicker and cheaper than building a new stadium. It saves the taxpayers' money (especially one dog-loving Indian Hill taxpayer). And, it would end the Reds' stadium debate, which, even Marge admits, ''everyone's sick of.''
Marge may be right on that last point, but that's no reason to cut a quick deal - and settle for less than the best.
Renovating Cinergy Field is not a good deal, whether you're talking money or plain old common sense.
According to an April study, it would be cheaper - by an estimated $18 million - to renovate Cinergy Field rather than build a new stadium. But cheaper is not always better.
If the point of this stadium-building spree is to maintain Cincinnati's major-league status, I think a fixed-up stadium is a mistake. Read: CHEAP.
It says Greater Cincinnati is willing to settle for second-best. We're giving future generations an aging stadium with a face lift, a few ribs removed and some luxury-box implants. Instead of a brand-new monument to the first professional baseball team, we've come up with the ballpark equivalent of Phyllis Diller. (No offense to Ms. Diller.)
In different ways, money is the common theme in what I surmise are the motives of Carl Lindner and Marge Schott.
Marge wants to remodel Cinergy to make it ''exciting for the fans. It's got to appear like a new stadium.''
At the same time, she is out to save money. Her Reds are being retooled to run cheaper and younger. High-priced players are being traded. When you're running the biggest money-losing franchise in professional sports, you need to economize.
In a deal to renovate Cinergy, the Reds would contribute less than would be required to build a new stadium. By the numbers, it's a win-win proposition for Marge. She saves money and gets what she's always wanted - a riverfront stadium.
Carl gets his way, too. He wants the stadium in his back yard, near his downtown investments. He knows a riverfront stadium will enhance his downtown holdings.
I also believe both Marge Schott and Carl Lindner have a certain amount of well-meaning pride at stake in their drive for a riverfront location.
Setting aside my preference for Broadway Commons, I just don't think a touched-up 27-year-old stadium fills the bill when it comes to pride.
There's no pride in being cheap.
Marge Schott runs the Reds. Carl Lindner controls much of the city. But they don't own us. And they don't own this discussion.
Taxpayers foot a good chunk of the stadium bill. (Check with Mike Brown.) So we have a right to demand what's best for our city. We also have a right to hear and participate in discussions on the future of something so important.
So, get these stadium talks out in the open. Quit messing around behind closed doors. You're fooling around with our future.
We have to make sure everyone can invest in this discussion. The last thing we need is for someone to cheapen the process.
BORGMAN CARTOON Nov. 14, 1997
STADIUM STORY LIST
Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.