Best incentive for Marge is the fans

Friday, May 8, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati's never-ending negotiations for a new Reds stadium took another step sideways this week.

City council approved $20 million in tax incentives and other freebies to help Hamilton County negotiators make a case to Marge Schott on behalf of Broadway Commons.

But sources close to the negotiations tell me city council might as well have offered free nicotine patches and a used Toyota to Marge

for all the effort county negotiators will apply on behalf of Broadway Commons.

These sources complain that the talks, as far as county representatives are concerned, are about putting the stadium on the riverfront. Period.

With nothing new to offer, the talks are not exactly riveting, sources say. The idea seems to be: Let the Reds twist in the wind. Sweat Marge Schott. Get her to sell.

One hope is Major League Baseball will force her to sell. Another is that she will need cash and decide to sell on her own.

Either way, if this happens before a stadium deal is completed, whoever buys the Reds will pay far less than if a stadium contract had been signed. It would be a fire-sale opportunity for the business interests along Fourth Street who are sending in signals from the dugout.

And if the Fourth Street players get control of the Reds, you can count on a quick deal that jams the new stadium into "The Wedge" site on the river, boosting real estate values up and down their neighborhood.

Positively Fourth Street

The incentive package is Councilman Todd Portune's baby. He assembled $20 million worth of tax abatements, property transfers, waived fees and street improvements designed to entice the Reds to put their diamond on Broadway Commons.

Mr. Portune is well aware there is scant enthusiasm among Reds' officials and along Fourth Street for Broadway Commons.

He hopes the package of incentives will cut through these layers of self-interest and appeal directly to Marge Schott's love of making deals and pinching pennies.

The councilman's effort has drawn a response, but nothing you'd notice in a public forum. "Ever since this package was proposed," Mr. Portune told me, "the pressure from Fourth Street has ratcheted up a notch."

Some pressure comes from Carl Lindner. Sources say Lindner representatives have called council members to say, in essence: Have fun with the incentives. Dream about the Reds on Broadway Commons. But don't think about holding land on the riverfront hostage to get this deal done. The stadium's going on the riverfront.

The city's chunk of riverfront land, as City Manager John Shirey noted to council weeks ago, is Cincinnati's trump card in this game. None of the callers has dialed Mr. Portune yet. But he knows what's going on behind the scenes, and he plans to keep moving forward -- in public.

Mr. Portune intends to go through proper channels to present the incentives to the Reds. That means the city manager will fax the package to the county. Then, the county's negotiators should formally present it to the Reds.

"I'm going to be polite about this," Mr. Portune told me. "But I won't wait long for something to be done."

He told me he'll be polite for about a week. But if the county negotiators sit on their hands longer than that, he'll go around them.

I say, why wait?

Skip the county bureaucrats. Get in your car, Todd, and drive out to Marge's house. Knock on the door.

Tell her you're there to propose a deal that will save her money. And I hope you're also there to represent the people of Cincinnati. Explain how a stadium on Broadway Commons will spur a broad economic development in an area that needs the help. Tell her there is more to downtown than Fourth Street.

Tell her there are a lot of fans out here who are tired of being cut out.

She wants a stadium with a view. Tell her we want to view how that decision is made.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.