Wednesday, April 07, 1999

No shortage of opinions on stadium

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        You never know who you'll run into at Opening Day. A sudden turn at Monday's Reds game brought me face to face with Bob Bedinghaus and Tom Neyer.

        The two Hamilton County commissioners were striding side by side down a walkway at Cinergy Field, men on a mission. The stadium's concession stands needed inspecting.

        “We're making sure the beer's cold,” joked Commissioner Bedinghaus.

        Commissioner Neyer, smiling at his colleague, gave it to me straight: “We're seeing what works in the old stadium. And making sure we use that in the new Reds park.”

        Sounded good to me. So, I decided to tag along.

        The two commissioners were taking the pulse of the fans in the stands. They spent the first four innings of the sunny spring day walking around the stadium and finding out what people want in the Reds' new ballpark. The commissioners learned that in Cincinnati, baseball fans take their stadiums very seriously. They know what they want. It's just that not everybody wants the same thing.

        “People keep stopping us to say what they want in the new Reds stadium,” said Commissioner Neyer.

        We squeezed through a crush of bodies that almost blocked the concourse on the stadium's plaza level. The crowd was all-male, a long line, doubled back on itself, snaking toward a restroom and a beer booth.

        “There's one thing that's not working,” Commissioner Bedinghaus cracked.

        A guy toting two jumbo tubs of beer bumped into the commissioner. The guy apologized and told a friend: “That's Bob Bedinghaus. He's spending our money for the new ballpark.”

        The friend turned toward the commissioners and yelled: “Do it up right. Make it look like old Crosley.”

        “We didn't get these kind of comments for the Bengals' new stadium,” Commissioner Bedinghaus noted. “People have very definite opinions on what they want in the Reds' new stadium.”

Express yourself
        The commissioners are collecting those opinions by the thousands. During the Reds' season-opening homestand, everyone with a ticket gets a “Reds Fans — What do you think?” comment card.

        The cards ask the fans to vote for their favorite playing surface, grass or AstroTurf, and if they would use a picnic area at the stadium.

        The cards also make this request: “Tell us what you would like to see at the new Cincinnati ballpark.”

        After the homestand, the cards will be shipped to architects designing the Reds' new home. The people's wishes will be considered.

        I took a sneak peek at the first wave of responses, 212 cards turned in at the stadium on Opening Day. Grass mowed down AstroTurf by 95 percent. People favored a picnic space by a 2-1 ratio.

        Overwhelmingly, what the people in this sample want to see in the new park is something old.

        “Make it look like old Crosley,” wrote John Hudson of Maumee, Ohio. He's 34 and was only 7 when the Reds' old Crosley Field was torn down.

        Bobby Rogers of Middletown wrote that the team is “very rich in history — Show it!” He wants a Reds museum.

        Card after card called for the stadium to resemble the new, fan-friendly, old-style baseball stadiums in Baltimore, Denver and Cleveland.

        A retro ballpark is an option. So's one with the art deco features of Union Terminal. Or a revoluntary design other cities could copy.

        Whatever option is your favorite, I have a hunch you feel passionately about it because you are a Cincinnati baseball fan, a fan in the home of professional baseball.

        Since our tax money is paying for the stadium, anyone with an idea can participate. Just write your ideas on a piece of paper and mail them to: GBBN/HOK Sport, Architects for the New Reds Ballpark, 401 E. Court St. Cincinnati, 45202.

        Do so in a timely fashion. The commissioners want to show off preliminary sketches of the ballpark by the All-Star Game break in July.

        Maybe by then, if things are going our way, the Reds will be doing as well as our plans for their new stadium.

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