Wednesday, February 12, 1997
Reds getting pushed around
in stadium bid

The Cincinnati Enquirer

It is too soon to say Riverfront Coliseum has been rescued. But it is, at least, reprieved.

Those who were eager to take a wrecking ball to the neglected arena had cause to reconsider Tuesday afternoon. In a move nearly two years in the making, the Cincinnati Cyclones purchased the building and revealed plans for an elaborate face-lift.

By next October, Cyclones owner Doug Kirchhofer promised, the old, battered barn on the Ohio will be made modern and rechristened as The Crown. That is, of course, provided the property is not selected as the site of the Cincinnati Reds' next ballpark.

Because that possibility still exists, some cynics view Kirchhofer's move as a chance to make a quick buck on some soon-to-be-condemned real estate. But because at least two other locations are still in contention for Marge Schott's baseball plant, the presumption here is that Kirchhofer is sincere.

Why should Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus invoke eminent domain to seize the Coliseum if Kirchhofer is committed to making major improvements? Why tear down a renovated property with an enormous replacement cost when so many vacant lots have motivated sellers?

''I don't have any assurances,'' Kirchhofer said. ''But common sense tells me that the county would not decide to destroy the Coliseum without a plan in place to replace the void that would create in the city's infrastructure.''

Little sense seen so far

Kirchhofer makes a compelling argument, except common sense has so far been a contrary indicator in the stadium push.

Common sense said Republicans would not campaign for new taxes to subsidize sports franchises.

Common sense said Hamilton County voters would reject any such tax as frivolous when contrasted with the plight of their public schools.

Common sense said that if the tax were passed, history, attendance and economic impact would give the Reds priority in the siting and construction of the new stadia.

Common sense said that placing the Cincinnati Bengals in a football-only stadium on the riverfront was a waste of prime real estate 350 days a year.

The lesson here is that common sense is no match for political clout. Jim Tarbell makes a strong case for building a baseball park at Broadway Commons, but he hasn't as much muscle in these matters as Marge Schott. Schott, in turn, is no match for Bengals President Mike Brown, who has overcome his team's traditional No. 2 status by outflanking the rudderless Reds.

Before the week is out, the Bengals are expected to announce the specific site of their new stadium. The Reds' progress is harder to pin down - it is, to date, invisible - and the Cyclones' move downtown probably serves to narrow their choices.

Reds must gain a lot of ground

Common sense tells you that this can not continue; that the Reds will soon start using their leverage to make up for lost ground. You imagine a long list of non-negotiable demands. What you hear, however, is more throat-clearing than threats.

Reds acting CEO John Allen has insisted his club should remain on the riverfront, but he has yet to discover the ''or else'' that could get a deal done.

Hamilton County was forced to negotiate with the Bengals first, and fast, in order to meet agreed-upon deadlines that would keep the team in town. The county is in no such hurry so far as the Reds are concerned. Under terms of their lease, the Reds are entitled to the same considerations as the Bengals, but they have failed to force this critical issue except to withhold rent payments.

As a result, the Reds have lost at least a year in the construction process, and already lag the Bengals in the sales of luxury boxes and prime seats. Barring a sudden surge at the bargaining table, the Reds will be fortunate to have blueprints for a new ballpark before the Bengals' stadium is open for business.

Common sense would tell you that it is time to pick up the pace when a minor-league hockey team can grab the initiative from big-league baseball. In the stadium business, he who hesitates is last.