They're your stadiums, so speak up now

The Cincinnati Enquirer

When it comes to ballparks, everyone is an architect. Every serious fan has a general design for a field of dreams, and a specific abhorrence of AstroTurf.

Now is the time to make it known.

Since the citizens of Hamilton County have agreed to fund the construction of Cincinnati's new baseball and football stadiums, it is only fair and appropriate that they be consulted about the blueprints.

It would also be wise.

Riverfront Stadium was a monstrous mistake, a structure without soul or staying power. Barely 25 years after its opening, it is financially antiquated and aesthetically bankrupt. This is what happens when you trust tenants to make improvements in property they do not own.

The Bengals and Reds have treated Riverfront the way most of us do hotel rooms. They have done virtually no decorating - no banners, no statues, nothing that makes the place look lived in - despite a quarter-century of customer complaints about the stadium's sterility.

This much is not likely to change. Given their frills-free management styles, Mike Brown and Marge Schott should not be expected to put any significant dollars into their new digs beyond what is required in their leases. (Given the tendency of these teams to avenge grievances by withholding rent, we can not even be sure those obligations will be honored.)

Call us, fax us

We can be more confident of cost overruns and budget shortfalls. For this reason, it is folly to expect additional improvements once a new stadium opens. There's never enough money. If you don't get it right the first time, you don't usually get another chance.

So speak now, or forever hold your plans. If you want an exploding scoreboard, or ivy-covered outfield walls, or diaper dispensers in the men's room, let us hear about it. Write us at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202. Fax us at 768-8550. Better yet, take out an ad.

Every reasonable suggestion (and some of the silly ones) will be passed on to the appropriate parties. The will of the people will be heard even if it means giving Gilbert Gottfried a microphone.

Happily, it should not come to that. Today's stadium architects are more attentive to detail than the generation which gave us Riverfront and its cold, concrete clones in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

Camden Yards in Baltimore is nothing short of a national treasure. Jacobs Field in Cleveland is terrific, too, and entirely distinct. I have not yet seen Coors Field in Denver, but many ballpark connoisseurs think it the best of the bunch.

All of them reflect careful study and creative design. The Ballpark in Arlington is a trifle busy, and the new Comiskey Park is a bit austere, but even those ballparks have elements worth borrowing.

A new concept: Fun

The most compelling baseball parks are asymmetrical, include scant foul territory and hand-operated scoreboards (with all of the out-of-town scores all the time). They convey a sense of history through permanent representations of retired numbers and championship pennants. They have cup-holders at every seat, television monitors at each concession stand, and multiple menu choices.

Football fans tend to be less fussy. Braving the elements is part of the experience, and the few breaks between periods place a premium on swift service.

Food and restroom facilities should be designed to accommodate the maximum number of people in the minimum amount of time. Enclosed public areas (gift shops, restaurants, maybe a museum) should be available for those seeking sanctuary from harsh weather or Bengal cornerbacks. Video replays should be visible from every seat.

I'd like to see a statue of Paul Brown somewhere, and maybe a mural of the Big Red Machine. Picnic areas. Playgrounds. I want to be able to buy burritos and egg rolls and no fewer than 31 flavors of ice cream. I want to take my children someplace special.

Passing the sales tax was painful, but spending the proceeds should be fun. Get to work on those wish lists.

Published April 6, 1996.