Site debate could push Brown too far

The Cincinnati Enquirer

If two new ballparks are better than one, it stands to reason that two neighborhoods should benefit from them.

Mayor Roxanne Qualls is quite right. There are better ways to develop Cincinnati's riverfront than by stacking new stadia along the shoreline. The land is too precious for this limited purpose, and other parts of downtown deserve a cut of our development dollars.

The problem is in convincing Mike Brown or Marge Schott that it makes sense to move uptown, and this appears to be a profound problem. If Qualls is determined to move the Bengals to the Broadway Commons site - the downtown triangle bordered by Eggleston Avenue, Gilbert Avenue and Central Parkway - the team might instead move to Cleveland.

Are any of our local government officials prepared to press the issue that far? Have any of them ever played hardball with our local franchise owners?

Until Tim Mara's petition drive forced the issue, weren't County Commissioners Bob Bedinghaus and Guy Guckenberger willing to cave into Brown's demand that the sales tax be imposed without a public vote? Was not the multipurpose dome idea dismissed at Brown's first objection? Has Qualls, or any elected city official, actively sought to collect Schott's back rent?

Who's kidding whom?

Secret game plan?

Some cynics in our midst believe the Broadway Commons plan is merely a ruse aimed at reducing the price of riverfront real estate. Building two new playgrounds on the west side of the Suspension Bridge would require the county to purchase significant acreage from Robert Castellini. Presumably, the cost of Castellini's land would come down if the team owners were amenable to alternative sites.

The theory makes some sense, except someone evidently neglected to bring Brown and - or Schott on board. Both owners have strong reservations about abandoning the riverfront, and neither is enthralled with the idea of setting up shop between the Greyhound bus terminal and the Hamilton County Justice Center.

If either team move there, it will be surely be kicking and screaming.

Their reluctance is easily understood. If the three most important considerations in real estate are location, location and location, the downtown riverfront is the most valuable land in the region. It is proven, profitable ground, convenient to both I-71 and I-75, within walking distance of Northern Kentucky, with few of the safety concerns that contributed to the demise of Crosley Field.

While a new ballpark might mean a renaissance for the Broadway Commons district, it is difficult to imagine a football stadium as the impetus for urban renewal. A National Football League team guarantees a city only 10 events per year.

What entrepreneur is going to open a trendy new restaurant or an elegant boutique for the sake of the foot traffic generated by a few fall Sundays?

Calling the shots

Baseball does more for development because it involves so many more playing dates. Perhaps Mike Brown deserves special consideration because of his work on the stadium tax campaign, but attendance patterns would suggest Marge Schott (or her successor) still commands priority in site-selection.

Asked Friday if he considered a football stadium an effective use of riverfront real estate, Bedinghaus declined comment, citing the sensitivity of lease negotiations.

He is not convinced, however, that stadium construction will necessarily be confined to the banks of the Ohio, though that was clearly the premise of much of the sales tax campaign literature.

The Bengals could claim they are being subjected to the old bait-and-switch scam - sold a horse and delivered a mule - and that their commitment to Cincinnati was predicated on Pete Rose Way.

Perhaps Mike Brown could be persuaded otherwise, or afforded enough financial incentive to consider Broadway Commons. But the matter must be broached delicately. In light of Brown's ongoing problems with the Internal Revenue Service, this might not be the best time to try twisting his arm.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published June 8, 1996.