Saturday, April 12, 1997
Wedge or no?
Regardless, Reds stalled

The Cincinnati Enquirer

John Allen is agreeable. Marge Schott is adamant. The Cincinnati Reds' flexibility on stadium sites depends on who's talking.

Allen says the ''wedge'' site might work, that the spot between Riverfront Coliseum and Cinergy Field could be conducive to baseball. Allen has been accommodating. Schott is absolute.

''The wedge site?'' the Reds General Partner said Friday. ''No way.''

Reports of progress at the bargaining table probably need some revision. Public posturing aside, Allen's ability to make a deal depends on Schott's willingness to accept it. The Reds, therefore, may still be closer to Square One than to Main Street or Broadway Commons.

They are, Reds General Manager Jim Bowden says, where they have always been.

''We've said in all of the negotiating sessions that the site is not negotiable,'' Bowden said. ''Mrs. Schott has been very clear that the site she wants is the site west of the Roebling Bridge.''

Shouting necessary

Asked Friday to reconcile Schott's ''No way'' to the wedge with his own position, Allen suggested Schott was stating a preference rather than exercising a veto. The wedge, he said, was still ''on the table.''

''From Day One, we've always said we wanted west of the bridge,'' Allen said. ''Neither one of us likes the Broadway Commons site ... But I'm trying to keep the negotiations out of the papers.''

This will take some doing. There is so much money at stake, and so many competing interests, that the Reds must raise their voices periodically in order to be heard. Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus has declared the land Schott seeks off-limits for stadium construction. Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown says he only budged off the Roebling site reluctantly, after being assured it would not be used for baseball. The Reds consider themselves snubbed.

By every objective standard - to say nothing of their historical intangibles - the Reds deserve top priority among Cincinnati's sports teams. They play more games than anyone else, draw more fans, and make more money for more merchants. Yet the Bengals continue to outflank the Reds at the bargaining table, and are now in position to influence both the site and the construction schedule of the Reds' ballpark.

Even if the Reds were agreeable to the wedge site, the Bengals have the right to prevent them from breaking ground until the football team is finished with Cinergy Field. That means the Reds would probably be unable to play at the wedge before 2003.

Bound for disaster?

The Reds resent being pushed around by a football team that stages only 10 home games per year. They refuse to consider Broadway Commons as an alternative site. They regard a renovated Cinergy Field as a ''used car.'' Except for Allen, they reveal the flexibility of a steel beam.

''I don't think it's fair that people criticize Mrs. Schott and John Allen for dragging their feet,'' Bowden said. ''We should have the priority of the two teams because we play 81 games and the Bengals play eight (during the regular season). We think the city and the county should recognize that.''

So they should. The question is how? Once Bedinghaus and Co. agreed to build the Bengals' new stadium on the western riverfront, the prospect of an adjoining baseball park was seen as a disaster for development and an affront to aesthetics.

Ideally, the two sports palaces would be sufficiently spaced to encourage entrepreneurs to build between them. Instead, the Bengals have acquired the best available corner while the Reds continue to covet no-man's land.

Probably, it all ends badly. Perhaps the Reds will go to court to get out of their lease, claiming (convincingly) that it has been breached by the county's deal with the Bengals. Or maybe Schott will become so embittered with being treated as a second-class franchise owner that she will seriously consider a move toward Kings Island or into Northern Kentucky.

Or maybe John Allen and Marge Schott are just playing good cop/bad cop. When you're haggling over hundreds of millions of dollars, face value isn't worth very much.