It is time to praise Marge Schott, so please pay attention. This may not happen again.
The error-prone owner of the Cincinnati Reds must be credited with a clean hit if she is seriously considering making baseball work at Cinergy Field. Potentially, it is a home run.
If location is the first three considerations in real estate, Cinergy Field sits on precious, proven ground.
If building upon an established framework instead of starting a stadium from scratch serves to save Hamilton County taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, this is prudent public policy.
If major renovations can create enough revenue to make the Reds both profitable and competitive, Schott may have arrived at the most satisfactory possible solution.
We say this knowing Schott might have changed her mind six times since Sunday night, when the Reds stopped threatening to skip town and disclosed a constructive stadium policy. We say this convinced that until an agreement is reached, what negotiating parties say for publication is posturing. We say this suspecting that the extraordinary concessions made to the Cincinnati Bengals will make the Reds' deal excruciatingly difficult.
Yet taken at face value, Marge's idea looks like Carmen Electra.
One stop solution
The Reds want to remain on the river. They want a ballpark with a nostalgic feel and modern amenities. They are poorly positioned to contribute much cash to the project. They are a franchise in severe financial straits.
Fixing up Cinergy Field could address all of these concerns, and might also renovate Schott's scarred reputation. She would come off as a comparative philanthropist in the sports extortion business - an owner willing to make do when she could make demands - and she might come out ahead in the long run.
The prevailing view of new ballparks is as the antidote for whatever ails struggling franchises, and there is evidence aplenty. Camden Yards in Baltimore and Coors Field in Denver and Jacobs Field in Cleveland have made their tenants among the most prosperous teams in baseball.
But in some towns, the fascination has worn off. The Toronto Blue Jays do not pack the SkyDome as they once did. The Chicago White Sox were so desperate to fill Comiskey Park that they signed Albert Belle, and remained so desperate that they later tried to unload him.
It is not clear that a ballpark alone would prove a permanent solution for the Reds. When Riverfront Stadium was still new, and the Reds fielded the finest team in their history, they never drew as well as the Dodgers. Given the size of the market, and the famous frugality of its citizens, Schott may well be better off to take less in construction and more in cash.
Hamilton County Administrator David Krings has long espoused the notion that Cinergy Field could be rebuilt to the Reds' specifications at considerably less cost than a stadium built from scratch. Some of the savings - notably in land acquisition and infrastructure - could be passed on to the ballclub in the form of an annual subsidy.
New park or new players?
Each dollar Hamilton County spends on the Reds' ballpark is a dollar it can not put directly into Schott's pocket. Each dollar saved is one Marge might be able to appropriate to pay players.
Past a certain point, additional construction costs create more ostentation than revenue. A new swimming pool is swell, but it does not repay the owner's investment as readily as a remodeled kitchen.
Similarly, it would be nice if the Reds could equip each seat with its own television monitor. It would be nicer if they could equip center field with Ken Griffey Jr.
If this is Schott's plan, it deserves every endorsement. If it is not her plan, it may be Carl Lindner's. One Reds source said Wednesday it was Lindner who was pushing Schott to renovate Cinergy Field, perhaps as a prelude to his buying the ballclub.
For the moment, we'll give Marge the credit. It's so rare we get that chance.
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