BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Jim Tarbell has fought the good fight. He has pushed Broadway Commons as far as it could go, and then a little bit further. He has made us believe the public had a real say in The Great Ballpark Debate.
He has been passionate, persistent and, in general, a royal pain in the posteriors of Cincinnati's power brokers. If he has failed, it has been a noble effort.
What Tarbell does not do too well is take a hint. I called to offer him condolences on his lost cause Wednesday afternoon, and he nearly had me convinced he was to be congratulated; that the Reds' move to Broadway Commons was an inevitability others had simply not recognized; that Hamilton County's recommendation that Broadway be reconsidered was not simply a sop but an endorsement.
''There's no way to prevent it from going to Broadway,'' Tarbell thundered. ''It's a matter of how much trouble they want. If they (the Reds) had a real viable alternative on the river, I'd be worried. No question about it. But they don't have a viable alternative.'' The process of elimination has clearly worked to Tarbell's advantage. The Reds would seem to have lost interest in renovating Cinergy Field, and building on the adjoining ''Wedge'' site would involve significant construction delays and daunting logistical complications.
Yet even in the face of these obstacles, the Reds continue to insist on a riverfront location. Tarbell is betting A) that they will find no suitable site on the banks of the Ohio, and B) that politicians will find the backbone to force them elsewhere.
Maybe it's cynicism, but after seeing how feebly our elected officials stood up to the Bengals, it's hard to imagine them posing more than token resistance to the Reds. If Marge Schott and - or Carl Lindner are resolved to be on the riverfront, who's willing to stand in their way?
Simply put, Schott does not like the neighborhood at Broadway Commons, and she is not in business for urban development. Her top priority is profit, and the short-term benefits of getting a stadium built sooner have not overcome her long-running objections to Over-The-Rhine. The Memorandum of Understanding draft the Reds submitted to Hamilton County on Feb. 26 stipulates that the stadium be built, ''on a site on the riverfront that is mutually acceptable to the County and the Team.'' Unless Tarbell can reroute the Ohio along Central Parkway, he's probably out of luck.
This begs the question of who makes the call. In an ideal world, public money would be spent to achieve the greatest public benefit. In reality, these projects are all about leverage. Jim Tarbell may be more persuasive than Marge Schott - Who isn't? - but he does not have nearly so much power.
''I've never assumed that common sense would necessarily win the day here,'' Tarbell said. ''I always thought it was a matter of narrowing the options to a point where Broadway is smiling.'' HD:A proven commodity
Trouble is that what makes sense to Tarbell as befitting the greater good has little bearing on what's best for the ballclub. Schott's fiduciary responsibility to her partners requires that she pursue the most lucrative deal. If she prefers a riverfront stadium in 2002 to a Broadway Commons ballpark in 2001, it may not be entirely a matter of ego.
The Reds know the riverfront works. They know their customers have grown comfortable with the location and value the excellent interstate access and egress. What the Reds don't know - what they can't know - is whether Broadway Commons would work as well.
Whenever you invest money, you weigh the risk against the return. The Reds view the riverfront as a proven winner, a relatively sure thing, a Procter & Gamble. They see Broadway Commons as imprudent speculation. It might be a bonanza like Coors Field, but it could prove a problem like Comiskey Park.
Maybe Jim Tarbell sees more clearly, but he can't impose his vision on others. That hasn't stopped him from trying.