175,604 suits can't be wrong

Wednesday, November 4, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The stadium debate does not stop here. There are still protests to be lodged and maneuvers to be made. Marge Schott can do nothing quickly, and Jim Tarbell can do nothing quietly.

But the endgame ought to get easier from now on. The Broadway Commons referendum was routed Tuesday night, and with it Tarbell's flimsy claim to consensus. The Broadway crowd has been louder for a long time, but volume is of no consequence in the counting of votes. Not as compared to numbers.

Tuesday's landslide shattered the myth that Broadway represented the will of the people against the small, shadowy cabal of Fourth Street Suits who make most of the big decisions in this town. That is, unless the Fourth Street Suits are 175,604 strong.

Fact is, most of the people who voted No on Issue 11 don't know the tailors at Brooks Brothers and have never sampled the mock turtle soup at the Queen City Club.

The riverfront coalition consisted not only of power brokers and vested interests, but also thousands of ordinary citizens accustomed to and content with baseball on the Ohio.

Some of them were sufficiently optimistic to believe that a vote against Broadway was a vote for an idyllic riverfront with more green space than concrete. Some of them were suburbanites who dread downtown, and see the river as sanctuary. Some of them were simply Reds fans who hope the home team gets stronger and more stable.

Let's revitalize the team

Personally, I wouldn't care if the Reds played their ballgames on a barge, so long as they start playing better. From this narrow vantage point, their best shot has always appeared to be on the river.

Broadway Commons has been endorsed by an impressive array of experts, planning commissions and local politicians. Primarily, these people were interested in urban renewal, and regarded a new ballpark as a profound instrument of change.

They made a nice case, but building a ballpark at Broadway Commons to revitalize the neighborhood is like installing a swimming pool to cut down on lawn care. It reflects a peculiar ordering of priorities. The primary concern here should not be the success of a few landlords and saloonkeepers, but that of the oldest outfit in professional baseball -- an institution that next year will observe its 130th anniversary.

Ideally, the Reds' prosperity would enrich other local enterprises: shops and restaurants and hotels and sportswriters. Still, if you have to choose among conflicting interests, you have to fix the Reds first.

If the engine won't work, the train won't move.

Reds Managing Executive John Allen believes more money can be made on the river. (The additional parking alone could mean a million dollars a year.) More money must be made if the Reds are again to field a competitive team.

Absent the cable television income and marketing loot of teams in larger markets, the Reds are obliged to extract every possible penny from their new ballpark. If they are reluctant to share their bounty with other businesses, it is as much a matter of survival as it is of greed.

In a hyperinflationary environment such as baseball's, any long-term commitments are perilous. Expecting the Reds to set up shop for 25 or 30 years in uncertain uptown terrain would be akin to asking Tarbell to move Arnold's to Salt Lake City. It might all work out in the end, but the obstacles are obvious.

What sound businessman would take an unnecessary risk when his alternative seemed a sure thing? Similarly, what savvy voter would endorse an impasse when a solution was in sight?

The success of Issue 11 would have returned the stadium question to chaos. Its defeat enables the Reds to move forward, and leaves Tarbell without a legitimate leg to stand on.

To paraphrase a certain British statesman, Tuesday's vote is not the end of the stadium debate. It may not even represent the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.<>p> Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.