Sunday, April 5, 1998

Commoners won't get ballpark


BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

OK, everybody who wants to see a new Reds ballpark at Broadway Commons, raise your hands.

It's a landslide!

Now, everybody who will actually have something to say about where the new Reds ballpark is located, drop your newspaper, touch your head and rub your belly, all at the same time.

Hmmm. The crowd seems to have thinned out a bit.

Well, that's the way it goes. Democracy is great, up to a point, but when it comes to building ornate palaces with public money for private entities in the business of selling professional sports, vox populi is not really part of the equation.

Money talks; public opinion walks.

Only a handful of people will have a great deal to say about where this second stadium will be located. Some of them you know - such as the County Commissioners Bob Bedinghaus (who wants it on the riverfront), John Dowlin (who wants it at Broadway Commons) and the newest commissioner, Tom Neyer Jr., who, so far, says only that he wants it.

The Broadway Commons folks dream someday of sitting in a lovely retro ballpark with a touch of old Crosley, looking out over the right field wall at a picture-postcard view of Mount Adams.

And there are some who want the ''Wedge'' - the plan to jam the ballpark between the present Cinergy Field and The Crown - who dream of looking over the right field wall and seeing some valuable riverfront property suddenly becoming even more valuable.

And let us not forget the suspended one, Marge Schott, principal owner of the Reds. She will have a great deal to say about this.

From the beginning, Mrs. Schott has said she wants no part of Broadway Commons. Early on, her explanation was that the site is near the county jail and would spoil the family atmosphere of Reds' baseball. Most of us assume they lock the jail and that we wouldn't run into too many felons wearing county-issued pajamas in the bleacher seats, but that's what she said. No jail next to my ballpark.

This has been a political issue from the start. Two years ago, the voters of Hamilton County were treated to a very slick, well-financed campaign extolling the virtues of new homes for the Reds and Bengals and predicting dire consequences should it not pass.

In that campaign, you ended up with this topsy-turvy political dynamic in which most of the county's conservative Republican politicians were out touting a tax increase while many of the liberal Democratic politicos were busy trashing it.

The Republicans won; they got their tax hike, and now it is in their best interest to make sure that somebody starts pouring concrete real soon.

Now, with the 1998 election beginning to take shape, one candidate has hung her hat on the stadium issue. Democrat Marilyn Hyland, an Indian Hill resident and member of Citizens for Major League Sanity, a group that is watchdogging stadium spending, has been out beating the drum for Broadway Commons in an effort to convince voters that her incumbent Republican opponent, Mr. Neyer, has been wishy-washy on the issue.

Ms. Hyland, a political unknown and first-time candidate, showed up at the last minute after the principal Broadway Commons drum-beater, Jim Tarbell, decided not to run against Mr. Neyer. Sort of a Tarbell Lite.

She is trying to make Mr. Tarbell's issue her issue, and last week the Hamilton County Democratic Party tried to help her by voting to endorse Broadway Commons.

But most people close to the negotiations think the issue will be resolved in favor of the riverfront long before the November election.

It was nice of the Democratic party to try to help, but at this point, the United Nations Security Council, the Holy See and the ghost of Babe Ruth could all endorse Broadway Commons and it wouldn't make much difference.

Stadium story list

Howard Wilkinson's politics column runs on Sundays. Call 768-8388 or email him at hwilkinson@enquirer.com

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