BY LUCY MAY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Regardless of how or when they're built, the cost of two new stadiums remains elusive.
Because the project has grown beyond just building two stadiums, the price undoubtedly will be higher than the very rough $544 million estimate discussed during last year's campaign to increase the sales tax.
''As we began this process, all we had to work on was the Regional Stadium Task Force report,'' Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus said.
That report - issued nearly two years ago - called for building a new ballpark for the Reds just west of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge and building a new football stadium for the Bengals on Cinergy Field's current site.
It soon became apparent it would be better to locate the stadiums farther apart, Mr. Bedinghaus said.
That meant land would have to be bought, at least for the football stadium, he said, a process now under way.
That's just one factor that ultimately will increase the proj
ect's price, Mr. Bedinghaus said.
County Commissioner John Dowlin said he understands the total price will be higher than the initial $544 million estimate.
But he is concerned the cost just seems to keep growing.
''Designs have been presented to us that cost more than $625 million, and who's going to pay for that?'' he said.
''It wouldn't surprise me if it were the $625 million or so.''
As an illustration of just how fluid the numbers are, consider that The Enquirer reported earlier this month the Bengals' new stadium alone will cost at least 20 percent more than its preliminary $180 million estimate.
That early estimate was based on a Charlotte, N.C., stadium, Hamilton County Public Works Director Gary VanHart said.
That stadium was completed in 1996, and Mr. VanHart said inflation and higher labor costs will amount to an increase of at least $36 million.
All the county's various consultants are giving officials estimates for various pieces of the project, Mr. Dowlin said.
The county must have a firm estimate for at least the new Bengals stadium by June 1, when officials expect to sign a lease with the team, he said.
Tom Neyer, the newest county commissioner, characterized the cost estimates as ''an evolving process'' and pointed out the county still has not selected a site for the Reds stadium, which will affect estimates.
''The important thing is that we get full value for every dollar we spend,'' Mr. Neyer said. ''Whether that is $550 million or $650 million.''
The project's total cost also is likely to include such things as parking, which will pay for itself but must be considered in the project's price, Mr. Bedinghaus said.
''We can increase the budget without increasing the debt,'' he said.
Buying land for the Bengals' stadium and providing additional parking are not new elements of the project, Mr. Bedinghaus said.
The county simply is in the midst of the complicated process of estimating how much everything will cost.
REDS MIGHT HAVE TO WAIT