Wednesday, November 12, 1997
Reds, county talk stadium again

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Less than 48 hours after Reds CEO Marge Schott said the team might play in a transformed Cinergy Field instead of holding out for a new ballpark, representatives from Hamilton County and the team were talking about a deal.

HOK Sports Facilities Group envisoned a renovated Cinergy Field with the baseball field opening north toward downtown.
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Reds Managing Executive John Allen and County Administrator David Krings got together Tuesday afternoon and Mr. Allen confirmed that renovating Cinergy was discussed, but he offered no specifics. ''It was purely informal. No documents were exchanged. I just had the last (pre-lease proposal) and a notebook,'' he said.

Only last month, Mr. Allen broke off negotiations with the county because the two sides couldn't reach a financial agreement, but informal talks with Hamilton County continued.

County Commission President Bob Bedinghaus said Tuesday the county will continue talking with the team.

''We're sure it will lead to a program that will keep the Reds in this community for generations to come,'' he said. ''Ultimately, the deal that will be settled on will have to be in the best interests of the county, the best interests of the Reds and the best interests of the taxpayers.''

But while Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr. has said the county continues to discuss three stadium options with the team, Commissioner John Dowlin thinks there now are two choices:

A renovated Cinergy or a new stadium at Broadway Commons, a site at Broadway and Reading Road.

HOK vision of the outside of a renovated Cinergy Field.
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Mr. Dowlin, a Broadway fan, declared dead the option to build a ballpark on the riverfront site known as Baseball on Main or the ''Wedge'' between Cinergy and The Crown.

''I really think people have finally wised up that the Wedge won't work because of the complexity, the cost and the disruption of Cinergy while they're playing there,'' Mr. Dowlin said.

John Schneider, a downtown property manager and chief proponent of Baseball on Main, rejected Mr. Dowlin's analysis, saying a new ballpark at the Wedge wouldn't cost any more than one at Broadway. He said a massive transformation of Cinergy would disrupt 100 percent of the existing stadium, while construction of a new ballpark to the east would disrupt only 30 percent of it.

Mrs. Schott has rejected both site options for building a new stadium. She doesn't like the Broadway Commons location. Mr. Allen has said the team wants the riverfront because it offers better access for regional fans and is closer to downtown hotels.

The riverfront location - and Cinergy Field itself - also means a lot to fans who watched the Big Red Machine win World Series championships there when it was called Riverfront Stadium. Ultimately, sentiment could be what pushes the renovation of the team's old home, Mr. Schneider predicted.

Mrs. Schott told the Enquirer Sunday she'd still ''love a new stadium.'' But she doesn't think the Wedge will work because a portion of Cinergy Field would be under construction while a new ballpark is being built, she said.

She also said she doesn't know if the county can afford to build a new ballpark for the Reds - which could cost upward of $300 million - after making a deal to build the Bengals a $400.3 million stadium complex.

A transformation of Cinergy could save the taxpayers some money, she said, adding, ''I'm a taxpayer, too.''

Cincinnati City Councilman Charlie Winburn went a step further Tuesday, saying he might file a taxpayers' lawsuit if the commissioners build a stadium instead of saving money by giving Cinergy an extensive face lift.

That threat came a day after Broadway Commons champion Jim Tarbell said his group would sue if the commissioners don't build a stadium because voters expected two new stadiums when they approved a half-cent sales tax increase in 1996 to fund stadium construction.

If a renovation happens, it would have to be extensive, Mrs. Schott said.

''It's got to be different so people can tell it's new, with grass and everything else,'' she said.

A study by HOK Sports Facilities Group commissioned in 1994 by Mrs. Schott, Northern Kentucky developer Jerry Carroll and attorney Stan Chesley suggested many changes for the former Riverfront Stadium:

  • An external face lift to change the stadium's bowl-like looks.

  • Outfield walls with upper-deck seats cut out to present a new view of downtown's skyline.

  • A right-field picnic section.

  • A steel-and-glass stadium club that resembles the one at Cleveland's Jacobs Field.

Sources say the team and county have not yet begun developing any new renovation plans for Cinergy. But Mr. Dowlin and Mr. Neyer said they expect a Cinergy transformation to get serious consideration based on Mrs. Schott's interest.

Jay Buchert, an Anderson Township developer and veteran member of the county planning commission, said a Cinergy renovation could yield considerable savings for the county because of the infrastructure that wouldn't have to be rebuilt.

The county would be starting with flood protection, sewer lines and other costly elements already in place, he said.

The stadium's entire parking structure must be replaced at a cost of up to $50 million, but the parking could be removed and put someplace else to make the stadium appear less massive.

The renovation wouldn't have to disrupt the team much if it's phased in over three seasons, Mr. Buchert said.

Mr. Carroll, owner of Turfway Park Race Course and a friend of Mrs. Schott's, said renovation could be a winner.

''I told Marge, if you renovate and do a very nice job and the people in this community realize you didn't go overboard, the fans will be more loyal,'' Mr. Carroll said. ''That's what it's all about.''

Geoff Hobson contributed to this report.