A future Reds ballpark belongs on the riverfront, Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus said Wednesday, all but ending the river vs. Broadway Commons debate that has raged for more than two years.
In his most definitive comments to date about the Reds, Mr. Bedinghaus also said a stadium site would be announced by the team's March 31 season opener at Cinergy Field.
He went as far to say a massive face lift of Cinergy is as good an option as a new ballpark between Cinergy and the Crown.
Coupled with the view of Commissioner John Dowlin, a Broadway supporter, that the only remaining option for the Reds is a transformed Cinergy because the Bengals stadium cost has risen so high, Mr. Bedinghaus' comments have made renovation the leading option.
A 'new' Cinergy
As envisioned by HOK Sports Facilities Group Inc. in 1994 drawings:
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Outfield walls with upper-deck seats cut out to present a new view of the downtown skyline.
An outfield picnic section.
A steel-and-glass stadium club in right field that resembles the one at Cleveland's Jacobs Field.
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''You need the kind of project (on the river in the central business district) that can afford flood protection and fill the space up to the point where it starts to create a critical mass of people,'' Mr. Bedinghaus said.
Reds Managing Executive John Allen told the Enquirer last week a transformed Cinergy has been the focus of negotiations with the county.
Mr. Bedinghaus said a new park at the Baseball on Main site - between Cinergy Field and the Crown - is still an option.
But he said the location of Cinergy, just east of the Roebling Suspension Bridge, is a major selling point for transformation. ''If you've got the best location and we can create the new ballpark experience in the old one, that doesn't sound like a half-bad solution,'' Mr. Bedinghaus said.
The three commissioners must vote on a location. Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr. won't say where he wants the ballpark.
Mr. Dowlin said that by the time a new Bengals stadium is done, it's going to cost $500 million.
''So, in essence, the whole $544 million people talked about to build two stadiums will now pay for one stadium,'' he said.
The $544 million figure was used two years ago during a successful sales tax campaign to fund the stadiums. A more recent estimate put the Bengals stadium cost at $400.3 million.
Jim Tarbell, leader of the Broadway Commons movement, said Wednesday his dream isn't dead.
''They can start building on Broadway tomorrow and it would cost the same as what it will take to make Cinergy half decent,'' Mr. Tarbell said. ''It's a waste of our money. No one's going to stand for that. The vote was for two new stadiums. This is just another step in the dark.''
Mr. Bedinghaus said the case for transformation has nothing to do with lack of money for two new stadiums.
''We have made the case we have adequate resources to go in either direction,'' Mr. Bedinghaus said. ''The question isn't what we can and can't afford. It's what is the best way to use the best resources we have. Let's accept one thing: If either team could pick up Cinergy overnight and put a new one in its place, that's where it would be.''
The county and Reds were initially lukewarm about a renovation presented in February at HOK Sports Inc. in Kansas City. The architects unveiled a $150 million plan, which didn't excite either side because a new one could be built for $100 million more.
But Wednesday Mr. Bedinghaus said, ''they were looking at transformation in a different context. They were looking at it more like the St. Louis deal. This one would be like Anaheim.''
Anaheim Stadium in California is undergoing a massive $100 million face lift, as opposed to the three-year, $15 million project for Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Mr. Bedinghaus suggested the era of retro-style ballparks is ending with Jacobs Field in Cleveland and Coors Field in Denver and that communities are now focusing on how to deal with the concrete stadium bowls of the 1970s.
''What you are left with is a Cinergy Field, a Busch Stadium, Veterans Stadium (Philadelphia) and Three Rivers Stadium (Pittsburgh), and what we may be positioned at is a new wave of baseball solutions for these four cities, which is reusing the assets we have in place and transforming it into a new experience.''
Mr. Allen couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, but both the Reds and Major League Baseball are concerned a transformation won't generate enough revenue for the Reds to compete with teams in bigger cites or new stadiums.
The Reds say if they can get financial details worked out with the county, the team would sign a deal that is contingent on the club being satisfied by engineers, architects and fans that a successful transformation is possible.
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