Sunday, September 05, 1999

Inside the house that Mike built

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        During a tour of the new Bengals stadium on Wednesday, Project Manager Dan Streyle offered to show me the “vomitory.”

        Vomitory? I immediately pictured a tiled room lined with troughs, where fans could retire at halftime — or sooner — to hang their heads and yawn in technicolor after each sickening series of sacks, fumbles and blown tackles.

        “. . . Another loss on the play. Fourth down and 43 for the Bengals at their own six. . .”

        “Yechhh. I'll be right back, honey. I need to visit the vomitory again.”

        “Oh, too bad. Will you bring me back a crying towel?”

        Mr. Streyle must have heard the wheels spinning in my head. “The corridor to the bowl is called a vomitory,” he explained. “That's the official name. You can look it up.”

        He's right. It's in the dictionary:

        “Vomitory: The spectators were discharged through these in Roman amphitheaters, etc., any of the entrances leading to the tiers of seats.”

        In other words, “vomitory” means “nearest exit” — a good thing to know when the Browns are using our team the way a pit bull uses the neighbor's cat.

        But here's good news: The new Bengals Palace will be so breathtakingly beautiful it might even take your mind off the game.

        The place is so massive it can give you vertigo on from ground level. From my office in the Enquirer building, I've watched it slowly rise from a moonscape of mud and ice, gradually assuming the shape of a giant satellite dish. It squats on 40 acres of riverbank, eclipsing Kentucky and the wide Ohio, so large it looks more like a crater from a stray asteroid than something man-made.

        Drawings for the stadium could cover a small parking lot. They wallpaper the project “war room” in a mosaic of multi-colored rectangles, numbered like Lego pieces, each representing a cement slab big enough to land a helicopter.

        Below the decks of the titanic Football Mahal, the unfinished columns, distant ceilings and supernatural scale suggest the pillars and stone blocks of the pyramids or some ancient Egyptian temple.

        That's it. A temple to the plastic-armored gods of the NFL.

        Wage slaves who are paying for it are invited to worship on Sundays, provided they make a suitable offering: $37 per ticket for Tom Tailgater, up to $134,000 per year for luxury suites in the Toga-class section, where corporate Caesars can turn their thumbs down behind retractable glass walls.

        Hamilton County has a luxo-box, valued at $74,000. “But we don't pay any money for that box,” Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus assured me. The commissioners “are not stupid enough to use it” and anger taxpayers, he said. “It could be made available to people who contribute to the community,” such as teachers, firefighters, police.

        For those of us who make no contributions to the community, an outdoor party deck and three or four suites can be rented by the game, probably for less than the price of a new Mercedes. And on the Club Level, where seats sell for $1,000 to $2,000 per season, fans can take a dizzying look through the biggest picture windows in Cincinnati — four stories of glass frame the river on the west side and the downtown skyline on the east.

        “It's an open design, lots of light and lots of air to make people linger,” Mr. Streyle said.

        Come for the football, stay for the views.

        Mr. Streyle is proud of his first big project. He should be. Up to 850 workers are assembling a football field the size of three aircraft carriers, at a cost of $652,000 a day. It's on time, within the budget.

        That includes $20,000 for hundreds of temporary railings made from two-by-fours, required by OSHA to protect workers from falling out of the stands or into a vomitorium. Just a few more pennies lost in the couch cushions of the $404 million house that Mike Brown built.

        Tucked in the southeast corner, hidden behind the stands, is the two-story Bengals headquarters, being furnished by taxpayers at a cost of $2.62 million.

        “You cannot watch the game from the Bengals' office. That was done by design,” Mr. Streyle said. “There was some concern — and the team agreed — that this should be a football facility for the fans. A glass palace that looks down on the field would be inappropriate.”

        Right. Or maybe Mr. Brown is getting queasy like the rest of us. This stadium will be something to see. But the team may induce nausea.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.