Sunday, February 20, 2000

Three politicians, one big stadium mess




BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Here is the story of three politicians, one of which will be a Hamilton County commissioner come January 2001 — Bob Bedinghaus, Todd Portune and Marilyn Hyland.

        First, Mr. Bedinghaus. One could not blame Mr. Bedinghaus if he had wished that the Y2K bug had thrown the world into chaos, because, so far, the year 2000 has not been kind to the incumbent Republican county commissioner, and a good meltdown of the world's computer networks might have taken people's minds off that great football behemoth he has been building on Cincinnati's riverfront.

        Might have.

        As it is, though, Mr. Bedinghaus, who is up for re-elec tion this year, has spent the year so far under siege. First, there was the news that, in 1999, one out of three of the campaign dollars Mr. Bedinghaus raised came from the families of the principal owners of sports teams that the county's taxpayers are building stadiums for — Carl Lindner of the Reds and Mike Brown of the Bengals.

        This, no doubt, raised a few voters' eyebrows, but then there was a story followed by an audit of the Paul Brown Stadium project showing it is over budget, maybe by as much as $45 million. Worse yet, there is a chance it might not be done by August when the Bengals want to move in, and because of the lease agreement Mr. Bedinghaus helped negotiate, Hamilton County taxpayers might have to shell out millions more to the Bengals.

        This is not a good way to launch a re-election campaign.

        Friday, Mr. Bedinghaus tried to heave the hot potato by suggesting that maybe it is time to create a separate stadium authority to oversee construction of Paul Brown Stadium and the Reds' ballpark, giving the commissioners more time to deal with sewer lines and zoning changes.

        Of course, there were a lot of people who said that is what the county should have done in the first place and that now it is too late in the game.

        While Mr. Bedinghaus was busy looking for the door marked Exit, the two Democrats who are running in the March 7 primary election for the chance to battle Mr. Bedinghaus this fall took very different approaches to the stadium cost-overrun mess.

        Mr. Portune is a member of Cincinnati City Council, a body that most people will tell you has not exactly trailed clouds of glory when it comes to stewardship of the city's riverfront.

        This week, while the stadium project was imploding around Mr. Bedinghaus' head, Mr. Portune kept his pie-hole shut, for the most part.

        He had little to say on the subject, apparently deciding that the whole thing could crash and burn without any help from him. This is one drama that does not need a soundtrack.

        Ms. Hyland, on the other hand, was everywhere, showing up at the commissioners' meetings where the cost overruns were discussed and doing everything she could to pin blame for the stadium mess squarely on Mr. Bedinghaus. She continued to trumpet her call for the Hamilton County commissioners to renegotiate the lease with the Bengals.

        We are not sure why Mr. Brown would want to do this, given that he got one of the best deals since Peter Minuit picked up Manhattan for $24.

        The original lease negotiations with the county went rather well for Mr. Brown. He asked what would happen if the stadium wasn't ready on time, the county said, We pay you millions. Mr. Brown wanted to know what happens if he can't sell all of his tickets in the first two years. No problem, says the county, we'll buy 'em.

        Renegotiating at this point would be a little like buying a house for $150,000 and coming back to the previous owner two years later saying it was only worth $75,000; and could you please have your money back.

        Try to collect.

        Call (513) 768-8388 or e-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com.

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