Thursday, March 23, 2000

What is 'football ready'?

Term will be crucial as stadium nears completion

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The field will be green, the scoreboard will be aglow and the toilets will flush Aug. 19, but there still is no agreement on what else at the stadium must be ready for football.

  • High steel: Holds in place the canopy and lights; to be completed by the end of March. Tower cranes are to come down in early April.
  • Plaza level and lower suites: To be finished at the end of April.
  • Stadium facade: To be finished at the end of May.
  • Club level: To be finished at the end of May.
  • Midlevel suites: To be done in mid-June.
  • Service level: The majority of this space, where deliveries are made for concessionaires, is to be completed at the end of June.
  • Upper suites: To be done in mid-July.
  • Upper concourse: To be finished at the end of July.
        Stadium construction officials have been tossing around the term “football ready” for the past couple of months, as in: “The stadium will be football ready by Aug. 19.”

        But those same officials can't say exactly what the term means.

        That's because the people building the stadium still are negotiating that part of the deal with the Bengals, with less than five months to go before kickoff.

        What will eventually result is an agreement between the two sides on aspects of the stadium that must be complete for the first preseason game, and those that can be finished later.

        It's an important handshake to make, because $2 million in sales tax revenue hangs in the balance — that's the amount the county will forfeit to the Bengals if the stadium isn't “football ready” when the Bears come to town.

        “There are a million things to consider, and it'll probably take another 60 to 90 days to get it all agreed upon,” said Norm Getz, stadium project director.

        That has some officials concerned.

        Commissioner John Dowlin said the county needs to get an agreement in writing, and it needs to be done very soon.

        “We really have to know exactly what that term means,” Mr. Dowlin said. “We don't want a dispute with the Bengals over that, which could end up in a lawsuit.”

        Officials on both sides of issue are downplaying any potential disagreements that could crop up during the discussions.

        Troy Blackburn, the Bengals' director of stadium development, said the team's focus is the fans. The Bengals just want to make sure the stadium is safe and fun from the first game on, he said.

        “We just want to make sure the areas and amenities are available for the fans,” Mr. Blackburn said. “We don't see that as an issue.

        “We all have the goal to make Paul Brown Stadium ready by Aug. 19. We'll work cooperatively. No one is looking to be difficult, and I think this will be a nonissue.”

        Mr. Getz said members of his staff have been researching what “football ready” meant in other cities. They have created a working definition, he said, but the Bengals have yet to sign off on that.

        “There is no written protocol, so it has to be developed for each stadium,” Mr. Getz said.

        One of the biggest hurdles is obtaining a certificate of occupancy from the city, which is granted only when the stadium is safe and the utilities are hooked up.

        Mr. Getz reported to com missioners Wednesday that all of the utilities — including chilled water and power — are operating.

        During the presentation, the project team again reported that the stadium will be ready on time and said $45 million in cost overruns is still their best guess.

        But the county will have to appropriate more money to finish the project in the next month or so, according to Stadium Project Director W. Shelby Reaves.

        “It doesn't have to be this month, but it would be nice if it was next month,” Mr. Reaves said.

        Commissioners approved an additional $14.3 million for stadium construction Feb. 16. Mr. Getz said most of that money has either been spent or earmarked.

        County Administrator Dave Krings said he doesn't care when the construction managers come back for more cash, so long as the pace of building the stadium doesn't slow.

        “Certainly, we need to get the money to the subcontractors and the people actually doing the work,” Mr. Krings said. “We don't want to give them any reason to believe they won't get paid for their work or materials.”

        In other stadium news, the stadium may have a Bermuda turf during the first season instead of bluegrass.

        The reason is that Bermuda turf grows better in warm weather. Since the turf will be laid in July — only one month before the first game — officials want a turf that will take hold quickly.

        Mr. Getz said a decision on that will be made soon.

        Cleveland laid its bluegrass field in midsummer last year and had to replace the field after the third game. Officials here don't want to go through that.

        And neither do the Bengals.

        “We'd prefer the bluegrass because it grows later in the season, but if we have to play on Bermuda for one season, that's not a problem,” Mr. Blackburn said.

        “If you put down bluegrass mid-summer, it's going to be very stressed. A lot of the decision will be driven by weather.”

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