Sunday, April 16, 2000

Bedinghaus tugs at Bengal shackles


Bid refusal good first step

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Looks like Bob Bedinghaus finally found the Kick Me sign taped to his backside.

        Those merry pranksters from the Cincinnati Bengals front office slapped it there a few years ago, then ran off giggling.

        The Hamilton County commissioner is the county's point man on the building of a $400 million stadium for the Bengals. It was he who led the charge for a stadium sales tax; and he who led the county's negotiations with the Bengals on a lease agreement for Paul Brown Stadium.

        You've heard about the lease agreement.

        The one that has the county writing multimillion dollar checks to the Bengals this fall if they can't find enough people willing to pay good money to see a 4-12 team to fill up their brand-spanking new pleasure palace.

        The one that gives the Bengals everything just short of setting up a toll booth on Fort Washington Way to charge motorists for the privilege of glancing at Paul Brown Stadium as they drive by.

        That lease agreement.

        Well, that lease and the cost over-runs in construction and the furor over the commissioners making decisions about the project behind closed doors has left the Republican commissioner twisting in the wind.

        Football teams can go 4-12 and they'll be back at it again next year. Politicians, on the other hand, have to run for re-election.

        Mr. Bedinghaus is in the middle of trying to do that. It doesn't help when you have to carry a load equivalent to about half a dozen NFL linemen on your back.

        The Bengals saddled Mr. Bedinghaus with the load; and, for the most part, Mr. Bedinghaus never complained.

        But, this past week, the Bengals crossed the line. Mr. Bedinghaus had had enough.

        Winning, of course, is very important to an organization like the Cincinnati Bengals. Not football games, mind you; but important stuff such as lease agreements and contracts to run the stadium operations.

        The Bengals were one of three organizations that submitted bids to Hamilton County for the contract to run the day-to-day operations of the new behemoth on the riverfront.

        The Bengals did not submit the lowest bid; that came from Stadium Management Co. (SMC), which operates Cinergy Field.

        Apparently the Bengals management seemed to think that because, in the NFL, teams sometimes play over downs, they had the right to “play over” the bid process. The Bengals lawyers sent county officials a couple of angry letters demanding the coun ty either throw out the SMC bid or face a lawsuit.

        That broke the rules, Mr. Bedinghaus and the other commissioners said, because bidders aren't supposed to contact county officials during the bidding process.

        So the commissioner tore up the Bengals' bid; and decided to start the process over.

        For Mr. Bedinghaus, though, it was more than that. For Mr. Bedinghaus, it was the first step on the road to freedom.

       



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