Monday, May 01, 2000

Stadium overruns cut parking plans


City officials fear impact on riverfront

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County's latest budget showing how officials will spend nearly $1 billion on a riverfront face lift cuts $78.9 million from parking funds.

        The budget is the first to account for the cost over runs at Paul Brown Stadium — an unexpected $45 million for which taxpayers are on the hook.

        Commissioner John Dowlin said cost overruns at Paul Brown Stadium will have to be offset by spending less on parking.

        “There are a finite number of dollars that can be pledged to the riverfront,” he said. “The ultimate squeeze will come on parking.”

        The parking cut has many city officials worried.

        The fear is that by spending less, the county might opt to build garages south of Third Street or, worse, parking lots that would stifle development of housing, parks and entertainment venues between the new stadiums.

        Councilman Jim Tarbell, long opposed to building the new Reds ballpark along the river, said going cheap on the parking could ruin development plans between the baseball and football facilities.

        “This is about as dramatic a turn as there has been, and it could mean that the entire central riverfront is half baked,” Mr. Tarbell said. “There has never been any disagreement that underground parking would be $100 million-plus. How they would ever expect to do it otherwise is beyond me.”

        County officials say the $61 million penciled in for parking on their April 19 plan represents the minimum they can spend and meet lease obligations to the Reds and Bengals.

        That amount is down from $139.9 million budgeted in a January 2000 financing plan.

        Suzanne Burke, the county's director of administrative services, called the reduction for parking a bookkeeping move that allowed the county to identify the cost of its minimum con tractual obligations to the Reds and Bengals.

        Ms. Burke said there will be more money left over, some or all of which could be used for more parking.

        “It's not an insignificant amount,” Ted Ricci, the county's financial adviser, said of additional dollars that will be available. “With the assumptions in that plan, there is something in excess of $30 million.”

        But even if all of that surplus is used for additional parking — and there will be other requests for that money — the parking budget still would be slashed by about $45 million.

        Councilman Todd Portune, who is challenging Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus in November, also fears a reduction in money spent on parking could threaten riverfront development plans.

        “What no one wanted and what they appear headed toward is a sea of parking along the riverfront,” Mr. Portune said. “If that's true, it's a tremendous problem — not just for the city but for the entire region.”

        Mr. Bedinghaus did not return phone calls for comment.

        The latest financial plan is incorporated in a document the county sent last week to bond underwriters, asking for bids to sell bonds for the Reds ballpark.

        The notice asks each underwriting company to evaluate the county's financial plan as part of their bids. The county hopes to issue $242 million in primary bonds for ballpark construction in June or July.

        An additional $15.2 million in subordinate bonds, which carry more risk and higher interest rates, also will be sold to pay for the ballpark.

        The half-cent county sales tax approved by voters in 1996 will be used to pay off the bonds.

        Mr. Dowlin said all the riverfront parking doesn't have to be built right away and there is no agreement on what should be done.

        “We have more money than the $61 million,” he said. “But the recommendation is: That's all we should spend at this time, until we get better clarification of what people want us to do.”

        True, said financial adviser Mr. Ricci. “What you build and when you build it will answer the additional funding question. That's the exercise going on now.”

       



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