Thursday, October 05, 2000

Suitable for suits only

Public slight unearthed at new Reds ballpark

        You didn't miss much.

        But you should have been there.

        The public wasn't invited to Wednesday's groundbreaking for the Reds' Great American Ball Park.

        Only a select few bigwigs made the guest list. Media types, me included, were permitted to tag along.

        But everyone had every right to be there.

        The people's taxes are paying for the ballpark. We own it.

        Hamilton County's taxpayers should have had the chance to see eight suits awkwardly stick shovels — six Craftsman and two Razor Back diggers — in the ground and turn over some clumps of dirt.

        Safety concerns were cited as a reason for excluding the public. But I'm not buying that excuse.

        What I am buying, along with everyone else, is a new ball park for the Reds. We are
footing the bulk of the bill for this $330 million structure.

        Our taxes are good enough to pay for the stadium. Our fannies will be good enough to sit in the seats — after we buy tickets.

        But we weren't good enough to be there for the groundbreaking.

        All three county commissioners were there, Bob Bedinghaus, Tom Neyer, John Dowlin. So was Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken and the Reds' chief operating officer, John Allen. Reds owner Carl Lindner even drove his car onto what will be the Reds' new playing field.

        Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball and the man in charge of keeping Pete Rose out of the game, managed to show up for the ceremony on Pete Rose Way.

        They were invited.

        The public wasn't.

        The public was mentioned in speeches by Charlie Luken and John Allen. Tom Neyer thanked the taxpayers' efforts by saying: “It is your money. It is your home.”

        But the taxpayers were not there to make themselves at home.

        Just before the groundbreaking, Bob Bedinghaus told me the public was not invited “because this is an unsafe construction site.”

        He motioned toward the ground-level excavations and chunks of concrete hanging from reinforcing rods sticking out of the demolished sections of Cinergy Field's garage.

        “If it's my fault that the public is not here,” he said, “then I will shoulder that burden.”

        If the site of the groundbreaking — the size of a ballpark's infield — was so unsafe, what were those dignitaries and media types doing there? No one asked us to wear hard hats. No one warned us that we were entering at our own risk.

        Other stadiums have thrown groundbreaking parties and invited the public. Joe Spear, chief architect for the Great American Ball Park as well as Cleveland's Jacobs Field and San Francisco's Pacific Bell Park, told me at Wednesday's groundbreaking that the city by the bay “just fenced off its site and threw a party for everyone.”

        Even Cincinnati's most notorious skinflint, Mike Brown, threw a party and invited the public when ground was broken for the Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium. More than 3,000 people showed up.

        Excluding the public on a flimsy excuse underestimates and insults the people of Greater Cincinnati. We are a cautious, well-mannered lot. We won't mess up the place or go nuts and take a bulldozer for a ride.

        Quite frankly, I'm surprised a savvy politician like Bob Bedinghaus would snub the people in such a public way. He's running for re-election.

        One month and two days from today, voters will decide if he will remain a Hamilton County commissioner.

        They'll make their decision in a voting booth. That's one place where the public is always invited.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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