Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Florence council hesitant to fund ballpark

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ballpark plan
| ZOOM |
        FLORENCE — City Council members were mostly pleased by the idea of an independent league baseball park in Florence, but they were in agreement Monday that use of public funds to build it is still a long way from a yes vote.

        Cincinnati businessman Gary Enzweiler, who has the rights to a Frontier League franchise, and Florence Mayor Diane Whalen are the driving forces behind a plan to secure a site for the 4,000- to 5,000-seat facility, likely to be built at Interstate 75 and U.S. 42.

        That's a good idea, said Councilman Mel Carroll.

        “I understand the financing aspect of it — who owns the team franchise,” he said.

        “The sticky point is who will furnish the ballpark. One thing that jumps out at me is the name Bob Bedinghaus. I think of the perception in Hamilton County that the taxpayer was paying for a stadium that maybe the taxpayers didn't need. That's what cost him the last election.”

        Mr. Carroll, principal of Ockerman Middle School in Florence, said he would be reluctant to use city funds without some evidence of a return on investment.

        “I need to see some real numbers on how it would increase business in our community,” he said. “I would think the private sector would want to step forward and be involved if this is a good idea.”

        Councilwoman Julie Metzger, a Florence optometrist, emphasized that there have been no formal council discussions of the proposal, and it is “still in the theory stages.”

        “I think it's a really neat idea,” she said.

        “Unfortunately these things generally come down to dollars and cents. Right now I don't think we have enough information. We have to get the public to buy into it, and we need to know how it will affect the city.”

        Mr. Enzweiler said the cost of building the ballpark would run 4 million to $5 million. Add in the cost of about 24 acres of prime real estate, and the total approaches $10 million.

        The Frontier League, which will have 12 teams

        competing this season, is a private baseball operation not affiliated with Major League Baseball. Since its start in 1992, the Zanesville, Ohio, league has fielded teams in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, Missouri, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada.

        By far, the top-attendance figure in the league's 2000 season was the St. Louis-area River City Rascals, in O'Fallon, Mo. Their 40 games drew 157,922 people, or an average 3,948 per game.

        Mr. Enzweiler has said he would like to charge $6 per tickets in Florence. Using that as an average ticket price, the River City Rascals would have generated nearly $1 million last year.

        But the next two teams in the league — in Evansville, Ind., and Cook County, Ill., (near Chicago) — drew 78,000 and 70,000 respectively, averaging fewer than 2,000 people per game, which would translate into much less revenue.

        Nevertheless, Councilman Ted Bushelman called the ballpark proposal a tremendous idea that would add to the quality of life in Northern Kentucky.

        “But we have to be very careful,” he said.

        “There's the question of spending taxpayer money. I don't know that we are using public funds, because we haven't actually dealt with the issue in council yet. I will watch it very closely.”

        Council members Dale Stephens and Melodee Merrell said they had not given the proposal much thought so far.

        “The only discussion I've heard is that the mayor has met with the promoters,” Mr. Stephens said. “There's no further discussion other than the real estate.”

        Ms. Whalen is going over proposals from consulting firms for an economic feasibility study of the minor league team and ballpark.

        Mr. Enzweiler said he hopes to have a team playing in 2003 and he has not considered placing it anywhere but Florence.


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