Sunday, March 04, 2001

Guest columnist: Mike Brown

Riverfront redevelopment is a boon for all of us

By Mike Brown
President, Cincinnati Bengals

        To briefly state the obvious, the Bengals have greatly disappointed Cincinnati's football fans in recent seasons. We have greatly disappointed ourselves, too. We are determined to do better, and we understand the frustration felt by loyal and enthusiastic fans.

        But sometimes the resentment people feel about the team's on-field performance spills over to affect the public attitude on off-field matters.

        This leads us today to ask for consideration of a viewpoint not recently much advanced.

        It's the view that Cincinnati deserves to be proud of the new “front porch” to our city that the community is building. It's the view that Hamilton County citizens acted wisely when 62 percent of them voted for the sales tax that would rebuild our riverfront. It's the view, supported by facts, that for all the marvelous change afoot, the price paid by individuals within this community has been modest.

        Though it may sound too good to be true, it is indeed true that for the average Hamilton County homeowner, the net cost of our new riverfront has been less than $3 per year.

        Before offering an explanation for that number, we ask your review of benefits that have flowed to everyone in the community from that vote in March of 1996. We don't believe these points are seriously challenged by anyone:

        A riverfront that is now publicly owned.

        Spectacular new stadiums completed or under construction.

        A rebuilt downtown highway system with Fort Washington Way, the new Second Street and the transit center open or about to be dedicated.

        Major new infrastructure under way.

        A riverfront park in its planning phase and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

        The Banks development spearheaded by the Port Authority.

        Every one of those projects has been supported by the sales tax voted in March of 1996. Every one of those projects has benefited from the momentum the community has built with that vote.

        Despite the tangible benefits these projects create, some critics have focused exclusively on the total costs involved. Some contend the cost is too high and too focused on Hamilton County. Neither contention is accurate.

        Indeed, the central question planners sought to answer was, how do you spread the cost of rebuilding Cincinnati's riverfront among the 1.7 million area residents, not just the 900,000 who live in Hamilton County? The best answer was a sales tax, because out-of-town visitors and non-Hamilton County residents pay those taxes when they buy in Hamilton County.

        A study by the University of Cincinnati confirms that the 1996 sales tax is working as planned, with 45 percent of the total tax in 2000 paid by non-Hamilton County residents. And the '96 plan went one step further through a property tax rebate. While Hamil ton County residents pay little more than half of the total sales tax proceeds, they receive all of the property tax rebate.

        According to government figures, the average family in the County spends less than $20,000 a year on taxable goods and services, and thus pays less than $100 a year on the new half-cent sales tax. Homeowners can compare that $100 figure with the size of the sales tax credit on their property tax bill. For the average homeowner in the County, the property tax rebate in 2000 was just under $97.

        Voters resoundingly approved this concept as a good idea in 1996, and there is no basis now to conclude that something has gone wrong.

        As to the total cost of stadiums and riverfront renewal, we believe it has been inaccurately portrayed as a large piece of the County's overall tax structure. In fact, the stadiums/riverfront money represented less than 1.2 percent of the County-wide taxes paid in 1999.

        Another point on which we ask your reconsideration is the cost of Paul Brown Stadium. The widely reported figure of $430 million is grossly misleading, because about $100 million of that cost is linked to the desire of city officials and business leaders to move the stadium several blocks west from the originally planned location just west of the Suspension Bridge. The move added $80 million in costs for land acquisition, and another $20 million in construction over-runs was caused when the City delayed the timely transfer of needed land to the County.

        The accurate price for Paul Brown Stadium is $330 million. That's a lot of money, to be sure, but it is eminently reasonable for such a facility. The new Cleveland Browns Stadium is estimated to have cost $380 million. Denver's new stadium is in the $400 million range. Renovations in Green Bay and Chicago, meanwhile, have been pegged in the $500 million range. Overruns for construction of PBS have been widely decried, and while they are unfortunate, they are a fact of life in stadium building. While the overrun for PBS was 11 percent of the project budget, other recent overruns include 16 percent for the TWA Dome in St. Louis, 17 percent for Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville, 20 percent for the Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix and 24 percent for Safeco Field in Seattle. Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium hit 38 percent of its overall budget in overruns in 1970. And closer to home in this era, the Fort Washington Way budget began at $146 million but more than doubled to $324 million.

        The Bengals thank all readers for considering these points. We believe there is cause for much civic pride over what has already been accomplished on our riverfront, and cause for much anticipation of what is to come. Our city is moving forward with this outstanding development, and the Bengals are proud to be a part of it.

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