Sunday, March 18, 2001

Sabin Center

Thinking outside the box

        We're trying to be smart this time. The new Paul Brown Stadium may be of questionable economic value, but it surely is a priceless cautionary tale. Mike Brown threatened to take his business elsewhere, and this community handed him the keys to the riverfront, along with our Visa Platinum Card.

        For good measure, we gave him absolutely no incentive to improve his product.

        So now conventions are threatening to take their business elsewhere. Well, not threatening. They're gone, some of them. “Over the past two years, we've lost about 140,000 room nights,” says Mike Wilson, president of the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They're not leaving mad. They're just outgrowing us.”

Out of time, money
        A John Deere convention went to Louisville because another show was already booked, and we couldn't handle them both. This happens more and more, according to Mr. Wilson.

        So why don't we just put Firstar Center out of its misery and buy it? The owners filed for bankruptcy protection this week, claiming they can't pay almost $40 million they owe. That's a big place, big enough for some tractors. Or the mudhole across from Lazarus. Is that a possibility? Does everything have to be in that one box?

        It's just a thought.

        Because we are running out of time and money. The $336 million price tag for an expanded convention center got a $75 million boost last week when somebody belatedly noticed it would be in the way of a new and improved Interstate 75. The highway takes precedence over the convention center. As has everything else for the past decade.

Yada, yada, yada
        A baseball park. A football stadium. We're getting a National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and a new Contemporary Arts Center. We've built the Aronoff Center, narrowed Fort Washington Way, kissed Nordstrom goodbye, sent in a bid to bring the Olympics here and put the pins in place for a new downtown neighborhood.

        And we have talked about expanding the convention center. And talked.

        If you have something consumers want but you just don't have enough of it, why not simply build a bigger plant? If Procter & Gamble found out the world wanted twice as many Pringles, they'd just make more, wouldn't they? Unless, of course, they could never, ever sell enough Pringles to pay for the new plant.

        An industry publication, Tradeshow Week, projects a 15.5 percent increase in exhibit space by 2005. A 3.9 percent increase in demand is projected for the same period.


        And by now we probably have to notice that the economy is coughing up a gigantic dot-com hairball. “Our sales tax revenues are down,” Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin says. “That not only hurts us with the stadium funding but with our general fund. Plus we're losing money from the state. I sure wouldn't support any new spending.”

        That's more bad news for the expand-the-center people, who were hoping for $51 million from the county. Mr. Dowlin sounded pretty firm about not spending money we don't have. This is shocking behavior, if I may say so. Governments specialize in spending money before they have it. Then they borrow it from rich people, who get richer.

        Let's be smart this time — maybe even think outside the box.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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