Sunday, November 17, 1996
Why don't we heed experts on stadiums?

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

I think Cincinnati's new sports complex - a half-billion-dollars' worth of stadiums - should be on the riverfront. Only my mother cares what I think about this. The rest of my family would point out that when I was in college, I studied literature and beer, not urban planning.

Elected officials and unofficial busybodies, such as newspaper columnists, radio screamers and business persons, have had ample opportunity for debate. The voters, most of whom were under the impression that they were choosing to fund two stadiums on the river, have spoken.

OK, they said, we give up. Here is a great big gob of money. Build your stadiums. You have convinced us that life as we know it will be utterly destroyed without professional football here.

OK, they said, we surrender. Baseball is part of our genetic fabric, and we are just tightwads who have no vision and little regard for the future of this region if we do not build an intimate park for our boys in red. Not to mention that our children's lives will be destroyed, our hair will fall out and Marge Schott will take her show on the road.

Media-tested ideas

So now, our elected officials, quite appropriately, have hired experts to help work out the details. As of Sept. 15, the county had paid $334,415 for the services of Public Financial Management, which put together football stadium deals in Baltimore, Oakland, Nashville, and Miami.

Another $385,056 was paid to HOK Inc. of Kansas City, Mo., a leader in sports stadium design. Urban Design Associates, which is doing a $200,000 redesign of downtown Cincinnati, says both stadiums should be on the river.

So why are we still wondering where they should be built?

Jim Tarbell, one of this city's human treasures, wants the ballpark to be built at the corner of Reading Road and Broadway at the edge of Over-the-Rhine. A truly urban man, not to mention generous and funny and with a wicked sense of how to manipulate the media, Jim wants baseball to help breathe new life into the area.

He has painted a fake diamond, had a facade built and is available for public appearances in a vintage baseball suit. His enthusiasm is contagious. It must be. A lot of people have caught it.

But not, apparently, the experts.

Although Cincinnati is a very special place, it is not entirely different from every other place on the face of the Earth. There are companies that study population patterns and infrastructure and cost and transportation and urban development. They say we need to spend our money on the riverfront.

So what do they know? Well, if you ask around, as I did, you'll find out that the city and county hired the best people in the field. They've also recommended parking that serves both stadiums, downtown and other attractions, and adding electric rail service downtown.

Baiting the hook

This is not for the benefit of tourists from Fort Wayne and Lexington. This is for tourists from Fort Thomas and Mariemont and Monfort Heights. They do not come downtown. We can't get them downtown by shoving bamboo shoots under their fingernails or telling them it's their civic duty.

We must lure them with interesting attractions, easily accessible and unavailable in their neighborhoods. Kenwood, Wyoming and Park Hills are wonderful places, but they do not have a river.

I hate to say this, because it's a lot more fun to complain about elected officials, but we are being well-served. Experts have been hired. Recommendations are being made. Action, I hope, is next. If you don't remember what happens when we become paralyzed over the choices, I have three words for you.

Fountain Square West.

This is a democracy. This is our city. It's our money, too, and we have a right to an opinion. Jim Tarbell, Andy Furman, Marge Schott, Mike Brown, even Betty Archer's favorite daughter, Laura Lynn. We all have a right to throw in our 2 cents. So, who's right?

Maybe you get what you pay for.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.