Thursday, October 16, 1997
Beggars can't be choosers

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Whew. All this big business is just too confusing for me. As I understand it, we have now agreed to put the Cincinnati Bengals, a very bad football team, in a great big palace on the riverfront, which will be built on land we do not own.

And we now are going to negotiate a purchase price for the land. As I say, it's all too confusing for my poor little head, but it seems to me that the people who own this land have us - oh, what is that term? - over a barrel.

The businesses now on that land will probably move out of the city. "I think we're losing to Wilder," Cincinnati Economic Development Director Andi Udris said.

An aroma of failure

Wilder? Kentucky? I know we're supposed to be thinking regionally, but isn't it a little embarrassing that Ohio couldn't manage to find a place for this century-old produce industry with its 575 jobs?

Mr. Udris is not embarrassed. He says he feels good that Cincinnati's economic development department has done everything it can to keep them. "From Day One, we've put everything and the kitchen sink on the table for this," he said.

Well, of course we have. That is how we do business.

We were not embarrassed to promise $27.8 million in subsidies to the downtown Lazarus store, just as the company announced it was moving its headquarters and 700 jobs to Atlanta.

We are like a father who brags that he has a beautiful daughter, unique, desirable and pleasant. Then he puts an ad in the school paper offering to pay somebody to take her to the prom.

Or, worse, he promises his daughter that he will deliver a boy who already has a date.

Northern Kentucky, as is its custom in recent years, is in the driver's seat. Officials will be pleased to accept new business. But they are not desperate, and the kitchen sink is nowhere near the table.

The Wilder location is relatively cheap land, adjacent to I-275 and easy to get to from Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. I wish the Bengals were there instead of the produce companies.

At least the lettuce doesn't stink.

Giving away the store

Meanwhile, in seemingly unrelated but equally baffling circumstances, the city appears to have promised to put a Maison Blanche department store at Fifth and Race streets. In order to do so, Walgreen's has to agree to move. And now - what is that term? - Walgreen's seems to have us by the short hairs.

Is there a common denominator here? Besides stupidity, I mean. Do you suppose that we can blame El Nino? Certainly we can notice that Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus did not strike the sharpest bargain we've ever seen with Mike Brown.

And Andi Udris has painted himself into a corner with the Maison Blanche site. On top of that, it is a Cincinnati City Council election year, which means that candidates will be running around like rats in a maze, trying to find "issues." They are looking for voter hot buttons, and you can't find a hotter button right now than stadiums and development.

I wonder if it would be too radical to suggest that all these people - politicians from the city and the county and their various bureaucrats - might work together. Might even hang tough together. Maybe they could occasionally say no. And mean it. Maybe they could look to private enterprise for, well, enterprise. And money.

Maybe there would be more projects like the Crown, which sold for $21 million and cost $14 million to renovate. And all this money was spent by the people who will be profiting from its existence - Cyclones owner Doug Kirchhofer and the Nederlander Organization. As I understand it, all we have to do in return is go to hockey games and concerts. I think I can manage this.

Of course, the city and the county still have the opportunity to discover that the Crown site is absolutely necessary to the Cincinnati Reds. Then they can promise Marge that we'll combine The Wedge with the Crown land to build the intimate park of her intimate dreams. After that, we can sit across the table from Doug Kirchhofer and "negotiate" in our usual position.

On our knees.

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 Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

PULFER ARCHIVE