Thursday, February 17, 2000

Let's recruit Mike Brown for our team




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It was such a simple question, really. And I was hoping for a simple answer.

        Here is the question: If Cinergy Field is good enough for Ken Griffey Jr., why isn't it good enough for Akili Smith? Would it be so terrible for the Bengals to play a few more games in Cinergy Field if the new stadium falls behind schedule?

        A two-month audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers reports the cost of the football stadium may exceed the (tee-hee) “guaranteed maximum price” by as much as $45 million. The auditor says part of the problem is that nobody is watching. “Lax oversight” is, I believe, the official term. But the race against time also has been expensive. It's a rush job. Weekends. Overtime. And mistakes.

Give us a break
        If the new stadium is not “football ready” by Aug. 19, it will cost taxpayers $2 million. At least. The lease agreement between Hamilton County and the Bengals stipulates that the county (that means us) has to pay the Bengals $2 million for each preseason game and $4 million for each regular-season game not played this year in Paul Brown Stadium.

        So why doesn't Bengals President Mike Brown take the pressure off? We have learned our lesson. Uncle. We give up. You hold all the cards. Haven't we been punished enough?

        “This is not a penalty,” said Jeff Berding, the Bengals' director of community affairs. “We have sold tickets, sponsorships, club seats on the basis of being in the new stadium by Aug. 19. It's not punitive. It's just to reimburse the club for our costs if this doesn't happen on schedule.”

        Maybe the club should eat some of its costs. Just open wide and take a big gulp. The rest of us will show you how. We've had plenty of practice.

Is anybody talking?
        Democrat Marilyn Hyland, who lost her bid for a commissioner's seat to Tom Neyer Jr. in 1998, asked the commissioners at their regular Wednesday meeting why negotiations have not been reopened with Mike Brown.

        “Is anybody talking to him?” she said.

        Commissioner John Dowlin said, “By mutual agreement, Mr. Brown and I have not spoken for over three years.” That's as close as the commissioner came to saying, “I told you so,” which he is entitled to do.

        As is Tim Mara, the attorney who led the campaign four years ago against raising the sales tax to pay for stadium construction. He said repeatedly that the two stadiums would cost more than the estimate and that the sales tax would be around longer than taxpayers were led to believe. The original estimates sold to taxpayers was $544 million and 20 years.

        “I have never gotten a clear answer to my questions about the cost of this project,” he complained to Bob Bedinghaus at the same meeting.

        The commission president replied that he doesn't know those figures “off the top of my head.” I guess Mr. Bedinghaus is a big-picture guy, not troubled with the small details. But just in case you are worried about the details, Director of Stadium Development Suzanne Burke says the cost will be more than $900 million, and the county's financial adviser Ted Ricci said the bonds for the work are scheduled to be retired around 2033.

        Bob Bedinghaus gives an enormous sigh. Clearly, he is annoyed by the persistent Mr. Mara. Commissioner Tom Neyer appears flushed. And John Dowlin looks as if his bow tie is too tight. The auditor's report is an awful piece of news. County Administrator David Krings is “shocked, saddened and angered.”

        Mr. Bedinghaus is twisting in the wind. “This might mean an end to my career,” he said.

        Meanwhile, Mike Brown is just trying to make a living.

        “The best thing we can do is to give this community a winning team,” Mr. Berding said.

        That'd be nice. But until then, what are you going to do, Mr. Brown, to show us you're on our team? It's a simple question.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com, or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears on WVXU radio, National Public Radio's Morning Edition and Insight's Northern Kentucky Magazine.

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