Friday, February 7, 1997
Coliseum deal is worth the investment

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Riverfront Coliseum is about to change hands. How the deal goes down will say a lot about the future of downtown Cincinnati.

The hang-up in this long-awaited sale, sources tell me, is whether the building should remain on the river.

Sound familiar?

It's the stadium shell game, spreading up and down our side of the Ohio.

Here's what I keep hearing from those in the know at City Hall, Cincinnati's arenas and the courthouse:

Announcement of the coliseum's sale, talked about for months, is imminent. Maybe as early as Monday. But when it comes to big bucks moving downtown, nothing is imminent until the day after the papers are signed.

The deal described to me is this:

Doug Kirchhofer, the Cincinnati Cyclones' owner, is one of the buyers. Owning the coliseum would let him move his popular minor-league hockey team downtown from Cincinnati Gardens.

The Cyclones' partner would be the Nederlander Organization.

This is the Michigan-based concert and theater production company that has spent the last 13 years bringing shows to Riverbend. Its Cincinnati office also decides what goes on the stages of the Taft Theater and, starting this year, Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field and Jammin' on Main.

Nederlander would own a chunk of the building as well, sources say, and manage it by booking events - concerts, family shows, truck and tractor pulls - into the 22-year-old arena.

The two principal owners would pay for much-needed renovations, I'm told. Various people put the price tag for fixing up the coliseum at $10 million to $16 million.

Money talks, money grumbles

But here's the hang-up that's kept the deal on hold:

There's a third party in the deal, and it's Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI), the non-profit organization formed to keep downtown from becoming a ghost town, and its Cincinnati Equity Fund.

According to my sources, the powers behind DCI haven't been able to sign off on the equity fund loan that would complete this deal. Seems there's a three-way split among downtown's movers and shakers as to the coliseum's future.

One view is that a renovated coliseum, even if it costs $16 million, sounds a heck of a lot better than building a state-of-the-art arena, probably next to the Albert B. Sabin Convention Center, for $100 million.

Others are less comfortable forking over a large sum of money. They want the new owners to make a go of the coliseum on their own.

Still others just want to wreck the coliseum and clear the way for a new Reds stadium.

Strike now ... ; Newport beckons

Cincinnati's honchos better get on the stick. Seal the deal, and make sure we have a top-notch arena for sports and entertainment events somewhere downtown.

If the deal goes down as I'm told, the coliseum stays and gets a makeover. And we get a strong, new downtown partnership.

The Cyclones and Nederlander as co-owners would give the building something it has never had, the stability of two live-in landlords. Both have the same vested interest in putting people in the seats for sporting events and concerts.

The Cyclones would be their own tenant. Their schedule would put winter dates on a Coliseum calendar that's been blank for decades.

As the owners' in-house concert booker, Nederlander would not sit back and hope that the phone rings with outside promoters bringing in one concert at a time. Nederlander would actively book the arena as it does Riverbend. Concerts would be presented in blocks; series tickets could be sold. There would be a lot of top national acts in town all year round.

But for now, we wait. Wait for the money men to settle their disputes. Wait for some leadership as to where downtown is going.

All this talking and waiting has Newport dangling the possibility of turning a 19-acre public housing complex across the river into the site of a new arena.

Let's hope the show goes on ... downtown.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax 768-8340.