Wednesday, March 20, 1996
Now it's time to ante up cooperation

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati bought its future Tuesday. And, it only cost half a penny.

What a bargain.

The voters of the city and Hamilton County passed by a landslide - 61 percent to 39 percent, with 93 percent of the precincts reporting - a half cent on the dollar increase in the sales tax. By giving so little, we're going to get so much.

The tax will pay $544.2 million to build two new stadiums on the riverfront and create jobs while contributing $10 million a year to Cincinnati Public Schools and giving rebates on property taxes.

That's a lot.

But it's only money.

We need one more ingredient in this mix to make it a complete success. It's something this area hasn't seen in 30 years, since the days when the first stadium on the riverfront was being planned and built. That missing component is the double-edged essence of every successful urban undertaking: cooperation and forward thinking.

No tax, no matter how many half pennies it collects, can ever buy cooperation. No levy can cover the cost of forward thinking. They are something every Greater Cincinnatian must give for free.

To cooperate and to think ahead won't cost a thing. But the rewards they'll bring in are incalculable. Cooperation and foresight will link what this city has accomplished in its first two centuries with what it will blossom into in the next.

Pay up, and thanks

It's no secret, certain unpleasant money matters still must be attended to. Marge Schott owes the city $4.2 million in back rent for Riverfront Stadium. Yet, she says the city will owe her $7.1 million come April 15. This disagreement has to be resolved. Now.

Next, Marge must ante up her portion of a new stadium for the Reds. It's her team. She's the majority owner. She stands to make the most money from this venture. We, the taxpayers, are building a new stadium for her and footing most of the bill. It's time she gave her fair share.

Mike Brown already has. He's pledged $25 million to $35 million toward building a new football home for the Bengals. That's more than fair. It's more cash than the combined owners of the football teams in Atlanta, Baltimore, Jacksonville and St. Louis paid for their new stadiums. In fact, a half penny would be more. Those other owners didn't pay a thing.

Marge and Mike also must sign long-term leases to keep their teams in town and on the riverfront. ''Forever'' is the term I'd prefer to see in writing.

Big business must make a commitment, too. Stop pinching those pennies until Lincoln's beard is rubbed off. Start spending them to buy the stadiums' luxury boxes. Remember what they say about money talking and baloney walking. You don't want to be caught on the cheap end of that argument.

Come together

The stadium tax was hotly debated. Battle lines were drawn between those seeking a major-league future and the CHEAPsters.

That's over. The tax levy has passed. Now's the time to come together and work toward the future. Act now. Don't debate this to death. Or it will turn into Fountain Square West II. And no one wants a sequel to that fiasco.

This two-stadium complex can be Cincinnati's crowning glory, a showcase for its riverfront. But we must be smart about it.

The new stadiums can't be stand-alone projects, as Riverfront Stadium is. They have to be joined. But not by the parking lots and warehouses that currently line the Ohio River's northern side. Connect the stadiums with hotels and housing, clubs and restaurants, a Reds museum, a Bengals walk of fame. And, if the flood plain allows, create a man-made bay, stock it with boats on the water and, on its shore, the home of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Link the entire riverfront with a streetcar from Fountain Square. Bring everyone downtown. Make them feel welcome. Encourage them to have a good time. And, even, spend money.

This can happen here. This is no pipe dream.

It's already happening around the new ballparks in Baltimore, Denver and Cleveland. And not one of those towns can brag about being the most livable city in North America.

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 at 768-8340.