Leave it to Cincinnati to turn a field of dreams into Quagmire Commons.
The mere suggestion of a different site for a new Bengals stadium has made way too many people hear a voice whispering:
If you build it - somewhere other than on the river - they won't come.
They need to take a crash course in astronomy. The world does not revolve around Cincinnati's riverfront.
And it shouldn't.
The whispering started last week. It was triggered by Bob Bedinghaus, Hamilton County Commission president and stadium-tax author. He caught much of the city off-guard by announcing that the Bengals' new stadium might not be built on the riverfront. Taxpayers may remember this facility. It's one of two new stadiums to be built with our pennies from a voter-approved half-cent sales tax.
The commissioner's announcement meant that the Bengals' stadium might not go next to the new Reds ballpark. Furthermore, it might not be part of a mega-sports complex of two stadiums and Reds and Bengals halls of fame, plus restaurants and bars, that would keep fans coming down to the riverfront year-round, not just on game days.
Instead, the Bengals stadium might fit on a chunk of land called Broadway Commons. This Eggleston Avenue property - proposed as a home for the Reds until the team passed on the offer - has languished for decades. It's bordered by parking lots, Interstate 71, crime-ridden Over-the-Rhine, the Greyhound bus station, Mount Adams' hillsides and the county jail. Even better, the site is close by the bustling Backstage and Main Street entertainment districts.
Sounds like an ideal place to take in a game of football.
Mike Brown thinks not. "The site is unacceptable," the Bengals' owner declared in his Spinney Field office.
Then, he opened a window of opportunity. "I'm not going to be bull-headed about this," he said. "I'm going to listen to the debate."
Everyone should be more like Mike. Downtown's future is at stake.
In downtown development, location rules. Whether it's an $82 million arts center or a $250 million football stadium, where you put it is essential. Pick the right spot and the voices whispering "build it and they will come" grow louder.
Those voices take their cues from a complicated mix of facts and politics.
"As long as politicians are in the picture on any project around here," says Dan Staton, CEO of the Cincinnati Development Group, builders of Fountain Place, attention must be paid to "developing Over-the-Rhine."
A stadium at Broadway Commonscould do just that. Since the Cleveland Indians' Jacobs Field opened, 91 million redevelopment dollars have poured into the stadium's neighborhood. The money has gone to clean up and modernize an aging former high-crime, red-light district. Sounds like Over-the-Rhine.
But then, Jacobs Field is a baseball stadium. It's used throughout the week, 81 times a season. A Bengals stadium will be in use 10 Sundays a year (eight games plus two exhibitions).
"That's why you need to do a study on its impact," Dan Staton adds. "Check out the parking, the businesses in the area and the neighborhood. Ask the people who buy the tickets, will they come there? It could be done in a month. Then you'll know if it would work. Right now, you're working in the dark."
What bothers me about Broadway Commons - for baseball or football - is that it takes some of the focus away from developing the riverfront west of the Suspension Bridge. Since Riverfront Stadium opened in 1970, it's been the same thing for 26 years: parking lots, warehouses, and pretty semis parked all in a row.
If this is downtown's front yard, it's decorated with a rusty old truck up on concrete blocks.
True, Broadway Commons deserves to be explored. And it must be done in a manner that's aboveboard and open-minded.
Conduct studies. Don't waste time or money campaigning for sites that some important people like but that might not work in the city's best interest.
But don't forget the riverfront in the process. As the voices of Mike Brown and Bob Bedinghaus both said to me:
We have only one chance to develop downtown. Let's make sure we do it right.
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax to 768-8340.