Has it really been seven years since Bob Bedinghaus scribbled out a sales tax plan in his kitchen to build new stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds? Since Tim Mara started a petition drive that forced the plan onto the ballot? Since county voters passed the tax increase, setting us on a path that — for better and for worse — has changed this region forever?
We're reminded of the seven-year process as 2002 winds down with two noteworthy events: Hamilton County Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr. leaves office and Cinergy Field is about to be imploded. (See The Seven-Year Scratch for the complete timeline.)
Neyer was one of three Republican commissioners responsible for the tax plan, lease arrangements with the teams, stadium site decisions and/or construction oversight of both projects. He took office in 1997 after Bedinghaus and Guy Guckenberger spearheaded the sales tax increase and had hired consultants to help the county sell the idea of building both stadiums on the riverfront.
When Guckenberger left the commission for a judgeship, Neyer came on board and voted with Bedinghaus to build the baseball stadium at "The Wedge" rather than at Broadway Commons. A public vote in 1998 backed their riverfront choice.
With Bedinghaus' election loss to Todd Portune in 2000 and Neyer opting not to run for re-election this year, the decision-makers have left the building.
We'll live with their decisions for at least the next 34 years — the length of time it's now calculated to pay off the stadium construction debt. (See The Bucks Stop Where? on page 23.)
Forget for a minute what Cincinnati circa 2036 will have to show for this legacy; what do we have now? First and foremost, we have two professional sports franchises that refuse to use the new stadiums to help themselves win — which is the only thing we really asked these private businesses to do in return for public financing. (See Unfinished Business on page 22.)
The feeling of being duped by the Bengals and the Reds, along with major missteps along the construction path, has left the public in a sour mood. A horrible lease arrangement with the Bengals gave the team too much control over the riverfront and led to a hurry-up building process, which contributed mightily to scandalous cost overruns at Paul Brown Stadium. Tightening the screws on the second go-round led to cost caps at Great American Ball Park, which resulted in a disappointingly bland design.
And so Cincinnatians, who hold baseball's oldest franchise in a special place in their hearts, are left with a blah ball park wedged up against US Bank Arena while a humungous football palace hosts what's probably the worst organization in pro sports. And the man who orchestrated the whole deal, Bedinghaus, now does consulting work for the Bengals.
Frustrated and embarrassed, we take it out on others. We fail to back public works projects that would benefit the entire public — better transit systems, better schools, public funding of the arts — because our 1996 public works vote backfired and because the people we trusted to spend our money wisely let us down.
We got burned, the riverfront remained undeveloped, the rich men who own the Bengals and the Reds got richer and the political leaders who ran the show walked away to further their careers elsewhere.
And, come Dec. 29, poor old Riverfront Stadium/ Cinergy Field — the concrete bowl that performed its duty as directed — gets imploded in a publicity stunt.
Can we just blow up the other two and start over?