In this latest Who Dey Perspective, the Bengals ask readers to consider a different view on a recent media item:
This past Tuesday (May 31), The Enquirer ran a story giving local attorney Tim Mara credit for his 1996 opposition to Hamilton County Issue 1, a sales tax increase that voters approved by a comfortable margin, providing funding for the Reds and Bengals stadia. The story’s stance was in stark opposition to The Enquirer’s position in 1996, when it endorsed the stadium funding plan as a way for Cincinnati to stay current with other cities. At that time, The Enquirer prominently played its own analysis deeming the Bengals lease as eminently fair, and it also ran a classic editorial cartoon -- of a vacant riverfront and the sign "Welcome to Nowhereville, Ohio, Tim Mara, Mayor.”
If The Enquirer has forgotten all that and now wants to say Tim Mara was “right,” so be it. But The Enquirer should then tell the whole story and acknowledge that, to the extent Mr. Mara is now “right,” it is for very different reasons than his arguments 15 years ago.
The thrust of the Enquirer story of this past Tuesday was to validate Mr. Mara for his contention that Issue 1 was “a sweetheart deal for the teams, especially the Bengals, but a very bad deal for taxpayers.”
In truth, the Bengals signed essentially a standard NFL lease, and the Reds signed a standard MLB lease. And the County’s current funding problems stem not from the leases, but from the County’s subsequent decisions to use the stadium fund for projects that have nothing to do with the stadia – stretching the fund far beyond the purposes that voters approved. If nothing else had happened besides those leases and the new riverfront stadiums that they built, finances would not be a problem today and the story would end there.
But the story doesn’t end there. The facts are that Hamilton County—to quote Auditor Dusty Rhodes—has suffered “scope creep” with its use of the limited dollars coming in for stadia, and this scope creep has put County finances at risk. Over the past decade, Hamilton County has:
» Dedicated more than $10 million toward the Ft. Washington Way highway project.
» Elected to purchase approximately $100 million worth of privately owned riverfront property to foster further downtown development
» Decided to subsidize The Banks development projects.
» Doubled the County’s commitment for Cincinnati Public Schools from $5 million per year (as was originally agreed upon) to over $10 million per year.
These decisions have cost more than $200 million to date, will cost many more millions going into the future, and this list does not even include a host of smaller decisions that together add up to significant money.
There are, of course, real benefits that have resulted from some of the decisions. Cincinnati Public Schools have more resources, there is excitement at the opening of housing and new restaurants at The Banks, and there is a new park about to open on the riverfront. But the point here is that the decisions to fund those public projects were not made by the voters, and they were not made by the sports teams (who benefit very little from them). They were made by Hamilton County politicians.
And rather than acknowledge that they made the bed they now sleep in, some of these politicians now seek the dodge of blaming the sports teams and sports fans for their own decisions.
In our opinion, The Enquirer has missed this very big story for years. But as for the now-lionized Mr. Mara, if he is now “right,” it is for the wrong reasons.
Jack Brennan has been Bengals public relations director since 1994. He has been a Cincinnati resident since 1983, when he began a 10-year Queen City stint as a sports writer, first with the Cincinnati Post and later with the Enquirer.
(*Note: To see archived versions of The Who Dey Perspective, click here.)