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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Two Pro Sports Stadiums For Sale In Cincinnati: If There's A Buyer, County Will Sell

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A move to temporarily raise Hamilton County's sales tax died at today's commissioners' meeting. Officials then acknowledged they were open to selling Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals play, and Great American Ball Park, home of Cincinnati Reds. The county is facing a $27 million dollar deficit next year in the fund that is dedicated to paying off stadium construction costs. The deficit is estimated at $93 million by 2014. Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, who proposed the sales tax hike, told The Daily Bellwether both sites on the Ohio River could be sold. The problem is finding a buyer.

"We'd consider it. We don't have a sign up. The problem is the same one we have. Anybody that looks at this steps into a sea of red ink," Portune said. He said outside investment groups were welcome to talk about a deal. He said they could come from China, Saudi Arabia or anywhere if they are interested in trying to make a deal. "If they bought them, they would basically inherit the same problems we have."

Portune said the slow economy and stadium funding issues are draining the county and deepening a serious financial crisis. He said Hamilton County has already cut 1,500 employees and $62 million in spending. "It is bad. The problems are real. The crisis is present," he said during a public hearing on the proposed sales tax hike. After the hearing, he said the county approached the Bengals and offered Paul Brown Stadium to the NFL team. The county's lease terms -- negotiated in the 1990s -- are so favorable to the pro football franchise that it wouldn't even negotiate. He said the Reds might be approachable, but didn't hold out much hope: "That all sounds good. It makes a nice soundbite. We know the teams aren't going to buy the stadiums. We've gone down that path. It takes a willing buyer."

The county does plan to seek another $7.55 million from the State of Ohio for stadium expenses. It contends Hamilton County was promised $81 million, or 15% of total construction costs for the pro sports facilities on the Ohio River. So far, lawmakers have delivered $73.45 million. A county memo to state officials points out the promise remains unfulfilled: "While we fully understand that the General Assembly that made the $81 million commitment was composed of legislators who are no longer in office, at the same time Hamilton County constructed a financing play on the basis of that commitment with a reasonable expectation that it would be fulfilled. We understand the state has financial problems of its own, and would appreciate any assistance the state may offer at this point."

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