Hamilton County Issues Letters To The Cincinnati Bengals (And The Reds) To Shave Improvement And Maintenance Costs For Both Stadiums

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The Wall Street Journal called Hamilton County's lease with Paul Brown Stadium one of the worst deals in professional sports. Brian Frederick, Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition, called it the "worst deal ever for the public"; though we have to point out it was the public that voted for it. Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young said that there's no way "I believe that the taxpayers of Hamilton County, the taxpayers of Cincinnati should be giving any more welfare to the Bengals."

"There are people in this county who pay taxes who will never see a football game and can't afford to get to the stadium. Big time fans, but when the Bengals don't sell out, these people continue to pay for the stadium and they can't even watch the game on TV."

Earlier this year the Cincinnati Bengals demanded concessions from Hamilton County that included an extension to the current lease "by up to 20 years" with the county government paying for all of the stadium's upkeep and improvements. Hamilton County recently declined a vote for a scoreboard upgrade that would cost taxpayers $300,000, but approved it two weeks later. Why? Because of advice from county lawyers out of fear of being sued by the team.

County Commissioner Todd Portune proposed a new tax that could increase ticket prices as much as $14 in the hopes to generate some revenue for the fledging county. This prompted him to help build the Citizen's League Against Subsidized Sports -- an initiative designed to restore fiscal sanity to the relationship between professional teams and the communities that host them.

All the while in late July Mike Brown said of County's financial problems:

"We made a deal with the county. We’ve lived up to it and we expect them to live up to their end of it. The reason why there’s a shortfall in the tax receipts doesn’t have anything to do with us. There’s nothing we can do to remedy that – the shortfall in the tax receipts and that’s a reflection I think of the economy.

The other thing that I could tell you that created a problem is when we moved the stadium west. We were originally ticketed to be built next to the suspension bridge and the result of moving the stadium west is literally a $150-plus million. That wasn’t our decision. We asked them not to do that. We thought it could create a problem. No one ever talks about that. That too is something is beyond our ability to correct.

I would have to tell you that the county’s problem with both stadiums, it just isn’t this stadium, is the sales tax revenue that has fallen short of where it was programmed. It is an amount of money that neither we or the Reds can make good. They are going to have to figure out some other way."

With the county's budgetary problems continuing, the commissioners are at the stage of begging with both professional sports teams. In letters acquired by the Cincinnati Enquirer from Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman to both teams, the County, facing a $14 million deficit in the Sales Tax Fund, is hoping to reduce projected capital maintenance with both stadiums by at least $16 million over the next five years:

"Finally, the funding model for the Sale Tax Fund last year included, for the first time, potential capital maintenance for Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park totaling $24 million between the years 2011 and 2015," writes Sigman in a letter addressed to Bob Bedinghaus, the Director of Business Development for the Cincinnati Bengals. "Due to limited financial resources the County cannot fund this level of capital maintenance. To keep the Sales Tax Fund balanced with an appropriate reserve the capital maintenance budget needs to total no more than $8 million for both stadiums from 2011-2015".

Sigman goes one step further requesting that only $6 million be used for improvement and enhancements for both stadiums for five years, leaving money for reserves, concluding:

"I look forward to the Bengals' response. My hope is that a long-term solution is adopted by all parties and this issue can be removed from media sensationalism permanently. Both the County and teams have much more pressing issues and strategic opportunities to address."

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