CINCINNATI – The three Hamilton County commissioners don’t agree on much, but they have learned this:
When you’re dealing with the Bengals, don’t give up your best bargaining chip easily.
So when the Bengals recently offered to make a concession in their control over riverfront construction if the county gave up stadium naming rights and revenues, the commissioners put on their helmets, went into their three-point stances and prepared to hold that line.
"No way," said Chris Monzel.
"It's not something that we need to be giving up," said Todd Portune.
"It really on face value is really a ridiculous request," said Greg Hartmann.
When the Bengals threatened to move in the 1990s and taxpayers built a new football-only stadium to keep them here, the county basically let the team write its own lease – even giving the Bengals power to limit the height of new riverfront buildings.
But the county held onto the stadium naming rights. In 2000, Bengals owner Mike Brown paid $5 million to name it Paul Brown Stadium after his father, the Bengals’ founder and first coach.
Now, Phase Two of The Banks calls for a 10-story building 8 feet higher than the Bengals' lease allows.
If you want a taller building, the Bengals told the county in a letter, you just have to give up naming rights in the final 12 years of the lease.
Publicly, the commissioners say the county might be able to cash in if it sold naming rights to the highest bidder.
Remember Cinergy Field?
The stadium lease requires the county to pay for a new $10 million scoreboard and most of the costs of maintaining the facility. If the county sold the rights, it could use the proceeds to help defray those expenses.
"There's the potential that we could make some money off this,” said Monzel, “and I don't want to give that opportunity up -- especially since the taxpayers have given up so much already to the stadiums."
But there’s no cash bonanza awaiting the county by selling the name, according to Bengals attorney Stuart Dornette. The way the lease is written, a company would have to pay $38 million over 12 years for naming rights before the county gets a penny, Dornette said.
He said such a deal isn't likely, given the small size of the Cincinnati market.
More likely than hoping for a big payoff from selling the name – how does Procter & Gamble Stadium sound? Tide Park? Crest-Fallen Field?– the county is probably hoping to squeeze a better deal out of the Bengals.
Maybe the team would pay for the new scoreboard.
"This is clearly a situation where the taxpayers are not going to give the Bengals something additionally to let us have 8 additional feet in private development," Hartmann said.
Or maybe the Bengals would be good citizens and just let the building go up as planned.
After all, Phase Two of The Banks will run between the Freedom Center and the stadium plaza, benefiting the region and the team, the county says.
"I would hope that the team would reconsider and frankly sign off and build those buildings as what the developers would like to do," Portune said.
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