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Voters to Pay for New Turf


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Stadium clause tosses turf cost to taxpayers

By Cindi Andrews

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The decision by the Cincinnati Bengals to switch from grass to artificial turf will likely throw taxpayers for a loss.

A clause in the team's Paul Brown Stadium lease says new technology adopted by the team - plastic grass, video screens, ticketless entry or some other high-tech gizmo - must be paid for by Hamilton County once other teams adopt it.

Specifically, the clause kicks in when 14 teams buy the new technology, or when just seven buy it with public money.

The Bengals will pay upfront for the new turf, as the eight clubs that have installed the 2-year-old technology so far used a mix of funding sources. But the county must repay team owner Mike Brown when the threshold is reached, regardless of how long that takes.

Installing the new turf is expected to cost $500,000 to $1 million. That could be comparable to the county's current maintenance costs of a little over $100,000 a year for resodding, painting and other grass-related expenses.

But that depends on how long the new turf lasts and what it costs to maintain.

Virtually everyone agrees the new turf will be an improvement over the grass - which keeps dying - and the hard AstroTurf long used in domed stadiums. The longer, more grassy-looking plastic blades pose less risk of player injuries and can take repeated poundings.

That means the county-owned stadium can be opened more often to college and high school football teams, not to mention their marching bands.

"I feel good that the players are going to be better protected from injury and that other events are going to be able to use the field," County Commissioner Phil Heimlich said.

What he feels decidedly unwell about is the clause that gives the turf decision to the Bengals but the bill, ultimately, to the county.

"I have no doubt in my mind taxpayers are going to have to pick up the tab," Heimlich said. "The lease is like the Energizer bunny, you know how it keeps going and going? Well, we keep paying and paying."

Domed stadiums such as those in Indianapolis and Minneapolis are likely to switch to the new-generation artificial turf when their older AstroTurf gives out, Assistant County Administrator Eric Stuckey said. The threshold that forces the county to pay will be reached within a couple of years, he predicted.

County administrators have been setting aside $1 million a year in sales tax revenue for upgrades and repairs. Money for the turf will come from that pot, which has reached almost $3 million, Stuckey said.

Since the county owns the stadium, it has a vested interest in keeping the facility in good shape, he said.

Still, among the seven teams that got new stadiums between 1998 and 2001, the Bengals got the most generous deal for technology upgrades. Teams pay in three cases, and there's a ceiling on taxpayers' cost in the other three.

"I'm just amazed and mystified," said Stu Mahlin, a taxpayer who lives in Hyde Park. "If everybody else in the world is using an Apple computer and then we choose one, does that mean we get it for free?"

The Bengals, meanwhile, say their decision was based on what Coach Marvin Lewis and the players wanted - not who pays.

"If a provision of the lease kicks in later, fine. If it doesn't, fine," team spokesman Jack Brennan said. "Our coaches feel this is the best thing for an overall winning environment."

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Did the voters in cincy' even read what all they would be paying for..? Seems to me, every since that stadium was built,there has been some type of fallout about what the costs woulda ,shoulda, coulda, etc. etc.

I blame City Council for this, they're the ones that should have seen this.. which I'm sure they did.

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