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Copping an attitude about OTR, Playhouse looks Downtown again

By Kevin Osborne · December 5th, 2007 · Porkopolis
  Playhouse in the Park now has a second alternative location under consideration.
Cincinnati Playhouse

Playhouse in the Park now has a second alternative location under consideration.

A turf war between Cincinnati Police and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office could help decide who leads the city's police union next year. In an effort to make it a major issue in the campaign, Police Officer Don Meece, who is challenging incumbent Kathy Harrell for the presidency of the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, is emphasizing which candidate proclaims his or her opposition the loudest to the sheriff's office patrolling Over-the-Rhine and other city neighborhoods. In a mass e-mail sent to union members last week, Meece sharply criticized Harrell -- the local FOP's first-ever female president -- for speaking out publicly against the deputy patrols in a Nov. 28 Cincinnati Enquirer article only because the election is approaching.

Meece credits the Cincinnati Police Department's Vortex unit for reducing crime in Over-the-Rhine and is upset that the media has given credit to the sheriff's office.

"When elected president I will make damn sure that the citizens of this town know that it is the men and women of the Cincinnati Police Department who brought crime down -- not Simon Leis!" the e-mail said.

Meece assured fellow officers that he wasn't blaming deputies for their intrusion onto Cincinnati's streets.

"Let me make clear that I am not in any way disparaging our brothers and sisters in the HCSO (sheriff's office)," he wrote. "They have been given a tough assignment. They have been asked to go into someone else's back yard and told to 'play nice.' They are pawns in a bigger political 'chess game' that is being played out between our county and city governments. Sheriff Leis and Hamilton County Commissioners should be ashamed of the way they have treated these guys.

It's not fair to them and it's not fair to us. I made this an important part of my campaign because I am sick and tired of the media portraying Sheriff Simon Leis as the 'savior' of Over-the-Rhine."

Better Pay and Fancier Theaters
With Cincinnati's municipal workers being told the tired old corporate-speak about "doing more with less" because of deficits and some city programs facing cuts in the new year, there's plenty of grumbling in City Hall about City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. getting a 7 percent salary increase. Cincinnati City Council unanimously approved the pay hike, which means Dohoney will get about $12,950 more next year. The amount -- more than three times the raise that most city workers will receive -- was recommended by Mayor Mark Mallory, who selected Dohoney for the job last year.

Dohoney's recommended city budget adjustment for 2008 includes 2 percent salary increases for employees not represented by unions and some higher pay hikes for unionized workers that were agreed to in contract negotiations. Of all full-time city employees, more than 91 percent belong to unions and less than 9 percent are non-represented.

Defending the high percentage given to Dohoney during a press conference, the mayor said, "I feel very strongly in paying people what they're worth."

As one city employee said Wednesday after council's vote, "If they're going to give the city manager this kind of raise, then every employee who does a great job should get a 7 percent raise."

Dohoney, who was hired in August 2006, now receives $185,000 per year. That amount is $9,000 more than the starting salary given to his predecessor, Valerie Lemmie, when she was hired in 2002.

* * * * *

Facing stalled negotiations about building a facility at the long vacant site at Fifth and Race streets downtown, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park is now considering a move one block east to a new structure that would be built atop the Macy's department store overlooking Fountain Square. Fifth Third Bank has the development rights to build on top of Macy's, and a company vice president says it's reviewing the feasibility of allowing the Playhouse and Children's Theatre of Cincinnati to be part of a new project there.

"It's very preliminary discussions that started about a week ago," said William Moran, Fifth Third's senior vice president for corporate facilities who serves on the Playhouse's board of trustees.

Playhouse in the Park currently performs at a two-theater facility in Mount Adams it leases from the Cincinnati Park Board, while the Children's Theatre rents space at Taft Theatre downtown.

Jack Rouse, a local businessman who also sits on the Playhouse�s board, said members want to make a decision on any relocation by the end of the first quarter in 2008.

"This idea sort of bubbled up after some of us remembered that 'wasn't that thing built with the capability to build something above it?"

Playhouse trustees this spring began holding discussions with Eagle Realty, the real estate unit of Western & Southern Financial Group, which has development rights to Fifth and Race. After months of talks with Eagle yielded no progress, however, trustees began scouting new locations and recently took interest in the Macy's site.

"We're looking to see if it's feasible for those theater venues to go there," said Moran, who also serves on the Playhouse's board of trustees. "Now we have to see if that design can be changed to accommodate those venues."

Meanwhile, Eagle Realty still holds the development rights at Fifth and Race. The company's option expired in August and, at Eagle's request, the city has renewed it about every 30 days since then. The latest extension expires Dec. 7.

"We've been (renewing it) as discussions move along," said spokeswoman Meg Olberding.

Eagle unveiled preliminary drawings last summer of a mixed-use project it wants to build there but hasn't given any more documents to the city since.

"We've had discussions since then but, to my knowledge, they haven't submitted an updated plan," Olberding said.

For more information on city and county politics, check out CityBeat's Porkopolis blog at blogs.citybeat.com/Porkopolis.

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