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Taking Undue Advantage in OTR?

By Stephanie Dunlap · August 24th, 2005 · Porkopolis
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Cincinnati School Board member John Gilligan says he's not interested in handing over unused public school buildings to charter schools.
Jymi Bolden

Cincinnati School Board member John Gilligan says he's not interested in handing over unused public school buildings to charter schools.



Many Over-the-Rhine community members have been ticked off since 3CDC swooped in a year ago and scuttled the 2002 Over-the-Rhine Comprehensive Plan they'd spent four years hashing out for their neighborhood. 3CDC, of course, is the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, the private, nonprofit development entity that local corporate leaders formed in 2003 to jump-start redevelopment in Over-the-Rhine, Fountain Square and the Banks.

One of 3CDC's first moves was to nix the Central Parkway site proposed for a new Washington Park School, which is being relocated as part of Cincinnati Public Schools' 10-year, districtwide facilities overhaul. That plot now goes to the new School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) instead.

Then came a seemingly arbitrary 30-day timeline to scout out a new site for Washington Park School, Ken Jones told his Over-the-Rhine neighbors during an Aug. 17 meeting at Memorial Hall called by community leaders.

"It didn't make a lot of sense, because it took us four years," said Jones, an architect and 33-year resident of Over-the-Rhine.

Those who attended the meeting included representatives from the Pendleton Neighborhood Community Council, the Over-the-Rhine Community Council, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, ReStoc, the Drop Inn Center, local residents and business owners, City Councilman and neighborhood resident Jim Tarbell and even former SCPA student and current mayoral candidate Justin Jeffre.

No one there seemed happy about the process, but they're even more dissatisfied with the site chosen for the displaced Washington Park School -- Mercer Commons, which is comprised of 22 buildings bordered by Vine, Walnut, 13th and 14th streets. Western & Southern Financial Group had been planning to redevelop the site, but it sold the land to Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) instead.

Jones said he saw a story in the Business Courier that indicated CPS paid $1.7 million more for Mercer Commons than Western & Southern had. (A Western & Southern official told the paper that the company sold the development at cost.) That doesn't look good when Western & Southern's president and CEO, John Barrett, sits on 3CDC's board of directors. And that's just one of several calculations Jones thinks don't add up.

He's not alone. Walter Reinhaus, president of the Over-the-Rhine Community Council, and Ty Provosty, president of the Pendleton Community Council, co-signed an Aug. 14 letter urging other community leaders to stay vigilant.

"Do not be fooled or taken in by the rhetoric of politicians who would have you believe that 3CDC corporate leaders have better things to do and are simply generously giving their time to a worthy cause," the letter said. "The companies of board members of 3CDC are benefiting financially through their involvement in OTR. Making money is a good thing as long as undue advantage of the public interest is not taken."

Sniffing for News of School Building Sales
Neighbors also worry for the safety of Washington Park School students, as that stretch between Vine and Walnut streets isn't exactly known for lemonade stands. Jones said CPS believes Mercer Commons is more centrally located than Central Parkway, but school district officials won't respond to Reinhaus' requests to supply the demographic data supporting the claim.

Nor has CPS responded to a letter from Provosty and Reinhaus requesting that it first renovate Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, another CPS elementary school in Over-the-Rhine. And that illustrates a recurring problem: a lack of information and community input.

"We're picking up the vapors and following it like blind dogs," Provosty said.

Like everyone else at the Aug. 17 meeting, Jones wanted to know why Rothenberg can't be renovated for Washington Park's students, saving at least the 22 buildings at Mercer Commons that would have to be demolished.

"The community wants to see Rothenberg built first, and then if there's a need for a new school, which we seriously doubt, we would look for a site," he said. "But to do this and destroy all the historic buildings in the process is ridiculous, and we don't feel that the current demographics support what they want to do."

But what really sparked the Aug. 17 meeting were new threats to Over-the-Rhine's green spaces. Neighborhood residents had recently learned about CPS's fast-tracked plans to sell 16 existing school buildings that won't be rehabbed during the facilities overhaul. It seemed to many that in very short order, with minimal public notice or input, the school board moved to take advantage of a rider attached to the new state budget.

The rider, which expires Dec. 31, allows CPS to sell its surplus buildings to commercial developers without first offering them to charter schools. At the very least it's an obvious way to thwart the growth of charter schools that lure students -- and money -- away from the public school system. School board member John Gilligan makes no bones about that.

"It serves no useful purpose than to promote charter schools at the expense of public schools," he says of the previous requirement.

But if, say, the current SCPA on Sycamore Street is sold to a commercial developer, a prime building spot might not be the aging SCPA building itself but the green space adjacent to it. Both Tarbell and Gilligan have said the school board has no intention of jeopardizing any green space in Over-the-Rhine, but community members are distrustful.

According to longtime Over-the-Rhine boosters Marge and Smith Hammelrath, an unnamed male school board member warned them to act quickly to save those green spaces. Gilligan says it wasn't him, which leaves Rick Williams, who did not return a call for comment.

Porkopolis TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 138) or pork(at)

Cincinnati School Board member John Gilligan says he's not interested in handing over unused public school buildings to charter schools.
Jymi Bolden

Cincinnati School Board member John Gilligan says he's not interested in handing over unused public school buildings to charter schools.



Many Over-the-Rhine community members have been ticked off since 3CDC swooped in a year ago and scuttled the 2002 Over-the-Rhine Comprehensive Plan they'd spent four years hashing out for their neighborhood. 3CDC, of course, is the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, the private, nonprofit development entity that local corporate leaders formed in 2003 to jump-start redevelopment in Over-the-Rhine, Fountain Square and the Banks.

One of 3CDC's first moves was to nix the Central Parkway site proposed for a new Washington Park School, which is being relocated as part of Cincinnati Public Schools' 10-year, districtwide facilities overhaul. That plot now goes to the new School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) instead.

Then came a seemingly arbitrary 30-day timeline to scout out a new site for Washington Park School, Ken Jones told his Over-the-Rhine neighbors during an Aug. 17 meeting at Memorial Hall called by community leaders.

"It didn't make a lot of sense, because it took us four years," said Jones, an architect and 33-year resident of Over-the-Rhine.

Those who attended the meeting included representatives from the Pendleton Neighborhood Community Council, the Over-the-Rhine Community Council, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, ReStoc, the Drop Inn Center, local residents and business owners, City Councilman and neighborhood resident Jim Tarbell and even former SCPA student and current mayoral candidate Justin Jeffre.

No one there seemed happy about the process, but they're even more dissatisfied with the site chosen for the displaced Washington Park School -- Mercer Commons, which is comprised of 22 buildings bordered by Vine, Walnut, 13th and 14th streets. Western & Southern Financial Group had been planning to redevelop the site, but it sold the land to Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) instead.

Jones said he saw a story in the Business Courier that indicated CPS paid $1.7 million more for Mercer Commons than Western & Southern had. (A Western & Southern official told the paper that the company sold the development at cost.) That doesn't look good when Western & Southern's president and CEO, John Barrett, sits on 3CDC's board of directors. And that's just one of several calculations Jones thinks don't add up.

He's not alone. Walter Reinhaus, president of the Over-the-Rhine Community Council, and Ty Provosty, president of the Pendleton Community Council, co-signed an Aug. 14 letter urging other community leaders to stay vigilant.

"Do not be fooled or taken in by the rhetoric of politicians who would have you believe that 3CDC corporate leaders have better things to do and are simply generously giving their time to a worthy cause," the letter said. "The companies of board members of 3CDC are benefiting financially through their involvement in OTR. Making money is a good thing as long as undue advantage of the public interest is not taken."

Sniffing for News of School Building Sales
Neighbors also worry for the safety of Washington Park School students, as that stretch between Vine and Walnut streets isn't exactly known for lemonade stands. Jones said CPS believes Mercer Commons is more centrally located than Central Parkway, but school district officials won't respond to Reinhaus' requests to supply the demographic data supporting the claim.

Nor has CPS responded to a letter from Provosty and Reinhaus requesting that it first renovate Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, another CPS elementary school in Over-the-Rhine. And that illustrates a recurring problem: a lack of information and community input.

"We're picking up the vapors and following it like blind dogs," Provosty said.

Like everyone else at the Aug. 17 meeting, Jones wanted to know why Rothenberg can't be renovated for Washington Park's students, saving at least the 22 buildings at Mercer Commons that would have to be demolished.

"The community wants to see Rothenberg built first, and then if there's a need for a new school, which we seriously doubt, we would look for a site," he said. "But to do this and destroy all the historic buildings in the process is ridiculous, and we don't feel that the current demographics support what they want to do."

But what really sparked the Aug. 17 meeting were new threats to Over-the-Rhine's green spaces. Neighborhood residents had recently learned about CPS's fast-tracked plans to sell 16 existing school buildings that won't be rehabbed during the facilities overhaul. It seemed to many that in very short order, with minimal public notice or input, the school board moved to take advantage of a rider attached to the new state budget.

The rider, which expires Dec. 31, allows CPS to sell its surplus buildings to commercial developers without first offering them to charter schools. At the very least it's an obvious way to thwart the growth of charter schools that lure students -- and money -- away from the public school system. School board member John Gilligan makes no bones about that.

"It serves no useful purpose than to promote charter schools at the expense of public schools," he says of the previous requirement.

But if, say, the current SCPA on Sycamore Street is sold to a commercial developer, a prime building spot might not be the aging SCPA building itself but the green space adjacent to it. Both Tarbell and Gilligan have said the school board has no intention of jeopardizing any green space in Over-the-Rhine, but community members are distrustful.

According to longtime Over-the-Rhine boosters Marge and Smith Hammelrath, an unnamed male school board member warned them to act quickly to save those green spaces. Gilligan says it wasn't him, which leaves Rick Williams, who did not return a call for comment.

Porkopolis TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 138) or pork(at)citybeat.com

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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