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by Anthony Skeens 04.22.2014
Posted In: Mayor, News at 04:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
parkway

New Bikeway Proposal Could Cost Additional $110,000

Vice Mayor Mann set to introduce motion to save parking spaces

The city’s cost of a long-planned piece of cycling infrastructure could more than double if City Council approves a motion Vice Mayor David Mann planned to introduce on April 23. 

Mayor John Cranley successfully paused the Central Parkway Bikeway Project for public discourse in response to a handful of business owners and residents taking exception to it, and a spokesman for Mann shared his suggested compromise with CityBeat today.

In response to an April 21 special Neighborhoods Committee meeting, Mann seeks to alter the bike route to appease people who don’t want to see parking spaces removed, but the updated plan will cost an additional $110,00 on top of the $82,600 the city would pay under the original plan, which would create the beginning of a cycling corridor running from Elm Street downtown to Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. The project was supposed to break ground next month and could lose $330,400 in federal money if the contract isn’t awarded by May 1. 

“We routinely spend hundreds of thousands of dollars as a city to create new jobs in our community,” Mann said in a statement. “We should not approve a new project that places 60 newly created jobs in jeopardy when such a sensible accommodation is available.”

The planned bikeway is an innovative piece of cycling infrastructure meant to better protect cyclists along a critical thoroughfare that would connect a number of inner-city neighborhoods and business districts. The lane will be protected, meaning cyclists will have their own lane with a buffer separating them from traffic; in some areas plastic bollards will separate the bike and automobile lanes. The street will not be widened, so traffic lanes will be impacted through restriping, and parking will be restricted during peak traffic hours in the morning and evening. 

Opponents of the project are concerned about losing public, on-street parking for parts of the day as well as potentially encountering traffic issues from shaving lanes from Brighton Place to Liberty Street. They also worry the bollards will become a blight issue and emergency vehicles will be impeded during one-lane hours.

Mann’s motion supports an alternative plan for a section running from Ravine Street to Brighton Place that would preserve 23 parking spaces full-time, alter 4,300 square feet of greenspace and remove 15 trees at an estimated cost of $110,000. The parking spaces would benefit a building owner and his tenants at 2145 Central Parkway. 

City Councilman Chris Seelbach and others demonstrated frustration with the administration’s interest in stepping in at the 11th hour. 

“I think we have reached a new era in Cincinnati: two steps forward, pause, lots of long meetings, two steps forward, and I’m convinced after the pause and lots of long meetings, we will continue to go two steps forward today,” Seelbach said at the April 21 meeting. 

Mayor Cranley requested City Manager Scott Stiles delay awarding a contract after meeting with local business owner Tim Haines, who purchased a vacant building located at 2145 Central Parkway in 2012 for $230,000. His building now houses 65 employees from 12 different businesses including his own, Relocation Strategies. Haines has become a mouthpiece for the opposition to the bikeway — though he adamantly states he is not against the lane; he is just against the project’s current incarnation as it affects Central Parkway near his business, which utilizes 500 feet of on-street, unmetered parking, which translates to 30 parking spaces.

“If parking wasn’t an issue, I would open up my arms and welcome the bike path,” Haines says. “Parking for my 65 tenants is in jeopardy. As a business owner I have to fight for my tenants. … Could they park and walk a quarter of a mile? They could, but that’s not what they signed up for when they moved in.”

Haines has a 16-space parking lot adjacent to his building that some of his tenants use and also owns a parking lot across the street that is in disrepair. Haines says he already cleared it of underbrush to cut down criminal activity and disposed of dozens of tires and beer bottles. He says it would cost up to $300,000 to upgrade the lot. 

During the April 21 presentation, Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) Director Michael Moore presented the committee with an alternative recently developed with Cranley’s office that he said would appease Haines and his tenants but would cost more money. Moore pushed the notion that the alternative creates a more balanced bikeway plan.

The original plan, passed by council last year, restricts parking in front of Haines’ building from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Moore’s alternative, which Mann is on board with, is to ramp the bike lane over the curb adjacent to a sidewalk where there is currently a tree-lined area in front of Haines’ building and another business in order to preserve public parking full-time. 

At the meeting, council member Young took exception to the suggestion of changing the project at this point.  

“For the life of me, I don’t see where the reasonableness and the balance is with people who come so far after the fact that want us to make these changes and the dollar amount it’s going to cost the taxpayers to get it done,” Young said. “I am appalled that people can come after the fact and tie up all these people down here to simply want accommodations for them.”

Mann shared another perspective.

“There’s a gentleman who has brought 60 jobs to the city, including some folks who have Parkinson’s and use the building, and the proposal that’s being made seems to me to represent balance,” Mann said. “We spend millions of dollars, typically, to support development, to support jobs, and you’re saying that the proposal that was originally approved by this council without a hearing like this is so pristine that it cant be adjusted in any way, and if it’s adjusted that is a statement of imbalance? I just don’t follow that.”

For the past year and a half, DOTE conducted surveys, sought public input and developed plans for the bikeway. After a strong consensus, the department chose the protected bikeway plan. The bikeway is estimated to add just three seconds of motorist commute time by 2030, though some naysayers suggest that delivery trucks will clog the lanes and the turn left from Ravine Street will create an even longer lag. 

Community outreach for the design began in March of last year with eight community council meetings. Letters were mailed to residents, businesses and property owners, but Haines and several other business owners stated they didn’t receive any and weren’t aware of the project until late last year. 

A website designed for public feedback also garnered about 600 messages mainly supporting the bikeway project. DOTE held an open house last September and the Over-The-Rhine and Northside community councils, Findlay Market and Northside Business Association endorsed the project. 

Simpson expressed frustration with halting progress for a last-minute meeting.

“I don’t think that’s an appropriate process,” she said. “Really, technically you can go over everything over the past two years. The reality is we need to look forward. If we want to be less auto-focused and more focused on other types of transit, we’re going to have to ruffle a couple of feathers.”

Supporters — some who biked to the April 21 meeting and utilized a bike valet setup in front of City Hall — represented various groups of the community from health and community councils to business owners and cyclists. Their number doubled opponents — mainly business owners along Central Parkway in the West End and the West End Community Council, though some West End residents and business owners supported the original bikeway plan.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 04.09.2014
Posted In: News at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
transparency map

Ohio Ranks Poorly in Government Transparency

Options for tracking government spending rank higher than only four states in the U.S.

Ohio scored fifth-worst in a nationwide government transparency survey conducted by a national consumer group focused on investigating and advocating for American citizens against powerful interest groups.

The group gave Ohio a “D-” ranking after its government spending transparency website earned 51 points out of 100 in U.S. Public Interest Research Group's fifth annual “Following the Money” report. 

“Ohio’s been kind of sinking through the ratings year by year,” says Phineas Baxendall, a U.S. PIRG senior policy analyst and co-author of the report released on Tuesday. “It used to do much better, which doesn’t mean they’re dismantling their transparency systems. It just means our standards get tougher each year and they’re more staying in place while other states are improving.”

Ohio’s the only state in the nation that doesn’t offer certain customizable search options including bid award recipients, keywords, agency and bulk download searches. Ohio’s poor score follows three years of ranking in the bottom half of the study.  

Researchers look for transparency websites to be comprehensive, one-stop and offer simple search formats. 

The nation as a whole is moving toward a more transparent approach to documenting government spending. Since PIRG began the study, all six categories it uses to compile rankings have shown an increase in states performing specific duties. The largest leaps in the past five years involve showing how a project benefits from taxpayer subsidies, which has seen an increase from two to 33 states, and how tax money is spent with an increase from eight to 44 states. All states now have ledger listings for transactions of any government spending on a website, compared to only 32 five years ago. 

Ohio’s score doesn’t reflect Cincinnati’s efforts to be transparent. In a 2013 study in transparency of the 30 largest cities in America, Cincinnati scored a “B+” for providing ledger listings for spending information, allowing Cincinnatians to view where money is spent, specific recipients of tax subsidies and the existence of a service request center allowing residents to notify officials about quality of life issues. 

Suggestions for improvement included making checkbook-level spending information searchable by the vendor who received the money and developing a comprehensive transparency website.

“We feel strongly that this isn’t a partisan issue, and the fact that states that do best in our rankings show no political pattern, with Texas and Massachusetts standing side-by-side, sort of speaks that this is one of those issues that should not be politicized,” Baxendall says. “We look forward to advancement in transparency in Ohio regardless of who is in office.”

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 04.02.2014
Posted In: News at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
otr

OTR Foundation to Host Property Rehabilitation Series

Workshops intend to educate potential homeowners on purchasing and rehab processes

The Over-the-Rhine Foundation will host a series of upcoming workshops aimed at educating people interested in downtown living on how to rehabilitate properties.

Part of the nonprofit’s mission is to engage community members in the neighborhood’s future as a compliment to larger development companies’ efforts, which have largely shaped the neighborhood’s resurgence in recent years. This effort is specifically targeting those interested in moving to OTR, the Brewery District or Pendleton. 

“Lots of people are really interested and excited about the idea of rehabbing one of the buildings to live-in in Over-the-Rhine,” says Marilyn Hyland, a board trustee for OTR Foundation. “Then they get into it and find it’s really complicated. This is an opportunity for people of both professional and personal perspectives to help people who really want to do this with their families and to have the wisdom of experience as they go forward with it themselves.”

The first of the three workshops — which take place at the Art Academy of Cincinnati on Jackson Street — will take place on April 12 and include a lecture from owners who rehabbed their homes, followed by an optional tour of renovated homes.

A second workshop on May 10 delves into selecting and purchasing a building, working with various contractors, hidden costs and navigating planning, zoning and other regulations. A third on June 14 dives into the financial aspect of renovation.

People can register for the workshop series by going to otrfoundation.org. The cost goes up from $35 to $50 starting April 4. Space is limited and will close once 80 people have registered.

“We as a foundation are committed to revitalizing the diverse OTR neighborhood, and a key objective is building community by encouraging and promoting owner-occupied development,” Kevin Pape, OTR Foundation president, said in a statement. “These workshops will help individuals gain access to the resources, expertise, and development tools needed to ensure the success of their community investments.”

More information is available at otrfoundation.org/3OTR.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 03.24.2014
at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
colerain-twp-seal

Colerain Oil Pipe Back in Operation as Cleanup Continues

A pipeline that burst in a Colerain nature preserve last week spilling thousands of gallons of oil is back in operation after crews repaired a 5-inch-long crack in the bottom of the pipe.

Colerain Township Fire Department Captain Steven Conn says officials shut the pipe down shortly after the spill on March 17 and have temporarily repaired the crack. The entire pipe, which runs through the Glen Oak Nature Preserve, will eventually be replaced.

“Eventually they will come back in, stop production and remove that section of piping according to their plan,” Conn says. 

The cause of the crack remains unclear, and a Department of Transportation investigation will take weeks to test the pipe for any chemicals that could have caused a crack.

Crews cleaned up about 20,000 gallons of oil so far and anticipate cleaning for another five to six days. The preserve will remain closed, along with the nearby Obergiesing Soccer Complex, until a command center for officials working on the leak is relocated. Representatives from Sunoco Logistics, Mid-Valley Piping Company, the Environmental Protection Agency, Colerain Township and Hamilton County Parks will utilize the command center as they respond to the mess.

Twenty-four small animals have been treated after being covered in oil, and a wildlife organization from Delaware came to Cincinnati to help oil-soaked animals.

Officials say there are no reports of oil leaking into the Great Miami River. Conn says the area will be tested and monitored for at least a year after the cleanup is complete.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 03.21.2014
at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
enroll

Health Insurance Deadline Approaching

Local organizations available to help people sign up ahead of March 31 deadline

Enroll America, a nonprofit designed to help citizens who are uninsured wade through the insurance process, stopped by Cincinnati on Monday during a four-city Ohio tour meant to educate citizens on their health insurance options ahead of a March 31 deadline to sign up for coverage.

The Get Covered America campaign visited the Word of Deliverance Ministries for the World and WLWT, where it held a phone drive to help people sign up for health coverage.

“We have been particularly reaching out to young folks,” says Trey Daly, Ohio’s director for Enroll America.

Those who are uninsured making more than $16,200 a year or families of four making more than $32,913 have until the end of this month to sign up for coverage or face penalties.

One major source of information locally is the Freestore Foodbank on Liberty Street, which received federal grants to help with outreach and the enrollment process. Many people coming through the Foodbank, however, already qualify for Medicaid — individuals earning less than $16,200 and families of four bringing in less than $32,913 — which doesn't have a set deadline to apply. 

Next Tuesday, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College will host a free health insurance workshop. Enroll America's website lists other informational events offering details about the process and an online calculator that provides estimates of how much an insurance premium would cost, along with other insurance-finding tools. Local centers are also offering one-on-one help and can be found at enrollamerica.org or healthcare.gov. 

On Wednesday, Ryan Luckie, team leader for the Affordable Care Act at the foodbank, worked from Mercy Hospital in Anderson, where he said there was consistent traffic.

“It’s now picking up as we approach March 31,” Luckie says.

The centers are typically on a first-come first-serve basis, but there is also an option to call ahead to schedule an appointment.  Those still seeking health insurance after March 31 will have to wait until Nov. 15 when open enrollment begins, Luckie says. Those people who have experienced what’s known as a “life event," either loss of employment, recently married or recently birthed a child, may have their deadline extended, Luckie says.

People seeking help with their insurance should bring proof of income for the last 30 days and social security numbers and date of birth for everyone seeking coverage within a household.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 03.18.2014
Posted In: 2014 election, Governor, Taxes at 03:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_kasichtaxcuts

Lt. Governor Candidate Blasts Kasich's Tax Cut Proposal

Sharen Neuhardt says Kasich's claim to be helping women is "despicable and wrong"

Lt. Governor-candidate Sharen Neuhardt held a press conference on the City Hall front steps today to lament a tax cut proposed by Gov. John Kasich, claiming that it furthers his agenda to help Ohio’s top 1 percent.

Kasich has proposed to cut income tax 8.5 percent across the board by 2016, which would help drive Ohio’s top tax rate below 5 percent. The governor claims single mothers making $30,000 would save an extra few hundred dollars on taxes every year as part of his proposed tax cut, a claim Neuhardt called “despicable and wrong.”

During the press conference, Neuhardt said Kasich is using the plight of single mothers to propagate a tax cut that would disproportionately benefit Ohio’s upper echelon.

“I want to really emphasize pay equality is always an important issue,” Neuhardt said.

Neuhardt doesn’t have a plan to square the $11,600 pay disparity between genders in 2012 that she cites, but she did say that her administration would need to reverse everything Kasich’s administration has done in order to get Ohio’s economy moving forward, should she and her running mate, gubernatorial candidate Ed Fitzgerald, win office in November. 

“We need Ohio’s working class to have money in their pocket,” Neuhardt said.

Kasich’s previous budget took the first steps toward pushing the state’s top tax rate below 5 percent by lowering income tax across the board and raising sales tax, a combination that disproportionately favors the wealthy. CityBeat covered that plan here and Kasich’s early 2013 budget proposals here and here.

Council members P.G. Sittenfield and Yvette Simpson spoke about pay disparity before Neurhardt took the podium on Tuesday.

Simpson stated women on average are earning 27 percent less than men in Ohio and Latin American women are earning 57 percent less.

“In the year 2014, that’s unacceptable,” Simpson said.

She also stated that Cincinnati has a 50-percent single mother rate and that 53 percent of children are living in poverty.

Sittenfield said the way toward eliminating pay disparity is through “meaningful reforms,” not tax cuts.

“Wage equality is not just a women’s issue — it’s a family issue and it’s an Ohio issue,” Sittenfield said.

Kasich proposed the cuts as part of a mid-biennium review intended to lay out administrative goals for next year.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 03.12.2014
at 04:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

City to Continue Using Green Energy

Council support changes city manager's mind about going back to fossil fuels

Interim City Manager Scott Stiles today announced his intention to keep Cincinnati’s electricity green after City Councilman Chris Seelbach rallied a majority of council to oppose Stiles’ earlier plan to go back to using conventional fossil fuels to light and heat the city.

Instead, Cincinnati will continue using 100-percent renewable-backed energy from First Energy Solutions.

The city signed on with First Energy in 2012, making Cincinnati the largest metropolitan are in the country to use 100-percent renewable energy.

Stiles was expected to sign the three-year contract with First Energy Solutions today, according to city spokeswoman Meg Olberding.

Sellbach and other council members convinced Stiles to change his mind about the contract, Olberding says.

She also added that First Energy told Stiles it would allow any customer who wants to save the additional $5.63 annual savings of conventional energy to opt-out of the green energy agreement.

The green energy plan is estimated to save customers $43.58 compared Duke’s standard service.

About 65,000 households and small businesses will continue using First Energy unless they choose to retain another energy supplier.

Stiles will also institute a green energy fee of $.006 on each electric bill as part of a program he’s developing that will help local business owners and residents equip their homes or offices with energy-saving solutions. The program will be run by the Office of Environment and Sustainability.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.07.2014
Posted In: News, Drugs, Voting, Development, Mayor at 10:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Early voting agreement sought, downtown project scrutinized, drug abuse reportedly drops

Mayor John Cranley is trying to find a compromise over whether early voting will move out of downtown after the 2016 general election, as some Republicans in the county government have suggested. Cranley called for a meeting with Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman and Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou, Cincinnati NAACP President Ishton Morton and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel. The meeting will aim to “discuss alternatives the City of Cincinnati can offer to accommodate early voting downtown after the 2016 elections. (Cranley) believes that such a discussion is consistent with the recommendation of the secretary of state that there be an effort to find a nonpartisan solution to the existing disagreement.”

With a $12 million price tag in mind, Cranley remains worried Cincinnati is paying too much for a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. But the project is truly one of a kind, claims The Business Courier: The tower would boast nearly twice the number of luxury apartments of any other project underway in Over-the-Rhine or downtown. And it would replace a decrepit garage and establish the first full-scale grocery store downtown in decades.

A study found Ohio teens’ painkiller abuse dropped by 40 percent between 2011 and 2013. State officials quickly took credit for the drop, claiming their drug prevention strategies are working. But because the Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey only has two sets of data on painkillers to work with — one in 2011 and another in 2013 — it’s possible the current drop is more statistical noise than a genuine downturn, so the 2015 and 2017 studies will be under extra scrutiny to verify the trend.

Similarly, fewer Ohio teens say they’re drinking and smoking. But 46 percent say they text while driving.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent in January, down from 7.3 percent the year before. The numbers reflect both rising employment and dropping unemployment in the previous year.

To prove his conservative bona fides, Ky. Sen. Mitch McConnell touted a rifle when he walked on stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The other Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, will headline a Hamilton County Republican Party dinner.

Researchers studied a woman who claims she can will herself out of her body.

Personal note: This is my last “Morning News and Stuff” and blog for CityBeat. After today, I will be leaving to Washington, D.C., for a new journalistic venture started by bloggers and reporters from The Washington Post and Slate. (CityBeat Editor Danny Cross wrote a lot of nice things about the move here, and my last commentary touched on it here.) Thank you to everyone who read my blogs during my nearly two years at CityBeat, and I hope I helped you understand the city’s complicated, exciting political and economic climate a little better, even if you sometimes disagreed with what I wrote.

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by German Lopez 03.06.2014
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Downtown project gets path forward, feds to pay for firefighters, health board defies mayor

Flaherty & Collins, the developer that wants to tear down a garage as part of its downtown grocery and apartment tower project, offered to pay for a tenant’s move to keep the deal moving forward. The tenant, Paragon Salon, recently announced its intent to sue the city after Mayor John Cranley’s refusal to pay for the salon business’s move left the development project and Paragon in a limbo of uncertainty. With Flaherty & Collins’ offer, the development deal should be able to advance without extra costs to the city.

But Cranley says he still wants 3CDC to review the downtown development project to set the best path forward.

Federal money will help Cincinnati keep and hire more firefighters. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant provides nearly $8.1 million — about 2 percent of the city’s $370 million operating budget — to pay the salaries and benefits of 50 firefighters for two years. Afterward, the city will need to pick up the costs, which could worsen an operating budget gap that currently sits at $22 million for fiscal 2015. The move would increase the Cincinnati Fire Department’s staffing levels from 841 to 879 and help prevent brownouts, according to the firefighting agency.

The Cincinnati Board of Health defied Mayor Cranley by unilaterally pursuing a $1.3 million grant that will provide preventative and primary care services to underserved populations. Rocky Merz, spokesperson for the board, says the grant application complies with guidance from the city’s top lawyer. Cranley opposes the grant because the extra services it enables could push up costs for the city down the line.

Hamilton County officials will look for outside legal help in their fight against the city’s job training rules for Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the rules, known as “responsible bidder,” in further detail here.

Smale Riverfront Park will receive $4.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control erosion and prevent flooding.

Crime around Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino never materialized, despite warnings from critics prior to casinos’ legalization in Ohio.

Ohio’s prison re-entry rate declined and sits well below the national average, according to a study from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The study found 27.1 percent of inmates released in 2010 ended up back up in prison, down from 28.7 percent of individuals released in 2009. In comparison, the national average is 44 percent.

Hundreds of Ohio school districts plan to test out the state’s new online assessments for math, language arts, social studies and science.

The cold winter is pushing up natural gas prices, according to Ohio’s largest natural gas utility.

A second baby might have been cured of HIV, the sexually transmitted disease that causes AIDS. Even with the potential successes, doctors caution it’s still very much unclear whether the treatment provides a definitive cure for the deadly disease.

Meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind intravaginal ring could prevent pregnancy and HIV.

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by German Lopez 03.05.2014
 
 
greenpeace P&G

Morning News and Stuff

Anti-P&G protesters face court, 3CDC to resolve project, mayor denies politics in board pick

A group of Greenpeace protesters face burglary and vandalism charges after a stunt yesterday on the Procter & Gamble buildings. Protesters apparently teamed up with a helicopter to climb outside the P&G buildings to hang up a large sign criticizing the company for allegedly enabling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. P&G officials say they are looking into the protesters’ claims, but they already committed to changing how they obtain palm oil by 2015.

Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) will step in to resolve the status of a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. The previous city administration pushed the project as a means to bring more residential space downtown, but Mayor John Cranley refuses to pay to move a tenant in the parking garage that needs to be torn down as part of the project. Following Cranley and Councilman Chris Seelbach’s request for 3CDC’s help, the development agency will recommend a path forward and outline costs to the city should it not complete the project.

Meanwhile, the tenants in the dispute announced today that they will sue the city to force action and stop the uncertainty surrounding their salon business.

Cranley insists politics were not involved in an appointment to the Cincinnati Board of Health, contrary to complaints from the board official the mayor opted to replace. Cranley will replace Joyce Kinley, whose term expired at the end of the month, with Herschel Chalk. “Herschel Chalk, who(m) I’m appointing, has been a long-time advocate against prostate cancer, who's somebody I’ve gotten to know,” Cranley told WVXU. “I was impressed by him because of his advocacy on behalf of fighting cancer. I committed to appoint him a long time ago.”

The costs for pausing the streetcar project back in December remain unknown, but city officials are already looking into what the next phase of the project would cost.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s must fully pay for rent and fees by March 10 or face eviction.

Through his new project, one scientist intends to “make 100 years old the next 60.”

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