As previously noted, tons happened yesterday. Let’s dive in now that the dust is settling.
The Cultural Facilities Task Force pitched its ideas for ways to fund Union Terminal and Music Hall renovations to Hamilton County Commissioners. The group of business leaders suggested a tax levy that would raise either sales or property taxes to net about $300 million for the projects. Both buildings need significant work. The sales tax would be a quarter of a percent, while the less-favored property tax would amount to about $35 a year on a $100,000 home. The task force recommended the sales tax in part because it will net money from visitors who don’t live in the county as well as residents. But some experts say sales tax puts more burden on the low-income.
The Cincinnati Zoo saw all that prospective cash and decided it wants in. Zoo Director Thane Maynard wrote a letter to the commissioners asking them to consider cutting the zoo into the deal. Many of its buildings are old, even historic, and in need of restoration, Maynard said. Commissioners were skeptical about the possibility of extending the money to three cultural institutions, though they noted the zoo’s needs.
Both Music Hall and Union Terminal were just placed on the National Trust’s list of 11 most endangered buildings. They’re the only two in Ohio on the list, which, if you think about it, is pretty astounding. It’s the first time the Trust has spotlighted two buildings in the same city on its list.
• 3CDC is one step away from gaining preferred developer status for 33 buildings around Findlay Market after the council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved its request yesterday. The status means 3CDC would vet and approve development projects proposed for the buildings as well as carry out its own. It’s the first major play by the development group north of Liberty Street.
OTR Community Council wrote a letter last week to the Mayor John Cranley asking for the city to hold off on the deal, citing concerns about resident involvement and affordable housing. Stay tuned for our in-depth news story about developments north of Liberty, coming tomorrow. Council takes a final vote on 3CDC’s request at tomorrow’s council meeting.
• Also in the Budget and Finance Committee meeting yesterday, council members navigated a tricky conundrum between two affordable housing projects looking for funds. In the past, council has supported giving about $500,000 to a project in Avondale call the Commons at Alaska. The project would provide permanent supportive housing for about 100 people, including some who are disabled. That money would come from a pot of federal funds totaling about $1.9 million. However, Columbus-based developer NCR has encountered difficulties with its chosen site as some members of the surrounding community have protested the plans.
Meanwhile, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing has been working with a developer on a plan to buy 40 subsidized units in neglected properties in Pendleton and renovate them. The city administration indicated they’d have access to that same $1.9 million, so the group didn’t go looking for other money. The two groups found themselves at an impasse. Neither wanted to compete with the other for the money, but both need the funds for their projects. Vice Mayor David Mann suggested splitting the money, and after some wrangling the committee parceled out $1.3 million to the Pendleton project and will hold the rest until the Commons at Alaska, or some other permanent supportive housing project, is ready to go online.
• Representatives from Columbus were in D.C. yesterday to make the case that Columbus is the best possible host for the Democratic National Convention. They're competing with Cleveland and some other cities that aren't in Ohio for the event, which will determine the party's nominee for president in 2016. Both Columbus and Cleveland also courted the GOP for the Republican convention, but I won't tell if you don't.
• There’s a terrible “born again” joke in this next story, but I will not be the one dropping it. Just the facts: A guy from the U.S. got stuck in a giant vagina sculpture in Germany. It took 22 rescuers 30 minutes to get him out. America!
• If you can’t take the Heat, get out of Miami. At least, that’s what someone has advised LeBron James, and he's apparently listening. Ohio’s not-yet-prodigal son has opted out of the last two years of his contract with the team and is now a free agent, according to news reports. It’s not certain that he’ll leave the Heat, but it’s clear he’s at least taking stock of his options. Meanwhile, the entire city of Cleveland sits patiently, waiting for that “so, what’s up?” text message from James…
General Electric is officially moving 1,800 employees to The Banks, the entertainment and retail complex on Cincinnati's riverfront. But it took some deal-sweetening by the city to make it happen. City Council and Hamilton County Commissioners on Monday approved a landmark deal that incentivizes the company to consolidate some administrative and finance jobs at the site, which will be 10 stories tall and cost about $90 million to build.
The city's bid beat out Norwood and other locations, though the city and county had to offer one of the most generous deals in the region's history. The company will receive a 75-percent property tax abatement for the next 15 years, with the other 25 percent of those taxes going to Cincinnati Public Schools. Eighty-five percent of employees' city earnings taxes will also flow back to the company over that period of time.
GE said the incentives are needed because moving to The Banks will be about 15 percent more expensive than other bids it considered. The city hopes the deal will lead to a long-term payoff. County officials tout studies showing big benefits. The Economics Center for Education and Research at UC ran the numbers on the deal and suggest that the project could bring in $1 billion in overall economic activity. The site should reach full capacity by 2018.
The estimated average salary of an employee at the site will be about $79,000, company officials say.
Despite some questions about how quickly the deal came together, both council and county commissioners passed it unanimously during an unusual joint meeting at Great American Ball Park. Council member P.G. Sittenfeld praised the project but noted the city will need to remember to balance fairness and overall impact in the future. Council member Chris Seelbach used the occasion to tout the streetcar, tweeting that it was a big factor in GE's choice to move to The Banks.
A rare alignment of the stars (or at least schedules) makes today a crazy day to be a general-assignment reporter. And while I wouldn’t normally just give you a list of really exciting, awesome meetings that are happening, there are lots of issues that could decide the city’s future being debated around town. I prefer to think of it like a civics-themed pub crawl. In the middle of the day. On Monday. And there’s no drinking (at least until afterward).
• Hamilton County Commissioners meet at noon to hear a presentation from the Cultural Facilities Task Force, a cadre of 22 business leaders who are working on ways to renovate Union Terminal and Music Hall. They’ll be talking about a proposed sales tax increase as well as other options for funding the renovations before the commissioners decide whether the proposal should go on the ballot.
• Then, at 1 p.m., council’s Budget and Finance Committee meets to discuss development in Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street, as well as funding for two affordable housing developments. 3CDC would like the rights to develop 20-35 buildings in the area around Findlay Market, though OTR Community Council has asked the city to find ways to get more small developers and resident input into the development process there. Council will also consider a debate over how to fund some affordable housing units in Pendleton and Avondale — council had voted to support the development in Avondale, but some neighborhood resistance to the project has stalled it for the moment. Meanwhile, the city is debating moving some money for that project to one in Pendleton. Advocates say both are necessary and should be funded.
The council meetings are at City Hall, and the Commissioners’ meeting is at the county building on Court Street.
• Another big meeting today involves the city’s deal with General Electric that will bring 2,000 of the company’s employees to The Banks. Council and the commissioners meet at Great American Ball Park at 10 a.m. to discuss incentives for the company for its move, including a 100 percent abatement on property taxes at the site for the next 15 years. The expected package is one of the sweetest deals the city has ever offered a company. GE has also been mulling relocation to other sites, including Norwood, and is asking for the incentives because moving to The Banks could cost more than other options.
• An increasing number of foreign students attend Ohio’s 13 public universities, making Ohio eighth in the nation for international enrollment. Toledo University had the most international students last year, followed by Miami University.
• Pro-choice and pro-life groups are both pointing to 2015 as a big year for the fight over women's health in Ohio. Ohio Right to Life, a very active pro-life activist group, has indicated it’s putting together an aggressive legislative agenda for next year in an effort to curtail the availability of abortions in the state. The group says they’ll be pushing five or six bills to that end and has expressed confidence that many of the incumbents in the Ohio General Assembly, as well as Gov. John Kasich, will be re-elected and support their goals. Meanwhile, NARAL Ohio Pro-Choice, a pro-choice advocacy group in the state, has sounded alarms, saying Ohio is becoming “one of the most dangerous states for women’s health.”
• Finally, with World Cup fever reminding Americans that, oh yeah, soccer is a thing, it’s a great time to check out this Atlantic article on why we call it that in the first place when the rest of the world calls it football. (Hint: It's the Brits' fault.)
Now an advocacy organization is pushing for the BWC to pay back the difference.
While the ins and outs of the rates are complicated, the underlying concept is fairly straightforward: Worker’s compensation functions as a kind of insurance for employers. If an employee gets hurt on the job, worker’s comp will pay for lost wages and medical costs so long as the business is current on its monthly workers comp payment. A lawsuit brought by some employers receiving higher rates charged that those rates were unfair, even forcing some employers into bankruptcy.
The courts have agreed. The appellate court’s decision upholds an earlier ruling against the BWC by the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
The courts ruled the BWC, along with lobbyists of some favored businesses, rigged workers compensation rates so that some companies picked to be designated “group rate employers” received what the court called “excessive, undeserved premium discounts” on their workers compensation insurance plans. Where did the money for those discounts come from? According to the court, from businesses who were not part of the special group rate. Those businesses paid almost $860 million extra on their workers compensation plans.
BWC hasn’t started paying back the money, and head Steven Buehner told a Cleveland news outlet last week that the agency will appeal the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court. It has until June 30 to do so.
Buehner says the agency’s rates simply reflect the nature of providing insurance — that low-risk customers receive lower rates than higher-risk clients. Buehner said there isn’t some big pot of money somewhere that the BWC is sitting on and that it hasn’t cheated anyone out of any funds.
If the court’s ruling holds, the BWC will owe more than 100 Cincinnati-area employers $100,000 or more, including a number of nonprofits and arts organizations. All told, the BWC could owe area businesses more than $100 million. Progress Ohio, an advocacy group, has asked Gov. John Kasich to act and make sure the BWC pays the money back.
According to Progress Ohio, which is advocating for the employers in question, the BWC could owe the Cincinnati Ballet more than $300,000, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park nearly $150,000 and the Cincinnati YMCA $140,000. BAE, a British-owned security and armaments business with a plant in Fairfield, is the area employer owed the largest amount of money; according to the advocacy organization, the BWC charged BAE more than $1.4 million extra in premiums.
The Cincinnati YWCA is also owed payback — about $14,000. The organization told WCPO earlier this week it will be "thrilled" to get that money back so it can use it to help women and children in need.
Two annual festivals descend on the Ohio River this weekend: Paddlefest and RoeblingFest. The 13th annual Ohio River Paddlefest takes over Coney Island — and the nearby river — Friday through Sunday, bringing hundreds of canoes, kayaks, boats and lovers of the outdoors. The weekend kicks off with the ninth annual Kids Outdoor Adventure Expo on Friday (9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.). The Paddlefest Outdoor Expo and Roots on the River Music Festival runs 10 a.m.-midnight Saturday and the main event is Sunday, where more than 1400 human-powered boats will take the trip from Coney to the Public Landing downtown. Go here for daily event lineups.
RoeblingFest is in its 10th year of celebrating the John A. Roebling Bridge, which connects downtown Cincinnati with Covington, Ky. The festival first and foremost highlights the bridge’s historic relevance, and guests can take guided tours of the bridge and surrounding murals, landmarks and statues as well as browse informational displays with photos and artifacts from area museums and organizations. There will also be art for sale, children’s activities, food from local restaurants and live music, all from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. The fun takes place on Court Street between Third and Fourth streets and Park Place between Scott and Greenup streets. Find more info here.
Indie Summer is in full swing. This week’s acts include Those Darlins, The
Harlequins, The Frankl Project and Those Crosstown Rivals. Music starts at 7
p.m. Friday on Fountain Square. If you don’t have your MPMF wristbands yet,
purchase those on the square and get access to all these killer acts.
Summer Solstice is Saturday, and the Cincinnati Observatory is offering a unique way to ring in the season. Visitors can enjoy wine, snacks and a killer view during Celestial Sips 8-10:30 p.m. Saturday. Shannon Depenbrock of D.E.P.’s Fine Wines will sample four organic, biodynamic wines (which means the grapes are planted and harvested according to the moon’s phases) and, pending clear skies, guests can view Saturn’s rings through America’s first telescope. Tickets are $60 and space is limited; call 513-321-5186 or go here to RSVP.
Cincinnati Opera’s season
opener Carmen continues through this
weekend. Performances are Friday and Sunday. Get tickets and full summer
opera season information here.
The U.S. takes on Portugal in their second World Cup game this Sunday. Fans can join Cincinnati Saints, the city’s pro soccer team, at Fountain Square to watch the game on the jumbo screen, listen to music and enjoy food and beer from noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. The game kicks off at 6 p.m. Read this week’s cover story on the Cup here.
Probably the most entertaining thing onstage right now is Private Lives at Cincinnati Shakespeare. It's been selling so well that 2 p.m. matinee performances have been added this Saturday and June 28. (It closes on June 29.) It's the story of honeymoons going bad when a feisty divorced couple decide to reunite rather than stick with their new spouses — when they find themselves coincidentally in adjacent hotel rooms in Southern France. (CityBeat review here.) Cleverly staged by Ensemble Theatre's Lynn Meyers, using four of Cincy Shakes best actors. Of course it's all improbable and overdone, but that's a Noël Coward play for you — witty, silly and lots of fun. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273.
Friday's usually kind of a slow news day, but lots of important or just plain weird stuff has already happened. Get ready for it.
In what must be one of the most biblical mass transit emergencies in recent Cincinnati memory, a Metro bus was partially sucked down a 20-foot-deep sinkhole near the zoo at about 9:30 last night. Then the ground opened up, and the stink did begin to emerge from the angry earth, and woah, those on the bus were sore afraid. Or something like that. City officials say some failed sewer lines caused the hole. As if being nearly swallowed by the earth isn’t unpleasant enough, there was also the smell of raw sewage to contend with. In an ironic note, yesterday was also “Dump the Pump Day,” a day designed to get commuters out of their cars and onto public transit. Workers from Cincinnati’s Metropolitan Sewer District are out to fix the hole and sewer lines.
• Former Over-the-Rhine social service agency City Gospel Mission is clear to move to Queensgate. Wrangling over some compliance issues with the Department of Housing and Urban Development had stalled the agency's plans for a men's shelter there, which has been on the drawing board for months. HUD said City Gospel's mens-only approach might violate certain non-discrimination clauses on deeds to the land the agency wanted to use for its new shelter. But after some pushing by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, HUD has given the agency the go ahead. City Gospel will host some women’s programming at the shelter and is part of Cincinnati’s Homeless to Homes program, which helps both men and women transition from homelessness.
• Ohio’s newest jobs report came out today. It shows the state is at 5.5 percent unemployment, its lowest level since the recession and well under the national rate of 6.3 percent. Republicans, of course, are touting this as a win for Gov. John Kasich, while Democrats are pointing out that the low number has a lot to do with how many Ohioans have left the workforce altogether. Unemployment stats only measure those who are looking for work, not those who have given up on the job hunt. The state added 2,900 total jobs in May but lost 14,000 people who dropped out of the workforce. Many of these are the long-term unemployed, who studies show have an especially hard time finding work.
• Speaker of the House John Boehner has slammed the Obama administration over the looming situation in Iraq, where a new insurgency group calling itself ISIS is overtaking cities and the Iraqi military. Boehner used the situation, as Republicans are wont to do, to talk about how bad Obama is at everything, saying that “terrorism has increased exponentially under this president.” That's of course not a view everyone with knowledge about the situation in the Middle East shares, and it's clear the current problem has at least some major roots in Bush-era decisions. Political posturing aside, Boehner also showed his softer side Wednesday when he gave a smooch to former Rep. Gabby Giffords at the Congressional Women’s Softball Game. Giffords, who has made a long, emotional recovery from near-fatal injuries she received during a mass shooting in 2011, threw out the first pitch. After having a moment with Giffords, Boehner then promptly… you guessed it… got all teary-eyed, though not teary-eyed enough to do anything about gun control efforts in Congress, it would seem.
• So a 63-year-old woman on oxygen in Marion, Indiana fought off a burglar with a back scratcher. I couldn’t write anything more awesome than her account of the incident, so here are a couple little bits:
“Guy had a hockey mask on and I almost started laughing,” the woman told a reporter. “If he hadn't have got out that back door, I'd have beat him to death.”
On June 4, two Cincinnati-born bands were featured on two different late-night network television shows. Rock foursome Buffalo Killers, promoting their excellent new album, Heavy Reverie, appeared on NBC’s Last Call with Carson Daly in a pre-recorded interview package sprinkled with some cool performance footage. It was the band’s network television debut.
Earlier that same night, one of Cincinnati’s most renowned musical exports, The Afghan Whigs, played on The Late Show with David Letterman. The band — which is coming home to headline this year’s MidPoint Music Festival — played a great version of their tune “Matamoros” from the recent Do to the Beast album, their first new LP in 16 years.
After 96 consecutive hours of baking in the Tennessee heat and humidity, walking from stage to stage to take in as much music as possible and drinking and dancing sometimes from noon until dawn, even your third and fourth shower after returning home from Bonnaroo can be like a religious experience. Though the festival itself gets under your skin in a way that one does not necessarily wish to ever wash away. Indeed, coming down after the festival, returning to the mundane realities of everyday life, can be a difficult proposition for hardcore Bonnaroovians struggling to simply settle back into their daily routine on planet earth.
The fourth and final day of Bonnaroo 2014 found (photographer) Chuck (Madden) and I sun-dazed but smiling, still eager to soak up and savor every bit of music we could. Among the few campers stirring that murky morning, I woke early and wandered the eerily empty festival grounds well before noon. I’ve attended the festival six times since 2006, but Sunday morning was the first time I rode the Bonnaroo ferris wheel. After an hour or so of tapping away on my trusty laptop in an empty press tent, the ferris wheel ride gave me an opportunity to chill and be still for a few minutes, surveying the scene from a bird’s eye view. A crowded cornucopia of bright lights and loud music after dark, it was both surreal and serene to view the Bonnaroo festival grounds silent in the morning.
The silence wouldn’t last. Even before I disembarked from the ferris wheel I could hear Lucero doing their soundcheck on a stage that I could barely see in the distance.
Chuck’s day began with a pair of bands he would be raving about for the rest of the afternoon: Kansas Bible Company on the tiny On Tap Lounge stage and much-talked-about new arrivals Lake Street Dive in That Tent, where a surprisingly large crowd had already gathered for the band’s 1 p.m. start.
Cloudy skies and occasional drizzle kept temperatures tolerable for the first three days of the festival. But Sunday was all clear skies and blazing sun, sending temperatures into the 90s for most of the day. Always an endurance test, Sunday at Bonnaroo 2014 was a brutal trial for the thousands on site who were forced to either hydrate, hunker in the shade, or both, until the sun relented in the early evening. But shade is not easy to come by at Bonnaroo, and sitting in a hot tent is no kind of relief whatsoever. Sunscreen, long sleeves and floppy hats ruled the day. Experienced Bonnaroovians are well-familiar with the physical demands of the festival. It just so happens that after three days of relative ease and comfort, Sunday’s weather conditions upped the ante on a panting throng already sunburned and exhausted.
Arguably some of the finest acts on the Bonnaroo lineup were featured on the festival’s final day, as Bonnaroo attendees were treated to phenomenal sets by Broken Bells, The Avett Brothers, Fitz and the Tantrums, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Arctic Monkeys, Shovels & Rope, Washed Out, Wiz Khalifa, The Lone Bellow, Okkervil River and an afternoon performance by Yonder Mountain String Band on the main stage that featured Bluegrass legend Sam Bush on violin.
This writer tumbled into the Other Tent just in time to catch a rousing set by Those Darlins. Like Nashville’s Wild Feathers before them on the weekend itinerary, this was sort of a hometown gig for Those Darlins, a band whose founding members met at a Rock & Roll camp in Murfreesboro, Tenn. A sparse but dedicated crowd happily held lead singer Jesse Zazu aloft as she tumbled over the barricade and into the audience. Laying back on a sea of fans’ hands, her guitar squall raged unabated at full steam as her eyes rolled back in her head. (Those Darlins play a free show in Cincinnati this Friday, headlining Fountain Square’s MidPoint Indie Summer concert.)
After a ridiculous amount of pre-gig hype, the controversial Kanye West’s Friday night performance delivered nothing but disappointment to a Bonnaroo audience that should have known better to have expected anything more. Saturday headliner Jack White and Sunday’s top dog Elton John showed that good material and passionate, substantive performances will always trump shallow arrogance, hype and bullshit. To Mr. West, who once claimed himself to be “Shakespeare in the flesh,” I submit this famous quote from Macbeth:
“Life’s but a walking shadow,
A poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.
It is a tale
Told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
Of far greater significance than this writer expected was a stellar Sunday night performance by Elton John, who reeled off one classic after another to close out Bonnaroo 2014. I knew Elton’s set would be great, but I was not prepared for just how truly amazing it was. With a band featuring guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson, who have been with him for 45 years (you read that right), Bonnaroo 2014 was Sir Elton’s first-ever appearance at a U.S. festival. Opening the show with Side One of his classic Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album from 1973, Elton proceeded with a version of “Levon” that concluded with a virtual clinic on Rock & Roll piano playing in the extended outro. Though I was dubious at first about Elton closing out the festival, this two-hour performance instead turned out to be such a stunner that I know I will forever count it among my all-time favorite Bonnaroo memories.
Thanks again to CityBeat for this amazing opportunity and to Chuck Madden whose concert photography is simply the best and whose friendship and company are a big part of what makes the Bonnaroo experience so meaningful to me.
The best news today is that this week is almost over. But there’s a lot more to talk about, so let’s go.
As we reported yesterday, Over-the-Rhine’s Community Council is asking the city to hold off on a deal with 3CDC over vacant properties north of Liberty Street near Findlay Market. The council says 3CDC has slowed the development process by banking a large number of properties, and the group believes small, independent developers could do the job faster and better meet the community's needs.
• Meanwhile, on the other side of the basin, everyone at The Banks is about to get a new neighbor. General Electric is moving more than 1,400 employees to the retail and entertainment development on the Ohio River by 2017, the Business Courier reports. City and county officials will vote Monday on the tax incentives that GE gets for heading south, and after that, it will be a done deal. These are pretty much no-nonsense administrative, IT and finance offices for one of the region’s biggest businesses we’re talking about, but all I can picture is some crazy Real World scenario. Only with jet engines. Which sounds awesome.
Before we get all excited about Real World GE 2017, though, I should note that both the company and Mayor Cranley have refused to comment on the reported decision. The deal is expected to go public Monday.
• Democratic candidate for Governor Ed FitzGerald unveiled his plan for affordable higher education yesterday. FitzGerald’s proposal includes finding ways to lower administrative costs at the state’s colleges, increasing the availability of financial aide, expanding a college savings plan, getting more students into early college enrollment while they’re still in high school, and boosting community colleges and trade schools. Fitzgerald cited the nearly $4 billion in student loan debt Ohioans carry as a reason to lower college costs. He also took the opportunity to hit incumbent John Kasich for tuition hikes FitzGerald says resulted from Kasich’s cuts to state funding for higher ed.
FitzGerald also suggested voters start calling him “Higher Ed FitzGerald,” though at press time, no one had addressed the gubernatorial hopeful by this self-conferred nickname. (That last part didn’t really happen, at least not while the cameras were rolling.)
• In certainly the most important news of the day, Facebook was down briefly this morning. But don’t worry, CNN was on it. No wonder my 4 a.m. tirade about Game of Thrones didn't get the likes it obviously deserved.
• Finally, a record-low 7 percent of Americans really like Congress, and the rest prefer being bitten by dogs or having poison ivy all over their bodies or something. But I’m willing to bet more Americans are fans of Guided By Voices, one of the greatest bands to emerge from our area (OK, Dayton, but The Southgate House used to be their home base of sorts). One of those Americans is outgoing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who is leaving his post to take some time off. Carney gave his final press briefing at the White House yesterday with one of GBV’s best songs as a send-off sound track. Carney’s been a vocal fan of the band for years, and has taken multiple opportunities to mention them from the White House podium. He even hung out with the guys on stage at their most recent DC show. Speed on, Jay, speed on.