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by Nick Swartsell 06.11.2014
Posted In: News at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
640px-eric_cantor,_official_113th_congress_photo_portrait

Morning News and Stuff

Old smokestacks, Congress mulling cuts, hitting the high notes for dating success

All right, folks. Morning news time again.

The iconic Hudepohl smokestack you see from I-75 could end up in Over-the-Rhine. The city is looking at ways to save the old Hudepohl brewery, which it bought last month. The former Hudepohl headquarters, built in 1946 and used until 1985, includes four buildings on Sixth Street in Queensgate. It's currently abandoned. The complex includes the Hudepohl tower, a 170-foot-tall brick smokestack with the company’s named spelled on it in white bricks that has become a Cincinnati landmark. One set of plans being considered is the relocation of 70 feet of the tower (from just under the L in “Hudepohl” to the top) to Over-the-Rhine, where the company was originally founded in 1885.

• Right across the river, Covington is the eighth most affordable city in the country, according to a study by finance website NerdWallet.com. The study looked at a number of cost of living considerations, including housing costs and average prices for groceries. Columbus (15), Indianapolis (22), Lexington (53) and Louisville (89) also made the top 100 list, though Cincinnati is nowhere to be found.

An article in the new issue of Inc. Magazine prominently features Cincinnati’s startup scene. It highlights the city’s business incubators, co-working spaces, marketers and investors who are boosting the city’s tech profile. The author applauds strides the city has made fostering startups, and concludes that the region is on the right course for expanding innovation and tech-related jobs. 

Procter and Gamble has committed $1 million to the Regional Economic Development Initiative, an organization focused on bringing jobs to the Greater Cincinnati area. REDI is lead by a 15-member board of Cincinnati political and business leaders including Mayor John Cranley, Western and Southern CEO John Barrett and Reds minority owner Tom Williams, the board’s chair.

• The Ohio Supreme Court ruled today that payday lenders aren’t subject to a law governing short-term loans and that they can continue making loans to low-income folks at, like, 12 billion percent interest. Great, because that’s totally good for society and our economy.

• The House this week is considering a Republican-drafted spending bill for The Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The appropriations bill contains more than $1.8 billion in cuts to housing programs, commuter rail initiatives and efforts to help the homeless. The White House has slammed the bill, and it will face a tough ride in the Senate.

• The big national story this morning, of course, is that Virginia Republican and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election to tea party challenger David Brat. Brat toppled Cantor even though the seven-term incumbent outspent him twenty five to one and is one of the most powerful Republicans in the country. A majority leader in the House has never lost a primary since the position was created 115 years ago. That's probably good news for House Speaker and everyone's favorite Southwestern Ohio spray tan aficionado John Boehner, who was feeling the heat from far-right Republicans looking to oust him from the speaker's seat. Cantor, who had an often antagonistic relationship with Boehner, was thought to be his strongest possible successor. Or, Cantor's loss may stress Boehner out even more, as the tea party torches get closer to the speaker's office...

• Finally, a newly discovered katydid has the highest-pitched vocalizations of any animal ever recorded. Scientists say the noises help attract the opposite sex, which is weird, because every time I’m in a bar and start hitting the high notes in my silky falsetto the opposite happens.

And that’s every thing that has happened in the past 24 hours, give or take. Follow me on Twitter at @nswartsell, where I retweet Parks and Rec quotes and news stories about appropriation bills. I’m a man of many moods.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.10.2014
Posted In: Campaign Finance at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
smitherman

Elections Commission to Hear Suit Against Smitherman

Suit alleges improper donations, questionable contracts

The Cincinnati Elections Commission will hold a hearing June 23 on City Councilman Christopher Smitherman’s campaign finances after Nathaniel Livingston Jr., a well-known Cincinnati radio personality and former City Council candidate, filed a rather colorful complaint against him.

The complaint filed with the Commission says Smitherman exceeded campaign contribution limits during his 2013 campaign and unfairly gave city contracts to family members.

But it also says so much more.

Livingston goes after Smitherman with the gloves off. He starts off his complaint with some choice words about the councilman, calling him “an arrogant politician who is closely aligned to the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.”

Livingston goes on to say that “Smitherman has publicly stated that his life goals are to become a decamillionaire and President of the United States. Chris will do anything to obtain money and power.”

Dang. That’s harsh. With the first name and everything. But Livingston’s just getting warmed up.

“He basically makes money by selling mediocre insurance products to gullible individuals,” the complaint continues, questioning Smitherman’s credentials as a financial advisor.

Call out someone for their alleged tea party affiliation, sure, but casting aspersions on the value of a man’s insurance products is another thing entirely.

Low blows aside, the complaint says that Smitherman broke campaign finance laws when his brother, Albert Smitherman, gave him a total of $2,200 and his sister-in-law, Liza Smitherman, chipped in $2,700 for his campaign.

The limit for individual donations between city council elections is $1,100. The complaint is made on a bit of a technicality; both Albert and Liza gave their first contributions just days after the 2011 elections, and didn’t donate any other money in that earlier election. Cincinnati Election Commission rules do allow for carryover of funds from previous elections under certain circumstances.

Another donation of $500 by Liza Smitherman under the name Brewster Pumping LLC is also flagged in the complaint. That donation was made in October 2013, and the address listed for the contribution is that of Liza and Albert’s business, Jostin Construction LLC.

Livingston says this is evidence of corruption, and that Councilman Smitherman has been actively working to get jobs for the company. Jostin was subcontracted for $22,000 worth of work on the city’s streetcar project in November 2013, but later declined the job.

Livingston himself has been in trouble for campaign finances. In 2009, the Ohio Elections Commission sued him for $43,000 for not filing campaign finance information for his 2001 City Council bid. That suit was later dismissed.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.10.2014
Posted In: News at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
an_lumenocity_365cincinnati

Morning News and Stuff

Ticket scalping, Section 8 shenanigans and drugs

Here's what's up today in Cincy, Ohio, and beyond.

Vice Mayor David Mann isn’t super happy about the fact that LumenoCity tickets sold out in 12 minutes yesterday morning and then popped up just as quickly on Craigslist and eBay. He’s requesting an investigation into the ticket giveaway to find out about any illegal sale of the free passes.

In a statement yesterday, Mann said he wants to make sure “all members of the public — including all neighborhoods and income ranges — have an opportunity to avail themselves of any opportunities to get tickets to this extraordinary performance in the future.”

The event was so crowded last year, organizers decided to give out tickets this time around. The tickets were available online and also at several branches of the library. Organizers stress only a small percentage of the available passes were given out online, and that more will be available ahead of the event, which takes place Aug. 1-3.

Here’s a heartwarming story about a city doing everything it can for its residents. Err, wait, no, this is actually a nightmarish scenario in which the city of Middletown has been working to eliminate a number of its Section 8 vouchers by investigating landlords and tenants and then kicking them out of the program for minor violations of law or policy, including late water bills. An Enquirer investigation found the city was actively working to eliminate many of its more than 1,600 HUD vouchers. HUD is now looking at shutting down the city’s public housing authority.

Nearly a quarter of Middletown residents live below the poverty level, according to 2008-2012 Census data. The city of 50,000 has more than half of the Section 8 vouchers in Butler County.

• Ohio is imposing new requirements on those receiving unemployment benefits, because not having a job is easy and awesome and if the state didn’t impose tons of busy work on those seeking benefits, everyone would crowd around the government teat.

Anyone receiving benefits in Ohio must update an automatic resume made for them on OhioMeansJobs.com, Ohio’s job search site, take three assessments on their skills within 14 weeks and fill out a survey within 20 weeks to figure out careers that might suit them. Recipients will still need to apply for two jobs a week as well. State officials say they hope this will help recipients transition to work more quickly, because clearly most job seekers have no idea what kind of skills they have and just plum forgot to put their resumes online somewhere. Ohio’s unemployment rate hovers around 6 percent. About 67,000 in the state were receiving unemployment benefits in May.

The Justice Department is giving support to a proposal to shorten the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison. The move could save taxpayers more than $2 billion. Some measures to reduce sentences have already been approved, but the new proposal would make those reduced sentences retroactive, meaning those already imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes may see freedom sooner.

There is a surprising amount of bipartisan interest drug sentencing reform, with libertarian-minded conservatives, rank and file Republican budget hawks and those on the left all calling for a new approach to the drug issue.

The federal government spent more than $25 billion on the drug war in 2013. More than half the inmates in federal prisons are there for drug-related crimes, according to studies by the federal government.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.09.2014
Posted In: Courts at 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
mu rape flier

Ohio Supreme Court Orders Rape Flier Records Unsealed

Butler County judge acted improperly sealing files, court says

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled June 5 that a Butler County judge acted improperly when he sealed records relating to a 2012 rape flier posted at Miami University.

Judge Robert Lyons ordered the records sealed after a student at Miami University was charged with and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for posting a flier listing the "Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape" in a coed residence hall bathroom at the school.

When sealing the record, however, Lyons cited a law pertaining to sealing cases that don't reach a conviction, an error that he acknowledged later. 

The case drew national attention, in part due to the graphic nature of the list, which included pointers like "If your [sic] afraid the girl will identify you slit her throat." It also drew scrutiny for Lyons' unusual move making the records in the case, and thus the student's name, unavailable to the public.

The Cincinnati Enquirer sued to have the records released. After the suit was filed, Lyons allowed the student to withdraw his guilty plea. The state of Ohio then dropped its case against the student, and Lyons sealed the case again under the same law he had cited previously.

Misdemeanors require a one-year waiting period before cases can be sealed. Judge Lyons argued that this isn't the case for minor misdemeanors like disorderly conduct and that no waiting period applied. In a 5-2 ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court disagreed, holding that there is no such distinction.

The student left Miami shortly after the incident.

You can find the full text of the court's decision here.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.09.2014
Posted In: News at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
an_lumenocity_365cincinnati

Morning News and Stuff

Uptown changes, LumenoCity sells out, $3 million in Nikes

Good morning all. Let’s start out this Monday news rundown by going uptown.

•On Friday, Cincinnati’s Planning Commission passed a sweeping new plan for the area in the coming years. The plan anticipates the upcoming reworking of Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and envisions big changes to the area in Avondale, Corryville, and Mount Auburn.

Planners hope after the new interchange at MLK and I-71 is completed, Reading Road will become a kind of innovation corridor, with new biomedical and other scientific research facilities lining a redesigned, more pedestrian-friendly roadway.

The plan also calls for increased development in neighboring business districts, new construction on the numerous vacant plots in the area and increased housing stock close to the central cores of Clifton, Avondale, Corryville, CUF and Walnut Hills.

•Other changes are coming to Avondale. Four large apartment buildings housing Section 8 tenants and another vacant building in the neighborhood will be renovated, and the owners of the buildings are looking to have them placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Alameda, Ambassador, Crescent, Poinciana, and Somerset buildings, built between 1896 and the 1920s, will be overhauled starting this fall. The Ambassador, currently empty, will be revamped first, and then the other buildings will follow suit. The Community Builders Cincinnati, the buildings’ owners, will help 120 families who will have to vacate during renovations move to other buildings temporarily.

The renovations are expected to cost about $25 million and will finish up sometime in 2016.

• Hey, do you wanna go to LumenoCity? Too late. Tickets sold out in 13 minutes this morning. Yeah, I didn’t get any either, because 8 a.m. is way too early for me to operate a computer. But if you’ve got a hundred bucks to drop, you can still scoop some tickets up on eBay.

• Nationally, the 2016 presidential race is shaping up to be a wild ride. While Democrats so far seem pretty content with Hillary, the GOP is still courting their man (and yes, their nominee will almost assuredly be a man). Lately, Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas has been getting a lot of attention. Cruz handily won a straw poll at the Texas Republican Convention this weekend. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who is often cited as a front-runner, came in third. Chalk it up to home-state advantage. It’s hard to know who to root for in a contest like that, so I’m just going to hope that somehow the GOP jumps on the whole throw-back trend and nominates Abraham Lincoln again.

• Finally, a woman in Kentucky was found selling $3 million in ill-gotten Nikes from her front lawn. That’s a lot of stolen shoes. She said she didn’t know they were stolen and was selling them for $5 a piece. Not a bad deal, really.


Tweet at your boy (@nswartsell) or email me tips: nswartsell@citybeat.com

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.06.2014
Posted In: News at 08:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
voices_wwe_greenpeaceprotest_jf6

Morning News and Stuff

Greenpeace protesters in court, Cranley on Clifton and upward mobility, free donuts

It’s that time again when I tell you all about the weird stuff that has happened in the last 24 hours or so. Cincinnati’s a crazy place, and the rest of the world isn’t far behind, so let’s get started.

• Remember those folks who hung the Greenpeace banners off the side of the Procter and Gamble building back in March? You know, the ones protesting P&G’s use of palm oil, the production of which leads to massive deforestation and loss of habitat for a number of endangered animals, including tigers? Of course you do. They were 50-foot banners with tigers on them, for godsakes.

No surprise, the nine activists responsible ended up in Hamilton County Court on felony counts. Today, lawyers for the group asked a judge to dismiss those charges.

The nine were charged with burglary and vandalism. However, there was no breaking and entering. One of the group, dressed in business attire with a fake badge, told security she had a meeting in the building and snuck the others in through a regular old door she unlocked.

The group’s lawyers insist burglary charges would only stick if the group had planned on committing another crime, and they say the political speech inherent in hanging banners off a building doesn’t count. They’re asking the courts to dismiss the charges on First Amendment grounds, saying the group is being punished for its political speech.

If that doesn’t fly, the activists could face up to nine and a half years in jail and/or a $20,000 fine. P&G claims the activists did $17,000 in damage to their windows while gaining access to the outside of the building, a charge the group denies.

• Yesterday, Mayor John Cranley explained his vision for Clifton as a place that pumps out the city’s future CEOs. The mayor said he’d like to make the area appealing to “the future Carl Lindners, the future Dick Farmers, the future folks who will build up business in this city” so they’ll stick around.

At an annual event held by the Uptown Consortium, a non-profit development group for the area, Cranley called the University of Cincinnati “the gateway to the upper-middle class” and Cincinnati State “the gateway to the middle class.” He said he’d like to improve the district, including centerpiece Burnet Woods, which he has descrbed as “creepy” in its current state. Specific ideas include a skywalk between the park and UC; more landscaped, Washington Park-like grounds; and more programing in the park.

Today's job report shows that more than six years after the worst recession in recent memory we've finally regained number of jobs the country had before the plunge. Except we have 15 million more people now to fill those jobs, and the unemployment rate hasn't really budged much lately.

• But cheer up. It's National Donut Day. If you're me, every day is a donut day, but this donut day you can get some free deep-fried deliciousness down at Fountain Square. I started to ditch this news thing to go grab some, but it doesn't start until noon. Hey, free lunch.

 
 
by Rachel Podnar 06.05.2014
at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sherrod brown

Sherrod Brown Pushes Student Loan Refinancing

New bill would save students and government money, but tax those with big bucks

What’s something that homeowners, business and local governments can do that college students cannot?  

Aside from buying alcohol, everyone else can refinance loans for lower interest rates. But at a time when charges for borrowing money have hit nearly historic lows, students have been locked into their older, higher rates.

A new bill looks to remedy that and promises to not only pay for itself, but cut government spending.

So, students, graduates and budget hawks are happy, and everybody wins.

Wrong.

The tricky part — paying for the program — is something called the Fair Share Tax. The reduction in spending would come from the second part of the bill.

Also called “The Buffet Rule,” named after Warren Buffet and championed by Elizabeth Warren, the tax mandates a minimum rate of 30 percent on those who bring in a million dollars or more a year.   

Offering students loans without a refinancing option is a profitable business — the government is set to take in $66 billion on interest alone from loans issued between 2007-2013, according to the Government Accountability Office. Eliminating that money would have big budget implications. That's where the Fair Share Tax comes in.

The Banking on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act would allow those with loans issued before August 9 last year to refinance at the rates passed in 2013 — 3.8 percent for undergraduate loans.

Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, are trying to gather support for the bill. Brown filed the bill with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.  

Warren introduced the bill in the Senate on May 5. She, Brown and other Democrats will be pushing it in the upcoming week.

“Every dollar a current borrower pays in interest is a dollar he or she can’t spend on a car, on a mortgage, or on starting a small business,” Brown said in an email sent out on Thursday requesting signatures to support the bill.

So far, 36 senators have signed it.

Last year, Congress lowered the rate of new loans but left existing rates the same.

Those higher rates are drowning graduates, keeping them stuck in their parents' basements, Warren said on the Senate floor last month.

“Make no mistake, this is an emergency,” she said. “Student loan debt is exploding and it threatens the stability of young people and the future of our economy.”

The Congressional Budget Office released a report on the bill Wednesday. The report found that lowering the rates of outstanding loans would increase spending by $51 billion, but with the new tax thrown in, the bill would also increase revenue by $72 billion between 2015-2019.

The report said deficits could be reduced in the next 10 years by about $22 billion.

Congressional Republicans are sure to oppose the tax increase, considering most have signed Americans for Tax Reform’s taxpayer protection pledge to not raise taxes.

This won’t be the first time congressional Republicans have opposed the proposed tax. It was introduced in 2012 as the Paying a Fair Share Act and fell short of the votes needed to leave the Senate.

In the meantime, student loan debt totals $1.2 trillion, greater than all outstanding credit card debt.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.05.2014
Posted In: News at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Budget passes, bridge tolls, unaffordable housing

Cincinnati passed its $358 million operating budget yesterday, and it’s great and all, except for the parts that aren’t. Nearly everyone on council applauded the fact that the budget is balanced, or close to balanced, or … well, I won’t replay that argument, but the city is getting close to leveling spending with what it takes in without layoffs or deep cuts to core programs.

But there are big concerns, too. Council members Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach questioned a few issues surrounding funding of certain non-profits and community redevelopment groups. These included $4 million borrowed from eight neighborhood TIF districts, cuts to the Neighborhood Business District Improvement Program, and some last-minute additions to the budget. Critics of the additions say they’re sweetheart deals built on cronyism. Some of the organizations in question have connections with big political players, including former Mayor Dwight Tillery’s Center for Closing the Health Gap, which will receive $500,000 from one of the Monday add-ons in the budget.

Simpson was the most vocal about the issues surrounding human services and neighborhood redevelopment funding.

“I was committed and part of an administration prior that was really invested in supporting neighborhood development in a significant way,” she said. “And we’ve cut $4.5 million to neighborhood development in this budget, and I think we’re going to regret that.”

• Council also passed Seelbach’s Domestic Partner Registry initiative yesterday, which will allow same-sex couples to register with the city so they can receive equal benefits from participating employers.

“Ten years ago, at this moment … some called this the most anti-gay city in the country, including me,” Seelbach said. “We’ve come a really long way, and this is one of the last pieces of the puzzle. Unfortunately, the state of Ohio doesn’t recognize marriage equality. It will soon, but until then, this is a tool.”

• A new national study by Homes for All Alliance to be released Friday shows that Cincinnati, like much of the country, is in an affordable housing crisis. More than 63 percent of households in Cincinnati are renters, not homeowners, according to the study. Of those households, half pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent, the federal threshold for unaffordable housing. Even worse, 30 percent of renters in Cincinnati spend more than half their monthly paychecks on a place to live.

A panel discussion on the study and affordable housing in Cincinnati is being held Friday at 6 p.m. at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. It will feature Vice Mayor David Mann, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing Director Mary Burke Rivers, Bonnie Neumeier from Peaslee Neighborhood Center and other advocates for affordable housing.

• The Ohio House yesterday passed a measure to allow electronic tolling, which could have big implications for the Brent Spence Bridge. The bridge is crumbling, and Ohio and Kentucky are currently working on a way to rebuild it. Engineers believe it will take $2.5 billion for a new bridge, and much of that money may have to come from tolls, lawmakers say. Though Ohio is (reluctantly) on board, voters in Kentucky have voiced strong opposition to tolls.

• In the “news that isn’t really new but that you should keep an eye on anyway” category, fixes for the Voting Rights Act are still stalled in Congress and probably will be for a while. The Supreme Court struck down a segment of the law regarding standards that determine which states will receive close scrutiny due to past voting rights violations. Congress can set new standards, but given that Congress can barely decide where they're all going to grab lunch these days, it looks like it could be a long wait.

• Finally, someone took DNA from a relative of Vincent Van Gogh, and, uh, 3D printed a copy of the artist’s ear, which he is said to have cut off in a fit of mental illness in 1888. It’s on display in a German museum, because paintings are kind of boring but Jurassic Park-like replicas of severed ears from long-dead artists are awesome.

 
 
by Rachel Podnar 06.04.2014
Posted In: Labor Unions at 12:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
walmart_exterior

Local Walmart Workers to Strike Wednesday

Employees to walk out of Ferguson Road store during rally at 4:30 p.m.

Protesting illegal firings, low wages and erratic scheduling, Walmart workers are taking a stand this afternoon in Cincinnati by walking off their jobs.

Workers will protest outside the Walmart on Ferguson Road at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon with Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, according to a press release sent out this morning.

Today’s strike is part of a larger strike movement happening in 20 cities across the country this week, leading up to the annual shareholder meeting.

The meeting is this Friday and hundreds of worker shareholders are making the trip to Arkansas as part of a union-backed workers group called OUR Walmart. They plan to request a living wage and family-sustaining jobs, calling for the new CEO Doug McMillion to “take the company in a new direction,” the press release said.

A typical Walmart worker is paid less than $25,000 a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average retail worker makes only $21,000 per year and cashiers even less.

Walmart employees say they have to rely on food stamps while their company received $7.8 billion in tax breaks and subsidies in 2013.

OUR Walmart advocates for a $25,000 base salary for all employees.

“A minimum $25,000 salary at Walmart would not only help families, it would boost job creation, consumer spending, and the company’s bottom-line,” the press release said.

The major employer is currently on trial for worker rights violations involving firing workers who went on strike last year at the company’s annual shareholder meeting.  

The country’s largest and most profitable corporation is also tightening its belt; Walmart took $740 million out of its cost structure in the past year because its operating income grew faster than sales.

Walmart has had to make some changes lately in response to worker’s claims.

In March, the pregnancy policy was updated after an OUR Walmart campaign, allowing for more accommodations for pregnant women.  

In April, the retailer changed its internal scheduling system, making it easier for part-time workers to pick up extra shifts online.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.04.2014
at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Streetcar Advocates Expand Focus

Believe in Cincinnati continues engaging neighborhood leaders about future transit options

Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group that played a big role advocating for the Cincinnati streetcar during and since the infamous City Hall pause, is expanding its focus beyond Over-the-Rhine.

More than 80 people showed up to
a meeting in Clifton Tuesday night to discuss taking the streetcar beyond OTR.

"We started around the streetcar, but our vision is much broader than that,” said Believe in Cincinnati organizer Ryan Messer. He said people from 80 percent of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods are involved in the group. “I think we have a vision that someday every neighborhood will have a transportation committee. The conversation we want to continue is this broader regional transit plan while ensuring we’re going forward with the Cincinnati streetcar.”

Believe in Cincinnati was instrumental in advocating for the streetcar last winter when recently-elected Mayor John Cranley, who campaigned on opposition to the streetcar, put the project on hold. When the project came back online, Vice Mayor David Mann credited the group with making a big difference.

Now progress on the streetcar is humming along. Project executive John Deatrick says construction of the track and the cars themselves is on schedule, with more than 7,000 feet of track done, four stations stops completed and delivery of the first five streetcars expected next fall and winter. Deatrick says the whole system should be up and running by summer 2016.

Deatrick also talked about the possibilities for “phase 1B,” or the extension of the streetcar into uptown. That leg of the route was part of the initial plans for the system until Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in state funds from the project in 2010.

That’s left the proposed extension into Corryville and Clifton without funding. Deatrick said the city has decided not to pursue a federal grant to build the uptown extension, because the downtown portion isn’t far enough along yet.

But Deatrick said the city has continued to explore the possibility of running the streetcar up Vine Street and has kept plans for an eventual expansion up to date.

“As soon as city council and the mayor are ready, we’re ready to apply for more money,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Advocates see uptown, including Avondale, Corryville and Clifton, as a logical next step in the progression of the streetcar since it’s where a big number of the city’s jobs are located, including major hospitals and the University of Cincinnati, the city’s largest employers.

Councilman Kevin Flynn, who cast a deciding vote to restart the project last December, voiced cautious support for Believe in Cincinnati’s efforts but said the challenges faced by efforts to expand the line are daunting. He told the crowd not to put the cart before the horse.

“On the day I made the vote, I said, ‘this isn’t the end, this is the beginning.’” Flynn said. “I see energy, but we have to harness that energy. I understand this is talking about how we get to phase two. I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but the way to get to phase two is to make phase one a success.

"I've talked to a lot of the big employers uptown. They'd all like to see the streetcar up here. There's no money — right now — to do that. But probably more important than the money… there's not the will. The only way the will could possibly be generated is to make phase one a financial success."

While funding is the big stumbling block for expanding the system right now, that hasn’t stopped Believe in Cincinnati from growing. The group recently hired a full-time employee to continue to promote the group and transit projects for the next five months and has been raising funds from donors both in Cincinnati and across the country.

The group has also been meeting with residents in communities outside the streetcar’s current planned path. Messer said he’s spoken with community council members and other community leaders in a number of neighborhoods, including Hyde Park, Avondale and even communities in Northern Kentucky. All have expressed interest in eventually widening the streetcar’s reach.

West Side transit advocate Pete Witte said interest in the streetcar is growing in neighborhoods like Price Hill and Westwood. He joked that Cincinnati’s western neighborhoods are a “lion’s pit” when it comes to the issue. Those neighborhoods voted overwhelmingly for Mayor Cranley and his opposition to the project.

But with progress downtown, Witte said some in the West Side are coming around. He highlighted the looming reconstruction of the Western Hills Viaduct as a great opportunity to have the conversation about expanding transit to the area.

“We’re real people, residents, business owners, raising families, going to school, whatever, who understand the importance that transit can make for our community and the city as a whole,” Witte said of West Siders who are advocating for transit expansion. “We’re going to be meeting and focusing on the Western Hills Viaduct, but it does go beyond that.”

Messer said his group believes the issue of transit doesn’t have to be politically divisive.

“I think a lot of people have said they’re a little surprised we’re not a bunch of flaming liberals who want to put streetcars everywhere and don’t care about what it costs," he said. "Some of us are probably progressive, some of us are not. I don’t know that transit is a partisan issue. We see transit as an investment to grow our city.”
 
 

 

 

 
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