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by Hannah McCartney 02.27.2013
Posted In: Environment, Development at 04:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Over-the-Rhine Eco Garden Could Be Forced to Relocate

Main Street spot is being eyed for CitiRama 2014

Leaders of a quiet Over-the-Rhine civic garden that harvests produce like peaches, tomatoes, garlic and blackberries to sell at Findlay Market are worried they could be forced to relocate after calling the same spot home since 1998.

CitiRama, a partnership between the Cincinnati Homebuilders Association and the city of Cincinnati that holds annual or biannual home shows on chosen urban plots of land, has proposed that the lot at 1718 Main St. in Over-the-Rhine, which currently houses the Eco Garden project (run by local nonprofit Permaganic), be amended to instead house the site for its next event, which would force the garden to relocate.

The Livable Communities Committee yesterday was presented a memo submitted by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr., recommending that the Eco Garden lot, which is currently subletted to Permaganics for its Eco Garden program by the Civic Garden Association (CGA), be relocated to a larger area so the site can be procured for CitiRama

The parcel of land is actually owned by the city of Cincinnati, but the city leases a number of parcels to the CGA for their use. According to the memo, the lease between the city and the CGA expires in 2015, but grants the city the power to terminate the lease at any time if another use for the land arises.

The area containing the Eco Garden has been targeted as the next CitiRama site by the city’s Department of Community Development (DCD), the main controller of the property. According to Dohoney’s memo, should the Eco Garden be forced to move elsewhere, the DCD would fund the garden's startup and relocation costs.

For Angela Ebner, executive director with Permaganic, that’s not a sufficient compromise, but she’s hopeful the parties can reach an agreement by demonstrating that the Garden's OTR existence is actually of value to CitiRama, which is seeking out forward-thinking potential homeowners invested in fostering positive urban cultural experiences.

“We think they’re (CitiRama) interested in working with us because we think they’re interested in working with that demographic of eco-friendly people. I’m pretty certain they’ll be accepting of the fact that we do a really good job of reflecting the needs and values of people in the community,” she says.

CitiRama's events are designed to attract potential homeowners and developers to pinpointed plots of land in hopes of  reviving urban areas with new housing opportunities, but there's also a heavy focus on sustainability. The most recent CitiRama event, which opened at Virginia Place in Northside (located at the intersection of Virginia and Chase avenues), took place in Sept. 2012.

The Eco Garden exists to “create experiential learning opportunities for inner-city youth to cultivate self-reliance, job skills and an entrepreneurial aptitude by cultivating a market garden to grow fresh, healthy vegetables and herbs for direct sales at Findlay Market," according to a Permaganic Facebook post. They recruit local at-risk teens for a unique job readiness program, which allows the teens to work in the garden in exchange for a stipend.

Supporters of Permaganic and the Eco Garden are concerned that moving the garden would cause disrupt not just to the crops that have grown for the past several years, but also the fabric of the neighborhood, particularly the at-risk neighborhood youth who see the space as a "home away from home."

Ebner and supporters are currently waiting for word from the city in hopes of moving forward on a compromise.

“We want a green, peaceful, healthy world for everyone’s children,” says Ebner. “That’s the bottom line.”

by Hannah McCartney 03.05.2012
Posted In: Governor, Government, Ethics at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

ACLU of Ohio Protests Privatizing State Prisons

Says it will add to state budges, hurt public safety and lead to unnecessary incarcerations

There are certain institutions in the U.S. that we don't like to think of as strictly profit-seeking endeavors. It can be difficult to swallow that (supposedly) do-good establishments like retirement homes, textbook companies and hospitals exist to bring in revenue rather than serve the needs of a community without waiver. In Ohio, one state prison is already that a business and others could soon follow suit. 

In September of 2011, Ohio became the first state in the nation to sell a state prison facility to a private prison company when the Lake Erie Correctional Institute in Ashtabula County was sold to the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest prison operator, for $72.7 million.

The idea to privatize Ohio prisons was concocted by Gov. John Kasich in an attempt to fill an $8 billion hole in Ohio's budget. The sale brought in an extra $50 million to use in balancing Ohio's prison budget.

Kasich's budget strategy included an overhaul of Ohio's Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which means that private prison facility owners would actually benefit from more incarcerations. Now, CCA has made an offerto  48 U.S. states to buy and privatize state prisons. The offer, the Corrections Investment Initiative, outlines CCA's plan to spend up to $250 million on state, local and federal entities and then manage the facilities. According to the CCA's statement from Harley Lappin, Chief Corrections Officer at CCA, they're only interested in buying facilities that are willing to sign over rights of ownership to the CCA for a minimum of 20 years, and states must agree to keep the facilities at least 90 percent full.

With six million Americans in the corrections system, the U.S. already has the highest rates of incarceration in the world — including per capita and in absolute terms surpassing countries like Iran, China and Russia. CCA'S website glorifies its mission as noble; a video on the home page shows a patriotic, proudly waving flag. Text touts its strategies as forward-thinking and altruistic, noting that they are "protecting public safety, employing the best people in solid careers, rehabilitating inmates, giving back to communities, and bringing innovative security to government corrections."

The ACLU of Ohio has issued a statement strongly opposing the change; it argues that privatizing state prisons will add debt to state budges, hurt public safety and lead to more unnecessary incarcerations. According to "Prisons for Profit: A Look at Prison Privatization," a report published by ACLU-Ohio, privately-run prisons only offer a short-term infusion of cash, not long-term savings. "Cost savings in privately run facilities [like those run by CCA] are achieved by cutting the pay of workers," says Mike Bricker, ACLU Director of Communications and Public Policy. Corrections officers in private facilities make significantly less and receive far less benefits than those in public facilities. This difference, he says, results in an astronomically higher turnover rate in private facilities. "When something bad happens, they leave," he says.

The high turnover rate makes for a consistently less experienced staff, which means officers aren't as well-prepared when a bad situation does arise. He cites an example when cutting corners came at a high price: A CCA-run Youngstown facility that opened in 1997 brought in 1,700 violent inmates from Washington, D.C. at what was supposed to be a medium-security prison. Over the course of a year, there were 16 stabbings, two murders and six escapes; the situation became such a concern to the community that Youngstown sued CCA in 1998 and the facility was shut down.

According to Brickner, the smallest incident is enough to negate the short-term revenue from privatizing prisons; when the main objective is profit, privatized prisons want to book non-violent offenders who won't be in facilities for a long period of time. That means cells become overcrowded when minor offenders could be in rehabilitation, and extremely violent detainees tend to be managed improperly.

"It is inherently wrong to allow private businesses to make a profit off the incarceration of others," said Brickner in an ACLU press release. “Our state’s prison system is bloated, and private corporations have a vested financial interest to ensure our prisons remain full. If state officials have any hope of shrinking our prison population, we must implement transformative criminal justice reform policies and reject interests that grow our prison system.”

Brickner suggests that concerned citizens contact their elected representatives to express their opposition to privatizing prisons. Read the ACLU's full report on privatizing prisons here.

by Danny Cross 08.02.2013
Posted In: News at 03:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Requiem Project Files Lawsuit over Emery Lease

Organization faced eviction with management agreement set to expire Aug. 3

The Requiem Project filed a complaint today asking a judge to force the Emery Theater’s operating entity to enter into a long-term lease with the organization. 

On Monday, Judge Carl Stitch is scheduled to rule on a motion to grant a temporary restraining order to stop the Requiem from being evicted from the building. The complaint states that the Emery Center Corporation asked Requiem to vacate the theater by Aug. 3 and has requested that Requiem return its keys to the building. It asks the court to declare that the Requiem is entitled to a long-term lease of the property based on a 2010 agreement that the two sides would work toward a long-term lease.

The Requiem Project is a nonprofit organization that formed in 2008 to redevelop the Emery Theater, a 1,600-seat, acoustically pure concert space on Walnut Street in Over-the-Rhine. The theater entrance is on the west side of the building at the corner of Walnut and Central Parkway, which includes Coffee Emporium and about 60 apartments.

Requiem founders Tina Manchise and Tara Gordon have programmed events at the venue during the past few years under temporary occupancy permits. The theater is not eligible for a permanent certificate of occupancy because it needs significant renovations — it currently doesn't have working plumbing or heat. Still, organizers have produced individual events, sometimes bringing in portable toilets and taking other measures to make the space functional. In April, the Emery hosted the Contemporary Dance Theater’s 40th anniversary celebration. It also hosted three nights of live music during last fall’s MidPoint Music Festival, which is owned and operated by CityBeat. MidPoint organizers were unable to secure the venue for this year’s event.

The theater is operated by the Emery Center Corporation (ECC), a nonprofit organization that subleases the theater from the Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership (ECALP), a for-profit corporation that holds a long-term lease to the building from UC. All three parties — UC, ECC and ECALP — are named as defendants in the complaint. 

University of Cincinnati spokesperson Greg Hand declined to comment, only stating that UC doesn’t have a relationship with the Requiem Project because Requiem works directly with the ECC, which subleases part of the building from ECALP.

The Requiem Project alleges that the intent all along was for ECC to lease the space to Requiem long-term, not just for Requiem to program events under a management agreement. According to the complaint, the Requiem and ECC in 2010 signed a Letter of Intent, which stated that the ECC would enter into a lease agreement with the Requiem “on substantially similar terms” as the ECC’s current deal with ECALP, the for-profit entity that oversees the rest of the building. That lease, signed in 1999, is for 40-years and renewable for another 40 years after that. 

The two sides entered into a management agreement while negotiating the long-term lease, but the lease was never agreed upon. The most recent yearlong management agreement is set to expire Aug. 3. 

ECC informed Requiem Jan. 16 that it would not renew the current agreement “for no cause,” according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that the theater cannot obtain a permanent certificate of occupancy because ECALP removed the heat and water systems while renovating part of the building into apartments, which were developed to raise revenue for the eventual renovation of the theater. The renovations of the apartments left the theater without running water, heat, bathrooms or fire escapes, according to the complaint, which notes that ECC let the theater sit empty between the time it took over its management in 1999 and when the Requiem Project came along in 2008. A permanent certificate of occupancy would allow regular programming in the theater, but the venue needs considerable renovations to qualify.

"UC refuses to even meet with the parties to outline its demands," the complaint states. "ECC and ECALP have stopped replying to Requiem's reasonable proposals."

The hearing is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. Monday. 

by German Lopez 09.23.2013
Posted In: News, Development, City Council at 03:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
roxanne qualls

Qualls Unveils ‘Come Home Cincinnati’ Initiative

Plan addresses blight and abandonment in eight Cincinnati neighborhoods

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and community partners on Monday unveiled the “Come Home Cincinnati” initiative, which promises to make vacant properties available to new occupants in an effort to increase homeownership and redevelop neighborhoods hit hardest by vacancy and abandonment.

The goal is to establish a residential base that will help jumpstart private redevelopment and revitalize largely abandoned areas of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Just about a year ago, we were in Evanston to talk about their housing strategy for the Woodburn Avenue corridor and what to do about the 200 vacant and abandoned properties in the community,” Qualls said in a statement. “The next logical step on the path to revitalization is to incentivize private market investment in the residential core of our neighborhoods and help to fill the once-abandoned homes with new owner-occupants.”

The initiative will work through the Hamilton County Land Bank, private lenders and community development corporations to connect potential homeowners with a pool of loan guarantees.

Qualls’ office says the plan will likely require tapping into the city’s Focus 52 fund, which finances neighborhood projects.

The Port Authority estimates the loan guarantee pool will be $2.5 million to $4.5 million and other aspects of the initiative will cost $3.3 million, but not all of the funding will come from the city.

To qualify for the program, owner-occupants will have to meet minimum credit requirements, agree to live in the rehabilitated home for five years and pay for 5 percent of the total rehabilitation and acquisition costs as a down payment. After five years, the loan will be refinanced at the same or better interest rates to relinquish the city and its partners’ loan guarantee.

The city is eyeing a few potential partners for the initiative, including the Cincinnati Development Fund, Cincinnati Preservation Association, the University of Cincinnati Urban Design Center and neighborhood-specific groups.

The initiative will start with 100 homes in the pilot neighborhoods of Evanston and Walnut Hills, but it will expand to Avondale, College Hill, Madisonville, Northside, Price Hill and South Cumminsville as resources grow. It will work in conjunction with the Moving Ohio Forward demolition grant program, which allows the city and Hamilton County Land Bank to tear down blighted and vacant buildings.

At the same time, three of the neighborhoods — College Hill, Madisonville and Walnut Hills — are currently trying out form-based code, a special kind of zoning code championed by Qualls that allows developers to more easily pursue projects as long as they stay within a neighborhood’s established goals.

City Council will now need to approve a motion that gives the city administration 60 days to develop a plan and budget for the initiative. The city administration’s proposal will also require City Council approval.

by 05.19.2010
Posted In: Media Criticism, Immigration at 03:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Enquirer Writer Deleted on His Own Blog

An unusual online exchange Tuesday between an occasional CityBeat freelancer and an Enquirer sports blogger led to the blogger’s own comments being deleted for violating the newspaper’s terms of service.

The comment seems to have been deleted by a moderator for being racist against Hispanics.

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by 07.11.2009
Posted In: Media, Financial Crisis, Business at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Enquirer Layoffs: The Aftermath

CityBeat has held off on posting the names of some people we've heard have been laid off from The Cincinnati Enquirer pending better verification, but we can now confirm two more departures.

 Assistant Business Editor Randy Tucker and Obituaries Writer Rebecca Goodman have left the newspaper's staff. Tucker was a victim of the layoffs; it's unclear whether Goodman was laid off or chose to leave since she recently graduated from law school.

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by German Lopez 01.11.2013
Posted In: News, Prisons, Privatization at 02:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Liberty for Sale

More Bad News From Private Prison

Conneaut councilman asks state to intervene at CCA facility

Private prison critics have been proven right once again. Smuggling incidents are on the rise around Lake Erie Correctional Institution, which Ohio sold to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in 2011.

In a letter to Gov. John Kasich’s northeast Ohio liaison, Conneaut Councilman Neil LaRusch claimed a rise in contraband smuggling has forced local police to increase security around the CCA facility.

Since the end of 2012, four have been arrested and charged with smuggling. Another four were arrested Monday and police suspect they were in Conneaut for a smuggling job. According to the Star Beacon, the four suspects arrested Monday were only caught due to the increased police presence outside the Lake Erie prison.

LaRusch said Conneaut and its police department are already running tight budgets, and they can’t afford to continue padding prison security. He then asked the state and governor to help out with the situation.

The letter prompted a reaction from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU), which has staunchly opposed prison privatization in the state. In a statement, Mike Brickner, director of communications and public policy for the ACLU, said, “Unfortunately, this is a predictable pattern with private prisons. Promises of lower costs quickly morph into higher crime, increased burdens on local law enforcement, and in the end, a higher bill for taxpayers.”

He added, “This is not an anomaly. It is a predictable pattern. The private prison model is built on profit above all else. These facilities will cut corners and shift responsibility to taxpayers wherever necessary to maximize profits.”

The governor’s office and Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) could not be immediately reached for comment. This story will be updated if a response becomes available.

Update (5:00 p.m.): Col. John Born, superintendent of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, responded to the councilman's letter. In his own letter, Born doesn't contradict that there's a rise in drug smuggling, but he gives the issue more context.

Born wrote criminal incidents at the Lake Erie prison have actually decreased. He acknowledges drug smuggling cases went up from four in 2011 to seven in 2012, but he says drug cases have gone down at the prison since 2010.

He also claims seven other state prisons have seen a greater rise in drug smuggling. Born frames the issue in a national context: Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the national problem of illegal drug usage and drug trafficking continues to plague our nation.

Regarding state assistance, Born wrote the Ohio State Highway Patrol does not have the authority to strengthen security in order to directly prevent drug smuggling: It is important to point out the Ohio State Highway Patrol's legal authority and corresponding duties prior to the sale of the prison and after the sale remain largely unchanged. Ohio troopers did not have original jurisdiction on private property off institution grounds while under state operations nor do they today.

He adds the Ohio State Highway Patrol has already deployed more cruisers at the prison, but he believes local law enforcement are still the best option for responding to incidents.

JoEllen Smith, spokesperson for ODRC, wrote in an email, DRC will be in communication with the parties involved to ensure any remaining concerns are addressed.

CityBeat previously covered private prisons in-depth (“Liberty for Sale,” issue of Sept. 19). Within a week of the story going to stands, ODRC Director Gary Mohr said the state would not privatize any more prisons. On the same day of his announcement, Mohr apparently received an audit that found the CCA facility was only meeting 66.7 percent of state standards (“Prison Privatization Blues,” issue of Oct. 10).

by German Lopez 09.13.2012
Posted In: Governor, News, Humor at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kasich at Romney Rally: Wives 'at Home Doing the Laundry'

Governor makes offensive remark when GOP trails among women voters

At a Romney-Ryan rally near Cincinnati yesterday, Gov. John Kasich made some remarks women voters might find offensive. When describing what his wife and the wives of Mitt Romney, Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Rob Portman are doing as the men attend political rallies, Kasich told Romney supporters the women are “at home doing the laundry.”

The full quote: “It’s not easy to be a spouse of an elected official. You know, they’re at home doing the laundry and doing so many things while we’re up here on the stage getting a little bit of applause, right? They don’t often share in it.”

The comments were quickly picked up by liberal blog Plunderbund, which criticized Kasich's history with women.

While the comment may be true (CityBeat could not confirm if Karen Kasich was doing laundry while Kasich was speaking), it does little for a political party already struggling with women voters. In the latest poll from Public Policy Polling, Romney was down 10 points to Obama among women voters in Ohio. This is often attributed to what Democrats labeled a “war on women” by Republicans to diminish contraceptive and abortion rights. CityBeat previously covered the local and national political issues regarding women here.

Kasich had problems with public speaking in the past. In his 2012 State of the State speech, which The Hill labeled “bizarre,” Kasich repeatedly mentioned his “hot wife,” imitated a Parkinson’s patient and referred to Californians as “wackadoodles.” In a previous statement, Kasich said he would run over opponents with a bus. “If you’re not on the bus, we will run over you with the bus,” he told lobbyists. “And I’m not kidding.”

Kasich's latest comment can be found on YouTube:

by 06.19.2009
Posted In: 2009 Election, Mayor, Republicans at 02:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Wenstrup Questions Mayor's Travel, Bodyguard

This week’s issue of CityBeat features an interview with Dr. Brad Wenstrup, the physician who’s the Hamilton County Republican Party’s mayoral candidate.

Wenstrup, who turned 51 on Wednesday, is an orthopedic surgeon who lives in Columbia Tusculum and is an Iraq War veteran. This is his first run for political office.

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by Andy Brownfield 07.16.2012
Posted In: 2012 Election, President Obama, News, LGBT Issues at 04:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Obama Visits Cincinnati For Packed Town Hall Meeting

President touts support for small businesses and LGBT rights

In the first town hall-style event of the 2012 campaign, President Barack Obama fielded questions on Monday about rights for the LGBT community, what he would do for small business during a second term and which was his favorite Girl Scout cookie (Thin Mints).

Obama — the first Democrat to carry Hamilton County since Lyndon Baines Johnson — held a packed town hall meeting at Music Hall. Cincinnati Fire Department Capt. Joseph E. Wolf estimated the crowd at 1,200 people in the ballroom with an additional 421 hosted outside.

The most recent Quinnipiac University poll from June 27 showed that 47 percent of Ohio voters favored the president, while 38 percent were behind his presumed Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

Mayor Mark Mallory fired up the crowd before the president spoke, saying Hamilton County is the most important county in Ohio, and Cincinnati the most important city in the county.

“The folks in this room are the most important folks in terms of the re-election of President Barack Obama in the United States of America,” Mallory said.

Attending the town hall was former Cincinnati mayor and daytime TV host Jerry Springer, who said he and about a dozen other folks had a private meeting with the president earlier in the day.

"I think it would be bad for the country," Springer said of an America that saw Obama lose the November election. He says the Republican-controlled house would run away with our country without a Democrat in the Oval Office to issue a veto.

Just an hour before the president spoke and seven blocks away at Fountain Square, dozens of Romney supporters rallied, carrying signs with slogans such as “Obama Bin Lyin’.”

Republican Mike Wilson, who is looking to unseat Montgomery Democrat Rep. Connie Pillich in the Ohio House of Representatives, was among the speakers at the Romney Rally. Pillich defeated Wilson in the 2010 election.

"Ohio seems destined to play a pivotal role. We're used to it," Wilson said.

Wilson criticized the Obama campaign for “playing politics” with Romney’s tenure at the head of investment firm Bain Capital.

The Obama campaign has claimed that Romney invested in businesses that outsourced American jobs.

“We're all interested with what Romney did with his money, but we're not interested with what Obama is doing with our money," Wilson said.

He blamed over-regulation and taxation from the Obama administration for companies moving their operations overseas.

Gerry Molt, who attended the rally with his wife Roxanne, claimed that Obama is at war with America and says the focus on Bain Capital is “clearly a distraction.”

Roxanne Molt said she’s excited about the importance of Hamilton County in this year’s election.

“I think this is the premier election of our lifetime,” she said. “I think Romney’s got a good plan. We need someone who supports capitalism.”

The president did a little bit to support Cincinnati capitalism, making a pit stop at Skyline Chili before the town hall, where he ordered a 4-way and two cheese coneys.

The economy was a big focus of Obama’s speech, but also of questions he received afterward.

Tony White, who owns a barber shop/beauty salon, asked what the president would do for small businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

In his response, the president touted the possible savings for small businesses under the health care overhaul, saying they could pool together and receive the same rates as larger businesses. As for moving forward, Obama said he would continue to put pressure on banks to lend to small businesses.

“We’ve actually been pushing the banks to say, ‘look, taxpayers pulled your backside out of the fire, it’s now important for you to step up and make sure that small businesses aren’t finding their credit restricted, especially if they’ve been in business for a while,” he said.

The president was also asked by a woman who only identified herself as Anna what he would do to further help the LGBT community. Anna’s son Adam is openly gay and is looking at attending Miami University in Oxford.

Despite earlier teasing that he wouldn’t sing at the town hall, Obama led the crown in singing “Happy Birthday” to Adam, who turned 18 on Monday.

Obama again answered the question by touting his accomplishments so far — ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that forbid homosexuals from serving openly in the military and expanding hospital visitation  rights to same-sex partners — before going on to say that the federal Defense of Marriage Act needs to be repealed.

The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Obama is the first American president to openly support gay marriage.

The theme the president to which continued to return was that America needs to return to being the land of opportunity.

“What really sets us apart has always been that we have the greatest middle class and a basic idea that’s at the heart of this country that says if you work hard then you can get ahead. If you’re responsive, then you can live out your dreams. You’re not confined to the circumstances of your birth.”

German Lopez contributed to this report.