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by Nick Swartsell 06.27.2014 25 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
p.g. sittenfeld.nar

Not-Quite-Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati startups, downtown grocery and income inequality

So I'm a bit late with news this morning, or the morning was a bit early, one of those. It probably has something to do with CityBeat winning six Cincinnati SPJ awards last night. Though I wasn't part of the team in 2013 when those awards were earned, I did my part by putting in extra hours celebrating.

Anyway, enough about us. Here's what's going on in the world.

Cincinnati’s startup community got some love yesterday when America Online cofounder Steve Case rolled into town with his Rise of the Rest tour, which celebrates entrepreneurs in American cities. Case praised Cincinnati’s progress in bringing vitality back to its downtown area and credited that renaissance at least in part to the city’s startups and young entrepreneurs.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzger, who is riding shotgun on the tour, also praised the Queen City for the level of access startups have to the large corporations in town. She said what the city needs now is a big hit — a startup that really makes it big and shows the world that Cincinnati is a great place to start a business.

Mayor John Cranley was in the mix as well, touting Cincinnati’s strengths as a marketing town. He called the city “the best place in the world” for marketing entrepreneurs. While that’s kind of like your parents talking about how awesome you are to their work colleagues (of course he’s going to say that), Cranley’s point holds some weight — with so many big companies in town needing all sorts of fresh ideas, it can’t hurt to be living at their doorstep if you’re hoping to do some business with them.

One Cincinnati startup, called Frameri, got $100,000 from Case and an invitation to pitch their business in Washington, D.C. Frameri, which makes high-style glasses with interchangeable frames and lenses, beat out seven other local businesses in a pitch competition. The company is an alum of OTR’s business incubator The Brandery. No word from Case yet on my business idea, which involves a food delivery service that launches burritos from those pneumatic tubes you see in old bank building drive-thrus. Still waiting for that call, Steve…

• In other downtown news, Kroger is adjusting its ideas about starting a grocery store in the Central Business District. The Business Courier reports that Kroger CEO Roger McMullen discussed the chain’s plans for a downtown store at yesterday’s annual shareholder meeting, revealing that less may be more in the company’s eyes. Kroger had been mulling a full-size store here but is now considering something smaller and more specialized.

• Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and other Democrats held an event this morning near UC criticizing Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature for the low level of funding for higher education in the state. Democrats also gathered in Columbus to protest dwindling education spending, which they say make college unaffordable for many Ohio families. One talking point — Ohio’s budget spends less than 10 percent on higher education for the first time in four decades. Gov. Kasich has acknowledged that college affordability is a problem but says schools need to do more to cut costs and make sure degrees lead to good-paying jobs.

The Associated Press reports that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office is having a difficult time documenting how it goes about choosing law firms for special assignments. DeWine says there’s a rigorous process used to vet firms and decide who gets the lucrative state contracts, but public records request by AP found… nothing. It’s entirely possible that the AG’s dog ate the records or that maybe DeWine just keeps all that info in his head. The revelation comes as allegations are being made that these kinds of contracts are often awarded to firms who donate to the state Republican party. DeWine’s opponent for the AG post, Cincinnati-based lawyer David Pepper, has said DeWine’s office is engaged in a “pay to play” arrangement. DeWine, however, says his office’s choices are transparent and fair.

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that political polarization, which is at an all-time high, contributes to income inequality. This is kind of like a two-for-one in the “hot political topics” world. The study doesn’t go so far as to nail down why the gap between America’s political ideologies tracks so closely with the gap in rich and poor Americans’ incomes, but it does make a couple guesses, which are worth reading about. Basically, it may have to do with the country’s rightward shift toward policies that tend to benefit more wealthy citizens. Or heck, maybe it’s just a big crazy coincidence and the tea party really will make everything great for everyone if we only embrace their Mad-Max style dreams for a government-less future. Could be.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.26.2014 26 days ago
Posted In: Labor Unions at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Group Asks Kroger to Support Farm Workers

Coalition for Immokalee Workers pushes for higher wages, better treatment

Oscar Otzoy, center left, stands with fellow protesters outside a Kroger shareholder meeting at Music Hall
Nick Swartsell

 A national group working to convince companies to change the way they buy produce picketed Kroger's annual shareholder meeting Thursday.

About 100 activists showed up, holding signs and chanting as shareholders filed into the meeting at Music Hall. Some were local, while others came from Columbus, Florida and elsewhere.

The group organizing the event, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is based in Immokalee, Fla., and pushes for higher wages and improved working conditions for farm laborers. A large amount of produce production takes place in Florida and throughout the South, and the industry is rife with complaints of worker exploitation and mistreatment.

Hundreds of thousands of farm workers labor in Florida, and many make just pennies per pound picked, meaning it can take picking a couple tons a day to make a living wage. That’s if they make any money at all. Florida has prosecuted a number of cases of slave labor in the agricultural industry in the past decade and a half, leading to the discovery of more than 1,000 people being exploited for unpaid slave labor.

The adverse conditions affect people of color disproportionately. A study by the Center for Racial Justice Innovation found that 50 percent of low-wage workers in the food industry are people of color, and that 65 percent of low-wage farm workers are Hispanic.

CIW started in 1993 as a small, local coalition working to improve these conditions, specifically working with tomato pickers. The group began near the city of Immokalee in southwest Florida, known as “the tomato capital of the world.” The organization had big success pushing for higher wages and better treatment and has grown to become a national-level organizing group for workers.


Oscar Otzoy picks produce and advocates for farm labor rights. He’s working in Columbus now but lived in Immokalee for eight years before that. He's been involved in the coalition to improve farm workers’ rights that entire time.

He says before the coalition, working days in the fields were long, and workers had little recourse when they were mistreated.

“Back then, you’d work long, hard hours, and if you were abused in the fields, if you were a victim of sexual harassment, as many women are, there was no system,” he said. “If workers wanted to complain, they would be fired on the spot. That’s all changing now.”

Otzoy says the life of a farm laborer can be hard, especially without groups like the CIW.

“You wake up very early in the morning, usually about 4 a.m., and then get on a bus to the field to work,” said Otzoy, describing a typical day before he joined the coalition. “But when you get there, you usually don’t start working until about 10 a.m., when the pesticides have dried and it’s safe to enter. All the time in between is unpaid.”


Protesters picket as Kroger shareholders enter Music Hall
Nick Swartsell
The CIW’s Fair Food Program, an effort to address some of the hardships of work in the produce industry, pushes for an extra cent per pound paid to workers, supports a code of conduct for companies and educates workers about their rights. CIW says the Fair Food Program has resulted in $12 million in extra pay for workers since it was first instituted.

McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, Chipotle, Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Wal Mart, among other large companies responsible for billions of dollars in the produce trade, have all participated in the Fair Food Program. Some staunch holdouts include Wendy’s and Publix, a Southern grocery store chain.

Kroger is another company that has yet to join in.

“We’ve been here every year, and we’re trying to grow our numbers,” said Sameerah Ahmad, a local organizer working with CIW at the protest. “We’ve been organizing these protests for a few years. We want to show escalation and pressure and show we’re not going way.

Kroger is the nation’s largest grocer after Wal-Mart, with total sales of more than $34 billion. The chain has not yet responded to calls to join fair food efforts. While the company itself hasn’t participated directly in any known agricultural injustices, Ahmad said that as part of the produce industry, the company should make sure it’s sourcing its food ethically.

“Kroger can take a big step by supporting workers’ rights in the fields,” she said.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.26.2014 26 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_breweryexhibitatbettshouse_clyffsidebrewery_stevenhampton

Morning News and Stuff

Council goes on summer vacation, Cincy's breweries get some national love and there's a bear out there

Alright, it’s pretty early in the morning for me, so please forgive me for the following hokey, news-related metaphor.

Cincinnati City Council is about to go on summer vacation, but they’ve spent the past few days doing all their homework, including at least one pretty tough math problem. Yesterday they turned their work in, giving final approval for deals that will bring more than 4,000 jobs to the city. These include an eventual 600 new jobs from Cincinnati Bell, which is consolidating its operations downtown, and another 650 new jobs from Catholic Health Partners, which is moving to Bond Hill.

They also made some more controversial decisions, including giving 3CDC preferred developer status over 33 properties north of Liberty Street. The neighborhood’s community council has balked at that idea, saying room needs to be made for independent developers, affordable housing and community input.

The toughest fight came over what to do about two affordable housing projects vying for the same pot of $1.9 million. In the end, council’s Budget and Finance Committee did some subtraction, giving $1.3 million to Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and holding back the rest for supportive permanent housing, possibly in the form a project in Avondale, though that project has received some criticism.

• Mayor John Cranley was scheduled to join U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzger and America Online co-founder Steve Case at Fountain Square this morning to talk about start-ups and entrepreneurialism. The event kicked off at 9:30 a.m. and was part of the “Rise of the Rest” tour, which celebrates start-up culture in America’s cities.

• The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been all over Cincinnati of late. A few days ago, it put two Cincinnati buildings on its list of 11 most endangered in the country. But it’s also given the city some positive attention, penning this blog/love letter to Cincinnati’s brewery scene. Aw shucks, thanks guys.

There’s a bear out there, and he’s been looking for love in all the wrong places. The black bear seemingly wandered into Ohio from Kentucky sometime earlier this week and has most recently been spotted in Montgomery. An Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesperson told WXIX that the bear is “looking for a girlfriend” and that the limited bear population in Ohio means he’ll probably have little luck. Which makes me wonder: Whose job it is to teach this bear how to use Tinder?

Ohio has seen its Hispanic populations grow in every county except one, even as the state’s non-Hispanic population declines. The state gained about 32,000 people who identify as Hispanic between 2010 and now, and lost 7,000 people identifying as non-Hispanic. The ethnic designation is a bit problematic — it has nothing to do with race and identifies people from a range of countries with a range of backgrounds — but in general refers to those who identify with cultures from Mexico, Central or South America. The boost in the Hispanic population isn’t so much due to immigration, demographers say, as it is to birthrate. More American-born Hispanics have recently come of age and started having children, according to the study done by the Census Bureau.

• A recent study suggests America's housing situation is about to change dramatically as more of the Millennial generation surges into the housing market. That could have huge implications for rental costs, housing availability in the city and the supply of affordable housing, experts say.

• Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-West Chester, is threatening to sue the Obama administration over his use of executive orders and his supposed failure at enforcing laws properly. The suit is also rumored to include a dispute over a used 1986 Pontiac Firebird Boehner bought from Obama on Craigslist that Boehner says has a pretty bad oil leak. No, no, it's actually just the first two. Because you know, Congress has been SO SO GOOD at its job lately.

• Finally, it’s been a mixed-up ride for the tea party of late. The insurgent conservative movement gained a huge victory when House candidate David Brat toppled Majority Leader Eric Cantor. But bruising primary results in other states, including Mississippi, haven’t been great for the movement. There, incumbent  Senator Thad Cochran held on to his seat even after he was down in the primary election to tea partier and State Senator Chris McDaniel. But Cochran thumped McDaniel in a runoff election. Other primaries taking place in the past few days have shown similar results. The losses certainly don’t represent the end of the conservative phenomenon, but it seems candidates sponsored by outside groups like Club for Growth and Freedomworks are not gaining the traction conservative activists had hoped for. Which, you know, is great, because these guys are usually pretty nuts.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.25.2014 26 days ago
Posted In: City Council at 11:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
avondale housing

A Win-Win of Sorts for Affordable Housing

Council funds one development and leaves the door open for another

A deal approved by City Council June 25 splits the city’s limited funds among two affordable housing projects, funding one one in Over-the-Rhine and leaving the door open for another that’s been in the works for the last few years in Avondale.

The compromise didn’t come without contentiousness, though.

A 100-unit permanent supportive housing project called Commons of Alaska first proposed in 2008 for Avondale has received support from the majority of council in the past, including indications it would get $500,000 in funding toward the facility. But the project has also been delayed as some in Avondale have protested the plans by Columbus-based National Church Residences.

As controversy stalled the Avondale project, Over the Rhine Community Housing put together an unrelated plan to buy up and rehab affordable housing in the Pendleton District in eastern Over-the-Rhine. The city administration indicated to OTRCH that it would be able to use $1.9 million in federal grant money the city holds to help purchase and restore the properties.

Just a couple catches — that’s all the grant money the city has for affordable housing and it’s the same pool of money that would have gone to NCR for Avondale. The NCR project has been around longer, but some council members are adamantly against it and groups in Avondale opposed to the Commons are vocal and active, continually voicing their opposition to the project.

The Pendleton plan has its own drawbacks. Originally, the plan called for all the available grant money for just 40 units of housing. NCR’s plan called for just a quarter of the funds. OTRCH says the properties in question are very neglected, despite having been rehabbed in the 1990s. They must also be purchased first, which accounts for much of the big price tag.

As City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee met June 23, it looked like a battle was shaping up over the money. But it wasn’t to be, and compromise won the day.

“Affordable housing and permanent supportive housing are in our heart, they’re what we do,” said Mary Burke Rivers, executive director of OTRCH. “It’s a really difficult position to be in right now, because we support the NCR project.”

Rivers asked the Budget Committee to work with both developers to figure out a way to do both projects.

Vice Mayor David Mann offered an amendment to give $1.3 million to OTRCH and hold the other $500,000 or so in grant funds until the NCR project can be sorted out or until another supportive housing project can be worked out. The Budget Committee, and subsequently council, passed that deal.

OTRCH, which had looked likely to get all the $1.9 million it requested, agreed to scale back plans and make the lower funding work so both projects could be done. That doesn’t mean the NCR project has a green light, however.

An alternate site in another part of Avondale is under consideration, but there are a number of procedural hurdles and opposition is still loud against the project.

Some resident groups there say Avondale already has a high concentration of low-income housing, a result of historic inequalities in city planning going back to the 1960s.

Ruth Johnson Watts said she’s lived in North Avondale since 1963.

“When will we stop this trend of keeping crime and poverty concentrated in one or a few neighborhoods?" she asked. "We’re saying that Avondale has reached the capacity for poverty and crime without the necessities of life in our community, like grocery stores, a pharmacy and jobs.”

At least part of the objection to the project is the nature of permanent supportive housing, which provides affordable housing and recovery resources for those who would otherwise be homeless due to addiction problems, mental health issues or disabilities.

Advocates say the housing is a necessary step in a multiple-tiered path out of homelessness, starting when an individual enters a temporary shelter and ending when they are able to achieve independent housing. The city’s Homeless to Homes program calls for supportive housing like the Commons at Alaska would provide, but currently the city only has about 15 percent of the units called for in the plan.

NCR has won national recognition for its work with rehabilitative housing, but the group has caught flack for lack of community outreach in Avondale.

Councilmember Christopher Smitherman lambasted the developer during the Budget Committee meeting, saying the group’s efforts to inform Avondale residents about their plan wasn’t good enough and that NCR should be sending letters to every property owner in the area.

“This isn’t complicated, this community engagement,” he said. “It really frustrates me that we’re here talking about a project where those community stakeholders haven’t even been properly identified and communicated with."

Amy Rosenthal of NCR said the group has reached out to half a dozen key individuals and groups in the area and will continue to work with the community.

During council’s final vote on the compromise yesterday, Councilmember Yvette Simpson suggested that instead of simply opposing more affordable housing in the neighborhood, other council members and Avondale residents should oppose those who aren’t doing the job well.

She said her mother had once been placed in what she called sub-standard permanent supportive housing in Avondale.

“The reality is, when you have a great provider for the people who need it, it can be a stability point for the community as opposed to the many facilities in Avondale and throughout our city that are taking a check from people, and people are wandering off,” Simpson said.

She recalled a personal experience.

“My mother walked home from Avondale to Lincoln Heights and nobody knew she was gone. As someone who has lived with this my entire life, evaluating, trying to find a safe place for a parent, it’s real — you know the difference.”
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.25.2014 27 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_streetcar_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar cost confusion, Northside development and campaign finance questions

This morning, as it seems every morning, people are disagreeing on the streetcar. I know, big breaking news, right?

Currently, the disagreement is as follows: Have cost estimates gone up for the always-embattled transit project’s eventual operations, or haven’t they? It depends on what you read, and which study you look at. The Enquirer yesterday ran a story reporting that the deficit the streetcar will run — the gap between operating costs and its revenues — will be $2.6 million in its first full year of operation and would then climb to $3.85 million by 2025. The story then compares those numbers to a study done in December by KPMG, an independent auditing firm, which found that operating deficit would top out at $2.4 million.

So clearly the expected costs of the streetcar have gone up right? Not so fast, the city says. Streetcar project leader John Deatrick said yesterday that the city has always expected the deficit to end up around the $3.85 million figure, which were included in an earlier study of the project. The city isn’t sure exactly how the KPMG arrived at their numbers, but a spokesperson for SORTA told the Business Courier that the two estimates aren’t comparable.

The KPMG study was commissioned by City Council during the December fight over possible cancellation of the streetcar project, and is a cost assessment of that proposed cancellation. The city’s numbers were developed by another group, called TRA, and they take into account staff and administrative costs. It’s unclear if the KPMG numbers do this as well.

Deatrick did reveal that the start-up costs for the streetcar-- training staff, testing the project, and other details-- could cost $1 million more than originally anticipated. He asked council for that money, which will be needed by 2016, at the Transportation Committee meeting yesterday.

• A new development broke ground yesterday at one of Northside’s most prominent intersections. The Gantry building will hold 130 apartments and first-floor retail and dining at the corner of Blue Rock and Hamilton Avenue. The $13 million project is expected to finish next year. Check out this story for illustrations of the building, which looks to be a big departure from the aesthetics of the neighborhood now.

• Gov. John Kasich, Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine have all received those special invitations to a party you never want to go to: court hearings over alleged campaign finance improprieties. The three Ohio GOP leaders received subpoenas related to millionaire and big GOP funder Ben Suarez. The North Canton businessman is accused of funneling illegal contributions to two other Republicans, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel and Rep. Jim Renacci, a Republican from Wadsworth, after they sent letters on his behalf over a California false-advertising lawsuit. Prosecutors charge that after the letters were sent, Suarez channeled $100,000 from his employees to each politician. Both later returned the donations.

Kasich, Husted and DeWine are trying to RSVP a “no, thanks” to the whole mess, fighting the legal standing of the court summons. Suarez wants the Republicans to testify that letters from politicians on constituents’ behalf are normal and legal.

• A new study by Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business found that Ohio is ranked 38th in the nation in terms of job growth. That’s not that great, really. On the upside, we beat Michigan by one spot and New Jersey by several. Hey guys, we’re not New Jersey!

• ICYMI: American Apparel kicked their founder to the curb recently after years of allegations that he’s, well, super creepy. Dov Charney has weathered a number of sexual harassment lawsuits and other scandals during his time leading the company. None of that was a big deal for the label, which is famous for its racy ads featuring scantily clad models, until it started losing money. Like, lots of money. Now the company is looking to distance itself from Charney’s weird sideshow in order to clean up its image a bit.

* Finally, and really relevant to nothing in particular in the news today, here's a pretty awesome map someone recently did of America's tribal nations as they existed before contact with Europeans. NPR has a great story on the map here.

 
 
by Rachel Podnar 06.24.2014 28 days ago
Posted In: 2014 election, Governor at 10:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ed fitzgerald

Ed FitzGerald to Walk in Northside Fourth of July Parade

Gubernatorial candidate follows former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' appearance last year

Ohio Democrat gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is coming to Northside for the Fourth of July Parade.

FitzGerald will walk in the parade, but will not hold a speaking event. The parade will be his only public appearance while he is in Cincinnati. 

“He knows it’s a great celebration for the 4th of July and he enjoys the Cincinnati area,” campaign press secretary Lauren Hitt says. “He’s excited to get out and see some folks there.”

The Cuyahoga County executive and democratic nominee will face incumbent Republican Gov. John Kasich this November. FitzGerald recently signed on for five debates — Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Sandusky and Zanesville — against Kasich.

This past weekend FitzGerald walked in the Columbus Pride Parade, in line with his support of same-sex marriage.

Last year, Gabrielle Gifford’s appeared in Northside’s annual community parade and held a rally on gun control before the parade.

Member of parade committee Ollie Kroner said the parade organizers typically invite city politicians, but FitzGerald reached out to the parade.

“I just think the parade has a reputation beyond our side and beyond the city,” Kroner says. “When politicians want to come and get a taste for local flair the parade is a great venue for that.”

The parade will take place at noon on July 4 and travel south on Hamilton Avenue through the Northside business district. It is part of the three-day Northside Rock n’ Roll Carnival.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.24.2014 28 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Renovations for landmarks, renewal for OTR, rebirth for a guy stuck in an anatomically correct sculpture

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…

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.23.2014 29 days ago
Posted In: Development at 04:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
master-plan

GE Moving to The Banks

City and county seal the deal, offer sweet incentives

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.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.23.2014 29 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Let's talk about the future, pro-life groups make battle plan and why we call it soccer

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.)

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.20.2014 32 days ago
Posted In: Courts at 01:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
workers comp

Courts: Ohio Agency Owes Area Businesses Big

Recent decision says Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation charged unfair rates

What do the Cincinnati Ballet, Jungle Jim’s and the YWCA have in common? Last month, an Ohio court upheld a ruling that the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation has been overcharging these and thousands of other businesses and organizations in the state. Meanwhile, the BWC cut rates for other employers who were part of preferred groups, Ohio’s 8th District Appellate Court said.

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.

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 07.22.2014 12 hours ago
Posted In: News, Drugs at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_needleexchange_jf

Northside Community Council OKs Needle Exchange

Northside program an effort to fight disease, demonstrate benefits of exchanges

Northside Community Council voted July 21 to allow a needle exchange program in the neighborhood. The effort, run by the Cincinnati Exchange Program, will start sometime in August and operate from a van one day a week for three hours at a time. Planned Parenthood will also participate, providing testing services for diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

Exchanges, which aim to cut down the transmission of those diseases among intravenous drug users, have been controversial in the city. A similar effort in Springdale earlier this year was shut down after just a few weeks due to outcry from some in the community. But the community council in Northside thinks the program is worth it.

“The community has been doing its due diligence as to how the program would work and what the repercussions are, and decided the health benefits definitely outweigh any consequences,” said Northside Community Council President Ollie Kroner. “Northside wants to be part of the solution to the heroin epidemic.”

A 2012 study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that needle exchange programs can greatly reduce the number used syringes found littering streets. And a 2004 study by the World Health Organization found that exchanges do not increase the rate of heroin use in areas where they are undertaken.

Heroin addiction has been rising steadily in Ohio in the past five years. 2012 Ohio Department of Health data shows that 159 people in Hamilton County died from heroin overdoses, a 6 percent increase over the year before. Experts trace the epidemic to an increase in the availability of prescription opiates in the last decade. As Ohio has cracked down on those drugs, addicts turn to other, similar drugs to experience the same high. The most popular by far is heroin.

Local organizations, including Northside-based Caracole work hard to fight heroin addiction and prevent overdoses. But as heroin use increases, needles infected with various blood-borne diseases including HIV and hepatitis are a serious concern. Hepatitis C in particular has been increasing among intravenous drug users in the area. Needle exchanges allow a person to exchange a used needle for a new, sterile one, so they at least won’t catch deadly diseases associated with intravenous drug use. The exchanges also cut down on the level of needle litter, meaning less risk of exposure for community members who aren’t using.

Opponents say exchanges encourage heroin use, but supporters of the programs say the availability of clean needles alone won’t sway a person to take or not take the incredibly addictive drug.

Kroner said the effort is a six-month pilot program to demonstrate the benefits of needle exchanges. Though some in the community have expressed concerns that the exchange will create a perception that Northside has a heroin issue, Kroner emphasized that the program isn’t a response to any specific drug problem in the community.

“What we’re really hoping is that Northside can show that this kind of program can work in other communities,” Kroner said.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.22.2014 13 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

National Urban League comes to Cincy, landmark renovations may cost more cash, Cranley says cities don't need to annex the burbs

It's morning! I have news! Morning news! Wow, sorry, that's a lot of exclamation points. I sprung for the large iced coffee this morning and probably need to settle down a little. Anyway, here we go:

Cincinnati is playing host to the annual National Urban League Conference this week. The event, held by one of America’s oldest and largest civil rights organizations, is expected to draw 8,000 people to the city for events Wednesday through Saturday.

The conference is a big deal for Cincinnati. Last time the city tried to host the event in 2003, it was recovering from the 2001 civil unrest that gave Cincinnati a national reputation for race problems. Notable black entertainers boycotted downtown and the Urban League took its conference elsewhere. Since then, some reconciliation and a lot of revitalization has happened, but many old problems remain. In a report called “The State of Black America,” the Urban League ranked the city 74th out of 77 peer cities in terms of economic equity between blacks and whites. Blacks in the Greater Cincinnati area make an average of $24,272 a year compared to $57,481 for whites, the greatest disparity of any city in the region.

Here’s a quote worth thinking about in a Cincinnati Enquirer piece on the event:

"The riots ... were also about economic frustration," said Donna Jones Baker, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Greater Southwest Ohio. "These economic gaps continue. And while we have a vibrancy in the city because of wonderful things happening, we have a group of people who can't access them. We can’t expect people to suffer in silence forever.”

Among those attending the event are Vice President Joe Biden and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Biden will make opening remarks Wednesday and Paul will deliver a town hall speech Friday. This seems like a good opportunity for both to keep their speaking short and their listening long, but yeah.

• The cost of renovating Union Terminal and Music Hall may be more than initially estimated, a group of consultants say. International real estate company Hines looked over engineers’ $331 million cost estimates and found places where more money may be needed for both projects. The possible overrun could amount to $10 million more added to the project.

The revelation comes during a continuing disagreement about where renovation money should come from. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann suggests the city chip in to help shore up the landmarks. Hartmann argues that the county can’t “go it alone” in efforts to fix the buildings. A further city contribution would be in addition to the $10 million the city has already pledged for the renovations. Mayor John Cranley shot back at Hartmann yesterday with an editorial detailing the city’s ongoing commitment to the buildings.

• A group of parachutists landed on a parking garage at Fourth and Elm yesterday, according to police. Annnd…. that’s about all anyone knows about it. The group may have been BASE jumpers parachuting from Carew Tower, or may have jumped from an airplane, though air traffic controllers at Lunken Airport didn’t report anything out of the ordinary. Maybe they were protesting something, but none were wearing tiger suits or waving banners shaming Procter & Gamble, so it's hard to tell.

• Horseshoe Casino, which has been open just over a year, is undertaking a half-million dollar, 8,700-square-foot expansion. The new addition sounds like it will be a patio for people to take smoke breaks when they need to cool off from all the fun they’re having fighting battles against the one-armed bandit (that’s a slot machine for those not hip to casino lingo). The patio will be enclosed, have a bar and will only be accessible from inside the casino, Horseshoe representatives say, though they’re tight-lipped so far about further details.  

• Cincinnati and Mayor Cranley are featured prominently in a Governing magazine article about changes in the way cities view their outlying suburbs. The article discusses how some cities are shifting away from the view that suburbs are valuable prizes to be annexed or wrapped up in Indianapolis/Louisville-style city and county combined governments. A renewed interest in cities among the young and well-to-do and an increase in suburban poverty are cited as reasons for the shift in thinking from some city leaders.

Cranley’s view that Cincinnati is just fine without taking over surrounding suburbs challenges conventional accepted wisdom.

“You had a sentiment that urban cores need the wealth of the suburbs to have a better budget picture,” he says in the article. “People in the suburbs escaped the city to flee the problems. But that’s changing. You’re going to see cities in a better financial situation than a lot of the suburbs.”

• Finally, a story that could (hopefully) only happen in New York City, where a developer has won permission from the city to have two separate entrances in a new apartment building — one for well-to-do residents of its luxury units and another for the tenants of its required-by-law affordable units. So, basically, a poor door.

Last year, another developer explained just such a plan for another building thusly:

“No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations,” said David Von Spreckelsen, a senior VP at Toll Brothers, a New York development company. “So now you have politicians talking about that, saying how horrible those back doors are. I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.”

Translation: Being rich is hard when you have to rub elbows with not-rich folks, who should just shut up and enjoy the crumbs we’re throwing them.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.21.2014 37 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
voices_wwe_greenpeaceprotest_jf6

Morning News and Stuff

Greenpeace case moves forward, local activists rally for Palestinian civilians and an epic achievement

Heavy stuff in the news today, but there’s a bright spot at the end of this rundown, something so inspiring it will probably change your life. Well, maybe just your week. Err, I don’t want to oversell it. I promise you’ll be amused for at least a couple minutes if you make it to the end of this. Read on.

The next chapter in the saga of nine Greenpeace activists who hung banners from P&G buildings happens today. A pretrial hearing will determine whether lawyers for the activists will be able to access P&G e-mails about the event to use in their case. Lawyers are also requesting records about maintenance of the building, more than likely related to the alleged $18,000 in damage done to windows in the building. That damage is part of prosecutors’ case that the group should face felony charges. Meanwhile, the Greenpeace activists are considering a plea deal that would keep them out of jail but saddle them with probation and felonies on their records. A date for the trial is expected to be set today.

Update: One of the nine protesters will take the plea deal, WLWT reports. The other eight will go to trial to face burglary and vandalism charges.

Hundreds rallied downtown Sunday to show support for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, where more than 400 civilians have been killed over the past few weeks in clashes between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas. Local protesters said their rally was about highlighting Palestinian civilians’ human rights.

“We have to be the voice for the voiceless," said Zeinab Schwen, a Symmes Township resident with family in Gaza. "For the children and parents, we have to speak up. It is not OK. It is not OK what Israel is doing.”

Israel launched a ground offensive Sunday in Gaza in response to rocket attacks from Hamas. Israeli leaders say they’re not trying to hurt civilians, and that Palestinian militants are putting them in harm’s way. But some witnesses claim that the Israeli army is targeting ambulances and other civilian vehicles as it carries out its offensive. In addition to the hundreds killed in Gaza, more than 3,000 Palestinians have been wounded by the fighting. 20 Israeli soldiers, including two with American citizenship, have also been killed.

• Macy’s, the Cincinnati-based department store behemoth, is nearing a settlement in a civil rights suit brought by actor Rob Brown. Brown, the star of TV series “Treme,” says the chain’s New York City store profiled him and others due to his race. He is black.  According to his suit, Brown was handcuffed and detained by security at the store for more than an hour when attempting to buy a watch for his mother. Other shoppers have filed similar complaints alleging they were held by security and accused of stealing because of their race. Details of the upcoming settlement have not been released.

• More questions are arising about ethics in the Ohio Attorney General’s office. The Dayton Daily News had an investigative piece Saturday about the AG’s office and the way it hands out contracts to outside firms. It’s a subject that has been reported on in the past–a number of media outlets have investigated law contracts the AG has awarded to legal firms who donate to the DeWine campaign and the Ohio GOP. Today’s piece finds similar connections with contracts awarded to firms to collect on debts owed to the state. The piece finds a high correlation between firms that donate to DeWine’s campaign and ones that get those collections contracts. Especially noteworthy are instances where firms run by those close to DeWine win contracts over more experienced vendors.

• Death and destruction. Racial Profiling. Allegations of cronyism. To give you a break from all the doom and gloom in this morning news, I found someone who has attained an amazing, completely laudable achievement, someone who can restore our faith in humanity and expand our understanding of what is possible in this world. It’s this guy, who just set the world record for number of tattoos of the same cartoon character on a person’s body. He has 41 Homer Simpson tats, all on his arm. He’s reached this pinnacle of human achievement despite having been forbidden from watching the show by his father, who he calls “a real life Ned Flanders” when he was growing up. Next time you think you can’t do something, that your goal is too hard, that the world is too harsh, remember this man. 

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.18.2014 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
fountainsquare-downtowncincinnati-resized

Morning News and Stuff

New housing downtown, tea party IRS suit goes forward, penal pizza party

The news transpiring this morning is all across the board.

The reshaping of Cincinnati’s downtown continues, and one of the biggest signs of more impending changes is the increase in housing in the city’s urban core. More people are interested in living in or near downtown, and developers are happy to oblige. Construction is ongoing for nearly 1,000 new apartments and condos in and around downtown, The Business Courier reports in a rundown of new construction today. The biggest projects include phase two of The Banks, which will have 305 new apartments, the so-called 580 building on Walnut Street, which is being converted from office space to 179 luxury apartments, and between 180 and 225 new apartments going in above Macy’s downtown location. There are also a number of projects happening in Over-the-Rhine, including a $26 million development in the Pendleton area that will also include 40,000 feet of retail space.

• All that change isn’t going unnoticed. It seems like I’m talking about Cincinnati making it onto some top 10 list or national publication at least a couple times a week here at the morning news, and here’s another one: Fortune magazine included Cincinnati in a list of top five cities with up-and-coming downtown areas. The article highlights Over-the-Rhine, saying, “while it’s still a work in progress, it’s already been transformed into one of Cincinnati’s most vibrant communities.” Oh, to work at a national magazine, parachute into a city for a couple days and reduce complex, decades-old dynamics into pithy, erudite observations. But I digress.

Tea partiers won a victory of sorts in U.S. District Court yesterday when Judge Susan Dlott ruled a group of the political activists could pursue suits against Internal Revenue Service employees in Cincinnati. The activists’ claims, first filed last year, state that IRS officials unfairly flagged their applications for nonprofit status based on the fact the groups have names indicating they are conservative or have “tea party” in the name. Nonprofits can’t be primarily political, and in assessing a groups’ application, the IRS must determine the level of political involvement in which a group engages. While the IRS admits it did flag tea party groups, it also did so for some liberal groups, including Occupy-affiliated activists. Still, the conservative groups argue that the IRS acted in a discriminatory way by delaying or denying their applications. The judge’s ruling clears the way for the groups’ lawsuits to go forward.

• There’s a new senate candidate in Kentucky joining the Mitch McConnell/Alison Lundergan-Grimes fray, and he wants you to know he’s full of crap. “Honest” Gil Fulbright is a fake candidate created by represent.us, a group advocating to get big-money influence out of politics. Fulbright, who is played by an actor from New York, is pretty honest about his intentions.

“People of Kentucky, you deserve complete honesty, so here it is,” he says in a video. “I don't care about you. Unless you are a donor, a lobbyist who can write a big fat check, the result that you get from voting for me is negligible."

The parody is a way for the group to drive home its point that most politicians in Congress are beholden to the big-money donors who help them get elected. The group says satire is a more effective way to reach people than traditional news. Probably true.

Kentucky’s senate race, where Democrat Lundergan-Grimes is working to unseat incumbent and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is expected to be the most expensive in history. Candidates and outside groups are on track to spend $100 million to convince voters they’re the better choice. A good deal of that money comes from big-money donors and PACs.

• Finally, while we’re talking about Kentucky, I need to share this story with you. The morning news absolutely does not condone law breaking, but if you’re going to do it, you might take a tip from this criminal genius. A Corbin, Kentucky man was arrested Tuesday for shoplifting. When taken to the station, he asked to make his requisite one phone call. Did he use that call to get in touch with a family member, friend or significant other who could bail him out? No, no. He used his only phone call to order five pizzas in the name of the officer who arrested him. The pizzas were then delivered to the police station, to the confusion of officers. This was either an A-plus troll move or an act of kindness. Something tells me this guy knew it was going to be a long night for everyone involved and just wanted to get the party started right. The authorities were not amused, however, and are now adding charges of impersonating an officer to his shoplifting counts.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.17.2014 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
an_lumenocity_365cincinnati

Morning News and Stuff

The ins and outs of the landmark tax, charter school concerns, Lumenocity-themed beer and bears on a plane

Here it is: Everything (well, probably) that you need to know today.

The struggle to pay for renovations for Union Terminal and Music Hall continues to make news, with articles out this morning exploring the details of the buildings’ ownership and why a tax hike to fix them up won’t be like the much-loathed 1996 stadium deal. The Enquirer delves into the reasons why the city isn’t responsible for upkeep of the buildings even though it technically owns them. Basically, non-profits that lease the spaces are contractually obligated to pay for their maintenance, though the city also pitches in some funds to help.  Meanwhile, the Business Courier has a look at the way a tax hike would be structured. The piece points out that the increase doesn’t make the same assumptions about economic growth that the stadium deal did, and is therefore unlikely to balloon out of control.

• P&G left the game, but it turns out the game needs it. That game is adult diapers. The Cincinnati company is considering jumping back into adult incontinence products after leaving a decade ago. P&G already makes diapers for babies, and with the market for adult diapers growing by 8 percent a year, it’s an easy and attractive step that could net P&G $500 million annually. That’s great, but I find it a little depressing that as a nation we’re having a harder and harder time not peeing ourselves. But hey, the market is getting bigger because we’re all getting older because we’re living longer, right? That’s a good thing.

• One of the many reasons I left my former city of residence, Washington D.C., was a whale. A pink, cartoonish whale with a smug smile. Call it a reverse Ahab situation–I tried to avoid it, but instead of being elusive, it was ubiquitous. I came back here, to landlocked Ohio, partially to escape it. But now it has followed me. I’m talking about the logo for Vineyard Vines, an up-market clothing brand that recently announced it may build its first Ohio store in Kenwood. The brand specializes in a certain kind of east coast prep look. Think boat shoes. Novelty ties. Business casual pants in salt water taffy colors, or with little whales all over them. It’s a very Washington vibe, and before now you had to drive hours to get it. But soon, you too can be covered in little pink whales. It’s great news on the development front, to be sure, but it also gives me flashbacks to my time elbowing through gaggles of Georgetown grads for a spot at many a bar in DC.

• Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Christian Moerlein are teaming up to create a Lumenocity-themed beer for next month’s light show. Do I really need to say anything else about that? Sounds awesome.

• Ohio’s Board of Education is investigating reports that a Dayton charter school has been the site of racism, sexual misconduct, testing irregularities, misreporting of attendance figures, and other problems. A number of former teachers have testified that Horizon Science Academy has been mismanaged. The school is run by Chicago-based Concept Schools, which operates 19 schools in Ohio. The education organization is already under investigation by the FBI.

• Finally, the Transportation Safety Administration (you know, the folks who make you wait in line forever and have a machine that can see through your clothes) is probably one of the most-hated government agencies, but they can write a good blog. Their last few, about some of the crazy things people try to take through airport security, are pretty good reads (with pics!) Highlights include loaded guns, bullet-shaped knives, throwing knives, blades stashed in Scooby Doo greeting cards, fireworks, spent artillery shells and bear repellent. Four words for Samuel L. Jackson in case he’s looking for his next project/sequel opportunity: Bears on a Plane.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.16.2014 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ed fitzgerald

Morning News and Stuff

DOJ will jump in on Ohio early voting; Cincinnati tops for design; race for governor heats up

Good morning all. I may be writing this news rundown from my porch at home, enjoying the amazing weather and eating Graeter’s black cherry ice cream for breakfast, but that doesn’t mean I’m not real, real serious about the news. Let’s do this.

As we reported yesterday, the Obama administration is expected to jump into the fight over early voting in Ohio. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made remarks, released yesterday, indicating that the Justice Department will file with the Ohio ACLU and other civil rights organizations already fighting reductions to early voting in the state. The administration has made voting rights a key issue following last year’s Supreme Court decision that rolled back certain sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

• The head of Cincinnati Metro resigned yesterday, according to a press release by the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority. Metro’s CEO Terry Garcia Crews will step down immediately and will be temporarily replaced by Darryl Haley, who was Metro’s executive director of development. Metro will conduct a national search for her permanent replacement. In the press release, Crews says she’s leaving to focus on her family, including her parents, who live out of town, and to continue her transportation consulting business.

“I have great confidence in the leadership and the team at Metro and community leaders to carry forth the discussion and implementation of expanding public transportation in this community,” Garcia Crews said.

Metro gives about 17 million individual rides each year. Its role looks to grow as transit needs in the city expand and the streetcar comes online next year.

There was some drama in Over-the-Rhine last night, though the actual situation was not quite as intense as initial reports made it out to be. Police entered a building at 13th and Walnut to do an inspection at the request of the building’s owner. They came upon a man who fled from them. As he fled, a gun the man was carrying went off. Multiple news outlets reported the officers had been fired upon and that a standoff situation was developing. In reality, the gun accidentally went off as the man attempted to hide it in his pants. Which, yeah, probably not a great idea, but there you have it. The man fled to another building, threw the gun out a window and hid. He was arrested a short time later and faces multiple charges today. Still a scary scenario, but, you know, not exactly a police shootout.

A list put together by CityLab shows that Cincinnati is among the top cities in the country when it comes to design. While we all know the Queen City has some great graphic design and marketing talent, it’s surprising to see the city also ranks impressively high for industrial design. Our fair city is well-represented in nearly every category measured, which is pretty cool.

• Remember that guy who threatened to shoot down a helicopter a couple days ago? Yeah, a judge told him today to cool it with the guns for a while, and required him to turn over his firearms to authorities. I’m sure there are some hardcore gun rights activists out there fuming about how the government is infringing on his 1st Amendment right to express displeasure with helicopters and his 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, but me, I’m perfectly OK with it in this particular case. At least he didn't try hiding them in his pants.

• The race for Ohio governor is getting interesting. Democratic contender Ed FitzGerald’s campaign is citing polls that show him neck and neck with incumbent Gov. John Kasich, though, as with any poll that a campaign is excited about, it’s probably best to be wary. The poll was paid for by the Ohio Democratic Party and echoes another recent Democrat-funded poll showing FitzGerald within striking distance. However, both of these polls contradict earlier independent polling done this spring showing Kasich ahead by as many as 15 points.

FitzGerald’s campaign is getting proactive, though, dropping its first TV ad today. In the ad, FitzGerald implies that Gov. Kasich is all about the 1 percenters.

“Who is the promise of Ohio meant for?” FitzGerald asks in the 30 second spot. “Just the wealthy and well-connected?”

FitzGerald gives a shout out to “Ohioans who get up early and get it done every day,” which made me kind of feel bad about working from home while eating ice cream. He goes on to promise support for the state’s middle class, including more funding for teachers, police and firefighters. Though he never mentions Kasich by name, he hits on the idea that the current administration favors the wealthy again at the end of the ad.

Meanwhile, an attack site paid for by the Ohio Republican Party against the challenger called fitzgeraldforohio.com just sprung up. The site mostly attacks FitzGerald on his first choice of running mate, former lieutenant governor candidate Eric Kearney. Kearney quit the ticket in December last year after it was revealed he owed a large amount in back taxes. The site also features an ad linking FitzGerald to former Gov. Ted Strickland, who has endorsed FitzGerald. The ad argues that Strickland was bad for Ohio and FitzGerald would be, too.

In a kind of strange twist, however, the ad seems to blame Strickland for many ills Ohio faced due to the great recession, including spiking unemployment and budget overruns. As if those same dynamics weren’t happening in nearly every state around the country during Strickland’s term from 2007 to 2011, when the recession was at its worst. The candidates’ next filing deadline is just a couple weeks away, and it will be interesting to see if either grab more big bucks. Stay tuned.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.15.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: Voting at 03:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
eric_holder_official_portrait

Obama Administration to Join Ohio Early Voting Fight

U.S Attorney General Eric Holder says DOJ will use its power to defend the right to vote

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week said the Justice Department plans to join a lawsuit against the state of Ohio seeking to restore early voting in the state.

Holder revealed the DOJ’s intention to join the fight in Ohio over early voting during an interview about terrorism with ABC News in London July 11. That portion of the interview was unaired. Holder’s comments were revealed when the DOJ released transcripts to the press this week.

The Ohio suit, originally brought by the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups, claims the Republican-led elimination of early voting hours is unconstitutional because it will disproportionately affect minorities.

Ohio’s General Assembly, which is controlled by Republicans, passed laws in February eliminating six early voting days and same-day voter registration. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted subsequently eliminated early voting the last two Sundays before elections and on weekday evenings in the days before elections.

Some of Husted’s cuts to early voting the Sunday before elections were undone by a federal district court judge, who ruled that the state must reinstitute early voting in the final three days before an election. Despite that victory, the other cuts have yet to be restored and are the grounds for the ACLU’s lawsuit.

In the interview, Holder said voting is “the most basic of our rights” and vowed that he “will use every power that I have, every ability that I have as Attorney General to defend that right to vote.”

Holder also said the DOJ will file in another voting rights case over Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which has seen a pitched battle in federal courts.

Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald applauded Holder’s comments in a news release today.

“I’m pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice will be joining the fight to protect voter rights in Ohio,” FitzGerald said in the release. “Under Governor Kasich, access to the polls has significantly decreased for hardworking Ohioans across the state.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.15.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do_washington park opening_photo 3cdc

Morning News and Stuff

Charter school stays open, city settles Washington Park suit and the loftiest of living spaces

Morning, y'all. It's only Tuesday and there is already lots and lots going on. Here we go.

A Hamilton County Common Pleas judge has allowed troubled charter school VLT Academy to stay open and ordered the Ohio Department of Education to help fund it. In a decision yesterday, Judge Nadine Allen ordered ODE to become the school’s sponsoring organization and provide almost $300,000 to pay staff and administration there. The school, which serves about 600 students in Pendleton, was scheduled to close last month because its sponsoring organization did not renew its contract. Education Resource Consultants of Ohio declined to continue supporting the school due to its academic performance and financial situation.

Ohio law stipulates that charter schools must have a sponsor to operate. VLT tried unsuccessfully to obtain a new sponsor, asking several organizations including the Ohio Department of Education. When ODE declined, citing the school’s poor academic performance, VLT sued in Hamilton County Common Please Court. VLT argued that its performance was never poor enough to trigger automatic closure. The school says that ODE is playing politics and that it warned other potential sponsoring organizations not to sponsor the school. ODE acknowledges it made organizations aware of the school’s performance issues.

Allen ruled that ODE made it difficult for the school to find a new sponsor and that closing the school would do harm to its students. Ninety-nine percent of VLT’s students are economically disadvantaged. The school has lost a third of its student body, and subsequently almost $2 million in funding, in the past three years as Pendleton and Over-the-Rhine undergo demographic shifts.

• State Rep. Connie Pillich will hold a roundtable discussion today in Cincinnati as part of a state-wide tour around veterans’ issues. That tour began July 2 in Huber Heights. The meeting with local veterans will focus on financial challenges facing the military community, including the need for financial literacy education for veterans and state-level unemployment benefits for their spouses. Pillich is a Democrat who has represented Montgomery in the state legislature since 2009. She’s currently vacating that seat to challenge State Treasurer Josh Mandel. She’s touting her efforts on veterans issues and her service in the armed forces as she travels around the state to meet with veterans and their families. Before her political career, Pillich served in the U.S. Air Force for eight years and did support duties during Operation Desert Storm.

• The Cincinnati Park Board settled a federal lawsuit today brought by several residents of Over-the-Rhine regarding rules put in place after the 2012 renovation at Washington Park. The residents said the rules, which forbade distributing food and clothing in the park and taking items out of trashcans, were drawn up without public scrutiny and designed to keep the homeless out of the park. The city dropped the rules in September 2012. The city has not commented on how it decided upon the rules in the first place. The amount of today’s settlement in the case wasn’t disclosed.

Architect Magazine pulled no punches in an editorial on General Electric’s proposed new building at The Banks yesterday.  Written by former Cincinnati Art Museum Director Aaron Betsky, a noted architecture critic, the piece caustically derided the building, and The Banks, for a gutless lack of panache.

“Cincinnati, a proud city with a great heritage busily squandering it, will be stuck with the results of its own shortsightedness,” Betsky wrote in the piece. Ouch.

• Gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and attorney general hopeful David Pepper will ask the Ohio General Assembly to provide more money for heroin clinics today in a press conference in Columbus. The Democrats say clinics around the state face a $20 million shortfall after recent changes in the way federal money is distributed. The heroin crisis has been a big talking point for Pepper, who has criticized Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine over his handling of the surge in addiction-related deaths.

• The number of people commuting by bicycle is up 60 percent nationally from the year 2000, according to recent data from the U.S. Census. But that data also show another dynamic–most of that increase has come from relatively wealthy, white commuters who can afford to choose how they roll. Among low-income people, especially people of color, the desire for car ownership is much higher and the value placed on alternate means of commuting is much lower. This may be because people in low income neighborhoods face much longer commute times and an environment without the necessary infrastructure for safe cycling. But there are also probably social factors at play — cars are still strong symbols of success across all levels of society in the U.S., and low income commuters desire those symbols as much as anyone.

• Finally, if you’re looking for the next big (literally, huge) thing in hip living arrangements, I’ve got you covered. If a renovated row house makes you yawn, and a partially reconstructed loft space is just too domestic for you, how about living in a Boeing 727? Bruce Campbell (no, not THAT Bruce Campbell, though I can totally see this plane abode being the setting of a campy horror flick) of Oregon is leading the way on this brave new trend. Share with all your friends who are still really, really, into Lost.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.14.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

First anniversary of streetcar contracts, compost gone wild and shooting at helicopters

One year ago today, the city signed contracts to start construction on the streetcar. Fast forward 365 days, and the new transit loop through downtown and Over-the-Rhine is quickly taking shape. Roads are closed as major sections of track go in. Workers are constructing concrete slabs for the passenger stops. The cars themselves are being built. And the city recently named downtown-based Kolar Design to do branding work for the streetcar. The Business Courier has photos of the progress so far. Or you can just drive through Over-the-Rhine and see for yourself. Just don’t take Race Street if you’re hoping to get downtown — it's still closed at 12th Street.

• We’ve all lived with roommates who don’t always take out their garbage. It’s gross. But I guess it could be worse. Like, tens of thousands of times worse. The city recently shut down a compost company called Cincy Compost in Winton Hills after two years of complaints from miles around about the ghastly smells emanating from what is effectively an 80,000 pound pile of rotting food, but things could get worse before they get better. The heap, which is piled two feet deep, needs to be cleaned up by the city now that the company is no longer in business. It seems the business didn’t get the correct balance of garbage for the compost process to work and was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of garbage it took in. It racked up 45 code violations while it was open. Now the city will have to spend $250,000 to kick-start the process and finish turning the garbage into soil. That involves stirring all that garbage around, basically, which is only going to make the smell worse in the short-term. Gross.

• Community groups in the city will be holding a rally calling for an end to violence in the city at 7 p.m. in Piatt Park today. Last week, four people were shot, one fatally, in two separate but related incidents at the park. Cincinnati saw a surge in shootings early in the year, though that trend has slowed and the city may not see an increase over last year’s 75 murders. Forty-two people have been murdered in the city this year, many with guns.

• One guy who will not be at that rally, I’d imagine, is this dude, who threatened to shoot down a University of Cincinnati Health Air Care helicopter yesterday. Angry that the helicopter was flying too low over his Green Township house, Leonard Pflanz is accused of driving to Mercy West Hospital and telling the helicopter’s pilot that he would shoot him if he did it again. Pflanz is appearing in court this morning over charges stemming from the threat.

• General Motors may soon be in some big trouble with federal prosecutors, who are investigating whether the company made false statements about a defect in some of its cars that has killed at least 13 people. The defect relates to an ignition switch problem that has caused some GM cars to lose power while operating. The feds accuse GM of making misleading statements to the public about the defect, downplaying the dangers of the defective switches. The company has already been fined $35 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for dragging its feet in response to the problem. Some believe GM’s ultimate liability could end up being even more than the $1.2 billion Toyota was ordered to pay earlier this year over similar charges.

• Finally, Smithsonian Magazine reports that skin cells may be able to detect odors and that some of these odors may aid the body in the healing process. Basically, this means the whole surface of your body is receptive to smells in one way or another. This is interesting, maybe even great news, unless of course you live near a failed composting facility or something.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.11.2014 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
japps5_jilliantellep

Morning News and Stuff

Gay blood drive, CPD out in force for Bunbury, Esquire visits Cincy

We're mere hours from freedom, folks. I'll be quick today and give you the morning news rundown in short order so you’re ready for the weekend.

If you’re a gay or bisexual man, the Food and Drug Administration won’t let you give blood. A blood drive today at UC’s Hoxworth Blood Center in Corryville is drawing attention to that rule hoping to get it changed. The FDA first instituted the policy in 1984 at the height of the AIDS crisis.

Gay and bisexual men are encouraged to bring eligible proxy donors to Hoxworth today as well as sign a national petition to the White House asking it to reconsider the rule. Organizers hope to get 50 donors, and if you want to give to the cause, get to Hoxworth or call for an appointment before 4:30 today. The center has computers where you can sign the petition, which needs 100,000 signatures nationally by the end of the month. The blood drive is part of a national gay blood drive taking place in 60 cities today.

• After a pretty harrowing week downtown (four people were shot in two incidents near Piatt Park, one of whom died of his injuries) the Cincinnati Police Department says it will be out in force this weekend for Bunbury Music Festival.  CPD has instituted a no vacation policy for officers over the next few days so they can cover downtown and the rest of the city. Apologies to all the hard-working officers out there who were looking forward to partying with Andrew W.K.

Police Chief Ken Blackwell says it’s part of a larger effort to make sure police are ready for big summer events. These include the National Urban League Conference coming the last weekend in July, which features a keynote address by Vice President Joe Biden. That weekend will also be an all-hands-on-deck scenario, Blackwell says.

“The bottom line is that we took an oath to protect the city, and sometimes police work calls on you to work long hours and do stuff you ordinarily wouldn't want to do,” he told WLWT yesterday.

• Those fancy New Yorkers at Esquire stumbled across our quaint little river town yesterday, it seems, and decided it was noteworthy enough to write about. Overall, it’s a super-positive piece about the city, which is awesome. There are some stumbles in the article, though–originally it spelled the city’s name as “Cincinatti,” called Vine Street “Vine Avenue” (both since fixed) and asserted that local treasure and all-around swell bar Japp’s Since 1879 has been serving for 120 years. That's especially befuddling because the name implies it’s been open for 135 years, though it actually opened in 2011. Also puzzling is the writer’s assertion that revitalization in the city is without “inherent class warfare.” As far as I can tell, that’s been a pretty visible fight here in the city for decades, but, you know. These are small quibbles. The piece does highlight some great spots in town, including Japp’s, Everybody’s Records (no Shake-It, though!) and Holtman’s Donuts. It also enlightened me on a possible place to get a haircut downtown. Anyway, you should check out the article, even if it’s only to copy edit it further.

• Finally, here’s an interesting article about how ride share company Uber is restructuring how much it charges for rides, and why that matters in the grand scheme of urban transportation. With Uber and Lyft becoming more of a force in the Cincinnati area, it’s a good read.

 
 
 
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