City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. defended the streetcar project at a special four-hour session of City Council yesterday, but the city manager did not reveal any specifics over how the project’s $17.4 million budget gap could be closed. Dohoney revealed the price of halting the project would be $72 million: the project has already cost the city $19.7 million, the city would have to spend another $14.2 million in close-out costs and another $38.1 million in federal grants would have to be returned to the federal government. Most of Dohoney’s presentation focused on the streetcar’s economic benefits, but opponents say the budget gap proves the streetcar project is unsustainable and its costs are too high.
The Cincinnati Enquirer identified the 17-year-old honors student at LaSalle High School who tried to commit suicide
in front of a classroom of 22 other students yesterday, even though parents asked press to provide privacy. The student remains
alive and in critical condition this morning. No other students were physically hurt, and classes are
resuming as normal. (Update: The student’s name was removed from this post upon the family’s request.)
The city is moving to sell Tower Place Mall for $1 to Brook Lane Holdings, an affiliate of JDL Warm Construction, so the construction company can pour $5 million into the defunct mall and convert it into a garage with street-level retail space. Financing the project at Pogue’s Garage, which is across the street from Tower Place Mall, is still being worked out now that the parking plan has been delayed by court battles and a referendum effort.
Cincinnati’s police and firefighter unions are filing a lawsuit over the city’s health care dependent audit. The city is asking employees to verify whether spouses and children are legitimately eligible for health care benefits by turning over documents such as marriage licenses, birth certificates and tax returns. The unions’ attorney told WVXU the unions are willing to provide the necessary documents, but he said they’re concerned the process is too intrusive and difficult.
Two firms are getting tax credits for creating jobs in the Greater Cincinnati area: 5Me, which creates manufacturing software, and Festo Americas, which specializes in factory and process automation. Altogether, the credits could create 312 jobs in the region.
A Democratic state senator hinted yesterday at letting voters decide whether Internet sweepstakes cafes should be allowed in Ohio. State officials, particularly Attorney General Mike DeWine, claim Internet cafes are hubs for criminal activity. The Ohio House already passed a measure that would effectively ban the cafes, but some are cautious of the ban as the Ohio Senate prepares to vote.
An intelligent headlight makes raindrops disappear.
Some people may prefer death to being saved by this terrifying robot snake.
Next month marks the fourth anniversary of a fire that destroyed parts of the historic Old St. George Church in Clifton Heights. But the structure remains vacant and building inspectors this week cited the owners for conditions at the site.
The city’s Property Maintenance Code Enforcement Division posted a citation Wednesday on the fence in front of the church. It was issued by Housing Inspector James Hatton, and states the building’s owner failed to comply with an order issued by the Buildings and Inspections Department on Aug. 31, 2010.
At first glance, it might seem like a rail line between downtown Cincinnati and the city of Milford would earn support from the same people who back the $132.8 million streetcar project, but streetcar supporters, including advocacy group Cincinnatians for Progress, say they oppose the idea and its execution.
Critics of the overall project, called the Eastern Corridor, recently pointed to a November study from HDR. Despite flowery language promising a maximized investment, HDR found seven of 10 stations on the $230-$322 million Oasis rail line would result in low economic development, five of 10 stations would provide low access to buses and bikes, and the intercity line would achieve only 3,440 daily riders by 2030.
HDR’s findings for the Oasis line stand in sharp contrast to its study of Cincinnati’s streetcar project. The firm found the streetcar line in Over-the-Rhine and downtown would generate major economic development and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.
Given the poor results for the Oasis line, streetcar
supporters say local officials should ditch the Oasis concept and
instead pursue the 2002 MetroMoves plan and an expansion of the
streetcar system through a piecemeal approach that would create a central transit spine through the region.
“To have (the Oasis line) be our first commuter rail piece in Cincinnati … just doesn’t make sense to me,” says Derek Bauman, co-chair of Cincinnatians for Progress.
MetroMoves spans across the entire city and region, with the rail line along I-71 from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to downtown Cincinnati to King’s Island fostering particularly high interest.
Voters rejected the MetroMoves plan and the sales tax hike it involved in 2002, but streetcar supporters say public opinion will shift once the streetcar becomes reality in Cincinnati.
“That’s been proven in other cities, especially ones that have not historically been transit-oriented,” Bauman says, pointing to Houston and Miami as examples of cities that built spines that are now being expanded.
Opposition to the Oasis line is also more deeply rooted in a general movement against the Eastern Corridor project. The unfunded billion-dollar project involves a few parts: relocating Ohio 32 through the East Side, the Oasis rail line and several road improvements from Cincinnati to Milford.
Supporters of the Eastern Corridor claim it would ease congestion, at least in the short term, and provide a cohesiveness in transportation options that’s severely lacking in the East Side.
Opponents argue the few benefits, some of which both sides agree are rooted in legitimate concerns, just aren’t worth the high costs and various risks tied to the project.
“When it comes to widening roads and highways, it’s kind of like loosening your belt at Thanksgiving. Somehow traffic always fills to fit,” Bauman says. “Highway expansion, especially in urban areas, is not the future. It’s not even the present in some areas.”
The big concern is that the relocation of Ohio 32 might do to the East Side and eastern Hamilton County what I-75 did to the West Side, which was partly obliterated and divided by the massive freeway.
“It hurts the cohesiveness of our communities when you create these big divides,” Bauman argues. “You would see that repeat itself.”
Officials are taking feedback for the Eastern Corridor and Oasis rail line at EasternCorridor.org.
This article was updated to use more up-to-date figures for the cost of the Oasis rail line.
New York City : $2.50 upon entry, plus $0.40 for each 1/5 mile, plus several applicable surcharges
Chicago : $2.25 upon entry (first 1/9 mile), plus $0.20 for each 1/9 mile, plus applicable surcharges
Los Angeles: $2.85 upon entry (first 1/9 mile) plus $0.30 for each 1/9 mile, plus applicable surcharges.
Portland : $2.50 upon entry, $2.50 per additional mile, plus applicable surcharges
Atlanta: $2.50 upon entry, $2 per additional mile
* Keep in mind it's customary everywhere to tip your cab driver 15 to 20 percent.
If City Council does not agree to lease Cincinnati’s parking system, the city manager’s office says the city will be forced to lay off 344 employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions, but critics argue there are better alternatives.
In a memo dated to Feb. 26, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. wrote that the city will also have to close three community centers and six pools; eliminate Human Services Funding, which aids the city’s homeless and poor; and reduce funding for local business groups, parks, nature education for Cincinnati Public Schools and environmental regulations, among other changes. In total, the cuts would add up to $25.8 million — just enough to balance the deficit that would be left in place without the parking plan.
In addition to the cuts, failing to approve the parking plan, which leases the city’s parking meters for 30 years and lots and garages for 50 years to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, would displace plans to convert Tower Place Mall, construct a 30-floor tower with a grocery store downtown, accelerate the the I-71/MLK Interchange project, acquire the Wasson Line right-of-way for a bike trail and add $4 million to the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).
Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor, has come out in favor of the parking plan, but John Cranley, another Democrat running for mayor, says he opposes the deal because it will hurt downtown businesses.
“It’s the boy who cried wolf,” Cranley says. “In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 … they threatened to lay off police and firefighters, and it never happened.”
Cranley says he would rather take $10 million from projected casino revenue and $7 million from current parking revenues to help clear the deficit. For the remaining $8.8 million, he would cut non-essential programs, which would exclude police, fire, garbage collection, health, parks and recreation, street pavement and Human Services Funding, across the board by 10 to 15 percent. If that wasn’t enough, he would then move to the essential programs, which he says make up about $300 million in the $368.9 million budget, with a 1-percent across-the-board cut.
He says his solution would have the upside of fixing structural deficit problems in Cincinnati’s General Fund, whereas the one-time lease of the city’s parking assets will only take care of the deficit for the next two years.
Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says City Council could use the casino revenue to pay for the deficit, but $4 million of it is already set for the Focus 52 program, which funds neighborhood development projects.
“Council can use whatever revenue sources they want,” Olberding says. “That’s why the memo … says we can either use this plan or another plan.”
Cranley says he would not do away with the Focus 52 program, but he would instead find funding for it in the Capital Budget, which is separate from the General Fund.
Olberding says City Council could approve the use of about $3 million in parking meter revenue for the General Fund, but the rest of the parking money, which comes from lots and garages, is tied to an enterprise fund, which, by state law, means the city would have to sell its parking lots and garages before it could obtain money for the General Fund.
Cranley, who also opposes the streetcar project (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23), says it
would be possible to pay for the I-71/MLK Interchange and other projects
if the streetcar wasn’t taking up funds. If it was up to him, he says
he would remove streetcar funding and use it on other development
projects “without batting an eye.”
In the Feb. 27 City Council meeting, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said the Budget and Finance Committee will likely vote on the city manager’s parking plan on March 4 or March 11.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls is asking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to stop the sale of 748 housing units to a New York company — potentially preventing a repeat of a similar sale back to 2007 that led to dropping property values in the area.
In a press release Tuesday, Qualls argued that locals should be given the opportunity to purchase the project-based Section 8 housing in Walnut Hills, Avondale and Millvale. Currently, HUD is bypassing local communities with plans to sell the housing to a corporation controlled by the Puretz family of Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Cincinnati’s residents are still recovering from the massive disinvestment that was allowed to occur with an eerily similar situation in 2010,” Qualls said in the release, referring to a similar sale that culminated in a huge drop in property values between 2007 and 2010.
In 2007, HUD sold 618 subsidized housing units to NY Group
OH 1 LLC, a company with no previous housing experience in Cincinnati,
according to Qualls’ release. As the 2008 financial crisis and Great
Recession pulled down the global economy, property values dropped all
around the nation, but things went particularly south in NY Group’s
Cincinnati buildings. The owner eventually defaulted on the housing
units, and Fannie Mae foreclosed in 2010.
Property values went from $21.5 million to $7 million between 2007 and 2010, when the units were sold in a sheriff’s sale. In that time period, the buildings blighted, with residents complaining about deteriorating structures, broken lighting, bed bugs, cockroaches and mold. In one case, an apartment’s restroom ceiling reportedly collapsed.
Qualls is focused on preventing more blighted buildings: “Preservation of the housing in good condition is vital to the improvement of our neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods cannot afford to have more blight brought on by an absentee owner. Because these properties are supported by government funding, it is vitally important that HUD get public input from the City of Cincinnati and Avondale, Walnut Hills and Millvale residents and stakeholders about this proposed new transfer of HUD funded properties before making any further decisions.”
Qualls has invited the local HUD field office director to the Feb. 26 Livable Communities Committee meeting to discuss the sale. She has also written to other HUD officials, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. Steve Chabot to prevent the sale.
UPDATE: The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless has canceled its Wednesday mock rally for Western & Southern Financial Group. The Coalition Tuesday evening released the following statement: "Due to a change in plans the mock 'Rally to Support Western and Southern' has been canceled. Stay tuned for upcoming gatherings and events to support the Women of the Anna Louise Inn as we fight for the right of self determination."
The following is CityBeat's Tuesday afternoon blog post in response to the event announcement:
The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless is helping to organize a mock rally to support what it believes is the bullying of the Anna Louise Inn women’s shelter by Western & Southern Financial Group. The mock group will be called “Citizens for Corporate Bullies” and will hold signs that say “Greed is Good,” “We Support Corporate Bullies,” “Poor Women Not Welcome” and “W&S Take Whatever You Want.” The event begins a noon May 2 at 4th and Sycamore streets.
The Coalition has created a fake persona who supports W&S’s desire to build condos to attract a more desirable class of residents and rhetorically asks, “Besides, what gives the Anna Louis Inn the right to stay in that building just because they own it and it’s been there for a hundred years?”
The protest is in response to ongoing legal issues surrounding the Inn’s proposed expansion and W&S’s development efforts in the neighborhood. CityBeat last October reported on the situation in a story titled, “Putting on the Pressure: Western & Southern won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” The following is an excerpt summarizing the situation then:
Last summer the facility’s owners rebuffed an offer from the powerful Western & Southern Financial Group to buy their property, triggering a heated legal battle. The company, located near the Anna Louise Inn in the affluent Lytle Park district on downtown’s eastern edge, wanted the site so it could demolish or redevelop the Inn and build upscale condominiums.
After the offer was rejected, the Anna Louise Inn continued with a long-planned renovation and was awarded a $2.7 million loan by Cincinnati City Council. That’s when Western & Southern filed a lawsuit against the Inn and the city, alleging zoning violations.
The showdown pits the Inn, opened in 1909 with the help of prominent attorney Charles P. Taft, against a company that ranks in the Fortune 500 and is headed by CEO John Barrett, an ex-chairman of the Cincinnati Business Committee who is widely considered one of the most powerful men in the city.
The facility’s owners and some city officials say Western & Southern is trying to use its sizable financial resources publicly, along with its political clout behind the scenes, to strong-arm opponents and get what it wants.
Representatives for W&S have stated that the company's $3 million offer to purchase the building is fair and have also offered to aid the Inn in finding a new location.
WVXU reported that supporters of the Inn held a rally April 4 calling for a quick judgment in a court case that could delay funding for the renovation.