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For many neighborhoods, the lack of access to fresh, healthy fruits, vegetables and foods is a big problem, but Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is helping address the problem, at least in the short term, through mobile produce zones that will be placed in eight neighborhoods generally considered “food deserts.” Quinlivan acknowledges the solution is a stopgap, but Michael Widener, assistant professor in University of Cincinnati’s Geography Department, says it’s a start that could help many local residents as a better solution is worked on.
In a 2-1 ruling yesterday, the Hamilton County Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision and said the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets is not subject to a referendum and may move forward. Parking opponents are appealing the decision and pushing for a stay. For the city, the parking plan will potentially unlock millions of dollars over 30 years, including a $92 million upfront payment. But opponents argue the terms of the deal, which include increased parking meter rates and operation hours, will hurt downtown business. The ruling also returned the city’s emergency clause powers, which the city says allow it to bypass a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws and make laws insusceptible to referendum.
City Council unanimously approved a development deal for Fourth and Race streets downtown to build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage to replace Pogue’s Garage. With council approval, construction could begin late this year, with developers hoping to finish in 2015. The deal will be headed by Indianapolis-based development company Flaherty and Collins. The city’s share of the $80 million deal will be $12 million, paid for with a five-year forgivable loan financed by urban renewal funds, which are generated through downtown taxes and can only be used for downtown capital projects.
Commentary: “‘Jobs’ Budget Attacks Women’s Health Options”
The first mayoral candidate forum is tonight at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital MERC Auditorium at 620 Oak Street from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Candidates Roxanne Qualls, John Cranley, Jim Berns and Stacy Smith are scheduled to participate.
After nearly six years of no pay increases for non-union workers, Hamilton County commissioners approved raises for some county employees yesterday. The raises will be merit-based, but they will not exceed 3 percent of what the county pays in wages each year.
Few owners actually register their exotic animals. The state began requiring exotic animal registration after a man in Zanesville, Ohio, released 56 exotic animals and committed suicide.
Pending approval from the board of trustees, the University of Cincinnati is hiring Beverly Davenport Sypher as senior vice president for academic affairs. Previously, Davenport Sypher was the vice provost for faculty affairs at Purdue University.
An ongoing study found women who are denied abortions have poorer health and are more likely to live in poverty two years on.
In Japan, cyclists can now store their bikes in underground robot caverns.
Updated at 11:10 a.m.: Added information about first mayoral candidate forum.
City Council unanimously approved a development deal today to
build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage at Fourth and
Race streets downtown.
With council approval, construction could begin later this year, with developers hoping to finish the project in 2015.
The $80 million deal with Indianapolis-based development company Flaherty and Collins was approved following City Manager Milton Dohoney’s urging earlier today.
“If we wait any longer on the parking deal, we put this deal at risk. With the housing capacity issue downtown and decade-long cry for a grocery store, we must move forward,” Dohoney said in a statement.
The city’s share of the project will cost $12 million. As part of the deal, the city will provide the money through a five-year forgivable loan financed by urban renewal funds, which are generated through downtown taxes and can only be used for capital projects downtown. The funds can’t be used for operating budget expenses such as police and fire.
For more information on the project, read CityBeat’s original story on the Budget and Finance Committee hearing here.
In a 7-0 vote today, City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee approved development plans for Fourth and Race streets to
build a downtown grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a parking
garage to replace Pogue’s Garage.
Following the city’s $8.5 million purchase of the
property, the project will cost $80 million. The city
will provide $12 million through a five-year forgivable loan, and the
rest — $68 million — will come from private financing.
The committee hearing largely focused on the downtown grocery store, which Odis Jones, the city’s economic development director, called the “next step” of the city’s overall plans to invigorate residential space and drive down office vacancy downtown.
Development company Flaherty and Collins will oversee the grocery store project, which was originally attached to the city’s plans to semi-privatize its parking assets.
The grocery store will be 15,000 square feet — slightly smaller than the Kroger store on Vine Street, which is about 17,000 square feet — and open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. It will be run by an independent operator, which is so far unnamed.
Flaherty and Collins CEO David Flaherty acknowledged it’s “a compact space,” but he said it will be enough space for a “full-service grocery store” with all the essentials, including fresh produce.
The grocery store will be at the base of a new, 30-story residential tower, which will include 300 luxury apartments and a pool.
Across the street, the city will replace Pogue’s Garage, which city officials have long called an “eyesore,” with a new garage.
The seven Democrats on City Council voted in favor of the plan, with Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman and Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn abstaining.
Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld questioned the funding sources for the project. City officials explained the $12 million loan will come through urban renewal bonds, which were previously set aside in an urban revival plan that encompasses all of downtown.
Jones said the money was going to a hotel-convention center deal when the city originally pitched the parking plan, but that deal has since collapsed.
City officials also noted the urban renewal fund, which is generated through downtown taxes, can only be used on capital improvement projects that support development and redevelopment downtown. Although the fund could be modified by City Council, it could never go to operating budget expenses such as police and fire.
Public dollars will go to the public garage, while private funds will carry the rest of the project.
The city’s $12 million investment comes through a five-year forgivable loan, which means the city will get its money back if parts of the project, including the privately funded grocery store, fail to meet standards within five years. After the five years are over, the loan is forgiven and any failure would result in a total loss on the investment.
Smitherman, who opposed the city’s parking plan, criticized the city administration for not presenting the current funding plan as an alternative to the parking plan: “What I’d like as a public policymaker is to see all of the options in front of me so that I can choose not just one option but maybe three options.”
Sittenfeld also questioned Flaherty about two previous projects Flaherty and Collins undertook that went bankrupt. Flaherty said the bankruptcies were mostly related to the economic downturn of 2008, but admitted the bankruptcies forced the company to make changes.
The city estimates the project will produce 650 construction jobs and 35 permanent, full-time jobs.
For the city, the project is part of a much bigger plan
that includes getting 3,000-5,000 new residential units built
downtown in the next five years to meet rising demand.
“It’s hot to be downtown right now,” Jones said.
Jones explained the property would have cost Cincinnati millions of dollars regardless of the city’s buyout and development plans because of a liability agreement the city made in the 1980s.
“When you start from
there and you gradually come up and look holistically at the project,
taking action was not only necessary, it was prudent,” he said.
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Even without the parking plan, the city passed a budget with no public safety layoffs and is moving forward with plans for the Uptown interchange project, a downtown grocery store, a new garage to replace Pogue’s Garage, Wasson Way and the Smale Riverfront Park. The turnaround has prompted some critics to question whether city officials were being honest when they cited a list of potential problems if the city failed to semi-privatize its parking assets to raise funds, but Mayor Mark Mallory and supporters say a lot changed between the time the threats were made and now, including tax revenues coming in at $4.5 million better than projected.
The Columbus Dispatch says Gov. John Kasich has found himself “playing defense” in the current budget cycle — a sharp contrast to the budget cycle in 2011. Both the Ohio House and Senate have greatly changed Kasich’s original budget plan. Instead of taking up Kasich on his plan to expand the sales tax while lowering the rate, cut income taxes by 20 percent across the board and cut small business taxes, the House approved a 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut and the Senate replaced the House plan with a tax cut aimed at small businesses. Both chambers also rejected the Kasich-backed, federally funded Medicaid expansion and the governor’s education funding plan.
Democratic Councilman Chris Seelbach says he was yelled and sworn at for several minutes by Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley’s campaign manager following open questions about whether Cranley is still a Democrat. Cranley has long opposed the city’s streetcar project and parking plan, which have both received support from a majority of Democrats in City Council, and tacitly supports Amy Murray, a Republican City Council candidate.
Estimates for Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino improved last month, coming in at $2 million more than April’s estimates. The $20 million estimate is still nearly $2 million less than the casino received on opening month.
Former mayor Eugene Ruehlman died Saturday night at the age of 88.
Ohio gas prices remain at nearly $4 this week, above the national average.
The self-proclaimed “whistleblower” who leaked details about two NSA surveillance programs has revealed himself in Hong Kong.
Apparently Kings Island is open, and Adventure Express was evacuated due to a “mechanical problem.”
The latest design for skateboard wheels is a square.
Cold War-era radiation apparently has the answer for whether adults keep making new brain cells.
Local job numbers continued their positive trend in April, with Cincinnati’s unemployment rate dropping to 6.9 percent and the rest of the region following suit. Michael Jones, research director at the University of Cincinnati Economics Center, attributed the job gains to improvements in manufacturing and continued growth in health care jobs. Still, the public sector continued to lag behind the private sector — a trend Jones says could change in the coming months as government budgets are adjusted to match higher tax revenues resulting from the recovering economy.
Downtown’s population growth slowed last year as available housing failed to match demand, according to Downtown Cincinnati Inc.’s annual report. In the past few years, the city has pursued multiple actions to meet demand, particularly through public-private partnerships. Most recently, City Council approved leasing the city’s parking assets to raise funds that would help build 300 luxury apartments, but that plan is currently being held up in court.
The second phase of The Banks riverfront project will cost $62 million, according to the report from Downtown Cincinnati Inc. That’s smaller than the first phase, which cost $90 million. The second phase of the project is expected to begin this fall, and it should bring 300 apartments and 60,000 square feet of street-level retail space to the area by the end of 2015. The Banks also plans to build a $45 million hotel, which is also expected to be complete in 2015. The funding for the projects is coming through multiple public-private partnerships.
After the final
public hearing on the city budget Wednesday, Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan plans to introduce her own
budget plan that would avoid all city employee layoffs. A statement from Quinlivan
did not give much in the way of details: “My plan saves all city jobs
and restores all neighborhood programs. It requires common sense and
shared sacrifice of all city employees.” Most recently, council members
Chris Seelbach and Roxanne Qualls co-sponsored a motion that would eliminate fire layoffs and reduce police layoffs to 25 by making cuts elsewhere.
The Ohio Senate plans to vote today on a measure that would effectively close down hundreds of Internet “sweepstakes” cafes around the state in an effort to eliminate illegal gambling activities. The cafes’ operators insist their activities are not gambling but rather a promotional tool that helps sell Internet time and long-distance phone cards.
Cincinnati’s zoning hearing examiner says he’s trying to reduce the time it takes to go through the zoning hearing process to less than 60 days.
Three major Ohio universities, including the University of Cincinnati, and four hospitals, including Cincinnati Children's Hospital, are teaming up to find out what causes premature birth.
Beginning July 1, some Ohio interstates will allow drivers to go 70 miles per hour. Find out which ones here.
At congressional hearings yesterday, U.S. senators criticized Apple for legally taking advantage of the complex American corporate tax system, but Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul put the blame on Congress:
The creator of the GIF says it’s pronounced “jif.”
Western & Southern in a press release today announced an agreement with Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB) that will sell the Anna Louise Inn in Lytle Park to W&S for $4 million, ending years of entanglements between the two entities over what should be done with the property in need of millions of dollars in renovations.As part of the deal, ALI will move to a new location in Mount Auburn at the corner of Reading Road and Kinsey Avenue, in the same vicinity as the United Way of Greater Cincinnati and The Talbert House. The settlement also provides CUB time to construct the new Inn, so none of the current residents will be displaced. CUB will still retain its $13 million in funding to develop the new property.
The Anna Louise Inn, which provides safe and affordable housing for low-income women, has called the Lytle Park location home since 1909. The new agreement will dissolve all ongoing litigation; most recently, W&S accused ALI of potentially discriminating against men.
In 2009, W&S passed up on an opportunity to purchase the Inn for $3 million, before CUB obtained city- and state-distributed federal funding to renovate the building and stay in the neighborhood, a decision Western & Southern admitted it regretted. Since then, the Fortune 500 company has been battling with the ALI in hopes of getting another chance to purchase the property.
According to the CUB website, the settlement came about for several reasons, including concern that ongoing litigation with W&S would have caused it to lose tax credits earned through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which were due to expire at the end of 2013 and cannot be used during ongoing litigation.
Now W&S plans to renovate the building into an upscale new hotel, which will essentially give the company a monopoly on real estate in the Lytle Park neighborhood.
It's a bittersweet change for the women and staff at the Inn, explains CUB President and CEO Steve MacConnell, but "ultimately, it's the right decision," he says. MacConnell says CUB learned about the plot of land just three to four weeks ago, when they started seriously considering a move. "After two years of litigation, the women — and us — we were all feeling so much uncertainty," he says, "and ultimately what's best for the women is what we've always had in mind."
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.
The Ohio House is looking to rewrite parts of Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal after dissent has focused on the governor’s tax plan. The chamber’s leaders are looking to set aside the tax plan from the bill so they can better focus on other complicated parts of the budget, including the Medicaid expansion and school funding. Even without the governor’s controversial sales tax expansion plan, Kasich’s budget proposal contains enough leftover money to pass some income tax cuts, with about $280.4 million in general revenue available for fiscal year 2014 and $690.2 million available in fiscal year 2015, according to an analysis in the Bluebook. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget proposal in further detail here.
State Auditor Dave Yost says he expects to get the subpoenaed financial records from JobsOhio today by the noon deadline, even though the audit has come under criticism from Gov. Kasich and other state officials. Yost says he should be allowed to look into JobsOhio’s full financial records, which include private funds, but Kasich and other Republicans argue only public funds are open to audit. JobsOhio is a publicly funded nonprofit, privatized development agency that was set up by Kasich and Republican legislators to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development, which is susceptible to a full audit.
Workers for the $78 million U Square project near the University of Cincinnati allege they are being underpaid. In a lawsuit, union workers are claiming they should be paid prevailing wage established in state law because the project is using public funds and 50 percent owned by a public authority.
With the support of City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr., Cincinnati is now looking to cash into its innovative water technology with the formation of the Global Water Technology Hub, which will use expert advice to identify market needs and sell the technology. The city promises the hub will also help keep water rates low for users and find new revenue sources.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld will hold a press conference today to introduce his Restoring Our Communities Initiative, which will seek to fight blight and improve child safety in Cincinnati. The initiative will include a push for the passage of Ohio Senate Bill 16, which would make it so individuals are not liable for trespassing convictions if the person is remediating blight on abandoned personal property. In a statement, Sittenfeld explained the purpose of the initiative: “Blight is a complicated issue that impacts many aspects of life, and I think this plan helps attack the problem from several angles.”
Cincinnati Council’s Budget and Finance Committee unanimously approved $10,000 for the Westwood Square project, which will involve a larger facility for the Madcap Theater, green space and changes to the neighborhood’s entryways to better encourage community pride and economic development.
A new $20 million, seven-story apartment tower with 110 high-end apartments is being planned for Downtown, above the Seventh and Broadway Garage.
Two weeks in, Horseshoe Casino’s executive says the casino is doing well and turnout has been good.
A report found auto insurance rates in Ohio are “a bargain,” with the state having the fourth lowest costs among other states and Washington, D.C.
A machine keeps human livers alive outside a body for 24 hours, which could double the amount of livers available for transplant and save thousands of lives.
The MLK/I-71 Interchange project is supposed to be funded through the city’s parking plan, but mayoral candidate John Cranley, who opposes the parking plan and streetcar, says the city should instead use federal funding that was originally intended for the streetcar project.
Between 2010 and 2011, the streetcar project was awarded about $40 million in federal grants — nearly $25 million through
the Urban Circulator Grant, $4 million through the Congestion Mitigation
and Air Quality (CMAQ) Grant and nearly $11 million through TIGER 3.
The grants are highly competitive and allocated to certain
projects. In the case of Cincinnati, the grants were specifically
awarded to the streetcar after it was thoroughly vetted as a transit, not highway, project.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) website explains why the Urban Circulator Grant is only meant for transit projects like the streetcar: “Urban circulator systems such as streetcars and rubber-tire trolley lines provide a transportation option that connects urban destinations and foster the redevelopment of urban spaces into walkable mixed-use, high-density environments.”
The CMAQ Grant’s main goal is to fund projects that curtail congestion and pollution, with an emphasis on transit projects, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The website explains, “Eligible activities include transit improvements, travel demand management strategies, traffic flow improvements and public fleet conversions to cleaner fuels, among others.”
The DOT website says TIGER 3 money could go to a highway project, but one of the program’s goals is promoting “livability,” which is defined as, “Fostering livable communities through place-based policies and investments that increase transportation choices and access to transportation services for people in communities across the United States.” TIGER 3 is also described as highly competitive by the DOT, so only a few programs get a chance at the money.When asked about the grants’ limitations, Cranley said, “I believe … the speaker of the house, the senator, the congressman, the governor and the mayor could petition and get that changed. Just because that may have been the way they set the grants in the first place doesn’t mean they can’t change it.”
The parking plan would lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and allocate a portion of the raised funds — $20 million — to the MLK/I-71 Interchange project, but the plan is currently being held up by a lawsuit seeking to enable a referendum.
The streetcar is one of the few issues in which Cranley and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a streetcar supporter who is also running for mayor, are in stark contrast (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Cranley’s opponents recently accused him of originally supporting the streetcar when he was a council member through two 2008 City Council motions, but Cranley says those motions, which he co-sponsored, only asked the city administration to study the merits of a streetcar plan, not approve of it. Cranley voted no on the first streetcar resolution in October 2007 and the motion to actually build the streetcar in April 2008.
“I’ve never said that I’m against the (streetcar) concept in all circumstances,” Cranley says. “I wanted to know if there was a way that they could pay for it in a way that wouldn’t take away from what I thought were more important priorities.”
The Ohio Board of Education named Richard Ross, one of Gov. John Kasich’s top education advisers, to the state school superintendent position. Ross’ appointment links the Ohio Department of Education more closely with Kasich, according to StateImpact Ohio. Ross is replacing Stan Heffner, who resigned in August after an ethics investigation found he had misused state resources for personal matters and testified in favor of legislation that could have benefited a company he planned to work for.
In a study that should be out next month, Ohio and Kentucky officials are reviewing the Brent Spence Bridge project to make it more affordable. Many officials want to use tolling to help pay for the bridge, but northern Kentucky residents and elected officials have pushed back because they’re concerned tolls will divert traffic to other bridges in Ohio and hurt the local economy.
In a press conference in front of the Ohio Statehouse yesterday, more than 100 educators and members of the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools (CORAS) asked Kasich to rework his education reform proposal in a way that would raise per-pupil funding, fully fund transportation, career technical and special education programs and pay for new initiatives like the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. Under Kasich’s current proposal, the state is reducing aid from $5,700 for each student to $5,000, but CORAS says funding should be increased to $6,270. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget proposal, which includes his education reform plan, here.
While funding in Kasich’s plan is mixed for traditional public schools, charter schools will get 4.5 percent more funding, according to the Legislative Service Commission. Conservatives typically tout charter schools for providing more “school choice,” but in a previous report, Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning policy research group, found more choices may bring down results from teachers and students.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan and friends and family of fire victims are pushing for a review of Cincinnati’s fire ordinance codes to avert fire deaths. The proposed changes include more required fire exits, annual inspections, a mandatory fire drill at the beginning of each school semester, the removal of all exceptions in the code and a measure that would prevent air conditioning units from being placed on windows that are supposed to act as exits. Quinlivan is also encouraging the University of Cincinnati to restart a certified list of preferred rental locations around campus, which would only include housing properties that pass fire safety inspections.
The first public hearings on Kasich’s budget proposal to expand Medicaid contained mixed testimony, with supporters touting greater accessibility to health care and improved health results and opponents claiming that Medicaid leads to worse outcomes and will discourage people from improving their economic situation. Previous studies, which CityBeat covered along with the rest of Kasich’s budget proposal here, found Medicaid expansions led to lower mortality rates and better health outcomes in certain states. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio says the Medicaid expansion will save the state money in the next decade and provide health insurance to 456,000 Ohioans by 2022.
The Cincinnati Enquirer has posted the full lawsuit filed against the city’s parking plan, which is set to have a hearing in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court on Friday. CityBeat wrote more about the lawsuit here.
Judge Robert Ruehlman ruled that Elmwood Place can’t collect on tickets from speed cameras that he recently deemed a violation of motorists’ due process. The city and police are filing an appeal to the initial ruling, which halted the use of the cameras.
Eighteen percent of Greater Cincinnati’s chief financial officers plan to hire for new professional-level positions in the second quarter, while 66 percent say they will only fill jobs that open in the next three months.
Ohio joined 37 states and the District of Columbia in a $7 million settlement with Google yesterday that is expected to net $162,000 for the state. The case centered around Google collecting data from unsecured wireless networks nationwide and taking photographs for its Street View service between 2008 and March 2010.
The effort to effectively ban Internet sweepstakes cafes passed an Ohio House committee.
The federal government may not need to balance its budget at all, according to Bloomberg.
Trained Soviet attack dolphins with head-mounted guns are on the loose.