In February, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, from 7.9 percent in January, and the nation added 236,000 jobs. Many of the new jobs — about 48,000 — came from construction, while government employment saw a drop even before sequestration, a series of across-the-board federal spending cuts, began on March 1. Economists seem quite positive about the report.
In January, Ohio’s unemployment rate rose to 7 percent, from 6.7 percent in December, with the number of unemployed in the state rising to 399,000, from 385,000 the month before. Goods-producing and service-providing industries and local government saw a rise in employment, while jobs were lost in trade, transportation, utilities, financial activities, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, state government and federal government. In January, U.S. unemployment rose to 7.9 percent, from 7.8 percent in December.
A new report outlined renovations for the city-owned Tower Place Mall, which is getting a makeover as part of Cincinnati’s parking plan. A lot of the retail space in the mall will be replaced to make room for parking that will be accessed through what is currently Pogue’s Garage, but two rings of retail space will remain, according to the report. The parking plan was approved by City Council Wednesday, but it was temporarily halted by a Hamilton County judge. The legal contest has now moved to federal court, and it’s set to get a hearing today.
Meet the mayoral candidates through CityBeat’s two extensive Q&As: Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley. Qualls spoke mostly about her support for immigration, the parking plan and streetcar, while Cranley discussed his opposition to the parking plan and streetcar and some of his ideas for Cincinnati.
A Hamilton County court ruled against the controversial traffic cameras in Elmwood Place, and the Ohio legislature is considering a statewide ban on the cameras. In his ruling, Judge Robert Ruehlman pointed out there were no signs making motorists aware of the cameras and the cameras are calibrated once a year by a for-profit operator. The judge added, “Elmwood Place is engaged in nothing more than a high-tech game of 3-card Monty. … It is a scam that motorists can’t win.” Bipartisan legislation was recently introduced to prohibit traffic cameras in Ohio.
JobsOhio, the state-funded nonprofit corporation, quietly got $5.3 million in state grants, even though the state legislature only appropriated $1 million for startup costs. JobsOhio says it needed the extra funds because legal challenges have held up liquor profits that were originally supposed to provide funding. In the past few days, State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, has been pushing Republican Gov. John Kasich and JobsOhio to release more details about the nonprofit corporation’s finances, but Kasich and JobsOhio have been pushing back.
Advocates for Ohio’s charter schools say Kasich’s budget amounts to a per-pupil cut, with funding dropping from $5,704 per pupil to $5,000 plus some targeted assistance that ranges from hundreds of dollars to nothing depending on the school. A previous CityBeat report on online schools found traditional public schools get about $3,193 per student — much less than the funding that apparently goes to charter schools.
Fountain Square will be getting a new television from Cincinnati-based LSI Industries with the help of Fifth-Third Bank and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). The new video board will have better image quality and viewing angles, but it will also come with more screen space for sponsors.
Ohio’s casino revenues rose in January. That could be a good sign for Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, which opened Monday.
In light of recent discussion, Popular Science posted a Q&A on drones.
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.
The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a 40-year agreement with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) that will lease the county-owned Memorial Hall and provide renovations to the 105-year-old building.
County officials have long said the building, which is used to host concerts, shows and speaking events, is in dire need of upgrades, particularly overhauls to its roof, windows, facade work, floors, air conditioning and bathrooms — all of which will now be financed by 3CDC with the help of tax credits.
“The public-private partnership between 3CDC and Hamilton County will result in the preservation of historic Memorial Hall without the use of taxpayer dollars for the improvements,” Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, said in a statement. “3CDC has an impressive track record with development projects in downtown Cincinnati and will be a great partner to manage this project.”
The partnership will also relinquish the county government’s operational funding for insurance and utilities for Memorial Hall, which cost the county about $200,000 annually.
In a statement, Hartmann’s office said the partnership with 3CDC “extends only to the renovations at Memorial Hall,” and the county will retain ownership and the final say over any increased programming.
The city of Cincinnati has repeatedly partnered with 3CDC, a nonprofit company, for projects at Fountain Square, Washington Park, the Vine Street streetscape project and ongoing developments throughout Over-the-Rhine.
President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union speech yesterday. During the speech, Obama outlined fairly liberal proposals for the economy, climate change, gun control and immigration. He also suggested raising the minimum wage to $9 and attaching it to rising cost of living standards. The Washington Post analyzed the proposals here. To watch a bunch of old people clap too much while the president outlines policy proposals that will likely never pass a gridlocked Congress, click here.
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is standing firm in its firing of Purcell Marian High School administrator Mike Moroski. The termination came after Moroski publicly stated his support for same-sex marriage on his blog — a position that contradicts the Catholic Church’s teachings. CityBeat covered Moroski’s case in this week’s news story, and gay marriage was covered more broadly in a previous in-depth story.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls wants to stop
the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from selling
768 housing units in Walnut Hills, Avondale and Millvale. Qualls says
the sale is “eerily similar” to a sale dating back to 2007, which
resulted in dropping property values and blighted buildings. She argues local buyers should get a chance to take up the properties before HUD makes the sale to a New York company.
State Treasurer Josh Mandel is up to his old tricks again. In a letter to Ohio legislators Monday, Mandel, a Republican, opposed the Medicaid expansion,
claiming, “There is no free money.” But for the state, the Medicaid
expansion is essentially free money. The federal government will cover
all the costs of the expansion for the first three years, then phase down to paying 90 percent of the costs by 2020 — essentially, free
John Kasich, another Republican, has backed the Medicaid expansion, claiming it makes
financial sense in the long term. In 2012, Mandel lost the race for Ohio’s Senate seat after he ran
a notoriously dishonest campaign against U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Financing details for the Brent Spence Bridge are due in March. The details will provide much-wanted information for local residents cautious about the new tolling scheme, which will help pay for the bridge’s reconstruction.
Cincinnati officials and residents celebrated the work completed near the Horseshoe Casino at an event yesterday. Mayor Mark Mallory highlighted the infrastructure improvements made to accommodate the casino, calling the work a successful collaboration between city government, the casino and residents.
The Ohio Resource Center has a new website for K-12 digital content. The website, ilearnOhio, is supposed to provide parents and students with the tools needed for online distance learning.
Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill is being sued for not paying rent. The restaurant claims it’s financially viable, but it’s holding the rent in escrow after its landlord allegedly violated the leasing agreement. The establishment was one of the first to open at The Banks.
A public Ohio school district is fighting a lawsuit in order to keep its portrait of Jesus. The school district claims the portrait is owned by a student club and is “private speech,” but opponents argue the portrait violates separation of church and state.
Update on the Alamo situation at Tower Place Mall: Only one tenant remains.
The unofficial spokesman of Heart Attack Grill, the infamous Las Vegas restaurant, died of a heart attack.
Americans expect a human mission to Mars in the next 20 years, but that’s probably because they don’t know how little funding NASA gets.
An asteroid will barely miss Earth on Feb. 15. If it were to hit, it would generate the explosive equivalent of 2,500 kilotons of TNT. In comparison, the nuclear bomb that hit Hiroshima during World War 2 generated a measly equivalent of 17 kilotons of TNT.
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.
The Anna Louise Inn and Western & Southern will meet again in court in April to begin the next chapter of the ongoing zoning dispute between the longtime neighbors.
In a Feb. 8 ruling, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the Inn, filed an incomplete permit application. The ruling asks CUB to resubmit the funding requests to the city of Cincinnati — except this time CUB will have to include details about previously omitted parts of the Anna Louise Inn and the Off the Streets program.
But Tim Burke, attorney for CUB, says CUB already carried out the court’s requirements. After Judge Norbert Nadel ruled May 4 that the Inn didn’t properly fill out its original application, CUB started a second chain of applications to obtain a conditional use permit to meet Nadel’s zoning specifications. The new applications have been approved by Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board and the Cincinnati Zoning Board of Appeals, but Western & Southern is appealing those rulings as well.
Last week’s appeals court ruling sent the case back down to the lower court on a legal technicality. With the ruling, all the Anna Louise Inn cases, including the separate chain of zoning appeals, are essentially consolidated to Nadel.
The dispute began in 2010, when Western & Southern sued the Anna Louise Inn over zoning issues to block $13 million in city- and state-distributed federal loans to renovate the building. Western & Southern declined an opportunity to purchase the building in 2009, but now seems interested in turning it into a luxury hotel.
The Anna Louise Inn is a 103-year-old building that provides shelter to low-income women. Its Off the Streets program helps women involved in prostitution turn their lives around.
For more information about this ongoing dispute, visit CityBeat's collection of coverage here.
It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On this day, it’s worth re-watching his I Have a Dream speech.
Local governments are hopeful they won’t see big budget cuts in Gov. John Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget.
Townships, municipalities and counties were economically hit by big
cuts in the last budget. The local government cuts added up to $1
billion on a state level, and Hamilton County shared $105 million — more
than 10 percent — of the cuts, according to Cuts Hurt Ohio. Education saw $1.8 billion in cuts statewide, with Hamilton County taking $117 million of those cuts.
Gov. Kasich announced that his state of the state address will take place in Lima, Ohio. Kasich’s speech last year was labeled “bizarre” by outlets like The Hill. During the speech, Kasich imitated a person with severe Parkinson's disorder and called Californians “wackadoodles.”
Union Terminal is falling apart. Cincinnati Museum Center executives say they need nearly $180 million for repairs. The damages are largely due to how the building was constructed. Its design lets moisture get behind bricks, which then causes supporting steel beams to rust.
The judge in the Miami University rape flier case gave a deposition Jan. 15. The document outlines Judge Robert Lyons’ reasoning for letting the rape flier case go: “What I remember about him is that there was certainly concern about his, say, his mental health and there were grounds stated on the record for the necessity of sealing the record. It had to do with his — probably as I recall, more so mental well-being than anything else.”
Former governor Ted Strickland is tired of raising campaign money, but that didn’t stop him from joining City Council candidate Greg Landsman Friday. Landsman was Strickland’s field director for his congressional campaign, and when Strickland was governor, Landsman was director of the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Rumor has it the Carew Tower will be going residential, but the owners are denying it all. The denial letter, which assured current tenants they won’t be kicked out, makes reference to a “softness in the general downtown office market.”
The Greater Cincinnati Foundation made $1.3 million in grants. The grants will help a variety of businesses and groups. A $225,000 grant will go to Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator, which helps local businesses owned by minorities.
Garbage collection will be delayed by a day this week due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Will the first neanderthal in 30,000 years be given birth by a human mother? A Harvard geneticist says he’s close to making it possible.
Gov. John Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget plan is on the horizon, and it contains “sweeping tax reform,” according to Tim Keen, budget director for Kasich. Keen said the new plan will “result in a significant competitive improvement in our tax structure,” but it’s not sure how large tax cuts would be paid for. Some are already calling the plan the “re-election budget.” Expectations are Kasich’s administration will cut less than the previous budget, which greatly cut funding to local governments and education.
Chris Monzel is now in charge
of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners. Monzel will serve as
president, while former president Greg Hartmann has stepped down to vice
president. Monzel says public safety will be his No. 1 concern.
City Council may vote today on a plan to build the first freestanding public restroom, and it may be coming at a lower cost. City Manager Milton Dohoney said last week that the restroom could cost $130,000 with $90,000 going to the actual restroom facility, but Councilman Seelbach says the city might be able to secure the facility for about $40,000.
Tomorrow, county commissioners may vote on policy regarding the Metropolitan Sewer District. Commissioners have been looking into ending a responsible bidder policy, which they say is bad for businesses. But Councilman Seelbach argues the policy ensures job training is part of multi-billion dollar sewer programs. Board President Monzel and Seelbach are working on a compromise the city and county can agree on.
The Hamilton County Board of Elections is prepared to refer five cases of potential voter fraud from the Nov. 6 election. The board is also investigating about two dozen more voters’ actions for potential criminal charges.
King’s Island is taking job applications for 4,000 full- and part-time positions.
Ohio may soon link teacher pay to quality. Gov. John Kasich says his funding plan for schools will “empower,” not require, schools to attach teacher compensation to student success. A previous study suggested the scheme, also known as “merit pay,” might be a good idea.
An economist says Ohio’s home sales will soon be soaring.
Debe Terhar will continue as the Board of Education president, with Tom Gunlock staying as vice president.
Equal rights for women everywhere could save the world, say two Stanford biologists. Apparently, giving women more rights makes it so they have less children, which biologists Paul R. and Anne Ehrlich say will stop humanity from overpopulating the world.
Ever wanted to eat like a caveman? I’m sure someone out there does. Well, here is how.
Gov. John Kasich is ready to support further action on human trafficking. Members of the Ohio legislature have already committed to further action. The next few measures will address the statute of limitations for trafficking, parents who traffic their children and laws affecting children services and child welfare. Last session, the legislature passed a “safe harbor” law that changed the classification of children caught in prostitution from criminals to victims. A 2010 bill also increased penalties for human trafficking and related crimes.
A Texas-based company wants to ship
thousands of barrels of fracking waste through river barges to Ohio. But the
U.S. Coast Guard is halting the plan while it investigates whether the
waste can be transported through water routes and the plan’s potential
environmental impact. Critics are worried Ohio is becoming a dumping ground for fracking waste.
Mayor Mark Mallory took a tour with federal officials to show off developments going on in the city and the potential route for the streetcar. The tour was meant to show off projects that have gotten help from the federal government. After the bus tour, Mallory acknowledged the city has “a lot of work to do,” but he added, “There really is a buzz about Cincinnati around this country. It is true.”
A Cincinnati Children’s Hospital survey found one-third of teen girls report meeting with someone they’ve met online. Psychologist Jennie Noll says abused or neglected girls are more likely to present themselves in sexually provocative ways on the Internet and meet more people in real life. Noll warned the meetings can be dangerous for young girls. Apparently, the meetings seem to happen regardless of Internet filtering software, but high-quality parenting and monitoring can help.
Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority is planning housing development for Mount Healthy. The development is coming after a study found the need for more housing in the area.
A controversial luxury apartment complex has been approved in Blue Ash. The approval came despite neighbors complaining that the complex will be an eyesore for the community.
Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville in Cincinnati will hire 200 positions.
A recent rise in smuggling led a Conneaut, Ohio, councilman to send a letter to Gov. John Kasich asking for the state to intervene at Corrections Corporation of America’s Lake Erie Correctional Institution. But Col. John Born, superintendent at the Ohio State Highway Patrol, wrote in a response that criminal incidents have gone down at the CCA facility, even though drug smuggling has gone up. He also writes the state has deployed more cruisers, but he claims local law enforcement have better means and legal authority to deal with cases at the prison.
In other prison news, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) Director Gary Mohr wants to keep misbehaving inmates in prison longer. In the last legislative session, Mohr helped push laws that reduced sentences for low-crime offenders.
Looks like State Treasurer Josh Mandel is firing 10 percent of his staff. The press release for the announcement has great wording for the bad news: “Treasurer Mandel announces further payroll reductions and personnel consolidation.”
Ohio gas prices ticked up in response to hopes of a larger economic recovery.
The Cincinnati Zoo has another adorable animal: the Brazilian ocelot kitten.
Science says global warming won’t suck for everyone. Canadian killer whales tend to make gains, for example. Should humanity really risk making killer whales even stronger? They can already take down animals that are on solid surface.
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.
Mayor John Cranley is trying to find a compromise over whether early voting will move out of downtown after the 2016 general election, as some Republicans in the county government have suggested. Cranley called for a meeting with Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman and Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou, Cincinnati NAACP President Ishton Morton and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel. The meeting will aim to “discuss alternatives the City of Cincinnati can offer to accommodate early voting downtown after the 2016 elections. (Cranley) believes that such a discussion is consistent with the recommendation of the secretary of state that there be an effort to find a nonpartisan solution to the existing disagreement.”
With a $12 million price tag in mind, Cranley remains worried Cincinnati is paying too much for a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. But the project is truly one of a kind, claims The Business Courier: The tower would boast nearly twice the number of luxury apartments of any other project underway in Over-the-Rhine or downtown. And it would replace a decrepit garage and establish the first full-scale grocery store downtown in decades.
A study found Ohio teens’ painkiller abuse dropped by 40 percent between 2011 and 2013. State officials quickly took credit for the drop, claiming their drug prevention strategies are working. But because the Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey only has two sets of data on painkillers to work with — one in 2011 and another in 2013 — it’s possible the current drop is more statistical noise than a genuine downturn, so the 2015 and 2017 studies will be under extra scrutiny to verify the trend.
Similarly, fewer Ohio teens say they’re drinking and smoking. But 46 percent say they text while driving.
Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent in January, down from 7.3 percent the year before. The numbers reflect both rising employment and dropping unemployment in the previous year.
To prove his conservative bona fides, Ky. Sen. Mitch McConnell touted a rifle when he walked on stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference.
The other Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, will headline a Hamilton County Republican Party dinner.
Researchers studied a woman who claims she can will herself out of her body.
Personal note: This is my last “Morning News and Stuff” and blog for CityBeat.
After today, I will be leaving to Washington, D.C., for a new
journalistic venture started by bloggers and reporters from The Washington Post and Slate. (CityBeat
Editor Danny Cross wrote a lot of nice things about the move here, and
my last commentary touched on it here.) Thank you to everyone who read
my blogs during my nearly two years at CityBeat, and I hope I helped you understand the city’s complicated, exciting political and economic climate a little better, even if you sometimes disagreed with what I wrote.
Flaherty & Collins, the developer that wants to tear down a garage as part of its downtown grocery and apartment tower project, offered to pay for a tenant’s move to keep the deal moving forward. The tenant, Paragon Salon, recently announced its intent to sue the city after Mayor John Cranley’s refusal to pay for the salon business’s move left the development project and Paragon in a limbo of uncertainty. With Flaherty & Collins’ offer, the development deal should be able to advance without extra costs to the city.
But Cranley says he still wants 3CDC to review the downtown development project to set the best path forward.
Federal money will help Cincinnati keep and hire more
firefighters. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response
(SAFER) grant provides nearly $8.1 million — about 2 percent of the
city’s $370 million operating budget — to pay the salaries and benefits
of 50 firefighters for two years. Afterward, the city will need to pick
up the costs, which could worsen an operating budget gap that currently
sits at $22 million for fiscal 2015. The move would increase the
Cincinnati Fire Department’s staffing levels from 841 to 879 and help prevent brownouts, according to the firefighting agency.
The Cincinnati Board of Health defied Mayor Cranley by
unilaterally pursuing a $1.3 million grant that will provide
preventative and primary care services to underserved populations. Rocky
Merz, spokesperson for the board, says the grant application complies
with guidance from the city’s top lawyer. Cranley opposes the grant because the extra services it enables could push up costs for the city down the line.
Hamilton County officials will look for outside legal help in their fight against the city’s job training rules for Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the rules, known as “responsible bidder,” in further detail here.
Smale Riverfront Park will receive $4.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control erosion and prevent flooding.
Crime around Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino never materialized, despite warnings from critics prior to casinos’ legalization in Ohio.
Ohio’s prison re-entry rate declined and sits well below the national average, according to a study from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The study found 27.1 percent of inmates released in 2010 ended up back up in prison, down from 28.7 percent of individuals released in 2009. In comparison, the national average is 44 percent.
Hundreds of Ohio school districts plan to test out the state’s new online assessments for math, language arts, social studies and science.
The cold winter is pushing up natural gas prices, according to Ohio’s largest natural gas utility.
A second baby might have been cured of HIV, the sexually transmitted disease that causes AIDS. Even with the potential successes, doctors caution it’s still very much unclear whether the treatment provides a definitive cure for the deadly disease.
Meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind intravaginal ring could prevent pregnancy and HIV.firstname.lastname@example.org.
A group of Greenpeace protesters face burglary and vandalism charges after a stunt yesterday on the Procter & Gamble buildings. Protesters apparently teamed up with a helicopter to climb outside the P&G buildings to hang up a large sign criticizing the company for allegedly enabling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. P&G officials say they are looking into the protesters’ claims, but they already committed to changing how they obtain palm oil by 2015.
Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) will step in to resolve the status of a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. The previous city administration pushed the project as a means to bring more residential space downtown, but Mayor John Cranley refuses to pay to move a tenant in the parking garage that needs to be torn down as part of the project. Following Cranley and Councilman Chris Seelbach’s request for 3CDC’s help, the development agency will recommend a path forward and outline costs to the city should it not complete the project.
Meanwhile, the tenants in the dispute announced today that they will sue the city to force action and stop the uncertainty surrounding their salon business.
Cranley insists politics were not involved in an appointment to the Cincinnati Board of Health, contrary to complaints from the board official the mayor opted to replace. Cranley will replace Joyce Kinley, whose term expired at the end of the month, with Herschel Chalk. “Herschel Chalk, who(m) I’m appointing, has been a long-time advocate against prostate cancer, who's somebody I’ve gotten to know,” Cranley told WVXU. “I was impressed by him because of his advocacy on behalf of fighting cancer. I committed to appoint him a long time ago.”
The costs for pausing the streetcar project back in December remain unknown, but city officials are already looking into what the next phase of the project would cost.
Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s must fully pay for rent and fees by March 10 or face eviction.
Through his new project, one scientist intends to “make 100 years old the next 60.”email@example.com.
Mayor John Cranley could dismantle a deal that would produce a grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a new parking garage downtown. Cranley says he doesn’t want millions put toward the deal, even though the developer involved plans to invest another $60 million. Councilman Chris Seelbach says the deal isn’t dead just because of the mayor’s opposition, and City Council could act to bypass the mayor, just like the legislative body did with the streetcar project and responsible bidder. To Seelbach, the deal is necessary to bring much-needed residential space and an accessible grocery store downtown.
Cincinnati officials and startup executives will try to bring Google Fiber, which provides Internet speeds 100 times faster than normal broadband, to Cincinnati. Google plans to hold a national competition to see which cities are most deserving of its fiber services. “Over the last several years, Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem has made tremendous strides,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in a statement. “We’re increasingly becoming a magnet for talented entrepreneurs across the country who want to come here to bring their big ideas to life. We need to ensure that we have the modern technological infrastructure to make Cincinnati nationally competitive.”
Cincinnati’s operating budget gap for fiscal 2015 now stands at $22 million, up from an earlier forecast of $18.5 million, largely because of extra spending on police pushed by Cranley and a majority of City Council. The city must balance its operating budget each year, which means the large gap will likely lead to layoffs and service cuts.
Commentary: “Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.”
Cranley won’t re-appoint the chair of Cincinnati’s Board of Health. When asked why, Chairwoman Joyce Kinley told City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee that Cranley told her “he had to fulfill a campaign promise.” Some city officials say they worry Cranley is putting politics over the city’s needs.
Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s needs to pay back rent or move out, The Banks’ landlord declared Monday. The deciding moment for Mahogany’s comes after months of struggles, which restaurant owner Liz Rogers blames on the slow development of the riverfront.
Kathy Wilson: “Mahogany’s: Turn Out the Lights.”
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino supports 1,700 workers, making it the largest of Ohio's four voter-approved casinos.
At least one airline, Allegiant Air, plans to add flights from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
Headline: “Man wakes up in body bag at funeral home.”
“A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra,” the Los Angeles Times firstname.lastname@example.org.
About 1 in 20 Cincinnatians, many of them in the wealthiest neighborhoods, pay less in taxes because their home renovations and constructions are subsidized by a local tax program. While the program benefits the wealthy, it also hits Cincinnati Public Schools and other local services through lost revenue. The tax abatement program aims to keep and attract residents and businesses by lowering the costs of moving and living in Cincinnati. Anastasia Mileham, spokeswoman for 3CDC, says the tax abatements helped revitalize Over-the-Rhine, for example. Others say the government is picking winners and losers and the abatement qualifications should be narrowed.
With hotel room bookings back to pre-recession levels, Source Cincinnati aims to sell Cincinnati’s offerings in arts, health care, entrepreneurism and anything else to attract new businesses and residents. The Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau established the organization to reach out to national journalists and continue the local economic momentum built up in the past few years. “Successful cities are those that have good reputations,” Julie Calvert, interim executive director at Source Cincinnati, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “Without reputation it’s difficult to get businesses to expand or relocate or get more conventions or draw young diverse talent to work for companies based here.”
The harsh winter weather this year pushed Cincinnati’s budget $5 million over, with nearly $3 million spent on salt, sand and chemicals alone. . The rest of the costs come through increased snow plowing shifts and other expenses to try to keep the roads clean. The extra costs just compound the city’s structurally imbalanced budget problems. The need for more road salt also comes despite Councilman Charlie Winburn’s attempts to undermine the city’s plans to stockpile and buy salt when it’s cheap.
Mayor John Cranley says the success of The Incline Public House in East Price Hill, which he helped develop, speaks to the pent-up demand for similar local businesses in neglected Cincinnati neighborhoods.
Less than a month remains to sign up for health insurance plans on HealthCare.gov.
The estimated 24,000 students who drop out of Ohio schools each year might cost themselves and the public hundreds of millions a year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says meth abuse has reached “epidemic” levels in the state.
Ohio gas prices continued to rise this week.
Developers say they have funding for the first phase of a Noah’s Ark replica coming to Williamstown, Ky.
There’s a Netflix hack that pauses a movie or TV show when the viewer falls email@example.com.
City leaders will break ground Thursday for the Anna Louise Inn’s new location at Mount Auburn.
The start of construction begins the next phase for the Anna Louise Inn and owner Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB) after a failed legal battle against financial giant Western & Southern forced the Inn to move.
CUB sought to keep the Inn at the Lytle Park location that has housed struggling women since 1909. Western & Southern demanded the property so it could round out its development vision for the Lytle Park neighborhood. (CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.)
After nearly two years of litigation held up CUB’s renovations at the Lytle Park location, both sides abruptly reached a settlement and announced the Anna Louise Inn would move. Many supporters of the Anna Louise Inn saw the settlement and decision to move as a huge loss.
The $14 million project comes through the collaboration of various organizations, according to the city. It’s expected construction will finish in the spring of 2015.
The facility will consist of four stories with 85 studio apartments, the Off-the-Streets program’s residential dormitory-style units, community space and CUB’s office.
The city’s attendee list for the groundbreaking includes CUB, Mayor John Cranley, City Council, Mount Auburn Community Council, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, U.S. Bank, Model Group and various other officials and organizations from the city and state.
But there is one notable omission: Western & Southern.
An anti-gentrification organization says development in southern Over-the-Rhine and downtown is leaving out low- and middle-income residents. The People’s Coalition for Equality and Justice (TPCEJ) cautions it’s not against development, but it supports policies that would seek to help more people take advantage of the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine and downtown, such as more affordable housing, protections for renters’ rights, rent control and the formation of tenants’ unions. The agency behind much of the development in Over-the-Rhine and downtown, 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation), says “people tend to over-romanticize what this neighborhood was” and points to some examples of 3CDC-developed affordable housing as evidence the agency is trying to keep the neighborhood mixed-income.Related: Some studies found gentrification could benefit longtime residents.
A two-hour streetcar pass could cost $1.75, and a 24-hour pass could cost $3.50, according to a new model unveiled yesterday by Paul Grether, Metro’s rail manager. The same model set streetcar operating hours at Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-midnight. Under the model, city officials expect 3,000 daily boardings, but Grether cautioned that’s a very conservative estimate and excludes special events, such as Reds and Bengals games.But the City Council-enforced streetcar delay could cost more than expected after the steel company originally contracted for the $132.8 million project took another job while council members decided the fate of the project. Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick told council the company’s decision could push construction of a maintenance facility by two months if the city doesn’t hire a steel supplier from outside the region.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald yesterday clarified he supports the death penalty, which aligns him with his Republican opponent, incumbent John Kasich, on the issue. FitzGerald’s remark comes after the debate over the death penalty re-ignited in Ohio following the execution of convicted killer and rapist Dennis McGuire, who took 26 minutes to die after state officials used a new cocktail of drugs never tried before in the United States. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction told CityBeat it’s reviewing McGuire’s death, as it does following every execution.
Commentary: “Death Penalty Brings More Costs than Benefits.”
After receiving support from family planning services and abortion provider Planned Parenthood, Democrats running for Ohio’s executive offices re-emphasized their support for abortion rights.
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune will announce
today whether he’ll challenge FitzGerald’s gubernatorial campaign in a
Democratic primary. (Update: Despite previously telling The Cincinnati Enquirer he already made up his mind, Portune canceled his announcement and said he has no final decision yet, according to Carl Weiser, politics editor at The Enquirer.)
Hamilton County commissioners showed openness to keeping some early voting downtown even if the county moves its Board of Elections to a Mount Airy facility. Moving the board along with the county’s crime lab would allow commissioners to consolidate government services.Cincinnati’s economy should grow faster than previously expected, one economist says.
Ten major projects worth more than $1.4 billion are in the planning stages or underway in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
Ohio meets voting standards set by President Barack Obama’s bipartisan election commission, with the one exception of online voter registration, according to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.
Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday announced the creation of a statewide taskforce to combat heroin abuse.
Virtual reality could help people see what gender swaps would be like.
The agenda defined City Council’s first meeting of the new year — the first full session since council decided to continue work on Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project.
The meeting also showed that the Democratic majority — once fractured over the streetcar project and parking privatization plan — now appears to have formed a coalition on most issues facing the city. Perhaps more than anything, that could indicate the direction of Cincinnati for the next four years.
Most contentiously, the Democratic majority on City Council rejected a repeal of the city’s contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) projects.
The rules dictate how the city and county will award contracts for the federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system.
The city’s rules impose stricter job training requirements on city contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who spearheaded the rules, argues the requirements will help foster local jobs and job training.
But the Republican-controlled county government, which also manages MSD and GCWW, says the requirements unfairly burden contractors and favor unions. Last year, county commissioners halted MSD’s work on the sewer overhaul in protest of the city’s rules.
The county’s halt has put 649 jobs and $152 million worth of sewer projects on hold, according to data released by Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
With the federal mandate looming, county commissioners on Wednesday unanimously proposed a compromise that would create some job training and inclusion initiatives.
“We are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, said he will look at the county’s proposal. But he cautioned, “I’m not going to repeal it until we have a substitute. To have a substitute we have to have conversations. This could be the beginning of a framework.”
The issue could end up in court. The city’s lawyers previously claimed they could defend the local contracting rules, but the county insists the city would lose.
“Portions of what the city wants will not stand in court. Our lawyers should meet,” Hartman told Seelbach on Twitter.
If the city and county don’t act before February, Winburn said the
federal government could impose a daily $1,500 fine until MSD work fully
Supportive housing project in Avondale
A supermajority of council — the five Democrats plus Charterite Kevin Flynn — agreed to continue supporting state tax credits for Commons at Alaska, a 99-unit permanent supportive housing facility in Avondale.
Although several opponents of the Avondale facility claim
their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude, many
public speakers argued the housing facility will attract a dangerous
crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.
Supporters point to a study conducted for similar facilities in Columbus that found areas with permanent housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas.
Other opponents decried the lack of outreach for the project. They claim the project was kept hidden from residents for years.
National Church Residences (NCR), which is developing the facility, says it will engage in more outreach as the project moves forward.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, said council’s decision ignores what most Avondale residents told him.
“The supermajority of residents that I have talked to that are directly impacted by this project are against it,” asserted Smitherman, who is leading efforts against the facility in council.
Even if council decided to rescind its support for the Avondale project , it’s unclear if it would have any effect. NCR already received state tax credits for the facility back in June.
City Council unanimously approved a study that will look into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business contracts.
The $690,000 study is required by the courts before the city can pursue initiatives that favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses with city contracts, which Mayor John Cranley and most council members support.
But Flynn and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a Democrat, voiced
doubts that the study’s findings will fulfill the legal requirements necessary to legally enact initiatives favoring minority- and women-owned businesses.
Given the doubts, Simpson cautioned that the city should begin moving forward with possible inclusion initiatives before the disparity study is complete.
“I do think we need to rally around a mantra that we can’t wait,” agreed Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
Once the study is complete, several council members said it will, at the very least, provide valuable data to the city.
Other notable actions
• Council approved a tax budget that lowered the property tax millage rate from 5.7 mills to 5.6 mills, which will cost $500,000 in annual revenue, according to city officials.
• Council approved an application for a $70,000 grant that would fund local intervention efforts meant to help struggling youth.
• Council approved an application for a nearly $6 million grant to provide tenant-based rental assistance to homeless, low-income clients with disabilities.
• Council disbanded the Streetcar Committee, which the
mayor and council originally established to look into halting the
project. Streetcar items will now be taken up by the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.
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.