A City Council committee wants Cincinnati’s leadership to investigate whether workers in a Clifton Heights development project are being paid what they’re supposed to.
The Strategic Growth Committee on Wednesday passed a motion asking the city administration to report back on wage payments to workers on the U Square development. The project includes a parking garage as well as residential and commercial units.
Under Ohio law, workers on projects funded by cities must be paid a prevailing wage, which is equivalent to the wage earned by a union worker on a similar project.
The city only has money invested in the garage, and the state of Ohio recently ruled that workers on other parts don’t have to be paid prevailing wage.
Council members Wendell Young, Cecil Thomas and Laure Quinlivan produced a video in which they interviewed carpenters who said they were being paid less than the prevailing wage.
At issue is a letter from developer Towne Properties that says the company will pay all workers prevailing wage anyway. Arn Bortz with Towne Properties said his company cuts a check to subcontractors respecting that agreement, so if workers aren’t being paid the proper amount it’s their fault.
City Solicitor John Curp told members of the Strategic Growth Committee that under city and state law, the subcontractors are not required to pay workers a prevailing wage on parts of the project that are not getting public funding. He said the letter from the developer does not hold the weight as a legal contract.
Young, Thomas, Quinlivan and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld all expressed the need to overhaul the way the city enters into development contracts to better protect workers.
However, City Manager Milton Dohoney hinted that overzealous requirements for high wages could chase off some development projects.
He said that a project like U Square is tied to the Clifton location because of its proximity to the University of Cincinnati, but the city can’t be too restrictive when it comes to businesses that could expand elsewhere.
Dohoney said the city also doesn’t currently have the manpower to do the kind of aggressive enforcement that the council members were asking for.
Councilman Young countered that he would like to see the city be as aggressive with enforcement as they are with making economic development deals.
“We want to change the rules of the game to make sure everyone is treated equal,” Young said.
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory will deliver his annual State of the City address next week.
The address, which will be Mallory’s seventh since taking office, will be given 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. It will be held in the Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, located at 650 Walnut St., downtown.
When CityBeat asked what the theme would be for this year’s address, a spokeswoman for Mallory declined comment.
“Our office won’t be previewing or giving information out about the speech this year,” said Julianna Rice, a policy aide to the mayor.
Generally, because seating is limited, anyone wishing to attend must receive a ticket through the mayor’s office. For more information, call 513-352-3250.
Mallory, a Democrat, was sworn in as the 68th mayor of Cincinnati on Dec. 1, 2005 and was reelected in 2009. He cannot run again in 2013 due to term limits.
Mallory’s election marked a new era for City Hall as the first two-term mayor under the city's new “stronger-mayor” system, as well as Cincinnati’s first directly-elected black mayor, and the first mayor in more than 70 years who didn’t first serve on City Council.
Mallory celebrated his 50th birthday on Monday.
Plan Cincinnati is expected to be approved by City Council Wednesday, according to Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. The plan was unanimously approved by the Livable Communities committee last night. Plan Cincinnati, which is Cincinnati’s first comprehensive plan in 30 years, emphasizes the city’s urban center through new infrastructure, transportation options and goals to make downtown residents stay in the area. CityBeat previously covered the plan in greater detail here.
At the request of the sole Democrat on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, a vote on the 2013 budget is being delayed by one week. Commissioner Todd Portune asked Commission President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, for the vote delay to address funding to juvenile courts and plans for future financial stability. Hartmann agreed to the delay, noting consensus is important for budget issues. The budget won’t raise taxes, but it could put 150 Hamilton County employees out of jobs.
Wastewater injection wells, which are used to dispose of fluids used during the fracking process, will soon be popping up around Ohio again. The wells are the first to get state approval since earthquakes around Youngstown in December were blamed on nearby wastewater injection wells. It’s clear little — not even earthquakes — will stop Ohio’s fracking boom, but at what cost? It is generally accepted switching from coal to natural gas would bring down pollution that causes global warming, but some findings from Australia suggest problems still lay ahead. One study found an abnormal amount of greenhouse gases around an Australian fracking site. Methane leakage in particular is a problem at natural gas sites because over 100 years methane is 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Cincinnati home sales shot up in October, according to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors. The report paints a great picture for the city’s housing economy. Housing was one of the biggest sectors hit by the financial crisis of 2007-2008, so a recovery in housing is a sign the economic downturn could soon be a thing of the past.
University of Cincinnati researchers want to know if testing emergency-room patients for HIV makes sense. ER doctors worry about longer wait times, disrupted operations and possible interference with emergency services, but the health benefits could outweigh the negatives.
FirstGroup America is looking into moving from its Cincinnati headquarters. The company originally got a million-dollar tax incentive from the city for moving to downtown.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich hopes his rejection of Obamacare’s health exchanges will ignite some re-election fundraising. Kasich is up for re-election in 2014. Exchanges are subsidized, heavily regulated insurance markets that will go into effect in 2014 as part of Obamacare. They are supposed to bring down costs by offering more transparent, open competition through a fair, regulated marketplace. With Kasich’s rejection, the federal government will manage Ohio’s exchange.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted finally had a good day in court on Saturday. In a reversal from the lower court’s ruling, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said ballots without proper identification should not be counted. It’s estimated that, at most, the ruling will affect about 2,000 votes.
A Dayton man allegedly robbed the same bank twice.
Behold, the greatest thing the internet has ever created: The Spice Kittens livestream.
With a nose cell transplant, paralyzed dogs are walking again.
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.
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.