The streetcar project’s chances of survival grew on Thursday after Mayor John Cranley announced he’s willing to allow the $132.8 million project move forward if the annual operating costs for the streetcar are underwritten by private contributors.
But streetcar supporters might have as little as one week to provide assurances to Cranley that the operating costs can be underwritten by the private sector, given the federal government’s Dec. 20 deadline for up to $44.9 million in grants financing roughly one-third of the project.
Still, a representative of the Haile Foundation, a major private contributor to city projects, said private-sector leaders are already working on meeting Cranley’s offer and solving the issue.
The concern for Cranley — and even some streetcar supporters — is that annual operating expenses for the streetcar would hit the city’s already-strained operating budget, especially if the annual operating expenses are higher than the previous estimate of $3.4-$4.5 million.
Although the city wouldn’t need to pay for the full operating costs until the streetcar opens for service in 2016, Cranley and some council members are concerned finishing the project now would force the city to make payments it won't be able to afford in the future.
“We know the streetcar is a very expensive project,” Cranley said. “This community cannot afford a new, ongoing liability that goes on forever.”
Streetcar supporters argue Cranley’s view misses the streetcar’s potential for economic development, which could bring in more city revenues as more people move and work in the city.
The streetcar project would produce a 2.7-to-1 return on investment, according to a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later verified by the University of Cincinnati.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of the two potential swing votes on council, said Cranley’s offer could provide “a way forward.” He previously told CityBeat that the operating costs remain a prominent concern for him because they could translate to cuts in the city’s budget, particularly to police and firefighters.
Eric Avner, vice president and senior program manager of community development at the Haile Foundation, called the deal “an olive branch” to streetcar supporters. He said he’s “very, very confident” the private sector will be able to find a solution.
“I don’t think we can solve it in a week. What I heard is he needs assurances,” Avner said.
Cranley said he doesn’t expect someone to come to city leaders next Wednesday with a check paying for 30 years of operating costs, but he said the commitment has to be serious and long lasting for the city to move forward with the streetcar.
Avner discussed bringing together a commission of private-sector leaders with some long-term assurances.
In what he described as an “organic” movement, Avner said he’s heard from various private-sector leaders that they want to keep the project going, but he claimed most of them don’t want to engage in a public “food fight” that could hurt their relations with the mayor and other city officials.
For Avner, it’s a matter of sticking to a project that’s already well into development and construction.
“We don’t have the luxury to waste that kind of money in this town,” he said.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 told council members that canceling the streetcar project could save only $7.5-$24.5 million in capital costs after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grants that would be lost if the project were stopped.
After Cranley’s announcement, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson questioned Cranley’s motives and said the solicitation might be very difficult to meet in just one week.
Cranley said he’ll reach out to the Federal Transit Administration to try to get an extension, perhaps until the end of the year, on the deadline for federal grants.
“It’s obviously a huge, huge hurdle to try to pull this together in seven days,” Cranley said.
Cranley cautioned he wouldn’t be upset if his offer fell through. Flanked by union representatives for police, firefighters and other city workers, Cranley reiterated that his priorities still lie in basic city services.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld previously proposed setting up a special improvement district to pay for the operating costs. But Cranley called the approach unworkable because it would require property owners to opt in — an effort that would presumably take much longer than one week.
Cranley’s announcement came as streetcar supporters move to place a city charter amendment in support of the streetcar project on the ballot. The campaign vowed to gather 12,000 signatures by the end of the week.
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.
Despite promising to
move on after he failed to cancel the $132.8 million streetcar
project, Mayor John Cranley continues criticizing the
project in interviews and social media.
Most recently, Cranley appeared on Local 12’s Newsmakers program and threatened
to eventually replace the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA)
board, which manages local Metro bus services, in response to board members’
defunct offer to take up streetcar operating costs. (City Council sets SORTA
appointments, not the mayor.)
“The fact is they were
willing to cannibalize bus service,” Cranley said,
contrary to SORTA’s insistence that their offer would not have affected bus
services. “I just felt that was a huge violation of what SORTA is supposed to
be about and what Metro is supposed to be about and what public transportation
is supposed to be about.”
Throughout the 24-minute
interview, Cranley referenced the
streetcar project when discussing the city’s parking meters and other subjects
— a continuation of repetitive anti-streetcar tactics Cranley
deployed on the campaign trail and in mayoral debates against former Vice Mayor
“I think the project is
wasteful and not worth the investment,” Cranley said
when asked about the project. “I think we would have been better off making the
hard decision to cut bait.”
Still, Cranley later added, “Obviously, since the supermajority of
council went against my wishes, I have to respect the process. So I’m not going
to try to sabotage the streetcar.”
The interview also
follows comments on social media. After the former head of the Cincinnati Art
Museum criticized the streetcar, Cranley tweeted on Dec. 27, “(N)ow some Orwellian commentators
will say art director not ‘progressive.’”
The continued anti-streetcar rhetoric comes despite promises to move on that Cranley made after Councilman Kevin Flynn announced he would provide the final vote needed to veto-proof City Council’s decision to continue the streetcar project.
“As I tell my son when he doesn’t get his way, it’s time to move on,” Cranley
said on Dec. 19.
heated rhetoric is nothing new in his campaign against the streetcar project.
After the Nov. 5
election, Cranley told The Cincinnati Enquirer
the streetcar debate “is over.” Cranley’s comments
marked a high level of confidence after voters elected a mayor and council
supermajority that seemingly opposed the streetcar project, but his statement
to The Enquirer proved to be wrong after Council Members Flynn, David
Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld decided to continue the
Cranley also called city officials “incompetent” after
they projected that canceling the streetcar project would cost nearly as much as
completing it. Once again, Cranley’s comments proved
to be wrong — an independent audit found city officials were largely correct in
their assessment — but still showed the level of confident, heated rhetoric
that follows the mayor’s campaign against the streetcar project.
At the very least, Cranley’s rhetoric proves that while the policy debate over the streetcar is over for now, the public discussion is not. The question is whether the messaging will work as the project moves forward and the streetcar becomes a reality of Cincinnati.
Mayor Mark Mallory announced a trade deal between the small Greater Cincinnati-based Solutions Plus, Inc. and the giant Saudi Arabia-based Diversified Lines Petroleum Company. The deal will produce $20 million in business in the next two to five years, said Solutions Plus President Charlie Weaver. The deal is largely due to a trade mission to Saudi Arabia Mallory led in January.
The Cincinnati streetcar project is moving forward. On Wednesday, City Council will be voting on a routine ordinance to transfer $3 million to the streetcar project.
Cincinnati is studying the feasibility of a bike share program. If enacted, the program would begin next summer in Over-the-Rhine and Uptown.
Kings Island is taking down the Son of Beast. The attraction, which was originally advertised as the only wooden roller coaster with a loop, has been closed since 2009 due to a series of problems.
Gov. John Kasich announced the approval of 25 new economic projects by the Ohio Tax Credit Authority. The approval should pave the way to 2,003 new jobs and $212 million in investment in Ohio, according to the announcement. Three of the projects will be in the city of Cincinnati: Integra LifeSciences Corporation, Southern Air Incorporated and Corbus, LLC.
Kasich wants answers. Yesterday, the governor gave his opinion on the ongoing investigation into the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio schools for fraudulent data reporting. Kasich said both schools and the Ohio Department of Education should be held accountable if necessary.
Democrats are setting the groundwork to endorse same-sex marriage in the official party platform for the 2012 election. The news would echo President Barack Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage earlier this year.
Medical marijuana is heading to court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will be hearing whether or not the federal government is right to classify marijuana as having no medical value.
James Holmes was charged with 24 counts of murder in the case for the Colorado theater massacre.
Mitt Romney praised Israel’s health-care system, which does a lot of what he’s opposing in Obamacare.
Japanese developers have built a real-life mech robot. The robot can be piloted, and it can shoot 6,000 BBs in a minute.
CityBeat’s full Election Issue is in stands now. Check out our feature stories on three remarkable City Council challengers: Mike Moroski, Michelle Dillingham and Greg Landsman. Find the rest of our election coverage, along with our endorsements, here.
The Ohio legislature is working through a bill that would limit ballot access for minor parties, which argue the petitioning and voting requirements are meant to help Gov. John Kasich’s chances of re-election in 2014. The Ohio House narrowly passed the bill yesterday with looser restrictions than those set by the Ohio Senate earlier in the month, but a legislative error in the House means neither chamber will hammer out the final details until they reconvene next week. Republicans say the bill is necessary to set some basic standards for who can get on the ballot. Democrats have joined with minor parties in calling the bill the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act” because it would supposedly protect Kasich from tea party and other third-party challengers after his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion turned members of his conservative base against him.
As an attorney and lobbyist at Keating, Muething & Klekamp (KMK), mayoral candidate John Cranley helped payroll company Paycor finalize plans to move its headquarters
— and 450 to 500 jobs with it — from Queensgate in Cincinnati to
Norwood, Ohio. Specifically, KMK and several of its employees, including
Cranley, helped Paycor and Norwood set up a tax credit deal to
incentivize the company’s relocation. The Cranley campaign says he was
just doing his job after Paycor went to KMK, not the other way around.
But supporters of Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Cranley’s opponent in the
mayoral race, say he shouldn’t be helping companies leave the city he
wants to lead. Paycor’s move in 2014 means the city will have to take
back some of the money it gave the company, through two tax deals that
Cranley approved while on City Council, to encourage it to stay in Cincinnati through 2015. Cranley received a $1,100 campaign contribution from Paycor CEO Bob Coughlin on Aug. 20.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) board travels widely and often dines at public expense, according to an investigation from The Cincinnati Enquirer. Among other findings, The Enquirer found the CVG board, which is considered a governmental agency, has a much more lenient travel expense policy for itself than it does for staff members, and it sometimes uses airport funds to pay for liquor. On Twitter, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartman called the findings outrageous and demanded resignations.
Northside property crime is on the rise, and police and residents are taking notice. Business leaders in the neighborhood are concerned the negative stigma surrounding the crime will hurt their businesses.
With federal stimulus funding expiring in November, 1.8 million Ohioans will get less food assistance starting tomorrow. The news comes after 18,000 in Hamilton County were hit by additional restrictions this month, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Hamilton County commissioners yesterday agreed to pay $883,000 to cover legal fees for Judge Tracie Hunter and her legal team. The Hamilton County Board of Elections racked up the bill for the county by repeatedly appealing Hunter’s demands that the board count more than one-third of previously discarded provisional ballots, which were enough to turn the juvenile court election in Hunter’s favor. Hunter’s opponent, John Williams, later won a separate appointment and election to get on the juvenile court.
Metro, Cincinnati’s local bus service, announced it’s relaxing time limits on transfer tickets, which should make it easier to catch a bus without sprinting to the stop.
Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp laid off nearly 500 employees in the past six months, with some of the layoffs hitting Cincinnati. The bank blames the job cuts on slowdowns in the mortgage business.
Early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended. If you don’t vote early, you can still vote on Election Day (Nov. 5). Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.
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.
After taking a two-month summer break — with a week for some committee hearings and a council meeting — Cincinnati City Council has canceled its meetings for the first half of September.
The council meetings for Sept. 6 and 12 have been canceled, along with all committee meetings for the first week of September and the Job Growth Committee meeting for Sept. 10.
Jason Barron, spokesman for Mayor Mark Mallory, said the council meetings were canceled due to the Democratic National Convention, which is occurring in the first week of September. Barron said many of the Democratic officials in the city are delegates to the convention.
Asked why the City Council meeting was canceled for the second week of September, Barron said he didn’t know.Council did meet once in August, where they approved a ballot measure to lengthen council terms from two to four years, as well as a plan to undo the sale of the Blue Ash airport.
All of the committee meetings for the week of the DNC were canceled as well. Strategic Growth Committee chairwoman Laure Quinlivan is not a delegate to the convention, but is attending, an aide said.
Council members Roxanne Qualls and Cecil Thomas, who chair the Budget and Finance and Public Safety Committees respectively, did not respond to CityBeat’s requests for comment as of Friday afternoon.
A special meeting of the Rules and Government Operations Committee is meeting on Sept. 10 — the first committee meeting after the summer break. An aide to committee chairman Wendell Young says the committee is meeting to receive a report from a task force charged with recommending ways to put grocery stores in so-called “food deserts” — neighborhoods where fresh food isn’t readily available.
The Livable Communities Committee and Major Transportation & Infrastructure Sub-committee are meeting during the second week of September, but the first full council meeting isn’t until the 19th.
Council still has a few big-ticket items it is expected to deal with this year, including proposed budget cuts from City Manager Milton Dohoney (expected to be laid out in November) and the approval of a new city plan, which shifts development emphasis from downtown and Over-the-Rhine to the city’s other 50 neighborhoods. More on that plan here.
The company in charge of building Cincinnati's streetcars says the city would incur substantial costs if it cancels the streetcar project after it's already gone through some construction and design work.
The Nov. 30 letter from CAF USA Vice President Virginia Verdeja to former Mayor Mark Mallory arrived just one day before Mayor John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and an anti-streetcar majority were sworn in.
"CAF will have to recover all the incurred expenses as well as all the additional cost of cancelling the contract, which would be substantial too," Verdeja writes in the letter.
The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs.
For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears of litigation that could crop up if the project were canceled and contractors decided to pursue their full payday. Those legal costs would fall on the already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services like police and firefighters instead of the capital budget that finances big capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick warned the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of streetcar supporters rallied in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route in support of the project. They're threatening a referendum if the new City Council moves to pause or cancel the project.
City Council plans to vote on pausing the project on Monday. Because of threats from the federal government that a mere delay could lead to the loss of federal grants, streetcar supporters claim a pause would equate to cancellation.
Read the full letter below:
Updated at 6:13 p.m. with the PDF of the letter.