Supporters of the streetcar project are rallying in a last-stand effort to save the streetcar from an incoming city government that’s threatening to cancel the project. Supporters plan to meet today in a town hall-style meeting at 7 p.m. at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St. #1100, downtown Cincinnati. Some of the supporters of the movement are residents, business owners and realtors in Over-the-Rhine who told CityBeat that canceling the project will set the city’s economic momentum back. Mayor-elect John Cranley disagrees, but the decision is ultimately up to the newly elected City Council to cancel the project, and at least three of nine newly elected council members previously seen as streetcar opponents — P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — told CityBeat they’d like to evaluate the costs of canceling the project and the potential return of investment versus the cost of completing construction.
City Manager Milton Dohoney will resign on Dec. 1 and receive one year of severance pay, Cranley announced yesterday. To political watchers, the news comes as very little surprise. Cranley and Dohoney disagreed on two key issues — the streetcar project and parking plan, both of which Cranley opposes and Dohoney supported and helped get off the ground. Once the new mayor and City Council take over in December, Cranley says he will appoint a yet-to-be-named interim city manager and begin looking for a permanent replacement.
Despite Saks Fifth Avenue’s departure, the city intends to move forward with its plans to build a retail corridor downtown, and others have approached the city about taking Saks’ space, according to Kathleen Norris, managing principal of Urban Fast Forward and the city’s retail leasing consultant. Saks announced yesterday that it’s closing down its downtown store and moving to Kenwood Collection. Although the move is a blow to the city, a few city officials were quick to point to other growth in downtown Cincinnati as an example of what will attract new retail outlets in the future.
A deal is nearly set to fund the $107 million interchange project at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive. As part of the deal, the Ohio Department of Transportation will pay for $52 million, and Cincinnati and the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) will take a loan from the state infrastructure bank to pay for their share. OKI says it will pay for its portion of the loan through $25 million in federal funding, but it’s so far unclear how the city will pay for its share of the project. The outgoing city administration intended to pay for the project through the now-canceled parking plan, which would outsource the city’s parking meters, lots and garages.
Cranley says the city can get out of the parking plan without defaulting on the lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but Cranley’s position is at odds with the stated opinion of officials in the outgoing city administration and Port Authority. Cranley announced on Tuesday that the parking plan will be called off once he and the new council take office in December, but it’s unclear how much it will cost to break out of the plan and its various contractual obligations.
The Ohio House held a hearing yesterday for two bills that would increase safeguards for victims of domestic violence, including new housing and employment protections. CityBeat previously covered the story of Andrea Metil, a domestic violence victim who is calling for greater protections.
Only 1,150 Ohioans signed up for Obamacare through the troubled HealthCare.gov portal, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday. Both the Ohio-wide measure and nationwide number — 106,185 — fell far short of the federal government’s expectations for the first month of enrollment. But many of the troubles are caused by technical problems that have made HealthCare.gov largely unworkable for most Americans. The federal government is working to correct the errors by December, but The Washington Post reports that the website likely won’t be fully functional by then.
Meanwhile, Ohioans will be able to enroll in the now-expanded Medicaid program on Dec. 9. Republican Gov. John Kasich got the federally funded Medicaid expansion for two years through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel, despite the Republican-controlled legislature’s opposition.
The Ohio House yesterday approved a bill that reforms municipal taxes, which businesses support but cities oppose. Supporters argue it will simplify the tax code so businesses can more easily work around the state and from county to county, but opponents claim it will reduce how much revenue cities receive.
Kasich temporarily delayed convicted child killer Ronald Phillips’s execution so Phillips can donate his non-vital organs to his mother and possibly others.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble is shuffling some of its top positions.
Here is how Mars might have looked 4 billion years ago.
Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council announced on Tuesday that, upon taking office in December, they will terminate the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, following an agreement with the Port Authority to hold off on a bond sale that would have financed — and effectively sealed — the deal. But it remains unclear how much it will cost to terminate the plan, default on the lease agreement with the Port Authority and allow the Port to break its contracts with private companies that would have operated the assets under the deal. The current city administration argues the parking plan is necessary to help balance the budget over the next two years, pay for economic development projects around the city and modernize the city’s parking assets so, for example, parking meters can accept credit card payments. Opponents argue the plan gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets by outsourcing their operations to private companies based around the country.
But some business leaders are upset with the death of the parking plan because it leaves no visible alternative for funding major development projects like the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive.
Cranley now says he will not allow a referendum on any ordinance undoing the streetcar project and will instead try to work with supporters of the project to find another way to put it on the ballot if they can gather enough petition signatures. Cranley says blocking a referendum is necessary to avoid spending money during a referendum campaign that could last months. But for supporters of the streetcar, Cranley’s decision seems highly hypocritical following his repeated praise for the “people’s sacred right of referendum” on the campaign trail after City Council blocked a referendum on the parking plan. If the project is placed on the ballot, it will essentially be the third time it’s brought to a public vote; opponents of the project in 2009 and 2011 pursued two ballot initiatives that many saw as referendums on the streetcar.
Meanwhile, Over-the-Rhine businesses and residents yesterday officially launched a campaign to save the streetcar project from Cranley and a newly elected City Council that appears poised to cancel the project. Touting the project’s potential return on investment and cancellation costs, the group plans to lobby newly elected officials to vote in favor of keeping the project going. The group invited Cranley and all elected council members to join them at a town hall-style meeting on Nov. 14 at the Mercantile Library, where supporters will discuss their path forward. So far, supporters have publicly discussed a concerted lobbying effort, a ballot initiative if council passes an ordinance undoing the streetcar project and possible legal action against the city.
The Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board is apparently unpleasantly surprised that Cranley undid the parking plan, even though the board endorsed Cranley for mayor after he ran in opposition to the parking plan for nearly a year.
An Ohio Senate bill caps the spending ability of the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative board that previously approved the federally funded Medicaid expansion despite the Ohio legislature’s opposition. Gov. John Kasich angered many Republican legislators when he decided to go through the Controlling Board to get the Medicaid expansion, which is a major part of Obamacare.
Meanwhile, the Ohio legislature is working on changes to Medicaid that would cap future cost increases and employ professional staff for a Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee that would have the ability to review Medicaid programs and agencies. The bill also includes a portion that clarifies its passage “shall not be construed with endorsing, validating or otherwise approving the (Medicaid) expansion.”
Despite attempts from city officials and local business leaders, Saks Fifth Avenue is leaving downtown to open a store at Kenwood Collection.
Kentucky’s state auditor will look at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport board’s spending policies and expenses, following reports from The Enquirer that the board spent exorbitant amounts on travel, dining and counseling.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Milford-Miami Advertiser’s request to appeal a 2012 ruling that charged the Gannett-owned suburban weekly with defamation and ordered the paper to pay the defamed plaintiff $100,000 in damages. In a story titled “Cop's suspension called best move for city,” the newspaper wrongly implicated a Miami Township police officer who was previously accused but later exonerated of sexual assault.
Attorney General Mike DeWine warns that some typhoon relief requests could be scams.
Not satisfied with the mere wonder of beginning to exist, some stars explode in a rainbow of colors when they’re born.
Dozens of residents and business owners gathered in Over-the-Rhine on Tuesday to launch a campaign that seeks to persuade Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council to support the $133 million streetcar project.
Attendees included Ryan Messer, who used his life savings to renovate his home in Over-the-Rhine; Derek Bauman, co-chair of Cincinnatians for Progress; Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of the Taste of Belgium; and Derek dos Anjos, owner of The Anchor.
“We’re here today to keep the conversation going outside of political rhetoric and partisan politics,” Messer said. “Simply put, the streetcar is a component of Cincinnati economic development, and it’s a project that grows the whole city — not just an urban core, which, by the way, is an important part of developing this region.”
The group intends to lobby Cranley and the newly elected council, which appear poised to cancel the project when they take office in December.
At least three of nine elected council members — P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — have told media outlets that they want a full accounting of the project before making a final decision. Another three — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young — are on the record as supporting the project. The final three — Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Amy Murray — adamantly opposed the project in the past.
Members of the pro-streetcar group invited Cranley and all elected council members to join them at a town hall-style meeting on Nov. 14 at the Mercantile Library, where supporters will discuss their path forward. So far, supporters have publicly discussed a concerted lobbying effort, a referendum if council passes an ordinance undoing the streetcar project and possible legal action.
As CityBeat first uncovered, the costs of canceling the project are currently unknown, and some of the costs could actually fall on the operating budget that pays for police, firefighters and human services instead of the capital budget that is currently financing the streetcar project.
Much of the uncertainty falls on ongoing construction for the streetcar, which has continued despite the newly elected city government’s intent to stop the project. As of September, the city spent $23 million on the project and contractually obligated $94 million, some of which city officials say will need to be paid back even if the project were canceled.
The U.S. Department of Transportation also told city officials in a June 19 letter that nearly $41 million of nearly $45 million in federal grants would need to be returned if the project were terminated.
Supporters also claim Cincinnati would be giving up a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years if the city abandoned the streetcar now. That estimate is derived from a 2007 study conducted by consulting firm HDR, which was evaluated and supported by the University of Cincinnati.
Project executive John Deatrick says the HDR study is now outdated and the city is working on updating the numbers. Still, Deatrick says the project is intended to spur economic development, not just provide another form of public transportation.
The Nov. 13 issue of CityBeat will give a more in-depth look at the campaign to save the streetcar and some of the people involved in the movement.
As of Friday, Cincinnati’s winter shelter still needs $43,000 out of the $75,000 required to open from late December through February. That means hundreds of homeless people could be left out in the cold — literally — for at least a month longer than usual if the shelter doesn’t get more donations. According to Spring, the goal each night is to shelter 91 people, although the number can fluctuate depending on the circumstances. For its run between late 2012 and early 2013, the winter shelter housed roughly 600 people, or about $125 a person. Anyone can donate to the winter shelter — and Drop Inn Center — at tinyurl.com/WinterShelterCincinnati. To contribute specifically to the winter shelter, type in “winter shelter” in the text box below “Designation (Optional).”
Officials involved with the $133 million streetcar project are considering around-the-clock work for certain days to speed up delivery of rail and minimize disruptions at busy streets around Over-the-Rhine. The third shifts would reduce the time needed to deliver and install rails around Findlay Market and Liberty Street from one week to a couple days at each location, which would allow the city to avoid closing down surrounding streets beyond a weekend or Monday and Tuesday, according to project executive John Deatrick. He says the extra work is absolutely not related to recent discussions about canceling the project.
The new school funding formula approved by Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled General Assembly means high-minority schools get less state aid than schools with less diversity. Southwest Ohio’s 10 most diverse school districts will average $3,837 in state aid per student, while the 10 least diverse districts will average $4,027 per student. The finding is just the latest controversy for a school funding formula that is supposed to make state aid to schools more equitable. CityBeat covered some of the prior concerns in further detail here.
Despite Mayor-elect John Cranley’s insistence that the streetcar conversation “is over,” The Cincinnati Enquirer continues getting messages in support of the project. Supporters of the streetcar plan to launch a campaign this week to lobby council members and Cranley to back the project. The campaign will begin on Thursday with a town hall-style meeting particularly aimed at stakeholders along the streetcar route. The location and specific time should be announced later today or tomorrow.
Still, as Chris Wetterich of The Business Courier writes, it is unlikely Cranley will break his promise on the streetcar.
That means it might be up to the three swing votes on City Council —
P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — or a referendum to save the project.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport spent nearly $120,000 since July on coaching and job evaluation services for its board and CEO, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. That’s on top of the $140,000 the board spent on travel, conferences and expensive dinners since 2011. Following the disclosures, local leaders have called for leadership changes at the board.
Cincinnati-area businesses only have until Nov. 15 to garner enough votes to enter into a competition hosted by Chase Bank that will divide $3 million among 12 small businesses across the country.
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority’s expansion plans already received approval from Hamilton, Brown, Adams, Scioto and Boone counties. The plan expands the Port Authority’s boundaries from 26 miles to 205 miles along the Ohio River, which the Port says will make the agency more attractive to businesses.
At least 41 percent of 1,600 new apartments in and near downtown are receiving aid from the city of Cincinnati. City officials say the aid helps continue Cincinnati’s economic momentum and urban revitalization. But critics say more aid should go to low-income housing and other Cincinnati neighborhoods.
Virtual Community School of Ohio, an online charter school, didn’t follow rules for educating students with disabilities. CityBeat covered online schools and the controversy surrounding them in further detail here.
Ohio gas prices are down 17 cents per gallon this week.
Cranley has inspired some interesting parody accounts on Twitter.
As if they weren’t terrifying enough, drug-resistant “superbugs” can show up in animals.
Officials working on the $133 million streetcar project are considering taking up extra shifts to speed up delivery of new rail and minimize disruptions caused by construction, project executive John Deatrick told CityBeat on Friday.
If it goes as planned, the extra shifts would reduce the time needed to deliver and install rails around Findlay Market and Liberty Street from one week to a couple days at each location. That would allow the city to avoid closing down surrounding streets for more than a weekend or a Monday and Tuesday, according to Deatrick.
“The main reason isn’t to speed it up,” he says. “The main reason is it would minimize the impact on the motoring public, walking public and biking public.”
Deatrick insists the move is absolutely not related to recent election results that have called the project’s survival into question.
One of Mayor-elect John Cranley’s top priorities upon taking office in December is canceling the streetcar project, which he says isn’t worth the cost and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. He says the outgoing city administration is continuing construction of the streetcar in “a political manner” and running up the bill to make canceling the project more difficult.
But Deatrick claims the 24-hour shifts won’t add much in the way of new costs. He says contractors currently bill the city about $1.5 million each month and that should continue into the future.
As of September, the city had already spent $23 million and contractually obligated another $94 million to the project. The obligations, along with the threat of litigation from contractors involved in the project and taxpayers and businesses along the streetcar track, have raised concerns about how much canceling the project would cost — and whether it’s even financially prudent at this point.
A small group of Over-the-Rhine homeowners is preparing for a possible lawsuit and other actions should Mayor-elect John Cranley try to cancel the $133 million streetcar project. Ryan Messer says the fight is about protecting his family’s investment along the streetcar route. Streetcar supporters plan to host a town hall-style meeting in the coming weeks to discuss possible actions to keep the project on track, including a referendum effort on any legislation that halts construction of the ongoing project. While Cranley says canceling the streetcar is at the top of the agenda, questions remain about how much it would cost to cancel the project, as CityBeat covered in further detail here and here.
As Cincinnati debates canceling the streetcar project, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is evaluating transit systems around the state to encourage more efficiency and cost effectiveness. The agency is particularly focused on how different transit services are dealing with rising demand and shrinking budgets. But if that’s the case, ODOT might carry some of the blame: When Gov. John Kasich took office, ODOT’s Transportation Review Advisory Council pulled $52 million from the Cincinnati streetcar project despite previously scoring the streetcar the highest among Ohio’s transportation projects. The Kasich administration also refused $400 million in federal funding for a statewide passenger light rail system, and the money ended up going to California and other states that took on light rail projects.
Cranley’s other major campaign promise is to stop the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but the Port intends to finalize the lease by the end of the month — before Cranley takes office in December — by selling bonds that will finance the deal. The outgoing city administration pushed the parking plan through City Council in a matter of months for an upfront payment of $92 million. But following unsuccessful litigation and a due diligence process, the Port Authority cut the payment to $85 million, and the city is now responsible for paying $14-$15 million to build a new parking garage that the Port was originally supposed to finance under the deal. Cranley and other opponents of the parking plan say it gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets, while supporters argue it’s necessary to modernize the assets and help fund economic development projects.
Several of Cincinnati’s power brokers and building owners are working on a plan that would create a retail corridor in the city’s center and hopefully keep Saks Fifth Avenue in the city. Some of the efforts apparently involve financial incentives from the city, according to details provided to the Business Courier.
In the past decade, Ohio students have shown limited improvement in reading and math scores.
The Cincinnati area could become the largest metropolitan area without an abortion clinic following new regulations imposed by the state budget signed into law in June by Gov. Kasich and the Republican-controlled legislature. CityBeat covered the regulations and the rest of the state budget in further detail here.
The Hamilton County Association of Chiefs of Police released a report outlining stricter guidelines for Taser use. Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who has led lawsuits on behalf of families who lost loved ones after they were Tased, told WVXU he’s encouraged by the report, but he said he would also require annual tests of the devices and a ban on chest shots.
The Cincinnati branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is filing a federal complaint against the DHL Global Mail facility in Hebron, Ky., after DHL allegedly fired 24 of its employees on Oct. 9 in a dispute over prayer breaks.
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino reported $18.2 million in gross revenue in October, down from $19.8 million in September. The revenue reduction also cost Cincinnati’s casino the No. 1 spot, which is now held by Cleveland’s Horseshoe Casino. For Cincinnati and Ohio, the drop means lower tax revenue.
The Cincinnati Gay and Lesbian Center plans to close its physical space, but it’s sticking around as a virtual organization and will continue hosting Pride Night at Kings Island. A letter from the center’s board of directors stated that the transition was based on a need to “evolve with the times.”
The U.S. Senate passed a bill that would ban discrimination against gay and transgendered workers, but the bill’s chances are grim in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both Ohio senators — Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman — voted in favor of the Senate bill. CityBeat previously covered efforts in Ohio to pass workplace protections for LGBT individuals here.
Watch a homeless veteran’s aesthetic transformation, which apparently helped push his life forward:
The popular video of a baby’s reaction to his singing mom might actually show conflicting feelings of fear and sociality, not sentimentality.
While Cincinnati’s $133 million streetcar project remains in limbo, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is taking a deep look at the state’s existing transit systems to encourage more efficiency and cost effectiveness.
Specifically, ODOT says the “Ohio Statewide Transit Needs Study” is necessary to evaluate the performance of different transit systems around the state as demand grows and budgets shrink.
“Travel trends show that there is a definite rise in the need for convenient, affordable public transportation to jobs, medical appointments, shopping and recreational activities. Our transit agencies are struggling to fund this existing service, let alone meet the increased demand,” ODOT’s website states.
Starting the last week of October, ODOT began sending out rider surveys to people who use transit services to collect their thoughts on current services and input on possible improvements. The surveys are being conducted with the help of 61 transit agencies around Ohio, and ODOT expects to complete them in mid-November.
“The rider survey is just the first step of our public outreach and technical effort,” said Marianne Freed, administrator of ODOT’s Office of Transit, in a statement. “Our goal is to evaluate the unique transportation needs for communities statewide, whether it’s a large city or a rural county.”
The ultimate goal, according to ODOT, is “to develop a long-term strategy to determine how to best stretch limited dollars while meeting the demands of Ohio’s riders today and in the future.”
ODOT will release the study’s findings at www.TransitNeedsStudy.ohio.gov.
If ODOT does find inadequate budgets for rising demand, the agency also might find itself partly culpable.
It was ODOT’s Transportation Review Advisory Council that pulled $52 million in federal funding from the streetcar project once Gov. John Kasich came into office, even though the project previously received the highest score among transportation projects in the state. The massive cut forced local officials to scale back the original streetcar line and seek other federal funds.
Kasich also declined $400 million in federal funds for the 3C passenger rail line, which would have connected Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland. The federal funds ended up going to California and other states that embraced light rail, The Plain Dealer previously reported.
ODOT’s study also arrives as Cincinnati debates its own transit needs. On Tuesday, the city elected a mayor and City Council majority that opposes to the ongoing streetcar project.
If the streetcar project is canceled, it wouldn’t be the first time Cincinnati gave up on a new transit system in the middle of construction. The city also pulled out of building a subway system in the 1920s. The defunct subway tunnels now serve as a tourist attraction.
The subway failure and political threats to the streetcar project are two of the reasons Urbanophile, a national urbanist blog, described Cincinnati’s culture as “one of smug self-regard and self-sabotage” in a blog post on Thursday.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Mayor-elect John Cranley denied that Cincinnati holds an anti-transit mentality. Cranley pointed out that local voters in the 1970s decided to increase their earnings tax to support the Metro bus system. He says it comes down to weighing the costs and benefits.
Mayor-elect John Cranley laid out his plans and priorities for his first term at his first press conference yesterday. Cranley says two of his top priorities are undoing the $133 million streetcar project and parking plan, which would lease the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. He also spoke on some of his more positive ideas, including the interchange project at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive, 3CDC-style public-private partnerships to revitalize neighborhoods and development of the Wasson Way bike trail, old Swifton Commons and Westwood Square.
It remains unclear how much it would cost to actually cancel the streetcar project. As of September’s monthly progress report, $94 million is tied to contractual obligations, $23 million is already spent and nearly $45 million in federal grants is still attached to the project. And if contractors, subcontractors and taxpayers sue the city to complete the project, it could impose litigation costs on the operating budget instead of the capital budget currently financing construction. Supporters of the streetcar also say cancellation could tarnish relationships with the federal government and contractors, which have a stake in the project’s completion. At his press conference yesterday, Cranley said he’d weigh the costs and benefits of cancellation and would continue the project if he deems it cheaper.
Meanwhile, Cranley might travel to Washington, D.C., to discuss reprogramming nearly $45 million in federal grants from the streetcar project to the I-71/MLK interchange project. In a June 19 letter, the U.S. Department of Transportation claimed it would take back nearly $41 million of the grant money if the streetcar project were canceled. City officials say they’ve already spent $2 million from the grants on the streetcar project, and, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding, that would need to be repaid through the operating budget if the project were terminated.Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature passed a bill that imposes new restrictions on minor political parties trying to get on the state ballot. The requirements force minor parties to meet higher petition signature and voting thresholds to get and remain on the ballot. Ohio Libertarians say they plan to sue to block the changes from becoming law in 90 days. Democrats and minor parties say the changes are meant to protect Kasich’s chances of re-election in 2014; they argue that, without the new requirements, tea party challengers upset with Kasich over his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion could take away enough votes and spoil the election in favor of a Democrat. CityBeat covered the Senate version of the bill in further detail here.
Hamilton County commissioners yesterday unanimously approved the first budget in six years that didn’t require major cuts or revenue increases to achieve balance, but the budget also had very little in terms of new policies. Commissioners also approved a separate plan from the Port Authority, a city- and county-funded development agency, to expand its borders; the Port now needs to work out agreements with other jurisdictions before the expansion becomes official.
Janitors in Cincinnati are striking against New York City-based ABM in a push for wage hikes and health benefits. In supporting the efforts, Councilman Chris Seelbach says the strike and media attention surrounding it should hopefully put pressure on Cincinnati’s Fortune 500 companies that hire ABM to clean their buildings.
Commentary: “Republicans Continue Denying Social Progress.”
After only 28.8 percent of registered Cincinnati voters participated in the mayoral and City Council elections, The Cincinnati Enquirer asked those who didn’t show up to vote to explain themselves. The answers ranged from total apathy toward the streetcar project to disdain and distrust for the city’s government and political system.
Voters on Tuesday approved more than half of Ohio school levies.
The University of Cincinnati yesterday signed an agreement that will increase collaboration with NASA.
Blockbuster is closing down its remaining company-owned stores in the United States.
Biking in traffic can have some complicated results as bikers breathe in traffic exhaust.
Mayor-elect John Cranley invited reporters to his home in Mt. Lookout on Wednesday to discuss his plan and priorities for his first term as mayor of Cincinnati.
Cranley claims the invitation to his house represents the kind of accessible, transparent leadership he’ll take up when he begins his term on Dec. 1.
Speaking on his immediate priorities, Cranley says he already contacted the nine newly elected council members and intends to build more collaboration with all sides of the aisle, which will include a mix of five Democrats, two Republicans, one Charterite and one Independent starting in December.
One of Cranley’s top priorities is to cancel the $133 million streetcar project, which Cranley and six newly elected council members oppose. He also argues that the city should stop spending on ongoing construction for the project.
“Seriously, look at who got elected yesterday. At some point, this is a democracy. We shouldn’t be agitating voters like this,” Cranley says. “Let’s not keep spending money when it looks like the clear majority and the clear mandate of yesterday’s election was going in a different direction.”
But in response to recent reports that canceling the streetcar project could carry its own set of unknown costs, he says he will weigh the costs and benefits before making a final decision. If the cost of cancellation is too high, Cranley acknowledges he would pull back his opposition to the project.
Canceling the streetcar project would also require an ordinance from City Council.
Mike Moroski, who on Tuesday lost in his bid for a council seat, already announced on Twitter
that he’s gathering petition signatures for a referendum to prevent the project’s cancellation.
Cranley promises he won’t stop a referendum effort by
placing an emergency clause on an ordinance that cancels the project, but he expressed doubt that a referendum would succeed.
On the current city administration’s plan to lease the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, Cranley says he will work with fellow lawyers David Mann and Kevin Flynn, both of who won seats for council on Tuesday, to find a way to cancel the deal.
But that could prove tricky with the lease agreement already signed by the city and Port Authority, especially as the Port works to sell bonds — perhaps before Cranley takes office — to finance the deal and the $85 million payment the city will receive as a result.
Cranley also promises to make various development projects his top priority, particularly the interchange for Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive. He says he will lobby White House officials to re-appropriate nearly $45 million in federal grant money for the streetcar project to the interchange project, even though the U.S. Department of Transportation told the city in a June 19 letter that it would take back nearly $41 million of its grant money if the streetcar project were canceled.
Cranley vows he will also work with local businesses to leverage public and private dollars to spur investment in Cincinnati’s neighborhoods — similar to what the city did with Over-the-Rhine and downtown by working with 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation).
“We want to have some big early wins,” Cranley says. “We want to get moving within a year on the Wasson Way bike trail, see significant progress at the old Swifton Commons and see Westwood Square developed.”
He adds, “And we intend to reverse the one-trash-can policy, which I think is a horrible policy. … There have been several stories about illegal dumping that have resulted from that.”
Cincinnati’s pension system and its $862-million-plus unfunded liability also remain a top concern for city officials. Cranley says he will tap Councilman Chris Smitherman to help bring costs in line, but no specifics on a plan were given.
Voters on Tuesday elected John Cranley to the mayor’s office and six council members — out of nine total — who oppose the streetcar project, giving streetcar opponents enough votes to cancel the project once the new government takes power on Dec. 1.
But, as first reported by CityBeat on Oct. 9, cancellation could carry all sorts of costs with $94 million tied to contractual obligations, including supply orders and other expenses from contractors and subcontractors, and $23 million already sunk on the project.
If the city were to cancel, it would also need to return nearly $41 million in grants to the federal government, according to a June 19 letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Canceling the project would cost jobs as well. About 150 laborers are currently working on the project, according to Deatrick. He says there’s also management positions involved, but he couldn’t offer an estimate for those jobs and whether they’re working on the project full- or part-time.
Deatrick says that it’s difficult to pin down how much cancellation would ultimately cost because the issue would likely be worked through litigation as the city tries to minimize cancellation costs and developers — such as Messer Construction, Prus Construction, Delta Railroad and CAF USA — attempt to maximize what they recoup from the project.
Another concern, according to Olberding, is cancellation’s impact on the operating budget. She says the roughly $2 million in federal grant money already spent on the project would have to come out of the operating budget, and litigation costs would come from the operating budget as well.
The capital budget, which is financed through bonds and other forms of debt, pays for capital projects like the streetcar. The operating budget typically goes toward day-to-day operations, including police, firefighters and human services.
The operating budget has been structurally imbalanced since 2001. If millions in litigation costs and repayments to the federal government are added to it, the city could be forced to cut services and jobs or raise taxes.
There are also concerns about how the federal government and Cincinnati’s business partners would react to the cancellation of such a major project. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Cranley’s opponent in the mayoral race, previously told CityBeat that pulling back on a commitment could break the faith developers and the feds placed in Cincinnati when they agreed to take on the streetcar project.
Cranley and other anti-streetcar elects argue the long-term costs — the $88 million in the capital budget for the current phase of the project, the cost of future expansion and $3-4 million that it would cost to operate the streetcar annually — outweigh even the costs of cancellation.
Cranley previously told CityBeat that he would help developers involved in the project find other work in the city to recoup the revenue lost from the project’s cancellation. He says Messer and Prus in particular are based in and already work heavily in Cincinnati, so it’s unlikely they would try to cut ties with the city.
Streetcar supporters aren’t convinced. If the city pulls out of such a big commitment, officials argue both the federal government and developers could be compelled to look for a more reliable source for future work.
Meanwhile, Deatrick says current construction work is progressing on time and within budget. He expects the track on Elm Street to be laid down between 12th and Henry streets by the end of the year.
As for the next phase of the project, Deatrick says there’s still no estimated cost. He attributes much of the project’s current political problems to construction bids coming in over budget earlier in the year — a turn of events that led City Council to put another $17.5 million to the streetcar project — so he says the city needs to be really careful with future estimates if it decides to expand the streetcar system.
Despite the fresh political threats, the city still intends to conduct meetings with businesses on Nov. 14 and 18 about the benefits of the streetcar. Deatrick says those meetings should show the economic benefits of the rail line that go beyond the streetcar’s use as a transit network.
Supporters of the streetcar often point to those benefits as their reasoning for backing the project. Citing a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later evaluated and supported by the University of Cincinnati, supporters say the streetcar project would produce a three-to-one return on investment.
Deatrick acknowledges those projections are now outdated, given all the changes the project has gone through since 2007. He says the city has people working on updating the numbers and looking at other economic effects the HDR study may have missed.
But opponents of the streetcar project say it’s simply too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. Still, the potentially high cost of cancellation could prove a bigger fiscal concern.
Either way, Cincinnati should find out the full consequences to the project in December.