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by Nick Swartsell 06.25.2014 84 days ago
Posted In: City Council at 11:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
avondale housing

A Win-Win of Sorts for Affordable Housing

Council funds one development and leaves the door open for another

A deal approved by City Council June 25 splits the city’s limited funds among two affordable housing projects, funding one one in Over-the-Rhine and leaving the door open for another that’s been in the works for the last few years in Avondale.

The compromise didn’t come without contentiousness, though.

A 100-unit permanent supportive housing project called Commons of Alaska first proposed in 2008 for Avondale has received support from the majority of council in the past, including indications it would get $500,000 in funding toward the facility. But the project has also been delayed as some in Avondale have protested the plans by Columbus-based National Church Residences.

As controversy stalled the Avondale project, Over the Rhine Community Housing put together an unrelated plan to buy up and rehab affordable housing in the Pendleton District in eastern Over-the-Rhine. The city administration indicated to OTRCH that it would be able to use $1.9 million in federal grant money the city holds to help purchase and restore the properties.

Just a couple catches — that’s all the grant money the city has for affordable housing and it’s the same pool of money that would have gone to NCR for Avondale. The NCR project has been around longer, but some council members are adamantly against it and groups in Avondale opposed to the Commons are vocal and active, continually voicing their opposition to the project.

The Pendleton plan has its own drawbacks. Originally, the plan called for all the available grant money for just 40 units of housing. NCR’s plan called for just a quarter of the funds. OTRCH says the properties in question are very neglected, despite having been rehabbed in the 1990s. They must also be purchased first, which accounts for much of the big price tag.

As City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee met June 23, it looked like a battle was shaping up over the money. But it wasn’t to be, and compromise won the day.

“Affordable housing and permanent supportive housing are in our heart, they’re what we do,” said Mary Burke Rivers, executive director of OTRCH. “It’s a really difficult position to be in right now, because we support the NCR project.”

Rivers asked the Budget Committee to work with both developers to figure out a way to do both projects.

Vice Mayor David Mann offered an amendment to give $1.3 million to OTRCH and hold the other $500,000 or so in grant funds until the NCR project can be sorted out or until another supportive housing project can be worked out. The Budget Committee, and subsequently council, passed that deal.

OTRCH, which had looked likely to get all the $1.9 million it requested, agreed to scale back plans and make the lower funding work so both projects could be done. That doesn’t mean the NCR project has a green light, however.

An alternate site in another part of Avondale is under consideration, but there are a number of procedural hurdles and opposition is still loud against the project.

Some resident groups there say Avondale already has a high concentration of low-income housing, a result of historic inequalities in city planning going back to the 1960s.

Ruth Johnson Watts said she’s lived in North Avondale since 1963.

“When will we stop this trend of keeping crime and poverty concentrated in one or a few neighborhoods?" she asked. "We’re saying that Avondale has reached the capacity for poverty and crime without the necessities of life in our community, like grocery stores, a pharmacy and jobs.”

At least part of the objection to the project is the nature of permanent supportive housing, which provides affordable housing and recovery resources for those who would otherwise be homeless due to addiction problems, mental health issues or disabilities.

Advocates say the housing is a necessary step in a multiple-tiered path out of homelessness, starting when an individual enters a temporary shelter and ending when they are able to achieve independent housing. The city’s Homeless to Homes program calls for supportive housing like the Commons at Alaska would provide, but currently the city only has about 15 percent of the units called for in the plan.

NCR has won national recognition for its work with rehabilitative housing, but the group has caught flack for lack of community outreach in Avondale.

Councilmember Christopher Smitherman lambasted the developer during the Budget Committee meeting, saying the group’s efforts to inform Avondale residents about their plan wasn’t good enough and that NCR should be sending letters to every property owner in the area.

“This isn’t complicated, this community engagement,” he said. “It really frustrates me that we’re here talking about a project where those community stakeholders haven’t even been properly identified and communicated with."

Amy Rosenthal of NCR said the group has reached out to half a dozen key individuals and groups in the area and will continue to work with the community.

During council’s final vote on the compromise yesterday, Councilmember Yvette Simpson suggested that instead of simply opposing more affordable housing in the neighborhood, other council members and Avondale residents should oppose those who aren’t doing the job well.

She said her mother had once been placed in what she called sub-standard permanent supportive housing in Avondale.

“The reality is, when you have a great provider for the people who need it, it can be a stability point for the community as opposed to the many facilities in Avondale and throughout our city that are taking a check from people, and people are wandering off,” Simpson said.

She recalled a personal experience.

“My mother walked home from Avondale to Lincoln Heights and nobody knew she was gone. As someone who has lived with this my entire life, evaluating, trying to find a safe place for a parent, it’s real — you know the difference.”
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.25.2014 84 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_streetcar_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar cost confusion, Northside development and campaign finance questions

This morning, as it seems every morning, people are disagreeing on the streetcar. I know, big breaking news, right?

Currently, the disagreement is as follows: Have cost estimates gone up for the always-embattled transit project’s eventual operations, or haven’t they? It depends on what you read, and which study you look at. The Enquirer yesterday ran a story reporting that the deficit the streetcar will run — the gap between operating costs and its revenues — will be $2.6 million in its first full year of operation and would then climb to $3.85 million by 2025. The story then compares those numbers to a study done in December by KPMG, an independent auditing firm, which found that operating deficit would top out at $2.4 million.

So clearly the expected costs of the streetcar have gone up right? Not so fast, the city says. Streetcar project leader John Deatrick said yesterday that the city has always expected the deficit to end up around the $3.85 million figure, which were included in an earlier study of the project. The city isn’t sure exactly how the KPMG arrived at their numbers, but a spokesperson for SORTA told the Business Courier that the two estimates aren’t comparable.

The KPMG study was commissioned by City Council during the December fight over possible cancellation of the streetcar project, and is a cost assessment of that proposed cancellation. The city’s numbers were developed by another group, called TRA, and they take into account staff and administrative costs. It’s unclear if the KPMG numbers do this as well.

Deatrick did reveal that the start-up costs for the streetcar-- training staff, testing the project, and other details-- could cost $1 million more than originally anticipated. He asked council for that money, which will be needed by 2016, at the Transportation Committee meeting yesterday.

• A new development broke ground yesterday at one of Northside’s most prominent intersections. The Gantry building will hold 130 apartments and first-floor retail and dining at the corner of Blue Rock and Hamilton Avenue. The $13 million project is expected to finish next year. Check out this story for illustrations of the building, which looks to be a big departure from the aesthetics of the neighborhood now.

• Gov. John Kasich, Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine have all received those special invitations to a party you never want to go to: court hearings over alleged campaign finance improprieties. The three Ohio GOP leaders received subpoenas related to millionaire and big GOP funder Ben Suarez. The North Canton businessman is accused of funneling illegal contributions to two other Republicans, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel and Rep. Jim Renacci, a Republican from Wadsworth, after they sent letters on his behalf over a California false-advertising lawsuit. Prosecutors charge that after the letters were sent, Suarez channeled $100,000 from his employees to each politician. Both later returned the donations.

Kasich, Husted and DeWine are trying to RSVP a “no, thanks” to the whole mess, fighting the legal standing of the court summons. Suarez wants the Republicans to testify that letters from politicians on constituents’ behalf are normal and legal.

• A new study by Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business found that Ohio is ranked 38th in the nation in terms of job growth. That’s not that great, really. On the upside, we beat Michigan by one spot and New Jersey by several. Hey guys, we’re not New Jersey!

• ICYMI: American Apparel kicked their founder to the curb recently after years of allegations that he’s, well, super creepy. Dov Charney has weathered a number of sexual harassment lawsuits and other scandals during his time leading the company. None of that was a big deal for the label, which is famous for its racy ads featuring scantily clad models, until it started losing money. Like, lots of money. Now the company is looking to distance itself from Charney’s weird sideshow in order to clean up its image a bit.

* Finally, and really relevant to nothing in particular in the news today, here's a pretty awesome map someone recently did of America's tribal nations as they existed before contact with Europeans. NPR has a great story on the map here.

 
 
by Rachel Podnar 06.24.2014 85 days ago
Posted In: 2014 election, Governor at 10:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ed fitzgerald

Ed FitzGerald to Walk in Northside Fourth of July Parade

Gubernatorial candidate follows former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' appearance last year

Ohio Democrat gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is coming to Northside for the Fourth of July Parade.

FitzGerald will walk in the parade, but will not hold a speaking event. The parade will be his only public appearance while he is in Cincinnati. 

“He knows it’s a great celebration for the 4th of July and he enjoys the Cincinnati area,” campaign press secretary Lauren Hitt says. “He’s excited to get out and see some folks there.”

The Cuyahoga County executive and democratic nominee will face incumbent Republican Gov. John Kasich this November. FitzGerald recently signed on for five debates — Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Sandusky and Zanesville — against Kasich.

This past weekend FitzGerald walked in the Columbus Pride Parade, in line with his support of same-sex marriage.

Last year, Gabrielle Gifford’s appeared in Northside’s annual community parade and held a rally on gun control before the parade.

Member of parade committee Ollie Kroner said the parade organizers typically invite city politicians, but FitzGerald reached out to the parade.

“I just think the parade has a reputation beyond our side and beyond the city,” Kroner says. “When politicians want to come and get a taste for local flair the parade is a great venue for that.”

The parade will take place at noon on July 4 and travel south on Hamilton Avenue through the Northside business district. It is part of the three-day Northside Rock n’ Roll Carnival.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.24.2014 85 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Renovations for landmarks, renewal for OTR, rebirth for a guy stuck in an anatomically correct sculpture

As previously noted, tons happened yesterday. Let’s dive in now that the dust is settling.

The Cultural Facilities Task Force pitched its ideas for ways to fund Union Terminal and Music Hall renovations to Hamilton County Commissioners. The group of business leaders suggested a tax levy that would raise either sales or property taxes to net about $300 million for the projects. Both buildings need significant work. The sales tax would be a quarter of a percent, while the less-favored property tax would amount to about $35 a year on a $100,000 home. The task force recommended the sales tax in part because it will net money from visitors who don’t live in the county as well as residents. But some experts say sales tax puts more burden on the low-income.

The Cincinnati Zoo saw all that prospective cash and decided it wants in. Zoo Director Thane Maynard wrote a letter to the commissioners asking them to consider cutting the zoo into the deal. Many of its buildings are old, even historic, and in need of restoration, Maynard said. Commissioners were skeptical about the possibility of extending the money to three cultural institutions, though they noted the zoo’s needs.

Both Music Hall and Union Terminal were just placed on the National Trust’s list of 11 most endangered buildings. They’re the only two in Ohio on the list, which, if you think about it, is pretty astounding. It’s the first time the Trust has spotlighted two buildings in the same city on its list.

• 3CDC is one step away from gaining preferred developer status for 33 buildings around Findlay Market after the council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved its request yesterday. The status means 3CDC would vet and approve development projects proposed for the buildings as well as carry out its own. It’s the first major play by the development group north of Liberty Street.

OTR Community Council wrote a letter last week to the Mayor John Cranley asking for the city to hold off on the deal, citing concerns about resident involvement and affordable housing. Stay tuned for our in-depth news story about developments north of Liberty, coming tomorrow. Council takes a final vote on 3CDC’s request at tomorrow’s council meeting.

• Also in the Budget and Finance Committee meeting yesterday, council members navigated a tricky conundrum between two affordable housing projects looking for funds. In the past, council has supported giving about $500,000 to a project in Avondale call the Commons at Alaska. The project would provide permanent supportive housing for about 100 people, including some who are disabled. That money would come from a pot of federal funds totaling about $1.9 million. However, Columbus-based developer NCR has encountered difficulties with its chosen site as some members of the surrounding community have protested the plans.

Meanwhile, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing has been working with a developer on a plan to buy 40 subsidized units in neglected properties in Pendleton and renovate them. The city administration indicated they’d have access to that same $1.9 million, so the group didn’t go looking for other money. The two groups found themselves at an impasse. Neither wanted to compete with the other for the money, but both need the funds for their projects. Vice Mayor David Mann suggested splitting the money, and after some wrangling the committee parceled out $1.3 million to the Pendleton project and will hold the rest until the Commons at Alaska, or some other permanent supportive housing project, is ready to go online. 

Representatives from Columbus were in D.C. yesterday to make the case that Columbus is the best possible host for the Democratic National Convention. They're competing with Cleveland and some other cities that aren't in Ohio for the event, which will determine the party's nominee for president in 2016. Both Columbus and Cleveland also courted the GOP for the Republican convention, but I won't tell if you don't.

• There’s a terrible “born again” joke in this next story, but I will not be the one dropping it. Just the facts: A guy from the U.S. got stuck in a giant vagina sculpture in Germany. It took 22 rescuers 30 minutes to get him out. America!

• If you can’t take the Heat, get out of Miami. At least, that’s what someone has advised LeBron James, and he's apparently listening. Ohio’s not-yet-prodigal son has opted out of the last two years of his contract with the team and is now a free agent, according to news reports. It’s not certain that he’ll leave the Heat, but it’s clear he’s at least taking stock of his options. Meanwhile, the entire city of Cleveland sits patiently, waiting for that “so, what’s up?” text message from James…

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.23.2014 86 days ago
Posted In: Development at 04:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
master-plan

GE Moving to The Banks

City and county seal the deal, offer sweet incentives

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.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.23.2014 86 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Let's talk about the future, pro-life groups make battle plan and why we call it soccer

A rare alignment of the stars (or at least schedules) makes today a crazy day to be a general-assignment reporter. And while I wouldn’t normally just give you a list of really exciting, awesome meetings that are happening, there are lots of issues that could decide the city’s future being debated around town. I prefer to think of it like a civics-themed pub crawl. In the middle of the day. On Monday. And there’s no drinking (at least until afterward).

• Hamilton County Commissioners meet at noon to hear a presentation from the Cultural Facilities Task Force, a cadre of 22 business leaders who are working on ways to renovate Union Terminal and Music Hall. They’ll be talking about a proposed sales tax increase as well as other options for funding the renovations before the commissioners decide whether the proposal should go on the ballot.

• Then, at 1 p.m., council’s Budget and Finance Committee meets to discuss development in Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street, as well as funding for two affordable housing developments. 3CDC would like the rights to develop 20-35 buildings in the area around Findlay Market, though OTR Community Council has asked the city to find ways to get more small developers and resident input into the development process there. Council will also consider a debate over how to fund some affordable housing units in Pendleton and Avondale — council had voted to support the development in Avondale, but some neighborhood resistance to the project has stalled it for the moment. Meanwhile, the city is debating moving some money for that project to one in Pendleton. Advocates say both are necessary and should be funded.

The council meetings are at City Hall, and the Commissioners’ meeting is at the county building on Court Street.

• Another big meeting today involves the city’s deal with General Electric that will bring 2,000 of the company’s employees to The Banks. Council and the commissioners meet at Great American Ball Park at 10 a.m. to discuss incentives for the company for its move, including a 100 percent abatement on property taxes at the site for the next 15 years. The expected package is one of the sweetest deals the city has ever offered a company. GE has also been mulling relocation to other sites, including Norwood, and is asking for the incentives because moving to The Banks could cost more than other options.

An increasing number of foreign students attend Ohio’s 13 public universities, making Ohio eighth in the nation for international enrollment. Toledo University had the most international students last year, followed by Miami University.

• Pro-choice and pro-life groups are both pointing to 2015 as a big year for the fight over women's health in Ohio. Ohio Right to Life, a very active pro-life activist group, has indicated it’s putting together an aggressive legislative agenda for next year in an effort to curtail the availability of abortions in the state. The group says they’ll be pushing five or six bills to that end and has expressed confidence that many of the incumbents in the Ohio General Assembly, as well as Gov. John Kasich, will be re-elected and support their goals. Meanwhile, NARAL Ohio Pro-Choice, a pro-choice advocacy group in the state, has sounded alarms, saying Ohio is becoming “one of the most dangerous states for women’s health.”

• Finally, with World Cup fever reminding Americans that, oh yeah, soccer is a thing, it’s a great time to check out this Atlantic article on why we call it that in the first place when the rest of the world calls it football. (Hint: It's the Brits' fault.)

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.20.2014 89 days ago
Posted In: Courts at 01:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
workers comp

Courts: Ohio Agency Owes Area Businesses Big

Recent decision says Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation charged unfair rates

What do the Cincinnati Ballet, Jungle Jim’s and the YWCA have in common? Last month, an Ohio court upheld a ruling that the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation has been overcharging these and thousands of other businesses and organizations in the state. Meanwhile, the BWC cut rates for other employers who were part of preferred groups, Ohio’s 8th District Appellate Court said.

Now an advocacy organization is pushing for the BWC to pay back the difference.

While the ins and outs of the rates are complicated, the underlying concept is fairly straightforward: Worker’s compensation functions as a kind of insurance for employers. If an employee gets hurt on the job, worker’s comp will pay for lost wages and medical costs so long as the business is current on its monthly workers comp payment. A lawsuit brought by some employers receiving higher rates charged that those rates were unfair, even forcing some employers into bankruptcy.

The courts have agreed. The appellate court’s decision upholds an earlier ruling against the BWC by the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

The courts ruled the BWC, along with lobbyists of some favored businesses, rigged workers compensation rates so that some companies picked to be designated “group rate employers” received what the court called “excessive, undeserved premium discounts” on their workers compensation insurance plans. Where did the money for those discounts come from? According to the court, from businesses who were not part of the special group rate. Those businesses paid almost $860 million extra on their workers compensation plans.  

BWC hasn’t started paying back the money, and head Steven Buehner told a Cleveland news outlet last week that the agency will appeal the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court. It has until June 30 to do so.

Buehner says the agency’s rates simply reflect the nature of providing insurance — that low-risk customers receive lower rates than higher-risk clients. Buehner said there isn’t some big pot of money somewhere that the BWC is sitting on and that it hasn’t cheated anyone out of any funds.

If the court’s ruling holds, the BWC will owe more than 100 Cincinnati-area employers $100,000 or more, including a number of nonprofits and arts organizations. All told, the BWC could owe area businesses more than $100 million. Progress Ohio, an advocacy group, has asked Gov. John Kasich to act and make sure the BWC pays the money back.

According to Progress Ohio, which is advocating for the employers in question, the BWC could owe the Cincinnati Ballet more than $300,000, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park nearly $150,000 and the Cincinnati YMCA $140,000. BAE, a British-owned security and armaments business with a plant in Fairfield, is the area employer owed the largest amount of money; according to the advocacy organization, the BWC charged BAE more than $1.4 million extra in premiums.

The Cincinnati YWCA is also owed payback — about $14,000. The organization told WCPO earlier this week it will be "thrilled" to get that money back so it can use it to help women and children in need.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.20.2014 89 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
boehner copy

Morning News and Stuff

Metro sinkhole, unemployment drops and senior bludgeons burglar with a back scratcher

Friday's usually kind of a slow news day, but lots of important or just plain weird stuff has already happened. Get ready for it.

In what must be one of the most biblical mass transit emergencies in recent Cincinnati memory, a Metro bus was partially sucked down a 20-foot-deep sinkhole near the zoo at about 9:30 last night. Then the ground opened up, and the stink did begin to emerge from the angry earth, and woah, those on the bus were sore afraid. Or something like that. City officials say some failed sewer lines caused the hole. As if being nearly swallowed by the earth isn’t unpleasant enough, there was also the smell of raw sewage to contend with. In an ironic note, yesterday was also “Dump the Pump Day,” a day designed to get commuters out of their cars and onto public transit. Workers from Cincinnati’s Metropolitan Sewer District are out to fix the hole and sewer lines.

• Former Over-the-Rhine social service agency City Gospel Mission is clear to move to Queensgate. Wrangling over some compliance issues with the Department of Housing and Urban Development had stalled the agency's plans for a men's shelter there, which has been on the drawing board for months. HUD said City Gospel's mens-only approach might violate certain non-discrimination clauses on deeds to the land the agency wanted to use for its new shelter. But after some pushing by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, HUD has given the agency the go ahead. City Gospel will host some women’s programming at the shelter and is part of Cincinnati’s Homeless to Homes program, which helps both men and women transition from homelessness.

• Ohio’s newest jobs report came out today. It shows the state is at 5.5 percent unemployment, its lowest level since the recession and well under the national rate of 6.3 percent. Republicans, of course, are touting this as a win for Gov. John Kasich, while Democrats are pointing out that the low number has a lot to do with how many Ohioans have left the workforce altogether. Unemployment stats only measure those who are looking for work, not those who have given up on the job hunt. The state added 2,900 total jobs in May but lost 14,000 people who dropped out of the workforce. Many of these are the long-term unemployed, who studies show have an especially hard time finding work.

• Speaker of the House John Boehner has slammed the Obama administration over the looming situation in Iraq, where a new insurgency group calling itself ISIS is overtaking cities and the Iraqi military. Boehner used the situation, as Republicans are wont to do, to talk about how bad Obama is at everything, saying that “terrorism has increased exponentially under this president.” That's of course not a view everyone with knowledge about the situation in the Middle East shares, and it's clear the current problem has at least some major roots in Bush-era decisions. Political posturing aside, Boehner also showed his softer side Wednesday when he gave a smooch to former Rep. Gabby Giffords at the Congressional Women’s Softball Game. Giffords, who has made a long, emotional recovery from near-fatal injuries she received during a mass shooting in 2011, threw out the first pitch. After having a moment with Giffords, Boehner then promptly… you guessed it… got all teary-eyed, though not teary-eyed enough to do anything about gun control efforts in Congress, it would seem.

• So a 63-year-old woman on oxygen in Marion, Indiana fought off a burglar with a back scratcher. I couldn’t write anything more awesome than her account of the incident, so here are a couple little bits:

“Guy had a hockey mask on and I almost started laughing,” the woman told a reporter. “If he hadn't have got out that back door, I'd have beat him to death.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.19.2014 90 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ed fitzgerald

Morning News and Stuff

GE goes to The Banks; OTR Council says not so fast, 3CDC; FitzGerald talks higher education

The best news today is that this week is almost over. But there’s a lot more to talk about, so let’s go.

As we reported yesterday, Over-the-Rhine’s Community Council is asking the city to hold off on a deal with 3CDC over vacant properties north of Liberty Street near Findlay Market. The council says 3CDC has slowed the development process by banking a large number of properties, and the group believes small, independent developers could do the job faster and better meet the community's needs.

• Meanwhile, on the other side of the basin, everyone at The Banks is about to get a new neighbor. General Electric is moving more than 1,400 employees to the retail and entertainment development on the Ohio River by 2017, the Business Courier reports. City and county officials will vote Monday on the tax incentives that GE gets for heading south, and after that, it will be a done deal. These are pretty much no-nonsense administrative, IT and finance offices for one of the region’s biggest businesses we’re talking about, but all I can picture is some crazy Real World scenario. Only with jet engines. Which sounds awesome.

Before we get all excited about Real World GE 2017, though, I should note that both the company and Mayor Cranley have refused to comment on the reported decision. The deal is expected to go public Monday.

• Democratic candidate for Governor Ed FitzGerald unveiled his plan for affordable higher education yesterday. FitzGerald’s proposal includes finding ways to lower administrative costs at the state’s colleges, increasing the availability of financial aide, expanding a college savings plan, getting more students into early college enrollment while they’re still in high school, and boosting community colleges and trade schools. Fitzgerald cited the nearly $4 billion in student loan debt Ohioans carry as a reason to lower college costs. He also took the opportunity to hit incumbent John Kasich for tuition hikes FitzGerald says resulted from Kasich’s cuts to state funding for higher ed.

FitzGerald also suggested voters start calling him “Higher Ed FitzGerald,” though at press time, no one had addressed the gubernatorial hopeful by this self-conferred nickname. (That last part didn’t really happen, at least not while the cameras were rolling.)

• In certainly the most important news of the day, Facebook was down briefly this morning. But don’t worry, CNN was on it. No wonder my 4 a.m. tirade about Game of Thrones didn't get the likes it obviously deserved.

• Finally, a record-low 7 percent of Americans really like Congress, and the rest prefer being bitten by dogs or having poison ivy all over their bodies or something. But I’m willing to bet more Americans are fans of Guided By Voices, one of the greatest bands to emerge from our area (OK, Dayton, but The Southgate House used to be their home base of sorts). One of those Americans is outgoing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who is leaving his post to take some time off. Carney gave his final press briefing at the White House yesterday with one of GBV’s best songs as a send-off sound track. Carney’s been a vocal fan of the band for years, and has taken multiple opportunities to mention them from the White House podium. He even hung out with the guys on stage at their most recent DC show. Speed on, Jay, speed on.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.18.2014 91 days ago
Posted In: News at 03:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ul_staff_washingtonpark_3cdc

OTR Community Council: Rethink Deal with 3CDC North of Liberty

Community group says it's time for more resident involvement in neighborhood development

The Over-the-Rhine Community Council today asked Mayor John Cranley and City Council not to make a deal with 3CDC over buildings north of Liberty Street.

In a letter authored by OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer, the group praised 3CDC’s work over the last 10 years but said the developer’s large cache of properties is slowing down the neighborhood’s continued recovery, and suggested that more transparent process for choosing developers is needed. The letter also said that more voices from the community need to be heard in the development process.

“We believe it's time for a new era in our neighborhood,” Messer wrote in the letter, dated June 18. “A common thread in the neighborhood is the expressed desire to protect and expand our cultural diversity and this, in part, can be done by paying close attention to providing affordable housing options in both the rental and the purchase markets.”

Messer asked that more small, independent developers be brought into the fold in OTR and highlighted the council’s partnerships with nonprofit Over the Rhine Community Housing and the Over the Rhine Foundation. The letter stressed the need for both more market rate and affordable housing in the neighborhood, where demand for housing has outstripped supply. Prices have ballooned in the past five years, and the neighborhood is now one of the most expensive in the city.

3CDC has spent nearly $400 million on redevelopment in Over-the-Rhine, much of it south of Liberty Street in the so-called Gateway Quarter near Central Parkway and Vine Street. Now the group is looking north. 3CDC has asked for the rights to develop 20 vacant properties around Findlay Market, and the city may grant its request by designating the group “preferred developer” of the sites. The group could then recommend redevelopment plans that it or another developer would carry out.

3CDC could choose to farm out development to smaller groups. It applied for the preferred developer status months ago, and officials with the developer say they haven’t heard concerns from the community about the properties before now.

Mayor Cranley has voiced support for 3CDC’s request, citing the developer’s long history in the neighborhood. But the OTR Community Council and other stakeholders in the neighborhood say the city needs to find ways to encourage more equitable and transparent ways to choose developers.

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 09.17.2014 15 hours ago
Posted In: News, Human trafficking at 03:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
yvette simpson

City Council Passes Ordinances to Fight Sex Trafficking

New rules increase fines for certain sex trafficking offenses, use funds to combat exploitation

Cincinnati City Council today unanimously passed two ordinances to address Cincinnati’s growing sex trafficking problem.

The ordinances were sponsored by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson. One increases civil fines for using motor vehicles in solicitation or prostitution from $500 to $1,000 for a first offense and up to $2,500 for each subsequent offense. The other ordinance funnels fines for those offenses into a prostitution fund that will cover anti-prostitution efforts, including investigation and prosecution of sex trafficking crimes and programs that reduce prostitution.

That pool of money is actually the revival of a fund that was established by Councilman David Crowley in the early 2000s, Simpson said. “We’re really looking forward to reinstituting that; there’s a lot of work that needs to happen and those fines will go a small ways toward helping in those efforts.”

Simpson has been active on sex trafficking issues. Early this summer, she supported a controversial project that blocked off large sections of McMicken Avenue in Over-the-Rhine and Fairview. While many residents in the area applauded the blockade, saying it reduced activity from pimps and sex workers in the immediate area, other residents said it caused transportation problems, created a stigma around the area and had little effect on the overall occurrence of prostitution there. Residents of other neighborhoods, including Price Hill and Camp Washington, reported an increase in prostitution after the barricades went up and said sex workers were simply moving from McMicken to their communities.

Cincinnati Police Department, which put up the barricades, said there was no proof they caused an uptick of prostitution in other areas. They said the barriers seemed to reduce the occurrence of sex work in the area, at least temporarily. The barricades came down in July.

Some residents along McMicken have called for the barriers to become a full-time feature of the neighborhood. But many in the area, along with social service workers and city officials, agree that more needs to be done in terms of legal action against sex traffickers and extending treatment options for those caught up in sex work. Harsher penalties for pimps and johns, publicizing names of sex trafficking offenders and other measures have been floated as possible responses. One that has gained traction recently is a special “prostitution docket” in Hamilton County focused on reducing sex trafficking by reverting sex workers who also face addiction issues to treatment programs. Many across the political spectrum, including Simpson, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann and others, support the idea, but with treatment programs like the Center for Chemical Addictions Treatment House in the West End stretched to the limit, more programs will likely be needed. 

In the meantime, Simpson says, the newest ordinances are a way to chip away at the problem.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to do what we’d like criminally because of the overcrowding of jails and other things,” she said. “This is a great way to ensure that we’re continually sending the message that this kind of activity is not permitted in our city and beginning the work of ending demand for these services.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.17.2014 20 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_banks_condos_ck

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio investigates Cincinnati Charter school; New safety measures in area schools; poverty, drug use down nationally.

All right, let’s do this news thing.

Ohio has added a charter school from Cincinnati, as well as another from Columbus, to its investigation into Chicago-based Concept Schools, which runs 17 charter schools in the state. Concept has come under state and federal scrutiny after former teachers at the company’s Horizon Academy in Dayton made accusations about sexual misconduct, records forgery and other alleged crimes. The state has since received similar complaints about the Horizon Science Academies in Cincinnati and Columbus, officials say. This isn’t the first time charter schools in Cincinnati have come under fire. This summer, the Ohio Department of Education shut down VLT Academy in Pendleton due to low performance and lack of a sponsor organization.

• Cincinnati Assistant City Manager Bill Moller yesterday told city council’s finance and budget committee that the city shouldn’t have to commit public financial help to any hotel project at The Banks. The proposed location for a hotel is in a top-notch spot next to the ballpark, Moller pointed out, and the new General Electric offices moving in nearby will only make the area more attractive. The city and county are in talks with at least three hotel developers at this point. Financing plans for the project have yet to be proposed, though the hope is that a hotel at The Banks will be finished midway through 2015. Moller’s statements have come after some on council have begun questioning the city’s generosity when it comes to tax incentives and loans to lure businesses to downtown and other parts of the city.

• It’s fall, a time when educators’ thoughts turn to school books, lesson plans, shaping young minds and, of course, what to do if a psychotic gunman barges into your school and starts shooting. These are the depressing times we live in. One new defensive solution comes from a northern Ohio company and is called the Bearacade (it’s unclear why it’s called that, just go with it). The device is a metal wedge that can be crammed under a door and pinned to the floor in an emergency situation to keep shooters out of classrooms. Locally, Kings Schools in Warren County has begun installing the Bearacade. Practice for using the device, as described in The Cincinnati Enquirer, sounds slightly crazy:

“Unannounced, Goldie will suddenly shout a security emergency to the class, dash to the front of the room and slide baseball-style into the door. Hanging next to the entrance is the new door block, which he hastily installs, making it virtually impossible for any shooter to enter.”

However, surprise shouting and a home plate-style slide toward a door to install a metal wedge is probably less disruptive to the educational process than Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones’ suggestion that teachers carry heat in the classroom.

• Cincinnati Police say crime is down so far this year in the areas around University of Cincinnati. Though some high-profile cases, including violent burglaries, have brought attention to the area, robberies have decreased by half since a peak in 2009. Other crimes have also decreased. CPD has continued to add patrols in the areas around UC, despite the drop in criminal activity.

• Some scummy creeps claiming to be associated with the KKK distributed flyers around Green Township last week, including some with anti-immigration messages. Police there say activities from such groups crop up every few years and then abruptly dissipate. They say they’re keeping an eye on the situation but don’t expect much else from the group, which appears to be from southeastern Indiana.

• The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear arguments about one of the state’s most contentious death penalty cases. For 26 years, Gregory Wilson has been on death row, convicted of the kidnap, rape and murder of Deborah Pooley in Covington. But now, after a number of appeals on his behalf, the high court will consider whether or not his defense team did an adequate job and if new DNA evidence should be sought. Wilson’s advocates say the lawyers assigned to argue his case did little on his behalf and that DNA evidence could exonerate him. One of Wilson’s attorneys had never tried a felony, and the other was semi-retired and did not have an office or staff. But those looking to uphold his death sentence, including the Kentucky attorney general, say Wilson was convicted by overwhelming evidence, including the eye-witness testimony of his girlfriend, who is serving a life sentence for her role in the crime, and items he purchased with Pooley’s credit card after she was murdered. The case could set precedent for the way capital murder cases are tried in Kentucky, legal experts say.

• Poverty rates inched down slightly in 2013, the Census Bureau reported yesterday. Though that reduction hasn’t matched the reduction in the unemployment rate, the increase in jobs did make a dent in poverty stats. Median household income is still down 8 percent from pre-recession levels, Census data says. The number of children in poverty declined more significantly, from nearly 22 percent in 2012 to not quite 20 percent in 2013. That’s good news.

• Also good news — apparently, teen drug and alcohol use is down, according to a new study. Drug abuse in general in the United States has leveled off, according to the report by the Department of Health and Human Services. The study found that teens were turning away from illicit substances in favor of spending hours taking selfies that make them look bored, but in a cool way, and posting them on Tumblr.

• Finally, because nothing is more important to tea party types than fair representation in all realms of our modern democratic society, newly chosen Miss America Kira Kazantsev is getting flack for a three-month stint she did as an intern at Planned Parenthood. That revelation has set off a tidal wave of hate from some anti-abortion corners of the Internet, despite the fact that Planned Parenthood doesn’t solely provide abortions and Kazantsev’s role involved supporting sex education, which, you know, actually reduces the need for abortion services. Bravely undeterred by this reality, Twitter users have taken to calling her “Ms. Abortion America,” “baby killer supporter” and suggesting that “this chick sure doesn’t represent me.” Because yes, Miss America is a publicly elected office whose life choices should represent every single American, no matter what their (completely unrelated) political ideologies may be.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.16.2014 44 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_lizrogers_ns

Noon News and Stuff

City to Mahogany's: no thanks; county election boards gear up for early voting; Urban Outfitters riffs on Kent State shootings with really expensive sweatshirt

Afternoon, y’all. I hope you’re enjoying the amazing fall weather as much as I am. My morning bike ride down Sycamore to the office was brutally, eye-wateringly cold refreshingly brisk and left me 100-percent awake. Which is good, because this morning has been all hustle preparing for all the great stuff in the coming week's print issue. Anyway, here’s the news a bit later than usual.

City Manager Harry Black has little to say about Sunday’s proposal from Mahogany’s on The Banks owner Liz Rogers other than, “no, thanks.” The proposal, which read a little bit like a threat, promised no protests and no lawsuits if the city forgave a $300,000 loan Mahogany’s owes and sold Rogers the furniture and equipment from the restaurant (which the city owns as collateral) for $12,000. Vice Mayor David Mann and a few other council members, including P.G. Sittenfeld, Kevin Flynn and Christopher Smitherman have said they are very much not inclined to go along with that proposal, while Councilman Wendell Young has been the only member so far expressing openness to a possible deal. The rest deferred to the city administration. Black declined to comment further on the matter, citing the possibility of future litigation regarding the restaurant.

• Here’s something to put in the “surprise, I’m not surprised” file: Councilman Charlie Winburn said yesterday that the GOP pressured him to not support the Anna Louise Inn, a women’s shelter formerly located downtown and currently moving to Mount Auburn. Winburn is running for State Senate, and has been working his way to the left to try and scoop up some more votes against his Democratic opponent Cecil Thomas. Winburn, a Republican, voted Monday at a budget and finance committee meeting to sell city land for $1 to the shelter's new location, despite pressure from his party not to.

“I bucked the Republican Party and supported the Anna Louise Inn when I got pressure from my party to not to support this initiative for women,” he said at the meeting.

The Inn lost a protracted battle to stay at its location near Lytle Park downtown. Western and Southern had been working to buy the property, which Anna Louise operators Cincinnati Union Bethel were hoping to renovate and expand. The company won out after continued lawsuits around the Inn’s status as a shelter. Western and Southern has plans to convert the century-old shelter into a luxury hotel.

• Was it a losing gamble? Casinos in Ohio have delivered only about two thirds of the permanent jobs promised to the state during a 2009 campaign urging voters to approve them. Though the industry has come through, for the most part, on the 9,700 temporary construction jobs that built casinos across the state, including Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, those locations have yet to create a promised 7,500 permanent positions five years later, instead employing just 4,800 employees statewide. Casino officials say that’s because Ohio also legalized electronic slots at horse racing tracks, creating so-called “racinos” and cutting into casinos’ bottom lines. They also say that they’re still “reasonably close” to the promises they made to entice Ohio voters to approve casinos. Locally, Horseshoe Casino has lost nearly 400 jobs since opening a year and a half ago, though regionally the gambling industry in Greater Cincinnati still employs about 5,600 people.

• Cincinnati-based Macy’s Department Stores will be among the first companies to use the just-announced Apple Pay system, which lets iPhone 6 owners use their phones like credit cards. Apple Pay will use thumbprint recognition for security and allow users to simply wave their phone in front of a sensor to pay for purchases. I can’t decide if this is horrible or convenient, or, if like many things in the modern economy, it’s actually both at once. Regardless, I’ve already started practicing a smooth, continuous motion where I have my phone in front of my face for texting, then do the swipe thing to pay for donuts or what have you, and then immediately move the device back to my face to resume texting.

• County elections boards across the state are gearing up to begin early voting on Sept. 30 even as Secretary of State Jon Husted fights with federal courts to roll back the number of early voting days in Ohio. Husted and the state GOP have passed laws eliminating a number of early voting days in the name of making voting uniform across the state. Federal courts have struck down those laws as unconstitutional, though Husted has appealed those decisions. Early voting begins in two weeks, and instead of just letting the matter rest for the year and keeping the voting situation stable, Husted is hoping to get a decision soon allowing the GOP to roll back voting again. The reasoning? Federal rulings allowing counties leeway to set additional early voting hours could create “confusion among the electorate,” Husted says. Because, you know, constantly fighting to reduce the number of days people have to vote two weeks before voting is to start isn’t confusing at all.

• Urban Outfitters has once again set eyes rolling across the country with a shirt that seems to play off the 1970 Kent State University shootings. The one-off sweatshirt featured holes and what looked like bloodstains and was retailing for $129 before being yanked from the company’s website after controversy. The store has said it didn’t intend to evoke one of the most famous protest tragedies in history, during which four people died at the hands of National Guard troops. It’s yet another tone-deaf move for the hipster megastore, which is ironically led by conservative mega-donor and gay marriage opponent Richard Hayne. “But their novelty whiskey flasks are so totes adorbs,” you say. I know, I know. I feel betrayed as well.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.15.2014 68 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

Mahogany's seeks deal with city; Kentucky felons could regain voting rights; journalists are the most caffeinated

 Hey Cincinnati! Here’s your news for the day.

Mahogany’s at The Banks is closed, but the controversy continues. The restaurant closed Friday after its landlord asked it to vacate The Banks due to state sales tax violations and back rent the restaurant owed. Yesterday, owner Liz Rogers and her attorney presented the city with a proposal via a multi-page letter to City Manager Harry Black. The letter said that Mahogany’s had indeed closed its location at The Banks, but suggested a seven-point compromise between the city and the restaurant. That compromise includes forgiveness of a $300,000 debt Rogers owes the city and a $12,000 payment from Rogers to the city for furniture and equipment purchased with the city loan.

The letter charges that the city, while accommodating in some ways, set the restaurant up to fail by not providing conditions necessary to keep the business going and by leaking information about its financial struggles to the press. Rogers’ attorney states that she was told there would be a hotel and other amenities that would draw people to the riverfront development and suggested she could sue the city and her landlord for fraud, defamation of character, discrimination, breach of contract and other charges for not meeting its end of the bargain. It’s a fairly brazen move, considering Mahogany’s has fallen behind on loan and rent payments and that the city of late has been less than interested in making further deals with the restaurant. No word on a response from the city yet, but we’ll be updating as that happens.

• When folks say the Brent Spence Bridge is falling apart, they mean it literally. A group of Bengals fans Sunday got a rude surprise when big concrete chunks of an offramp from the bridge plunged from a support beam into the windshield of their car, parked just East of Longworth Hall. They were at the game at the time and no one was injured, but the incident underscores the precarious condition of the vital bridge that carries Interstates 71 and 75 across the Ohio River. An annual inspection of the roadways around the bridge is scheduled to begin today. 

• Officials in Butler County are mulling converting part of a struggling county-run nursing home into a detox center for heroin addicts. Support for government-run nursing homes has been waning for years, and Butler County’s is one of the last in the state. Officials with the nursing home argue there is a need for the facility and that by extending care to those needing addiction treatment, they can serve another need while staying solvent. But some county officials, including outspoken Sherriff Richard Jones, aren’t convinced the nursing home should continue to exist at all, and they see addiction treatment there as more risk than it's worth.

• Kentucky is moving closer to restoring voting for people with certain felonies. Currently, Kentuckians who have served time for a felony need a pardon from the governor to regain their voting rights. Only three other states have this requirement. Three bills proposing an amendment to the state’s constitution are currently being considered in the Kentucky legislature. An amendment, which requires passage by 60 percent of legislators and a statewide vote, would allow felons to cast ballots again after they’ve served prison time and probation. Those convicted of homicide, treason, bribery or sex crimes would not be eligible. One supporter of the proposal is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has been using justice system reform as a way to reach out to voters outside the traditional Republican base as he positions himself to run for president in 2016.

• In national news, the Census Bureau tomorrow will release its 2013 poverty statistics for America, giving us data on how much slow-moving economic recovery from the Great Recession has aided the country’s lowest earners. The news is not expected to be overwhelmingly good: While the unemployment rate has been falling, the poverty rate has barely budged, revealing that simply employing folks in any old (increasingly low-wage) job can’t get us back to where we were before the recession. Jared Bernstein, an economist with progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, sums up his projection of the data thusly: “…if I’m in the ballpark, Tuesday’s release will be another reminder of why many Americans still feel pretty gloomy about the recovery: It hasn’t much reached them.”

• Finally, I just have to throw this in here: a new study says that journalists consume more coffee than those in any other profession, drinking an average of four cups a day. I’d say I’m still just a fledgling journalist, and so I stick with one cup, though like my dark, cynical journalist heart, it is always completely black, ice cold and nearly bottomless. No, seriously, I get the biggest one Dunkin Donuts has, which is roughly the size of a small wastebasket.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.12.2014 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
img_8033

Morning News and Stuff

City won't back Mahogany's; Judge rules Ohio law banning campaign ad lies unconstitutional; UN says food is getting cheaper

Things happen. News things. Even on Fridays. That’s why I’m here. Let’s do this.

The city will not step in to help Mahogany’s, the embattled restaurant at The Banks. The establishment’s landlord, NIC Riverbanks One LLC, served Mahogany’s an eviction notice last week after the restaurant fell behind on rent and state sales taxes. The city, which recruited Mahogany’s to come to The Banks from Hamilton in 2012 in part to increase diversity at the new development, had until today to step in and broker some kind of agreement between the restaurant and the leasing agent. Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers has said the restaurant is looking to relocate.

New City Manager Harry Black, who started work this week, said the administration won’t be coming to Mahogany’s aid and that it’s high time the city get out of the restaurant business. The restaurant owes about $250,000 on a loan the city gave in 2012. That loan was accompanied by a nearly $700,000 grant.

• A federal judge ruled yesterday that a 19-year-old Ohio law banning lies in campaign ads is unconstitutional and must be repealed. That’s a win for Cincinnati-area conservative group Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, as well as anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List, both of whom sued Ohio over the law in 2010. That case stemmed from a complaint then-U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus filed with the Ohio Elections Commission. Driehaus complained that a billboard ad SBA planned to buy accusing him of supporting taxpayer-funded abortions was a lie. The billboard’s owner declined to run the ad due to the possibility of legal action under the Ohio law. SBA and COAST claim that’s a violation of their free speech rights, and a federal judge agreed, saying it was up to voters to decide the truth of political statements, not the government.

• Just a quick hit: Yesterday I wrote about Cincinnati’s Red Bike program, and how it will launch Monday. Well, here’s a useful list of all 30 of the bike share’s locations around the city.

• Another quick one: Mayor John Cranley yesterday convened a meeting for folks interested in becoming involved in the Young Professionals Kitchen Cabinet, an advisory board made up of, you guessed it, young professionals. Cranley gave remarks about his vision for the city as it relates to the youngins, pledged to consider and advocate for proposals the group comes up with and also briefly mourned the ephemerality of his youth. YPKC leadership talked about the role the group can play by keeping issues important to young people on the city’s radar. The group is taking applications until Oct. 31 and will meet monthly.

• I missed this one a few days ago but feel like it’s noteworthy, so let’s circle back and take a brief look. Brewery X, the project that looks to renovate Mount Adams’ historic pump building, is on again after some back and forth over the terms of a $1.5 million loan the city was considering for the project. The deal has been restructured in such a way that the city will retain ownership of the building, instead of the developer having the option to eventually buy it for $1.

• OK, so this is kind of terrifying. Nineteen-year-old T.J. Lane, who killed three people in a 2012 school shooting, briefly escaped from a prison 80 miles south of Toledo yesterday with two other inmates. Ohio Highway Patrol officers recaptured him about six hours later just 100 yards away from the facility. The other two escapees were also quickly recaptured. Prison officials say they’re investigating how Lane escaped and why he wasn’t in a more secure prison.

• President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton will participate in a volunteer swearing-in ceremony today honoring the 20th anniversary of national service program AmeriCorps, which was created on this day in 1994. Since that time, more than 900,000 people have served more than 1 billion hours of community service, officials with the program say. Full disclosure: I did AmeriCorps for two years here in Cincinnati and it was pretty much a life-changing experience.

• Favorable weather for abundant harvests in major food producing regions around the globe means food has gotten relatively cheaper, the United Nations says. The UN’s global food price index is at its lowest level in four years, with most essentials from grains to dairy products becoming more affordable. Some foods like beef and pork are still expensive, however. And though it’s been going down recently, food is still more expensive than it was in the past. Most prices are still significantly higher than they were in the 1990s.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.11.2014 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pe_streetcar_jf1

Morning News and Stuff

New streetcar funding plan; Red Bike launches Monday; to sag, or not to sag?

Good morning Cincy! Here’s what’s going on around the city and other, less cool places in the world.

There’s a new proposal to help fund operating costs for Cincinnati’s streetcar. The Haile Foundation, which has pledged donations to help cover some of the project’s funding gap, has suggested that a special improvement tax district covering downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton could help cover the streetcar’s $3 million operating shortfall. Downtown already has a similar district, which raises about $2.5 million. That district would expire if property owners in all three districts approve the new plan, which is expected to raise about $5 million a year. About half that money would be used for the streetcar. It’s unclear at this point how much that would raise the cost of owning property in the districts, but Haile VP Eric Avner says the increase wouldn’t be large or burdensome. Some nonprofits in the neighborhoods have questions about how the plan would affect their operating costs but have not said they oppose the measure.

• Starting Monday, you’ll be able to borrow a bike from one of 30 bike racks around the city, ride around uptown, downtown, and Over-the-Rhine, and then drop the bike off at any other rack and be on your way. Red Bike, the nonprofit running the bike share, has announced that the cost for borrowing a bike will be $8 a day or $80 for a yearly membership. Each ride is limited to 60 minutes, but riders can check their bike in and start over with another as many times as they like. The bike share is intended to provide commuters and visitors with a quick, easy and environmentally friendly alternative to driving around the city’s core and uptown neighborhoods. Earlier this summer, Cincinnati City Council approved a proposal by Mayor John Cranley providing $1 million in start up funds for the project.

• The University of Cincinnati has more students enrolled for the fall semester than it has ever had before, the school says. Total enrollment at all UC campuses is 43,691 students. That includes a record 6,651 freshmen. The university says it has also increased the diversity of its student body. U.S. News and World Report ranks UC 129th among U.S. universities, a six-spot increase from last year.

• Testimony began today in the case against Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter. As we’ve talked about before here at the morning news, this is a complicated and highly contentious court battle. Hunter faces nine felony charges, including forging records and improper use of a court credit card. She claims the charges are false and that she’s the victim of politics. But there are a number of subplots beyond that basic argument — the trial looks to be one for the ages and is worth following.

• Ohio’s beer industry is providing more state residents with jobs, according to a report released by the industry group the Beer Institute. The institute, which sounds like a fabulous place to work, ranks Ohio sixth in the nation for brewing jobs. Breweries employ about 83,000 people across the state, the study says, and puts about $10 billion into the state’s economy. Christian Moerlein here in Cincinnati has been a part of that great news. The company employs about 325 people in the city and says it’s looking to hire more.

“We were the original brewing city outside of Germany," said Mike Wayne, general manager of Moerlein’s brewery in OTR. "We were the best once, we can be the best again."

I’ll toast to that.

• Here’s a pretty interesting article about the always-controversial intersection of fashion and politics. It seems a number of places around the country have taken to instituting laws against wearing your pants too low on your hips, which inspired NPR to take a long historical odyssey into the roots of that trend and the ramifications of legislating fashion. Warning: This article contains the phrase “the murky genesis of saggy pants,” which is maybe the best/worst subhead I’ve ever seen in a news article.

• Thirteen years ago today, the U.S. experienced one of the most terrifying events in its history when hijackers flew airliners into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. A number of memorial services, moments of silence and other events have been taking place across the country. Meanwhile, the U.S. is still wrestling with how to navigate the post-9-11 world, as evidenced by the recent struggle to respond to newly powerful terrorist groups like ISIS.

• Finally, I would be remiss in my job of telling you what you need to know for the day if I didn’t link you to this epic high school yearbook photo a Schenectady, New York student is fighting to use as his senior picture. It’s incredible.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.10.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
bengals logo

Morning News and Stuff

Hunter trial begins; the droning of Hamilton County; do Americans want another Iraq war?

Morning all! Here’s all the news you need today.

The trial of Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter begins today after two days of jury selection. It promises to be a wild ride. Hunter has been indicted on nine felony counts, including misuse of a court credit card, records forgery and other offenses involving the firing of her brother, a juvenile court employee who allegedly punched a juvenile inmate. But supporters say she’s the victim of politics. Some, including Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, suggest that statements made by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters are unethical and could taint a jury pool. Deters last week placed blame on Hunter for crimes defendants in her court committed later. Opening statements from both sides of the case will be heard today.

• The city is moving forward on an updated land use plan, which has been underway since 2011 and is part of the city’s overall comprehensive plan. But the plan’s first draft has left some folks in Mount Adams livid. Some community members there are upset because the new plan would allow buildings up to eight stories tall to be built there. The hilltop neighborhood has a number of historic homes with great views of the river and downtown, and residents worry that buildings that tall could destroy those views, and even worse, the character of the neighborhood. Officials say their concerns will be addressed in the plan’s upcoming second draft, but some in Mount Adams want a revision sooner.

• Here’s some good news. Last week, the Bengals scored some major nice-guy points when they hired Devon Still on for their practice squad after he was cut from the regular roster. Why’s that so nice? Still’s daughter is battling cancer, and the team hired him on in a practice role so he could keep his insurance coverage. The news got better for Still today when the Bengals announced they’ve hired him back onto the active roster. A practice squad player makes about $100,000 a year–not too shabby, but a paltry sum compared to the $400,000 minimum salary an active roster player gets. The team is also donating proceeds from sales of Still’s jersey to his daughter’s cancer fight. His jersey has quickly become the top seller for the team.

• Someday soon there may be a lot of droning going on in Hamilton County, and for once, it won't be coming from county commissioners. County officials have said they’d love to get some of those flying robot drone things to do cool stuff. Some of that stuff sounds innocuous enough–inspecting roofs on county-owned buildings, etc., but some of it, like searching for criminals, sounds a bit more dystopian. No worries just yet, as federal regulations prohibit drone usage in highly-populated areas. But new, clearer rules on drone usage may be adopted by the end of this year, and that could open up all kinds of possibilities for the county and even private companies to utilize the tiny unmanned aircraft. Personally, I’d really like a drone that could airdrop a Bearcat pizza onto CityBeat’s roof once a day. Where do I file for that permit?

• Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, responding to protests and online petitions, again refused to release security footage of the Aug. 5 police shooting that killed John Crawford III in a Walmart in the Dayton suburb. DeWine said releasing the footage to the public would be “playing with dynamite” and could compromise the investigation into the shooting. Meanwhile, the city of Beavercreek is totally working to address the issue. Or wait, actually, the city is just mulling hiring a public relations firm to manage the attention it’s getting as a result of controversy around Crawford’s death. Crawford, a 22-year-old black male, was carrying a pellet gun he found in the store when police shot him. Officers were responding to a 911 call saying a man with an assault rifle was in the store. Crawford’s family and their lawyer have viewed the security footage and said it appears Crawford was not given adequate time to drop the weapon and was “shot on sight."

• Meanwhile, outrage continues in Ferguson, Mo., where 18-year-old Mike Brown was killed in a similar police shooting last month. More than 600 residents took to the city's first council meeting since the shooting to express their frustrations with the slow-moving investigation into Brown's death.

* DiGiorno, a bake-at-home pizza brand, has taught us all a very unfortunate lesson. There are actually times when pizza is not appropriate.  The brand used the domestic violence awareness hashtag #WhyIStayed to promote its delicious, I-can't-believe-it's-not-delivery pizza, tweeting "#WhyIStayed You had pizza". The uproar was of course immediate. The brand's social media team apologized, saying they hadn't read what the hashtag was about before posting. Always read about the hashtag. Always.

• Finally, on the national/international stage, the group of fundamentalists calling themselves the Islamic State, or ISIS, has continued to run rampant across large swaths of Iraq. They’re exceptionally brutal, torturing and killing Iraqi men, women and children and others who have resisted them or who they feel are not sufficiently committed to their ideology. They’ve also beheaded two American journalists. President Obama has ordered airstrikes against the group, and has indicated more action may be forthcoming. But do Americans really want another conflict in Iraq? This Washington Post story explores that question in depth.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.09.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
david pepper

Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati gentrifying; chances of DeWine-Pepper debate debatable; "phablet" is a real word, apparently

Hey all, I have to run to a press conference momentarily on the state of Cincinnati restaurant Mahogany’s (I hope there’s food) but here’s a truncated morning news for ya. All the info, none of my usual cheesy jokes, except for that one I just made about food.

UPDATE: Mahogany's owner Liz Rogers announced at the news conference that the restaurant is looking to relocate from The Banks.

“We find that we are in the midst of a climate that is not conducive to successfully executing our business model here at The Banks,” Rogers said. “We have determined that our restaurant model is not a fit for The Banks development and are interested in relocating.”

Rogers said that the media has blown challenges Mahogany’s has faced out of proportion, scaring away customers and investors.
The restaurant has faced a number of hurdles, including tens of thousands of dollars in back rent and loan payments and, most recently, a four-day closure due to unpaid Ohio sales taxes. Rogers also said running the restaurant has been difficult because she was told there would be more activity at The Banks to boost business, including a hotel that has not yet been built.

She was mum on where Mahogany's may move, but one possible spot is Over-the-Rhine. Representatives from 3CDC have said they met with Rogers Friday about the restaurant possibly moving there, though the developer said the meeting was just the first step in a long process and that the spaces they have may not fit the restaurant's needs.

• Guess what? Cincinnati's urban core is gentrifying. That itself may not be news, but this UrbanCincy exploration of the city’s gentrification dynamics is pretty informative.

Let me hit you with a quote from the story: “We do know, however, that some housing prices, particularly in the city center where demand is highest, are starting to get out of hand.”

• A local company, General Cable, has been awarded a contract of unspecified value to provide wiring for Cincinnati’s first five streetcars. The company’s products include aluminum, copper and fiber optic wire and are used in many transit systems across the country. The cars themselves aren’t made in Cincinnati, but it’s cool that at least some components will be.

• What’s next for Music Hall after the big icon tax dustup? That’s what the Cultural Facilities Task Force is working on now. They’re exploring a number of options to accomplish the $123 million task of fixing up the 136-year-old landmark, including soliciting increased private donations, asking for more help from the city and even seeking money from outside Cincinnati.

• A Delhi couple who allegedly dealt heroin to a man who subsequently overdosed are being charged with manslaughter. It’s the first time Hamilton County prosecutors have charged a dealer in connection with an overdose death, according to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters. The region is suffering especially badly from the ongoing heroin crisis, which is playing out in communities across the nation.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital admitted the most new patients in its history Friday, officials for the hospital say. Those new patients came to the hospital with respiratory symptoms similar to those caused by the enterovirus currently sweeping parts of Missouri, Illinois, Columbus and other parts of the Midwest. Officials with the hospital say the children being admitted aren't any sicker than usual, just that there are many more than usual.

• If you’re looking forward to a debate between Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine and his challenger Democrat David Pepper, well… maybe don’t hold your breath. It’s shaping up like the two may not debate at all before the November election, this Columbus Dispatch story says.

• Finally, admit it. You have friends who are really into Apple products. The company is expected to announce some new goodies today during its big annual media event, for which it has constructed a three-story tower of sorts, because hey, what else are you gonna do with all the money you’ve made from a million iPods? There are breathless guesses about a new and bigger iPhone. There are whispers about wearable devices. The term “phablet” has been uttered in reverent tones. If you’re at a loss because there isn’t currently a device that fills that awkward gap between your iPhone and your iPad, well, today may be your lucky day.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.08.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
greenpeace P&G

Morning News and Stuff

Greenpeace protester pleads guilty; Cincinnati vies for NAACP convention; Jack the Ripper found? Not so fast.

Lots of court action happening in this Monday edition of morning news. Let's see what's on the docket, eh?

One of the nine Greenpeace protesters who broke in to Procter and Gamble’s headquarters this spring will plead guilty today to lesser felony charges, the Associated Press reports. Charles Long of Chicago will take a plea deal to avoid serving jail time and will instead do community service and pay restitution. Long and the eight other protesters entered P&G’s Cincinnati headquarters March 4. The group hung large banners from the side of the building protesting the company’s use of palm oil, which Greenpeace says leads to rainforest destruction. The protesters argue they were within the bounds of the First Amendment when they committed the act. All but Long are fighting the felony burglary and vandalism charges, which carry a possible sentence of nine years in jail.

• One of Cincinnati’s biggest developers is seeking to transform a whole block of Race Street near Findlay Market, as we reported Friday. Check out the details of Model Group’s plan here.

• Though Cincinnati missed out (if that’s what you want to call it) on the 2016 GOP National Convention, the city may still have a shot at another major national gathering. Cincy is still in the running for the 2016 NAACP Convention and is competing with St. Louis, Baltimore and Austin, Texas for the gathering. Cincinnati last hosted the annual convention in 2008. Both Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain spoke at that event, and the coming election year convention will surely be just as politically important. Representatives from the city traveled to Las Vegas in July to make the pitch for Cincinnati, and a site visit here is expected sometime in the fall. The NAACP will make the final decision sometime before the end of the year.

If Cincinnati lands the convention, 2016 could be a big year for Ohio politically. Cleveland ended up with the Republican National Convention and Columbus is competing for the Democrats’ national gathering. There’s some grousing, by the way, that Cleveland ended up with the convention because of the pull and political ambitions of powerful Ohio Republicans Sen. Rob Portman and Gov. John Kasich, both of whom have hinted at possible bids for the party’s presidential nomination.

* New City Manager Harry Black starts today. Black, Cranley's pick for the job, was previously the City of Baltimore's finance head. He replaces interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who will go back to his role as assistant city manager.

Jury selection for Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s trial on nine felony counts begins today. Hunter is facing charges of forgery, tampering with evidence and abuse of court credit cards and faces up to 13 years in prison. The case is politically contentious, with Hunter foe Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters saying that Hunter is partly responsible for two shooting deaths in Avondale due to rulings she made that kept the juveniles involved out of prison. Both sides have long witness lists and attorneys who express confidence they’ll win the day. Hunter’s attorneys and supporters say she’s being railroaded and that she’s faced political resistance since she won a highly contested election for the position in 2010.

Scientists and doctors are expressing concern over an uptick in hospitalizations for a respiratory illness called Enterovirus EV-D68. The virus causes symptoms very much like a severe cold. Enteroviruses aren’t new, or even all that rare, but recent outbreaks among children in Kansas City, Mo. Ohio, Illinois and other Midwestern cities have raised eyebrows. In Kansas City, up to 30 children a day have been hospitalized with the virus. A hospital in Columbus reported a 20 percent increase in patients with severe respiratory symptoms, and the facility is currently testing the patients to see if they are suffering from the enterovirus. So far, none of the outbreaks have caused any deaths.

Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson said over the weekend that he will sell his share of the team after it was revealed he had sent racist emails to other team officials two years ago. One email complained about the number of black cheerleaders and fans the team had and said black fans scared away more wealthy whites. Levenson has apologized for the email, saying it was “inappropriate” and “offensive.” Officials for the Hawks have distanced themselves from Levenson.

"Bruce was confronted with this email from 2012, and he decided that instead of fighting it ... he thought it was best for the city, for the team, for his family, to walk away," Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told CNN Sunday.  

• Finally, you may have seen some news stories circulating about how someone finally solved Britain’s century-and-a-quarter-old Jack the Ripper mystery using an old shawl and some modern genetics work. Not so fast, Smithsonian magazine says. The magazine and other skeptics say there are still a number of questions about the evidence used to arrive at the conclusion that a 23-year-old Polish immigrant named Aaron Kosminski was the killer.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.05.2014 12 days ago
Posted In: Development at 03:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do 2-8 iconic market house photo, courtesy the corporation for findlay market

Cincinnati Developer Looks to Reshape Area Around Findlay Market

Proposed development would create 90,000 square feet of office and commercial space

One of Cincinnati’s biggest developers has plans to reshape an entire block of Race Street near Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine.

Model Group, which is based in Walnut Hills, has put in an application with Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation to develop city-owned properties on the 1800 block of Race Street. In addition, the developer has recently purchased a number of other properties on the block. The grand vision: more than 50,000 square feet of commercial space and 40,000 square feet of office space in the area just east of the historic market.

“We want it to feel like an extension of the market,” said Model Group COO Bobby Maly Sept. 5. But don’t call it Findlay Market II. “We’re not trying to be the market," he said.

The deal isn’t finalized yet, however. Model will still need approval from 3CDC and the city. On June 25, City Council approved 3CDC's request to be preferred developer of the area around the market. The non-profit development group is currently taking applications from developers who want in on the action in the rapidly changing neighborhood and advising the city about which projects should get the go-ahead. Except for a couple businesses such as Rhinegeist brewery, the area of OTR north of Liberty Street is still mostly untouched by redevelopment.

3CDC’s request that the city make it preferred developer in the area caused controversy. Critics, including Over-the-Rhine Community Council President Ryan Messer, say the group has too much power and shouldn’t be allowed to call the shots entirely in OTR. 3CDC has led the drive to reshape the part of the neighborhood south of Liberty Street, including the renovation of Washington Park, the enormous Mercer Commons project and a bevy of smaller retail, dining and residential spaces, especially along Vine Street. But Messer and others say smaller developers could move quicker than 3CDC, which has banked a number of buildings, shoring them up just enough to save them and then boarding them up. He has also expressed concerns that the development group isn’t serving the interests of everyone in the neighborhood and hasn’t paid close enough attention to the need for things like affordable housing there.

“A common thread in the neighborhood is the expressed desire to protect and expand our cultural diversity and this, in part, can be done by paying close attention to providing affordable housing options in both the rental and the purchase markets,” Messer said in a June 18 letter to the city asking it to not grant 3CDC preferred developer status.

While Model Group has played a relatively smaller role in OTR than the nonprofit 3CDC, it has also been very active in the area, especially in the Pendleton District to the east. Model has been working on Pendleton Square, a $26 million residential development just north of the Horseshoe Casino. That project could create about 40 new market-rate residential units and more than 10,000 square feet of retail space in the neighborhood, which is also experiencing a surge in redevelopment efforts.

 
 
 
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