Mayor-elect John Cranley, the newly elected City Council and the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority on Tuesday agreed to eliminate the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority once newly elected officials take office in December.
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 announcement follows the Nov. 5 election of Cranley and a City Council supermajority opposed to the parking plan.
“It is a tremendously positive announcement for the city and its citizens that the current parking deal is now dead,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in a statement. “I was glad to help sound the alarm on this deal from the beginning, but this victory ultimately belongs to the public, who were instrumental in providing sustained public pressure. This has shown us that the public values its public assets and wants long-term solutions to our financial challenges, not short-term fixes.”
Cranley and Sittenfeld were joined by
Councilman Christopher Smitherman, incoming council members Amy Murray
and David Mann and Port Authority CEO Laura Brunner for the
announcement. They discussed continuing the city’s partnership with the Port Authority, including the possibility of establishing a development fund for the agency.
Cranley also reiterated his intention to
pursue some of the development projects originally tied to the deal,
particularly the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King
Drive. He also said the city will try to find other ways to leverage the city’s parking assets, including the possibility of stricter enforcement and better technologies.
From the start, opponents of the parking plan claimed it gave up too much local control over the city’s parking assets. The plan would have leased the assets to the Port Authority — a local, city- and county-funded development agency — but the Port planned to sign off operations to private companies from around the country.
The plan grew particularly controversial in July, after a previously concealed memo critical of the plan was leaked to media outlets and council members.
The city administration originally claimed the parking plan — and the lump-sum payment it would produce — was necessary to balance the city’s operating budget without laying off cops and firefighters.
But when the plan was held up in court following the current City Council’s approval on March 6, council managed to balance the operating budget without layoffs by making cuts elsewhere, including council members’ salaries, and tapping into higher-than-expected revenues.
City Council also managed to use alternative funding sources to finance the development of a downtown grocery store and luxury apartment tower at Fourth and Race streets, which city administration officials originally touted as a major selling point of the parking plan.
Still, city administration officials claimed the plan was necessary to
fund other development projects around the city, help balance the budget for the next two years and modernize the city’s parking assets so, for example, all parking meters would have the ability to accept credit card payments.
City Manager Milton Dohoney, a proponent of the parking plan, also proposed using the lump-sum payment to pay for a parking garage at Seventh and Sycamore streets. Under the original parking plan, the Port Authority was supposed to pay for the garage; after the Port Authority completed its review of the deal on Oct. 9, it backed down from the commitment.
The Port Authority’s review also reduced the lump-sum payment to $85 million from $92 million. Cranley and other critics said the reduction and the new $14-$15 million cost brought on by the parking garage effectively reduced the upfront payment to $70-$71 million.
Without the parking plan, the planned projects will require new sources of funding if they are to proceed. But to critics, the plan’s dissolution is an intangible victory that has been months in the making.
Updated with more details.
More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) offer to develop a private-public partnership to fund the streetcar’s operating costs, Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile Foundation, told CityBeat on Tuesday.
If enough private contributors agree to finance the streetcar’s operating costs, they could address a major concern raised by streetcar opponents and provide the clearest path forward for the $132.8 million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took office early this month.
The Haile Foundation already contributed $1 million to an operating reserve fund for the streetcar, but Avner cautions that his organization’s donation is only the beginning, given all the other entities interested in moving the streetcar forward.
Avner says 14 other business and philanthropic leaders supported the SORTA concept in person or through writing in time for SORTA’s board of trustees meeting on Tuesday. Among other community leaders, Avner cites Otto Budig, Cathy Crain of Cincinnati State, William Portman of the University of Cincinnati, Jeannie Golliher of the Cincinnati Development Fund, Rick Greiwe of Greiwe Development and Jack and Peg Wyant of Grandin Properties.
In a letter to SORTA, the Haile Foundation offers to recruit and financially establish a commission of community leaders that will work with the agency to create an operating and revenue plan that will require no funds from the city of Cincinnati. The letter also promises to leverage the initial $1 million investment to secure additional contributors and build a fund that would pay for a full year of operating costs.
Mayor John Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully
insufficient” in a press conference on Tuesday. Cranley said the city will need financial assurances far above the Haile
Foundation’s $1 million to cover $3.4-$4.5 million in annual operating costs for the streetcar over 30 years.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two potential swing votes
on City Council, agreed with Cranley’s assessment, but he said the proposal could become a viable option if the city receives more
assurances from SORTA and private entities that show the groups are serious in their offer.
SORTA already agreed to help operate the streetcar if the
project is completed, but its decision to take up the operating costs shows
an additional commitment to the project.
The agency claims bus services will not be impacted by its increased commitment to the streetcar.
City Council expects to vote on Thursday on whether to restart the streetcar project. Council paused the project on Dec. 4 while the city audits the project’s completion, cancellation and operating costs.
Read the Haile Foundation’s full letter below:
Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were officially sworn in on Sunday after nearly a month of contentious political battles that effectively doomed the parking privatization plan and put the $132.8 million streetcar project in danger.
Cranley was joined by three newcomers to City Council — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and Amy Murray — and six re-elected council members — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young — as they were sworn in on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m., as required by the city charter.
Already, the new mayor and council plan to move decisively on the streetcar project and parking plan. On Dec. 2, council will hold committee and full meetings to consider pausing the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed with the costs of continuation.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 revealed that cancellation costs could nearly reach the the costs of completion, even before considering the cost of potential litigation from contractors already committed to ongoing construction of the project.
Council is expected to have five of nine votes to pause the project. But with Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld and Young on record in support of the streetcar project, council might not have the six votes for an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance immediately effective and insusceptible to referendum.
If streetcar supporters successfully place a council action on the November 2014 ballot, construction could be forced to continue on the streetcar for nearly a year until voters make a final decision.
Supporters of the streetcar project argue pausing the project would effectively act as cancellation, given the federal government's warnings that any delay in the project could lead the Federal Transit Administration to yank $40.9 million in grants that are funding roughly one-third of the overall project.
A larger majority of council and Cranley also plan to quickly terminate the parking plan, which would outsource the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private companies. The previous administration pursued the deal to obtain a lump sum payment of $85 million that would have paid for various development projects around the city and helped balance the city's operating budget.
On Friday, Cranley announced his appointments to the committee chair positions that play a crucial role in deciding what legislation comes before the full body of City Council.
The appointments for two of the most powerful council committees became particularly contentious after Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own political party to build what he calls a bipartisan coalition. Winburn, a Republican, will take the Budget and Finance Committee chair, and Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee.
Mann, a Democrat who will also act as vice mayor, will lead the newly formed Streetcar Committee. He opposes the streetcar project.
Sittenfeld, a Democrat, will lead the Education and Entrepreneurship Committee; Simpson, a Democrat, will run the Human Services, Youth and Arts Committee; Murray, a Republican, will head the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee; Smitherman will chair the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee; and Flynn, an Independent, will preside over the Rules and Audit Committee.
Democrats Seelbach and Young won't be appointed to any committee chair positions. Both publicly supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor's office.
Cranley on Wednesday also unveiled Willie Carden, current director of Cincinnati Parks, as his choice for the next city manager. With council's approval appearing likely, Carden will replace City Manager Milton Dohoney, who, during his more than seven years of service, fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the streetcar project and the parking plan.
Beyond the streetcar project and parking plan, a majority of the new council is determined to structurally balance the operating budget without raising taxes. Some council members argue that's much easier said than done, especially since specific proposals for budget balance are few and far between.
Cincinnati Parks Department Director Willie Carden, Mayor John Cranley's choice for city manager, has withdrawn from the nomination process, the mayor's office announced on Friday.
The mayor's office said it will keep Acting City Manager Scott Stiles in his current role while it launches a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
"After consulting with my family, we have come to the personal, private decision that it is best for me to remain as the director of the Parks Department," Carden said in a statement. "John Cranley is going to be a great mayor and this is a difficult decision for me. But it’s simply about what is best for me and my family. As a personal matter, I would ask that you respect our family's privacy."
Carden's nomination initially drew wide praise from City Council, but it was snared in controversy after Carden said he will continue to live outside Cincinnati — a violation of the city charter. The Cincinnati Enquirer also uncovered an ethics probe that found Carden wrongfully took pay from both the city and the private Parks Foundation.
Councilman Chris Seelbach responded ambivalently to the news, praising both Carden and the decision to go through a national search.
"Although I would have supported Willie Carden as the permanent city manager, I'm glad to see we are now going to undertake the process we should have taken all along," Seelbach posted on Facebook.
When Cranley announced the nomination on Nov. 27, the Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, criticized Cranley for not undertaking a transparent national search prior to his decision.
City Council's Rules and Audit Committee almost considered Carden's nomination on Tuesday, but the decision was delayed for a week to give council members time to interview Carden one-on-one and evaluate ordinances for the nomination.
While fact checking an interview, CityBeat discovered it will be possible to circumvent the parking plan’s cap on meter rate increases through a multilayer process that involves approval from a special committee, the city manager and the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. The process adds a potential loophole to one of the city manager’s main defenses against fears of skyrocketing rates, but Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says raising the cap requires overcoming an extensive series of hurdles: unanimous approval from a board with four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by the city manager, affirmation from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. Olberding says the process is necessary in case anything changes during the 30-year time span of the parking deal, which CityBeat covered in detail here.
Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley launched DontSellCincinnati.org to prevent the city manager’s parking plan, which semi-privatizes the city’s parking assets. The website claims the plan gives for-profit investment companies power over enforcement, guarantees 3-percent rate increases every year and blows through all the money raised in two years. The plan does task a private company with enforcement, but it will be handled by Xerox, not a financial firm, and must follow standards set in the company’s agreement with the Port Authority. While the plan does allow 3-percent rate increases each year, Olberding says the Port Authority will have the power to refuse an increase — meaning it’s not a guarantee.
Arnol Elam, the Franklin City Schools superintendent who sent an angry letter to Gov. John Kasich over his budget plan, is no longer being investigated for misusing county resources after he paid $539 in restitution. CityBeat covered Elam’s letter, which told parents and staff about regressive funding in Kasich’s school funding proposal, and other parts of the governor’s budget in an in-depth cover story.
To the surprise of no one, Ohio’s oil lobby is still against Kasich’s tax plan, which raises a 4 percent severance tax on oil and wet gas from high-producing fracking wells and a 1 percent tax on dry gas.
Local faith leaders from a diversity of religious backgrounds held a press conference yesterday to endorse the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom Amendment, an amendment from FreedomOhio that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Pastor Mike Underhill of the Nexus United Church of Christ (UCC) in Butler County, Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp of Temple Sholom, Pamela Taylor of Muslims for Progressive Values and Mike Moroski, who recently lost his job as assistant principal at Purcell Marian High School for standing up for LGBT rights all attended the event. CityBeat covered the amendment and its potential hurdles for getting on the 2013 ballot here.
Vanessa White, a member of the Cincinnati Public Schools board, is running for City Council. White is finishing her first four-year term at the board after winning the seat handily in 2009. She has said she wants to stop the streetcar project, but she wants to increase collaboration between the city and schools and create jobs for younger people.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ (BMV) policy on providing driver’s licenses to the children of illegal immigrants remains unclear. Since CityBeat broke the story on the BMV policy, the agency has shifted from internally pushing against driver’s licenses for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to officially “reviewing guidance from the federal government as it applies to Ohio law.” DACA is an executive order from President Barack Obama that allows the children of illegal immigrants to qualify for permits that enable them to remain in the United States without fear of prosecution.
A survey from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments found locals are generally satisfied with roads, housing and issues that affect them everyday. The survey included 2,500 people and questions about energy efficiency, infrastructure, public health, schools and other issues.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine revealed 7,000 Ohioans have received more than $280 million in consumer relief as part of the National Mortgage Settlement announced one year ago. The $25 billion settlement between the federal government and major banks punishes reckless financial institutions and provides relief to homeowners in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
Ohio received a $3 million federal grant to continue improving the state’s health care payments and delivery programs.
Cincinnati home sales reached a six-year high after a 27-percent jump in January.
CityBeat’s Hannah “McAttack” McCartney interviewed yours truly for the first post of her Q&A-based blog, Cinfolk.
Crows have a sense of fairness, a new study found.
A longtime Cincinnati councilwoman who also was the city's first female mayor recently was inducted into the Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame.
Bobbie Sterne, 91, who served for a quarter-century on City Council, was given the honor during a ceremony May 26 at the Capitol Theatre in Columbus. She joins more than 350 people inducted into the Hall of Fame since its creation in 1977.
Several hundred people from various local neighborhoods on Sunday gathered at Washington Park and walked along the planned streetcar route to show their support for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.
The rally preceded a City Council vote planned for Dec. 2 that would pause the streetcar project as the freshly sworn-in city government reviews the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.
On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced canceling ongoing construction for the project could nearly reach the cost of completing it after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Supporters at the rally vowed to hold a referendum on any council action canceling or pausing the streetcar project. If they do, construction could be forced to continue until voters make the final decision on the project in November 2014.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced his support for continuing the streetcar project, which gave streetcar supporters the four of nine council votes necessary to block an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance effective immediately and insusceptible to referendum.
But Ryan Messer, leader of the "We Believe in Cincinnati" group backing the streetcar project, warned that council could attempt a special legislative maneuver, such as attaching some sort of funding measure to a bill, to immunize a cancellation or pause ordinance from referendum.
Supporters of the streetcar project claim even a pause in the project could effectively act as cancellation. Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Nov. 25 told council members that the federal government could consider a delay in the project grounds for pulling federal funds.
Streetcar supporters argue the 3.6-mile loop, which will span from The Banks to Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, will produce economic development along the route and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years — an estimate conceived through a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later validated by the University of Cincinnati.
But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley and at least five of nine council members, say the project is far too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.
Streetcar supporters will hold a press conference the day after council's vote to announce their steps forward.
The announcement could provide an avenue for business and philanthropic leaders to help fund streetcar operations through SORTA in an attempt to meet demands from the mayor and some council members.
“SORTA’s willingness is based upon assurances from the Cincinnati business and philanthropic communities that they will work with SORTA in public-private partnership to secure the funds required to cover the short and long-term operating costs of the streetcar to the extent other sources of streetcar revenue, such as fares, advertising, sponsorships, etc., are inadequate,” the agency said in a press release.
But in a press conference following the announcement, Mayor John Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient.” He argued SORTA’s assurances aren’t enough to pull streetcar operating costs completely off the city’s books.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two potential swing votes on City Council, agreed with Cranley’s assessment. But he cautioned the commitment could become a viable path forward for the streetcar project if SORTA provides more assurances in the next couple days, before a council vote on the streetcar.
SORTA’s commitment comes less than one week after Mayor John Cranley said he’d allow the $132.8 million streetcar project to move forward if private contributors agree to cover the streetcar’s operating costs for 30 years. Flynn and Vice Mayor David Mann, the two swing votes on City Council, approved of Cranley’s proposed compromise.
In support of the announcement, the Haile Foundation also announced a $1 million commitment in seed money to spur further contributions to an operating reserve fund for the streetcar.
“We are committed to seeing the streetcar through to completion and beyond. SORTA has stepped up and is more than qualified to serve in this role. This is another great example of community collaboration helping move to region forward,” said Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile Foundation, in a statement.
Avner told CityBeat on Dec. 12 that private-sector leaders are working to meet the mayor’s demand with some financial assurances for the streetcar’s operating costs. SORTA’s announcement could act as that assurance.
If the streetcar project is completed, SORTA already agreed to help operate the 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But the public-private partnership would increase the agency’s commitment to the streetcar.
SORTA cautioned that bus service will not be affected in any way by the commitment.
It’s unclear whether SORTA’s assurances will be enough to
sway Cranley, Mann and Flynn. If Cranley threatens to veto a
continuation of the streetcar project, both Mann and Flynn would likely
need to vote in favor of the streetcar to overcome a veto and restart the project.
The streetcar project is currently on “pause” while KPMG, an auditing firm, reviews completion, cancellation and operating costs. City officials expect to receive the audit late Tuesday or early Wednesday, with a council vote scheduled for Thursday.
Updated at 3:23 p.m. with details from Mayor John Cranley’s press conference.
Ohio's weakening economy could hurt Gov. John Kasich and other Republican incumbents' chances of re-election in 2014, even if they don't deserve the blame for the state of the economy, as some economists claim. For Republican incumbents, the threat is all too real as groups from all sides — left, right and nonpartisan — find the state's economy is failing to live up to the "Ohio miracle" Kasich previously promised. Economists agree state officials often take too much credit for the state of the economy, but political scientists point out that, regardless of who is to blame, the economy is one of the top deciding factors in state elections. For Kasich and other incumbents, it creates a difficult situation: Their influence on the economy might be marginal, but it's all they have to secure re-election.
Despite promising to move on after he failed to permanently halt the $132.8 million streetcar project, Mayor John Cranley continues criticizing the streetcar in interviews and social media. In a Sunday appearance on Local 12, Cranley threatened to replace the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) board, which manages local Metro bus services, in response to its offer to take up streetcar operating costs. (City Council sets SORTA appointments, not the mayor.) The interview, held within weeks of Cranley mocking and arguing with pro-streetcar critics on social media, comes despite Cranley's promises to move on after City Council agreed to continue the project. "As I tell my son when he doesn't get his way, it's time to move on," Cranley said on Dec. 19.
Streetcar track installation will force the busy intersection at Elm and Liberty streets to close between Jan. 16 at 9 a.m. to Jan. 21 at 7 p.m., city officials announced yesterday. One northbound lane will remain open on Elm Street, but traffic heading east and west on Liberty Street will be redirected.
Commentary: "Bengals Loss Reminds of Terrible Stadium Deal."
Police are investigating three homicides in Avondale and Over-the-Rhine this morning.
Construction crews plan to turn the defunct Tower Place mall into Mabley Place, a new parking garage with several retail spaces on the exterior of the first floor. Across Race Street, other developers will turn Pogue's Garage into a 30-story tower with a downtown grocery store, luxury apartments and another garage.
Hamilton County is dedicating a full-time deputy to crack down on semis and other vehicles breaking commercial laws.
Ohio House Republicans' proposal to revamp the state's tax on the oil and gas industry would not produce enough revenue to cut income taxes for most Ohioans, despite previous promises. According to The Columbus Dispatch, the proposal would only allow for a very small 1-percent across-the-board income tax cut.
Ohio's education system received five C's and an A on a private national report card. The state's middle-of-the-pack performance is largely unchanged from last year's score.
The number of underwater residential properties is declining around the nation, but Ohio remains among the top six states worst affected by the housing crisis, according to real estate analysts at RealtyTrac.
The state auditor's new app allows anyone to easily report suspected fraud.
Macy's plans to lay off 2,500 employees and close five stores to cut costs.Cincinnati Children's is reaching out to to 10,000 children left without a health care provider after several clinics closed.
Ohio drivers can expect lower gas prices in 2014, according to AAA and GasBuddy.com.
A new glue that seals heart defects could provide an alternative to stitches.
The numbers came in yesterday as political candidates from around the state filed their finance reports. So far, Cranley has raised about $472,000, compared to Qualls’ $348,000. Of that money, Cranley has about $264,000 still in hand, and Qualls has nearly $193,000.
The disparity is unsurprising to the campaigns. The Cranley campaign has always said it needs $1 million to win. Qualls, who’s been polled as the slight favorite, has a tamer goal of $750,000.
The City Council races are similarly sprawled with cash. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is leading the pack with nearly $279,000, while newcomer Greg Landsman topped challengers and even some council members with a total raised of $165,000.
Given all the cash pouring into the campaigns, many people assume it plays a pivotal role. But a look at the history and research shows fundraising might not matter all that much.
Money clearly didn’t matter in the 2005 mayoral race. During that campaign, former State Sen. Mark Mallory spent nearly $380,000. Ex-Councilman David Pepper spent $1.2 million — more than three times his opponent. Mallory still won the vote 52-48 percent.
In contrast, money might have boosted Sittenfeld to second place in the 2011 Council races, putting the relatively new challenger only behind the widely known Qualls. Sittenfeld raised $306,000 for that campaign, the most out of anyone in the race.
Still, most political science points to money having a marginal, if any, electoral impact. Jennifer Victor, a political science professor at George Mason University, explains the research in her blog: “Campaigning may help voters focus their attention (see this), be persuasive in some cases (see this), and help deliver successful message (see this). Frequently, macro-economic trends are the best predictors of presidential elections. History tells us that all that money spent by outsiders may not affect the outcome of the election — because campaigns (generally) don’t matter (see political science research here, here, and here, for example).”
Instead, political scientists cite other factors as much more important indicators: economic growth, the direction of the city, state and country, incumbency or successorship, name likability and recognition, and political affiliation.
The mayoral primary election is Sept. 10, followed by the final election on Nov. 5. The next finance reports are due Oct. 24.
[Correction: This story originally said $134,000 when the correct number is $124,000.]