by German Lopez
Cincinnati streetcar saved, gay marriage could appear on ballot, Medicaid overhaul signed
City Council yesterday decided Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all. After securing the six votes necessary to overturn a mayoral veto, Mayor John Cranley
conceded that the $132.8 million streetcar project will restart
following a two-week pause. It was a surprising journey for the project,
which largely seemed like the underdog ever since the new mayor and
council took office earlier in the month. In the end, the project gained
its sixth vote from Councilman Kevin Flynn after the philanthropic Haile Foundation signed onto contributing $900,000 a year for 10 years to help underwrite part of the streetcar’s annual operating costs.Advocacy group FreedomOhio yesterday announced it has enough signatures to place same-sex marriage on Ohio’s 2014 ballot.
The group declined to tell Cleveland.com exactly how many signatures it
had collected so far, but the organization says it’s aiming to collect 1
million before the July filing deadline. At the same time, FreedomOhio
released a poll that found Ohioans are still split on the issue of same-sex
marriage. But the poll also found that a good majority of Ohioans
support FreedomOhio’s gay marriage legalization amendment, which
provides exemptions for religious groups.Gov. John Kasich yesterday signed a bipartisan Medicaid
overhaul bill that seeks to control costs by establishing an
oversight commission and a target for spending growth. The legislation
also sets a focus on health care outcomes to ensure quality
standards in the government-run program. Both parties pursued the bill
to tamp down on health care costs that have been taking up more of the
state’s budget in the past few years.
A new report from the state attorney general’s office
found nearly half the businesses who received state aid in 2012 did not
fulfill their end of the deal in terms of producing new jobs and other promises.Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.4 percent in
November, down from 7.5 percent the month before. But the number was well above the 6.8
percent rate from November 2012, indicating a decline in job growth in
the past year.Police arrested the mother of a 3-year-old for falsification and the mother’s boyfriend for accidentally shooting the child on Tuesday.Today is Homeless Memorial Day, a day meant to commemorate those who died in 2013 while experiencing homelessness. The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is gathering at 5:30 p.m. at the corner of 14th and Elm streets to honor the occasion.Bike Share plans to come to Cincinnati next summer and allow residents to rent out bikes around multiple parts of town.Miami University is the second most efficient
university in the nation in terms of delivering a good education
for relatively low cost, according to a study from U.S. News and World Report.Cincinnati’s housing market marked 29 consecutive months of increased sales last month with a 5-percent rise. The measure indicates the local economy is recovering after the Great Recession crippled housing markets around the nation.A new product that claims to translate dogs’ thoughts to human speech is bogus.After today, Morning News and Stuff will take a vacation until Dec. 26. Happy holidays!Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Posted In: Mayor
at 02:39 PM | Permalink
Council gets six votes to override mayor's veto and continue project
After nearly two months of ups and downs, city leaders on Thursday announced Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all.
Speaking prior to a council vote, Mayor John Cranley
and Councilman Kevin Flynn announced City Council has the six votes to
overcome the mayor's veto and restart construction on the $132.8 million
streetcar project.Flynn was the final holdout in what some council
members now call the "streetcar six." He was asking for a commitment
from private contributors to cover the annual operating costs for the
streetcar, which consulting firm KPMG estimated at $1.88-$2.44 million a
year after fares and sponsorships.The philanthropic Haile Foundation lived up to part
of the commitment by signing onto $900,000 a year for 10 years, Flynn
announced. That was enough of a commitment to move forward as the city
makes a broader effort to get all the operating costs off the city's
books, he said. "That is a huge commitment, folks," Flynn added. Flynn
also acknowledged that the streetcar could foster new revenues in the
city's operating budget and actually allow the city to take on bigger
responsibilities.Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the
University of Cincinnati found the streetcar project will generate a
2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years. Flynn, a Charterite, joined Democrats David
Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young
in support of restarting the project. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie
Winburn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted against it. Still, Cranley said he will continue opposing the streetcar project. He repeatedly stated council is making the wrong decision. "I'm disappointed in the outcome," said Cranley, who ran in opposition to the streetcar.Flynn reiterated his respect for Cranley, despite effectively dealing a major blow to Cranley's agenda. Cranley "helped me get elected to this position, and I take that trust seriously," Flynn said.Others were glad the city can now take on different issues without getting mired down in a contentious streetcar debate."I am so glad that this issue is done and over with," said Vice Mayor Mann, who voted in favor of the project. Mann
officially changed his stance on the project after KPMG's audit found
canceling the project could cost nearly as much as completing it. The final decision came at a cost to Cincinnati: The two-week pause of the project, which allowed KPMG to conduct its review, added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to KPMG's audit. The city also allocated $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.Once it's completed, the streetcar line will run as a 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.Updated with results of City Council's vote and additional information.
by German Lopez
Report questions fears raised by opponents of Avondale housing project
Although some members of City Council
appear ready to rescind support for a supportive housing project in
Avondale, a previous study commissioned by the group in charge of the
Avondale project found supportive housing facilities cause no negative
impact to neighborhoods in which they’re located.
The study, conducted by Arch City
Development and the Urban Decision Group, was commissioned by National
Church Residences (NCR) to gauge the neighborhood impact of five
permanent supportive housing complexes in Columbus for the chronically
homeless, disabled and poor.
The study found crime increases in most
of the areas surrounding the facilities, but the increases were roughly
the same as or less than demographically similar areas in Columbus.
After interviewing Columbus residents
located around the facilities, researchers also reported general
agreement that the facilities had a positive effect or no impact on the
areas. Although three of the facilities are located near four Columbus City Schools, researchers wrote Anne Lenzotti, director of facilities for Columbus City Schools, "has received no complaints about any Central Ohio permanent supportive housing project at the district or individual school level."
The study, with its generally positive
findings, calls into question many of the complaints voiced by opponents
of the Avondale project.
Two members of a City Council committee on Tuesday agreed to advance a resolution that would rescind support for state tax credits going to the 99-unit supportive housing facility in Avondale.But since the project already received state tax credits in June, it’s
unclear whether council’s vote would have any effect on the project’s
Opponents of the facility argue it will
worsen Avondale’s problems with poverty, alter the look of the area and
damage revitalization efforts. They also complain that NCR failed to
conduct thorough community engagement prior to proceeding with the
Proponents claim the dispute stems from a
not-in-my-backyard attitude that follows so many supportive housing
projects prior to their completion. They say more community engagement,
beyond what’s already occurred with Avondale Community Council, will
begin deeper into the planning process and shape the project’s
The full body of City Council could take up the resolution rescinding support for the Avondale project on Dec. 18.Read the full study below:This article went through some technical difficulties and temporarily disappeared as a result.
by German Lopez
Foundation lists more than a dozen business, philanthropic leaders in support
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.At this point, private contributors might be necessary to
save the streetcar project. Cranley and Flynn said on Dec. 12 that
operating costs must be written off the city’s budget if the project is
to move forward.
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
Read the Haile Foundation’s full letter below:
by German Lopez
Mayor, council members argue offer falls short of demands
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) on
Tuesday indicated its willingness to pursue a public-private partnership
to cover the streetcar’s operating costs, estimated at $3.4-$4.5
million a year. 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
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
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.
by German Lopez
Haile Foundation working with private-sector leaders to find solution
The streetcar project’s chances of survival grew on Thursday after Mayor John Cranley announced he’s willing
to allow the $132.8 million project move forward if the
annual operating costs for the streetcar are underwritten by private
contributors.But streetcar supporters might have as little as one week
to provide assurances to Cranley that the operating costs can be
underwritten by the private sector, given the federal government’s Dec.
20 deadline for up to $44.9 million in grants financing roughly
one-third of the project.Still, a representative of the Haile Foundation, a major private contributor to city projects, said private-sector leaders are already working on meeting Cranley’s offer and solving the issue.
The concern for Cranley — and even some streetcar
supporters — is that annual operating expenses for the streetcar would
hit the city’s already-strained operating budget, especially if the
annual operating expenses are higher than the previous estimate of $3.4-$4.5 million.
Although the city wouldn’t need to pay for the full operating costs until the
streetcar opens for service in 2016, Cranley and some council members
are concerned finishing the project now would force the city to make
payments it won't be able to afford in the future.
“We know the streetcar is a very expensive project,”
Cranley said. “This community cannot afford a new, ongoing liability
that goes on forever.”Streetcar supporters argue Cranley’s view misses the streetcar’s potential for economic development, which could bring in more city revenues as more people move and work in the city. The streetcar project would produce a 2.7-to-1 return on investment, according to a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later verified by the University of Cincinnati.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of the two potential swing votes on council, said Cranley’s offer could provide “a way forward.” He previously told CityBeat
that the operating costs remain a prominent concern for him because
they could translate to cuts in the city’s budget, particularly to
police and firefighters.
Eric Avner, vice president and senior program manager of
community development at the Haile Foundation, called the deal “an olive
branch” to streetcar supporters. He said he’s “very, very confident”
the private sector will be able to find a solution.
“I don’t think we can solve it in a week. What I heard is he needs assurances,” Avner said.
Cranley said he doesn’t expect someone to come to city
leaders next Wednesday with a check paying for 30 years of
operating costs, but he said the commitment has to be serious
and long lasting for the city to move forward with the streetcar.
Avner discussed bringing together a commission of private-sector leaders with some long-term assurances.
In what he described as an “organic” movement, Avner said
he’s heard from various private-sector leaders that they want to keep
the project going, but he claimed most of them don’t want to engage in a
public “food fight” that could hurt their relations with the mayor and
other city officials.
For Avner, it’s a matter of sticking to a project that’s already well into development and construction.
“We don’t have the luxury to waste that kind of money in this town,” he said.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 told
council members that canceling the streetcar project could save only
$7.5-$24.5 million in capital costs after accounting for $32.8 million
in estimated sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in
close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grants that would be
lost if the project were stopped.
After Cranley’s announcement, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson
questioned Cranley’s motives and said the solicitation might be very
difficult to meet in just one week.
Cranley said he’ll reach out to the Federal Transit
Administration to try to get an extension, perhaps until the end of the
year, on the deadline for federal grants.
“It’s obviously a huge, huge hurdle to try to pull this together in seven days,” Cranley said.
Cranley cautioned he wouldn’t be upset if his offer fell through. Flanked by union representatives for police, firefighters and
other city workers, Cranley reiterated that his
priorities still lie in basic city services.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld previously proposed setting up a
special improvement district to pay for the operating costs. But
Cranley called the approach unworkable because it would
require property owners to opt in — an effort that would presumably take
much longer than one week.
Cranley’s announcement came as streetcar supporters move
to place a city charter amendment in support of the streetcar project on
the ballot. The campaign vowed to gather 12,000 signatures by the end
of the week.