by Nick Swartsell
61 hours ago
Posted In: News
at 09:42 AM | Permalink
Council passes tax deals; big announcement on Music Hall; this coffee has a little something extra
Hey y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning before I have to fly out the door to cover a few things. • City Council yesterday voted to approve a number of property tax-related items we’ve already reported on. But here are the cliff notes. Among the bigger ones was a controversial move to create two tax increment financing districts around properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer. The group has said it will be making big improvements to the area and asked the city to create the TIF districts to fund infrastructure improvements in the districts. Some critics have called this a tax abatement, but in reality, Neyer will stay pay taxes — they’ll just end up in a fund earmarked for public works projects around their buildings instead of flowing into the general fund, where they could be used for police, transit, etc. Council also passed an amendment at the request of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson requiring council approval of all expenditures from the fund. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the TIF districts.• City Council also unanimously passed a 15-year tax abatement for a project in Clifton Heights by Gilbane Development Co. that will bring 180 units of student housing to the neighborhood. The abatement, which could be worth up to $12 million, is for the building’s proposed environmentally-friendly Silver LEED certification. Council voted unanimously for the tax break. This project was also controversial, as a number of residents in Clifton Heights say such developments are changing the character of the neighborhood.• Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group responsible for pushing the streetcar forward last winter, is holding a rally today to launch an effort pushing council to make plans for the streetcar’s extension into uptown. City administration so far has no plans for such a study until the first phase of the project is complete and can be evaluated. Believe in Cincinnati would like to see the next phase planned soon so that the project can apply for grants and find other funding.The rally will be at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Race and Elder streets near Findlay Market. "Why shouldn't we get those scarce federal dollars for transit instead of another city? If we don't have a plan, we won't be considered," said the group’s leader Ryan Messer to the Cincinnati Business Courier.• Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Mayor John Cranley will hold a news conference at Music Hall, where he’s likely to announce that the landmark has won an Ohio historic tax credit worth millions. Representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Development Services Office will also speak at the press conference, along with state Sen. Bill Seitz. The grant is worth up to $25 million. Music Hall has been competing with Cleveland’s Huntington Building and May Co. department store and the former Goodyear Tire Co. headquarters in Akron. The historic hall, which is home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a number of other cultural institutions, needs $123 million in renovations. Funding efforts so far are still $40 million short. The state tax credit could go a long way toward filling that gap.UPDATE: Music Hall will get the full $25 million tax credit.• The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is investigating a grant program for public schools recently put forward by Gov. John Kasich. The Community Connections mentorship program conditions receipt of the grant on public schools’ collaboration with religious institutions, something the ACLU says may be violate separation of church and state under the constitution. The group is investigating the program further. “The First Amendment of the Constitution provides very strong protection against the government imposing religion upon children in public schools,” said Heather Weaver of the ACLU Program on Religious Freedom and Belief in a news release. “This new program appears to disregard those protections and injects religion into our classrooms.”• Continually low wages and changes to federal food assistance programs have been a one-two punch for low-income families in Ohio, a new study finds. The combination of stagnant pay and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enacted last year mean that Ohioans lost access to the equivalent of 195 million meals since November of last year, according to research by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which provides food assistance across the state. The study showed that 50 percent of households receiving food assistance have at least one member who is employed; it also showed that many of those recipients are underemployed and received no boost in wages from the year prior. Tied to the $265 million cut to the SNAP program Congress enacted last year, that’s left many families worse off than they have been before. The cuts have other repercussions as well, according to the group.“Our network and the people we serve can’t afford to absorb any more spending tradeoffs, reductions, or harmful policy changes,” said OAF Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “The loss of $265 million in entirely federally-funded SNAP benefits has already had an astronomical economic impact. Every $5 in federal expenditures of SNAP benefits generates $9 in local spending, so this loss of SNAP benefits has not only impacted the food budgets of low-income families — it has also led to an estimated $477 million in lost revenue for grocers and retailers and lost economic growth.”• If you need a way to boost productivity around the office, well, this is one way to get that done. Or it might just start a ton of fights and paranoid ramblings. Actually, maybe just steer clear of this “enhanced” coffee shipped to Germany recently.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 03:30 PM | Permalink
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
at 11:10 AM | Permalink
Believe in Cincinnati continues engaging neighborhood leaders about future transit options
Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group that played a big role advocating for the Cincinnati streetcar during and since the infamous City Hall pause, is expanding its focus beyond Over-the-Rhine.More than 80 people showed up to a meeting in Clifton Tuesday night to discuss taking the streetcar beyond OTR."We started around the streetcar, but our vision is much broader than that,” said Believe in Cincinnati organizer Ryan Messer. He said people from 80 percent of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods are involved in the group. “I think we have a vision that someday every neighborhood will have a transportation committee. The conversation we want to continue is this broader regional transit plan while ensuring we’re going forward with the Cincinnati streetcar.”Believe in Cincinnati was instrumental in advocating for the streetcar last winter when recently-elected Mayor John Cranley, who campaigned on opposition to the streetcar, put the project on hold. When the project came back online, Vice Mayor David Mann credited the group with making a big difference.Now progress on the streetcar is humming along. Project executive John Deatrick says construction of the track and the cars themselves is on schedule, with more than 7,000 feet of track done, four stations stops completed and delivery of the first five streetcars expected next fall and winter. Deatrick says the whole system should be up and running by summer 2016.Deatrick also talked about the possibilities for “phase 1B,” or the extension of the streetcar into uptown. That leg of the route was part of the initial plans for the system until Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in state funds from the project in 2010. That’s left the proposed extension into Corryville and Clifton without funding. Deatrick said the city has decided not to pursue a federal grant to build the uptown extension, because the downtown portion isn’t far enough along yet. But Deatrick said the city has continued to explore the possibility of running the streetcar up Vine Street and has kept plans for an eventual expansion up to date. “As soon as city council and the mayor are ready, we’re ready to apply for more money,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.Advocates see uptown, including Avondale, Corryville and Clifton, as a logical next step in the progression of the streetcar since it’s where a big number of the city’s jobs are located, including major hospitals and the University of Cincinnati, the city’s largest employers.Councilman Kevin Flynn, who cast a deciding vote to restart the project last December, voiced cautious support for Believe in Cincinnati’s efforts but said the challenges faced by efforts to expand the line are daunting. He told the crowd not to put the cart before the horse. “On the day I made the vote, I said, ‘this isn’t the end, this is the beginning.’” Flynn said. “I see energy, but we have to harness that energy. I understand this is talking about how we get to phase two. I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but the way to get to phase two is to make phase one a success."I've talked to a lot of the big employers uptown. They'd all like to see the streetcar up here. There's no money — right now — to do that. But probably more important than the money… there's not the will. The only way the will could possibly be generated is to make phase one a financial success."While funding is the big stumbling block for expanding the system right now, that hasn’t stopped Believe in Cincinnati from growing. The group recently hired a full-time employee to continue to promote the group and transit projects for the next five months and has been raising funds from donors both in Cincinnati and across the country. The group has also been meeting with residents in communities outside the streetcar’s current planned path. Messer said he’s spoken with community council members and other community leaders in a number of neighborhoods, including Hyde Park, Avondale and even communities in Northern Kentucky. All have expressed interest in eventually widening the streetcar’s reach.West Side transit advocate Pete Witte said interest in the streetcar is growing in neighborhoods like Price Hill and Westwood. He joked that Cincinnati’s western neighborhoods are a “lion’s pit” when it comes to the issue. Those neighborhoods voted overwhelmingly for Mayor Cranley and his opposition to the project. But with progress downtown, Witte said some in the West Side are coming around. He highlighted the looming reconstruction of the Western Hills Viaduct as a great opportunity to have the conversation about expanding transit to the area.“We’re real people, residents, business owners, raising families, going to school, whatever, who understand the importance that transit can make for our community and the city as a whole,” Witte said of West Siders who are advocating for transit expansion. “We’re going to be meeting and focusing on the Western Hills Viaduct, but it does go beyond that.”Messer said his group believes the issue of transit doesn’t have to be politically divisive. “I
think a lot of people have said they’re a little surprised we’re not a
bunch of flaming liberals who want to put streetcars everywhere and
don’t care about what it costs," he said. "Some of us are probably progressive,
some of us are not. I don’t know that transit is a partisan issue. We
see transit as an investment to grow our city.”
by German Lopez
Residents, business owners rally to lobby new mayor and council
Dozens of residents and business owners gathered in
Over-the-Rhine on Tuesday to launch a campaign that seeks to persuade
Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council to support
the $133 million streetcar project.
Attendees included Ryan Messer, who used his life savings
to renovate his home in Over-the-Rhine; Derek Bauman, co-chair of
Cincinnatians for Progress; Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of the Taste of
Belgium; and Derek dos Anjos, owner of The Anchor.
“We’re here today to keep the conversation going outside
of political rhetoric and partisan politics,” Messer said. “Simply put,
the streetcar is a component of Cincinnati economic development, and
it’s a project that grows the whole city — not just an urban core,
which, by the way, is an important part of developing this region.”
The group intends to lobby Cranley and the newly elected
council, which appear poised to cancel the project when they take office
At least three of nine elected council members — P.G.
Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — have told media outlets that
they want a full accounting of the project before making a final
decision. Another three — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell
Young — are on the record as supporting the project. The final three —
Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Amy Murray — adamantly
opposed the project in the past.
Members of the pro-streetcar group invited Cranley and all
elected council members to join them at a town hall-style meeting on
Nov. 14 at the Mercantile Library, where supporters will discuss their
path forward. So far, supporters have publicly discussed a concerted
lobbying effort, a referendum if council passes an ordinance undoing the
streetcar project and possible legal action.
As CityBeat first uncovered, the costs of canceling the project are currently unknown,
and some of the costs could actually fall on the operating budget that
pays for police, firefighters and human services instead of the capital
budget that is currently financing the streetcar project.
Much of the uncertainty falls on ongoing construction for
the streetcar, which has continued despite the newly elected city
government’s intent to stop the project. As of September, the city spent
$23 million on the project and contractually obligated $94 million,
some of which city officials say will need to be paid back even if the
project were canceled.
The U.S. Department of Transportation also told city
officials in a June 19 letter that nearly $41 million of nearly $45
million in federal grants would need to be returned if the project were
Supporters also claim Cincinnati would be giving up a
2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years if the city abandoned the
streetcar now. That estimate is derived from a 2007 study conducted by
consulting firm HDR, which was evaluated and supported by the University
Project executive John Deatrick says the HDR study is now
outdated and the city is working on updating the numbers. Still,
Deatrick says the project is intended to spur economic development, not
just provide another form of public transportation.
The Nov. 13 issue of CityBeat will give a more in-depth look at the campaign to save the streetcar and some of the people involved in the movement.