by German Lopez
New anti-streetcar majority faces unknown costs, hit to operating budget with cancellation
City officials on Wednesday reasserted that it remains
unknown how much it would cost to cancel the $133 million streetcar
project, and city spokesperson Meg Olberding and project
executive John Deatrick agreed the unknown costs are a big concern.
Voters on Tuesday elected John Cranley to the mayor’s office
and six council members — out of nine total — who oppose the streetcar
project, giving streetcar opponents enough votes to cancel the project
once the new government takes power on Dec. 1.
But, as first reported by CityBeat on Oct. 9,
cancellation could carry all sorts of costs with $94 million tied to
contractual obligations, including supply orders and other expenses
from contractors and subcontractors, and $23 million already
sunk on the project.
If the city were to cancel, it would also need to return
nearly $41 million in grants to the federal government, according to a
June 19 letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Canceling the project would cost jobs as well. About 150
laborers are currently working on the project, according to Deatrick. He
says there’s also management positions involved, but he couldn’t offer
an estimate for those jobs and whether they’re working on the project
full- or part-time.
Deatrick says that it’s difficult to pin down how much
cancellation would ultimately cost because the issue would likely
be worked through litigation as the city tries to minimize cancellation
costs and developers — such as Messer Construction, Prus Construction,
Delta Railroad and CAF USA — attempt to maximize what they recoup from the
Another concern, according to Olberding, is cancellation’s impact on the operating budget. She says the roughly
$2 million in federal grant money already spent on the project would have
to come out of the operating budget, and litigation costs would come from the operating budget as well.
The capital budget, which is financed through bonds and
other forms of debt, pays for capital projects like the streetcar. The
operating budget typically goes toward day-to-day operations, including
police, firefighters and human services.
The operating budget has been structurally imbalanced
since 2001. If millions in litigation costs and repayments to the
federal government are added to it, the city could be forced to cut services and jobs or raise taxes.
There are also concerns about how the federal government and
Cincinnati’s business partners would react to the cancellation of such a
major project. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Cranley’s opponent in the
mayoral race, previously told CityBeat that pulling back on a
commitment could break the faith developers and the feds placed in
Cincinnati when they agreed to take on the streetcar project.
Cranley and other anti-streetcar elects argue the long-term costs — the $88 million in the capital budget for the current
phase of the project, the cost of future expansion and $3-4 million that
it would cost to operate the streetcar annually — outweigh even the
costs of cancellation.
Cranley previously told CityBeat that he would help developers involved in the project find other work in the
city to recoup the revenue lost from the project’s cancellation. He says
Messer and Prus in particular are based in and already work heavily in
Cincinnati, so it’s unlikely they would try to cut ties with the city.
Streetcar supporters aren’t convinced. If the city pulls out of such a
big commitment, officials argue both the federal government and
developers could be compelled to look for a more reliable source for
Meanwhile, Deatrick says current construction work is
progressing on time and within budget. He expects the track on Elm Street to
be laid down between 12th and Henry streets by the end of the year.
As for the next phase of the project, Deatrick says
there’s still no estimated cost. He attributes much of the project’s current
political problems to construction bids coming in over budget earlier in
the year — a turn of events that led City Council to put another $17.5
million to the streetcar project — so he says the city needs to be
really careful with future estimates if it decides to expand the
Despite the fresh political threats, the city still
intends to conduct meetings with businesses on Nov. 14 and 18 about the
benefits of the streetcar. Deatrick says those meetings should show the
economic benefits of the rail line that go beyond the streetcar’s use as
a transit network.
Supporters of the streetcar often point to those benefits as
their reasoning for backing the project. Citing a 2007 study from
consulting firm HDR that was later evaluated and supported by the
University of Cincinnati, supporters say the streetcar project would produce a three-to-one return on investment.
Deatrick acknowledges those projections are now outdated,
given all the changes the project has gone through since 2007. He says
the city has people working on updating the numbers and looking at
other economic effects the HDR study may have missed.
But opponents of the streetcar project say it’s simply too
expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. Still, the potentially
high cost of cancellation could prove a bigger fiscal concern.
Either way, Cincinnati should find out the full consequences to the project in December.
Over-the-Rhine businesses and residents fight back as newly elected city government threatens to cancel streetcar project
1 Comment · Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Over-the-Rhine businesses and residents
are organizing with supporters of the $133 million streetcar project in a
last-stand effort to keep the project on track.
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Mayor-elect John Cranley, the newly
elected City Council and the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority on Nov.
12 agreed to eliminate the city’s parking plan once newly elected officials take
office in December.
by German Lopez
Parking plan called off, Cranley flips on streetcar referendum, streetcar supporters rally
Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council announced on Tuesday that, upon taking office in December, they will terminate the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority,
following an agreement with the Port Authority to hold off on a bond
sale that would have financed — and effectively sealed — the deal. But
it remains unclear how much it will cost to terminate the plan, default
on the lease agreement with the Port Authority and allow the Port to
break its contracts with private companies that would have operated the
assets under the deal. The current city administration argues the
parking plan is necessary to help balance the budget over the next two
years, pay for economic development projects around the city and
modernize the city’s parking assets so, for example, parking meters can
accept credit card payments. Opponents argue the plan gives up too much
control over the city’s parking assets by outsourcing their operations
to private companies based around the country.
But some business leaders are upset with the death of the parking plan
because it leaves no visible alternative for funding major development
projects like the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King
Cranley now says he will not allow a referendum on any ordinance undoing the streetcar project
and will instead try to work with supporters of the project to find
another way to put it on the ballot if they can gather enough petition
signatures. Cranley says blocking a referendum is necessary to avoid
spending money during a referendum campaign that could last months. But
for supporters of the streetcar, Cranley’s decision seems highly
hypocritical following his repeated praise for the “people’s sacred
right of referendum” on the campaign trail after City Council blocked a
referendum on the parking plan. If the project is placed on the ballot,
it will essentially be the third time it’s brought to a public vote;
opponents of the project in 2009 and 2011 pursued two ballot initiatives
that many saw as referendums on the streetcar.
Meanwhile, Over-the-Rhine businesses and residents yesterday officially launched a campaign to save the streetcar project
from Cranley and a newly elected City Council that appears poised to
cancel the project. Touting the project’s potential return on investment
and cancellation costs,
the group plans to lobby newly elected officials to vote in favor of
keeping the project going. The group invited Cranley and all elected
council members to join them at a town hall-style meeting on Nov. 14 at
the Mercantile Library, where supporters will discuss their path
forward. So far, supporters have publicly discussed a concerted lobbying
effort, a ballot initiative if council passes an ordinance undoing the
streetcar project and possible legal action against the city.
The Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board is apparently unpleasantly surprised
that Cranley undid the parking plan, even though the board endorsed
Cranley for mayor after he ran in opposition to the parking plan for
nearly a year.
An Ohio Senate bill caps the spending ability of the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative board that previously approved the federally funded Medicaid expansion
despite the Ohio legislature’s opposition. Gov. John Kasich angered
many Republican legislators when he decided to go through the
Controlling Board to get the Medicaid expansion, which is a major part
Meanwhile, the Ohio legislature is working on changes to Medicaid
that would cap future cost increases and employ professional staff for a
Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee that would have the ability to
review Medicaid programs and agencies. The bill also includes a portion
that clarifies its passage “shall not be construed with endorsing,
validating or otherwise approving the (Medicaid) expansion.”
Despite attempts from city officials and local business leaders, Saks Fifth Avenue is leaving downtown to open a store at Kenwood Collection.
Kentucky’s state auditor will look at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport board’s spending policies and expenses, following reports from The Enquirer that the board spent exorbitant amounts on travel, dining and counseling.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Milford-Miami Advertiser’s request to appeal a 2012 ruling
that charged the Gannett-owned suburban weekly with defamation and
ordered the paper to pay the defamed plaintiff $100,000 in damages. In a
story titled “Cop's suspension called best move for city,”
the newspaper wrongly implicated a Miami Township police officer who
was previously accused but later exonerated of sexual assault.
Attorney General Mike DeWine warns that some typhoon relief requests could be scams.
Not satisfied with the mere wonder of beginning to exist, some stars explode in a rainbow of colors when they’re born.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 04:30 PM | Permalink
Port Authority and newly elected mayor and council agree to end deal
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 11:29 AM | Permalink
Project executive says third shift would help minimize disruptions to public and traffic
Officials working on the $133 million streetcar project
are considering taking up extra shifts to speed up delivery of new
rail and minimize disruptions caused by construction, project executive
John Deatrick told CityBeat on Friday.
If it goes as planned, the extra shifts would reduce the
time needed to deliver and install rails around Findlay Market and
Liberty Street from one week to a couple days at each location. That would allow the city
to avoid closing down surrounding streets for more than a weekend or a
Monday and Tuesday, according to Deatrick.
“The main reason isn’t to speed it up,” he says. “The main
reason is it would minimize the impact on the motoring public, walking
public and biking public.”
Deatrick insists the move is absolutely not related to
recent election results that have called the project’s survival into
One of Mayor-elect John Cranley’s top priorities upon
taking office in December is canceling the streetcar project, which he
says isn’t worth the cost and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. He says
the outgoing city administration is continuing construction of the
streetcar in “a political manner” and running up the bill to make
canceling the project more difficult.
But Deatrick claims the 24-hour shifts won’t add much in
the way of new costs. He says contractors currently bill the city about
$1.5 million each month and that should continue into the future.
As of September, the city had already spent $23 million
and contractually obligated another $94 million to the project. The
obligations, along with the threat of litigation from contractors
involved in the project and taxpayers and businesses along the streetcar
track, have raised concerns about how much canceling the project would cost — and whether it’s even financially prudent at this point.
by German Lopez
Streetcar fight continues, state evaluating transit services, parking plan moving ahead
A small group of Over-the-Rhine homeowners is preparing for a possible lawsuit and other actions
should Mayor-elect John Cranley try to cancel the $133 million
streetcar project. Ryan Messer says the fight is about protecting his
family’s investment along the streetcar route. Streetcar supporters plan
to host a town hall-style meeting in the coming weeks to discuss
possible actions to keep the project on track, including a referendum
effort on any legislation that halts construction of the ongoing
project. While Cranley says canceling the streetcar is at the top of the agenda, questions remain about how much it would cost to cancel the project, as CityBeat covered in further detail here and here.
As Cincinnati debates canceling the streetcar project, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is evaluating transit systems around the state
to encourage more efficiency and cost effectiveness. The agency is
particularly focused on how different transit services are dealing with
rising demand and shrinking budgets. But if that’s the case, ODOT might
carry some of the blame: When Gov. John Kasich took office, ODOT’s
Transportation Review Advisory Council pulled $52 million from the
Cincinnati streetcar project despite previously scoring the streetcar
the highest among Ohio’s transportation projects. The Kasich
administration also refused $400 million in federal funding for a
statewide passenger light rail system, and the money ended up going to
California and other states that took on light rail projects.
Cranley’s other major campaign promise is to stop the
city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater
Cincinnati Port Authority, but the Port intends to finalize the lease by the end of the month — before Cranley takes office in December — by selling bonds that will finance the deal. The outgoing city administration pushed the parking plan through City Council in a matter of months for an upfront payment of $92 million. But following unsuccessful litigation and a due diligence process, the Port Authority cut the payment to $85 million,
and the city is now responsible for paying $14-$15 million to build a
new parking garage that the Port was originally supposed to finance
under the deal. Cranley and other opponents of the parking plan say it
gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets, while
supporters argue it’s necessary to modernize the assets and help fund
economic development projects.
Several of Cincinnati’s power brokers and building owners are working on a plan
that would create a retail corridor in the city’s center and hopefully
keep Saks Fifth Avenue in the city. Some of the efforts apparently
involve financial incentives from the city, according to details
provided to the Business Courier.
In the past decade, Ohio students have shown limited improvement in reading and math scores.The Cincinnati area could become the largest metropolitan area without an abortion clinic following new regulations imposed by the state budget signed into law in June by Gov. Kasich and the Republican-controlled legislature. CityBeat covered the regulations and the rest of the state budget in further detail here.
The Hamilton County Association of Chiefs of Police released a report outlining stricter guidelines for Taser use.
Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who has led lawsuits on behalf of families
who lost loved ones after they were Tased, told WVXU he’s encouraged by
the report, but he said he would also require annual tests of the
devices and a ban on chest shots.
The Cincinnati branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is filing a federal complaint
against the DHL Global Mail facility in Hebron, Ky., after DHL
allegedly fired 24 of its employees on Oct. 9 in a dispute over prayer
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino reported $18.2 million in gross revenue in October, down from $19.8 million in September.
The revenue reduction also cost Cincinnati’s casino the No. 1 spot,
which is now held by Cleveland’s Horseshoe Casino. For Cincinnati and
Ohio, the drop means lower tax revenue.
The Cincinnati Gay and Lesbian Center plans to close its physical space,
but it’s sticking around as a virtual organization and will continue
hosting Pride Night at Kings Island. A letter from the center’s board of
directors stated that the transition was based on a need to “evolve
with the times.”
The U.S. Senate passed a bill
that would ban discrimination against gay and transgendered workers,
but the bill’s chances are grim in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Both Ohio senators — Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman —
voted in favor of the Senate bill. CityBeat previously covered efforts in Ohio to pass workplace protections for LGBT individuals here.
Watch a homeless veteran’s aesthetic transformation, which apparently helped push his life forward:
The popular video of a baby’s reaction to his singing mom might actually show conflicting feelings of fear and sociality, not sentimentality.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Cranley sets agenda, streetcar cancellation costs still unknown, Kasich limits minor parties
Mayor-elect John Cranley laid out his plans and priorities for his first term
at his first press conference yesterday. Cranley says two of his top
priorities are undoing the $133 million streetcar project and parking
plan, which would lease the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to
the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. He also spoke on some of his more
positive ideas, including the interchange project at Interstate 71 and
Martin Luther King Drive, 3CDC-style public-private partnerships to
revitalize neighborhoods and development of the Wasson Way bike trail,
old Swifton Commons and Westwood Square.
It remains unclear
how much it would cost to actually cancel the streetcar project. As of September’s monthly
progress report, $94 million is tied to contractual obligations, $23
million is already spent and nearly $45 million in federal grants is still attached
to the project. And if contractors, subcontractors and taxpayers sue the
city to complete the project, it could impose litigation costs on the
operating budget instead of the capital budget currently financing
construction. Supporters of the streetcar also say cancellation could
tarnish relationships with the federal government and contractors, which
have a stake in the project’s completion. At his press conference
yesterday, Cranley said he’d weigh the costs and benefits of
cancellation and would continue the project if he deems it cheaper.
Meanwhile, Cranley might travel to Washington, D.C., to discuss reprogramming nearly $45 million in federal grants
from the streetcar project to the I-71/MLK interchange project. In a
June 19 letter, the U.S. Department of Transportation claimed it would
take back nearly $41 million of the grant money if the streetcar project
were canceled. City officials say they’ve already spent $2 million from
the grants on the streetcar project, and, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding, that would
need to be repaid through the operating budget if the project were terminated.
Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature passed a bill
that imposes new restrictions on minor political parties trying to get on the
state ballot. The requirements force minor parties to meet higher
petition signature and voting thresholds to get and remain on the
ballot. Ohio Libertarians say they plan to sue to block the changes from
becoming law in 90 days. Democrats and minor parties say the changes
are meant to protect Kasich’s chances of re-election in 2014; they argue
that, without the new requirements, tea party challengers upset with
Kasich over his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion could take away enough votes and spoil the election in favor of a Democrat. CityBeat covered the Senate version of the bill in further detail here.
Hamilton County commissioners yesterday unanimously approved
the first budget in six years that didn’t require major cuts or revenue
increases to achieve balance, but the budget also had very little in
terms of new policies. Commissioners also approved a separate plan from
the Port Authority, a city- and county-funded development agency, to
expand its borders; the Port now needs to work out agreements with other
jurisdictions before the expansion becomes official.
Janitors in Cincinnati are striking against New York City-based ABM
in a push for wage hikes and health benefits. In supporting the
efforts, Councilman Chris Seelbach says the strike and media attention
surrounding it should hopefully put pressure on Cincinnati’s Fortune 500
companies that hire ABM to clean their buildings.
Commentary: “Republicans Continue Denying Social Progress.”
After only 28.8 percent of registered Cincinnati voters participated in the mayoral and City Council elections, The Cincinnati Enquirer asked those who didn’t show up to vote to explain themselves.
The answers ranged from total apathy toward the streetcar project to
disdain and distrust for the city’s government and political system.
Voters on Tuesday approved more than half of Ohio school levies.
The University of Cincinnati yesterday signed an agreement that will increase collaboration with NASA.
Blockbuster is closing down its remaining company-owned stores in the United States.
Biking in traffic can have some complicated results as bikers breathe in traffic exhaust.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez