by German Lopez
Supporters hold town hall-style meeting in effort to stop cancellation of project
Supporters of the $133 million streetcar project on Thursday night packed Mercantile Library and Fountain Square to start a two-week campaign that seeks to prevent the incoming mayor and City Council from canceling the ongoing project.Turnout was particularly strong as supporters reached the 200-person capacity at Mercantile Library before the event started. Another 200 watched the event from the Jumbotron screen at Fountain Square, according to the event's organizers.In attendance were several Over-the-Rhine business owners and residents; council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young; and several supporters of the project from around the city.The goal of the event was to organize supporters and begin a lobbying campaign to convince the three perceived swing votes in the incoming council — Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — to support continuing the project. All three have spoken against the streetcar in the past, but they told CityBeat they want to fully account for the project's cancellation costs, completion costs and potential return on investment before making a final decision.Speakers urged supporters to contact the nine newly elected council members and raise awareness about the streetcar's benefits before Mayor-elect John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and the new City Council take office in December.Ryan Messer, a lead organizer of the effort to save the streetcar, spoke about the advantages of the streetcar project for much of the event. "This is a good economic tool that helps all of Cincinnati," he repeatedly stated.Supporters have some empirical evidence to base their claims on. A 2007 study from consulting firm HDR found the streetcar project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years. The HDR study was later evaluated and supported by the University of Cincinnati.Project executive John Deatrick acknowledges the 2007 study is now outdated and the city is working on updating the numbers. But he says the streetcar project is supposed to be viewed as an economic development vehicle, not just another transit option.Supporters also warned of the potential costs of canceling the streetcar project. Hours before the gathering, Mayor Mark Mallory released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration that explicitly stated the city would lose nearly $41 million in federal grant dollars if the project were canceled, and another $4 million would be placed in the hands of Gov. John Kasich to do as he sees fit.City spokesperson Meg Olberding previously told CityBeat that the city already spent about $2 million of the federal funds. If the project were canceled, she says the money would have to be repaid through the operating budget that funds police, firefighters and human services instead of the capital budget currently financing the streetcar project.The operating budget has been structurally imbalanced since 2001, so adding millions in costs to it could force the city to cut services or raise taxes.The FTA letter might already be playing an influence for at least one of the swing votes on City Council. On the elevator ride up to Mercantile Library, Sittenfeld told Seelbach and CityBeat, "I will say that today's news is a big gain in the pro-streetcar column."Another threat for the city is potential litigation from contractors, subcontractors, taxpayers and Over-the-Rhine residents and businesses who invested in the project or along the streetcar line with the expectation that the project would be completed. Litigation costs would also come out of the operating budget, according to Olberding."As a trial lawyer, this is actually appealing," said Democratic attorney Don Mooney. "For the city, not so much."Supporters also outlined the potential damage that pulling from the project could do to the city's image, given that developers, businesses and the federal government have put their support and dollars toward the streetcar."Is Cincinnati that city that will dine you and wine you and leave you alone at the altar?" Young asked.But if the lobbying effort, cancellation costs and threat of litigation aren't enough, supporters also presented one more option to save the streetcar: a ballot initiative. Mayor-elect John Cranley on Thursday told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he would be open to allowing some sort of streetcar referendum on the ballot.The ultimate goal for supporters of the streetcar, beyond ensuring sustainable growth in the urban core, is to connect all of Cincinnati through a vast transit network, much like the streetcar lines that ran through Cincinnati before the city government dismantled the old system in the 1950s.That provides little assurance to opponents of the streetcar project. Cranley and at least three hard-liners in the incoming City Council — Amy Murray, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman — claim the project is too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. Discussing more phases makes the project appear even costlier to opponents who are already concerned with costs.In its comprehensive plan for 2040, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments put the cost of various extensions — to the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals, the Cincinnati Zoo, the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Broadway Commons area near the Horseshoe Casino — at more than $191 million, or $58 million more than the estimated cost for the current phase.But if Cincinnati never completes the first phase of the streetcar project, supporters say it could be decades before other light rail options are considered.
by German Lopez
Dohoney to get one year of severance pay following mayor-elect’s request
City Council on Thursday accepted City Manager Milton
Dohoney’s resignation, setting the stage for the end of more than seven
years of service that fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the $133 million streetcar project and
the controversial parking plan.
The request comes just one day after Mayor-elect John
Cranley announced Dohoney’s resignation. Cranley says he will appoint an
interim city manager once Dohoney officially steps down on Dec. 1 and
then begin a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
For the year following his resignation, Dohoney will
receive $255,000 in severance pay — the same as his current annual
salary — and health benefits through the city. The extra costs will go
to an already-strained operating budget, which has been structurally
imbalanced since 2001.
Although council members acknowledged that they had to
accept the resignation in the aftermath of the Nov. 5 election, some
said they were unhappy with the behind-the-scenes approach Cranley took
to finalize Dohoney’s leave.
“It’s certainly not the process I would have liked,” said Councilman Chris Seelbach.
Others praised Dohoney’s work for the city, which lasted
through both the Great Recession and the beginnings of Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati’s economic revitalization.
“He has served the city very well. He has been a leader in
terms of economic development across the city,” said Vice Mayor Roxanne
Qualls, who lost in her bid against Cranley for the mayorship.
Cranley and Dohoney differ on both the streetcar project
and parking plan, which would have outsourced the city’s parking meters,
lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private operators. Cranley opposes and plans to do away with both policies, while Dohoney helped establish both.
Cranley announced on Tuesday
that he, newly elected council members and the Port Authority agreed to
call off the parking plan once the new city government takes office on
Dec. 1, but it remains unclear how much it will cost the city to break
from the plan and its numerous contractual obligations.
Similarly, Cranley told The Cincinnati Enquirer in a
livestreamed interview on Thursday that he will try to put an estimated
30-to-90-day time-out on the streetcar project as the city conducts a
full accounting of how much it would take to cancel the project versus
continuing with ongoing construction and the potential return on
investment of completion.
The talk of cancellation already spurred some Over-the-Rhine residents and businesses to launch a campaign to save the streetcar.
Cranley insists it’s too expensive and the wrong priority for the city,
but supporters tout independent studies and their own experiences to
argue it would spur economic development. The pro-streetcar group will
meet on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St.
#1100, downtown Cincinnati.
If the streetcar goes the way of the parking plan, Cranley
will effectively unravel two major milestones of Dohoney’s seven years
by German Lopez
Streetcar supporters to meet today, Dohoney to resign, city continues with retail plans
Supporters of the streetcar project are rallying in a last-stand effort to save the streetcar
from an incoming city government that’s threatening to cancel the
project. Supporters plan to meet today in a town hall-style meeting at 7
p.m. at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St. #1100, downtown
Cincinnati. Some of the supporters of the movement are residents,
business owners and realtors in Over-the-Rhine who told CityBeat
that canceling the project will set the city’s economic momentum back.
Mayor-elect John Cranley disagrees, but the decision is ultimately up to
the newly elected City Council to cancel the project, and at least
three of nine newly elected council members previously seen as streetcar opponents —
P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — told CityBeat
they’d like to evaluate the costs of canceling the project and the
potential return of investment versus the cost of completing
City Manager Milton Dohoney will resign on Dec. 1
and receive one year of severance pay, Cranley announced yesterday. To
political watchers, the news comes as very little surprise. Cranley and
Dohoney disagreed on two key issues — the streetcar project and parking plan,
both of which Cranley opposes and Dohoney supported and helped get off
the ground. Once the new mayor and City Council take over in December,
Cranley says he will appoint a yet-to-be-named interim city manager and
begin looking for a permanent replacement.
Despite Saks Fifth Avenue’s departure, the city intends to move forward
with its plans to build a retail corridor downtown, and others have
approached the city about taking Saks’ space, according to Kathleen
Norris, managing principal of Urban Fast Forward and the city’s retail
leasing consultant. Saks announced yesterday that it’s closing down its
downtown store and moving to Kenwood Collection. Although the move is a
blow to the city, a few city officials were quick to point to other
growth in downtown Cincinnati as an example of what will attract new
retail outlets in the future.
A deal is nearly set
to fund the $107 million interchange project at Interstate 71 and
Martin Luther King Drive. As part of the deal, the Ohio Department of
Transportation will pay for $52 million, and Cincinnati and the
Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) will take a
loan from the state infrastructure bank to pay for their share. OKI says
it will pay for its portion of the loan through $25 million in federal
funding, but it’s so far unclear how the city will pay for its share of
the project. The outgoing city administration intended to pay for the project through the
now-canceled parking plan, which would outsource the city’s parking
meters, lots and garages.
Cranley says the city can get out of the parking plan
without defaulting on the lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati
Port Authority, but Cranley’s position is at odds with the stated
opinion of officials in the outgoing city administration and Port
Authority. Cranley announced on Tuesday that the parking plan will be called off
once he and the new council take office in December, but it’s unclear
how much it will cost to break out of the plan and its various
The Ohio House held a hearing
yesterday for two bills that would increase safeguards for victims of
domestic violence, including new housing and employment protections. CityBeat previously covered the story of Andrea Metil, a domestic violence victim who is calling for greater protections.
Only 1,150 Ohioans signed up for Obamacare through the troubled HealthCare.gov
portal, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced
yesterday. Both the Ohio-wide measure and nationwide number — 106,185 — fell far
short of the federal government’s expectations for the first month of
enrollment. But many of the troubles are caused by technical problems
that have made HealthCare.gov largely unworkable for most Americans. The
federal government is working to correct the errors by December, but The Washington Post reports that the website likely won’t be fully functional by then.
Meanwhile, Ohioans will be able to enroll in the now-expanded Medicaid program on Dec. 9. Republican Gov. John Kasich got the federally funded Medicaid expansion for two years through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel, despite the Republican-controlled legislature’s opposition.
The Ohio House yesterday approved a bill that reforms municipal taxes,
which businesses support but cities oppose. Supporters argue it will
simplify the tax code so businesses can more easily work around the
state and from county to county, but opponents claim it will reduce how
much revenue cities receive.
Kasich temporarily delayed convicted child killer Ronald Phillips’s execution so Phillips can donate his non-vital organs to his mother and possibly others.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble is shuffling some of its top positions.
Here is how Mars might have looked 4 billion years ago.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
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
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
Police investigate cruiser crash, council holds last finance meeting, achievement gap widens
The Cincinnati police officer who struck a pedestrian with his cruiser on Saturday was apparently driving 50 mph in a 25 mph zone, which violates the Cincinnati Police Department's guidelines that limit officers from driving more than 20 mph above the posted limit. Officer Orlando Smith was responding to a call to help an officer when he struck Natalie Cole of Dayton, Ky. She remains in critical condition at University Hospital Medical Center following the incident. CPD is conducting an investigation that is expected to be completed within two weeks. But Smith's cruiser camera mysteriously failed to record for three minutes as the events unfolded; the latest recording available prior to the incident shows Smith leaving a grocery store parking lot with his lights and sirens on, as required by department policy when responding to help an officer. Witnesses told WCPO that Smith was actually driving in excess of 60 mph without his siren on and the victim flung 40 feet after she was struck. Smith is on paid administrative leave as the investigation finishes, which is routine police procedure.City Council's Budget and Finance Committee will hold its final scheduled meeting today, less than three weeks before the new mayor and council are sworn in on Dec. 1. The committee's agenda is fairly packed after council canceled so many meetings throughout September and October for election season, but most of the items are uncontroversial incentive packages that aim to bring jobs and develop more housing opportunities in the city.The achievement gap between white and black students in Ohio grew in the past two years, according to the results from a series of tests known as "the Nation's Report Card" from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Chad Aldis, the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Fordham Institute, told StateImpact Ohio the results are disappointing because the achievement gap between black and white students in Ohio was already way too big and above the national average in math and English, the two categories in which the gap widened. Overall, Ohio's students ranked slightly above the national average in all areas but showed no significant improvement since 2011. Aldis says Ohio's adoption of Common Core standards, a set of stricter expectations for students embraced by 45 states, should help challenge students and lead to improvement.Here is an interactive map of marijuana seizures in Ohio this year, which were down from a record high in 2010. Some experts say marijuana and other drugs should be legalized following the failure of the decades-long
war on drugs to seriously curtail supply and demand, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.Mayor-elect John Cranley on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. will answer questions from readers and the editorial board at The Cincinnati Enquirer.The two chairmen of the Hamilton County Democratic Party and Republican Party will on Nov. 21 switch roles and argue the other side's position on alleged voter fraud as part of the "Beyond Civility" debate series. The initiative seeks to bring public officials together in a less partisan environment.The Cincinnati area's most prominent white-collar crime case will start hearings in December after a jury is picked by the end of the month in the trial of Matt Daniels, the former Kenwood Towne Place developer who's accused of various charges of fraud. Daniels' attorney talked to the Business Courier here.Ohio homeschoolers can now join public schools' sports teams.President Barack Obama will stop in Ohio on Thursday to discuss U.S. manufacturing.Boy choirs are having a more difficult time filling roles as boys hit puberty earlier.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez