by German Lopez
Only $7.5-$24.5 million left after fully shutting down project, paying back feds
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Thursday
revealed that the city might only keep $7.5-$24.5 million if it cancels
the $132.8 million streetcar project.
That means the city could potentially spend more than 94
percent of the project’s total costs before it manages to fully close
down the streetcar project, which is currently undergoing construction
and tied up to various federal grants and business contracts.
The presentation was given in advance of Mayor-elect John
Cranley and the newly elected City Council taking office in December.
Cranley is an ardent opponent of the streetcar project, and a majority
of the City Council says it wants to pause the project and consider
Cranley’s proposed alternative to the streetcar — a trolley bus system
— would cost $10-$15 million in capital funds, according to supporters of the rubber-tire trolley alternative. If streetcar cancellation costs were to reach the high end of the city’s estimate and the trolley bus is paid for, the city could end up spending $140.3 million to cancel the streetcar project and build a
considerably less ambitious trolley bus line — about $7.5 million more
than it would cost to simply complete the streetcar project. If it’s completed, Cincinnati Budget Director Lea Eriksen says operating the streetcar would cost between $3.4-$4.5 million each year, which city officials say could come from various potential sources, including a special improvement district that would raise property taxes within three blocks of the streetcar route.But the operating budget cost would be a wash if Cranley pursues the trolley bus system, which, according to advocates, will cost slightly more to operate than the streetcar. Cranley says the operating cost for the trolley bus is concerning if it holds true.Following Deatrick’s presentation, Cranley held a press conference in which he flatly denied the current city administration’s estimates. He says he will tap new experts to run over the numbers while the project is put on pause.“We’re going to bring in new, objective leadership, not the current leadership that is clearly biased toward the project and intent on defying the will of the voters, which was clearly expressed a couple weeks ago in this election,” Cranley says.
Deatrick’s cancellation projections account for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November and a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, which include
construction to close the project — such as
repaving torn-up roads — and orders on vehicles and other
supplies that are already placed but not officially billed.The federal government has also allocated $44.9 million in
federal grants to the streetcar project. In a letter released by the
city administration on Nov. 14, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
explicitly stated that $40.9 million would be taken back if the project
didn’t adequately progress; the remaining $4 million would be left
under the supervision of Gov. John Kasich, who could shift the money to
other parts of the state.
But Deatrick’s estimates don’t consider the unknown cost
of litigation, which would need to come out of a city operating budget that is already structurally imbalanced,
according to Meg Olberding, the city’s spokesperson.
The estimates also don’t consider that the city could
potentially forgo spending $7.4 million in contingency funds on the
project if it goes through completion and remains within budget, which
would lower the project’s effective cost to $125.4 million.
If the city cancels the project, Deatrick says it’s also
more likely that the city would lose in its legal battle against Duke
Energy, which could add up to $15 million in costs. That money is
tentatively allocated from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport as the city
and Duke argue in court as to who has to pay for moving utility lines to
accommodate for the streetcar tracks.
Those are the potential financial costs, but city
officials also warn that canceling the project could have a detrimental
impact on the city’s image.
“That’s what the city would be known for forever,” says
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan. “To throw this away would be
City officials also warn that canceling would be pulling
back on a light rail project that President Barack Obama’s
administration has clearly prioritized.
“The city-federal relationship is excellent right now,” Deatrick says. “There would be immediate damage to that.”
The 200-plus workers currently involved the project would
also be displaced. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson points out pausing or
canceling the project in December would leave those workers jobless for
the holiday season.
Another concern is the impact of cancellation on the
relationship between the federal government and Southwest Ohio Regional
Transit Authority (SORTA), which operates the Metro bus system and will
operate the streetcar if it’s completed. If the city is unable to pay back
the grants to the federal government within 30 days, Deatrick says
the FTA could cut SORTA grants for bus service and potentially halt some
local bus services.
One concern raised by Councilman Chris Seelbach and
Councilman-elect Kevin Flynn, one of the three potential swing votes in
the incoming council of nine, is whether the project’s estimated return on
investment is still 2.7-to-1 over 35 years. That number is derived from a
2007 study conducted by consulting firm HDR, which was later evaluated
and affirmed by the University of Cincinnati.
Deatrick points out the numbers were re-evaluated by HDR
in 2011, and they still seem to hold true. He says there are still
plenty of vacant buildings along the 3.6-mile streetcar line that could use the encouraged investment, despite
some of the revitalization seen in the Over-the-Rhine and downtown areas
that the streetcar route would cover.
The 2.7-to-1 return on investment is also “a very, very
conservative estimate,” says Deatrick. He claims HDR could have relied
on numbers from other cities, such as Portland, Ore., that saw
considerably better returns on their streetcar systems.
Still, Flynn and Councilman-elect David Mann, another
potential swing vote, say they want to scrutinize the cancellation
estimates before making a final decision on the project.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a long-time streetcar supporter
who lost to Cranley in her mayoral bid, encourages a re-examination of
the numbers. But she cautions, “If what has been presented today stands up to scrutiny,
there’s absolutely no reason to cancel the project.”
Flynn won’t say whether he would reconsider his past
opposition to the project if the numbers hold up. But Mann says, “If
they do hold up, that’s fairly persuasive.”Both Flynn and Mann also say that they would be willing to pause the project while clearer estimates are crunched.
But that could present a short time window. If the project
doesn’t adequately progress, the federal government could take back its
grant money. Based on city officials’ estimates, that provides a 30-day
window to re-calculate cancellation costs and the potential return on investment.
Pausing the project would also impose its own set of costs as some workers and equipment are retained.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who’s also seen as a swing
vote, could not be reached for comment. He’s currently in Washington,
D.C., to meet with White House officials for an issue unrelated to the
streetcar.Three elected council members already support the streetcar project, so only two of the three potential swing votes would need to vote in favor of it to keep it going.Updated with Mayor-elect John Cranley’s comments and clearer, corrected numbers.
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Streetcar supporters packed Mercantile
Library and Fountain Square on Nov. 14 to start a two-week campaign that
seeks to prevent the incoming mayor and City Council from canceling the
by German Lopez
Streetcar supporters pack event, federal funds threatened, Dohoney to get severance pay
Supporters of the $133 million streetcar project packed Mercantile Library and Fountain Square
last night to start a two-week campaign to prevent Mayor-elect John
Cranley and the newly elected City Council from halting the ongoing
project. The goal is to convince at least five of the nine newly elected
council members to support the project. So far, streetcar supporters
have at least three pro-streetcar votes: Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson
and Wendell Young. Now, they’re trying to convince another three — Kevin
Flynn, David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld — to support continuing the
project; all three spoke against the streetcar on the campaign trail,
but they’ve recently said they want a full accounting of the project’s
completion costs, cancellation costs and potential return of investment
before making a final decision. CityBeat covered the campaign and the people involved in greater detail here.
Hours before the event began, Mayor Mark Mallory released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration that explicitly stated
canceling the project would cost Cincinnati nearly $41 million in
federal funds and another $4 million would be left under the discretion
of Gov. John Kasich, who could shift the money to other parts of Ohio.
Cranley previously stated he could lobby the federal government to
re-appropriate the money to other city projects, but the letter makes it
quite clear that’s not in the plans right now. On the elevator ride up
to the Mercantile Library event, Sittenfeld commented on the letter to CityBeat, “I will say that today's news is a big gain in the pro-streetcar column.”
City Council yesterday accepted the resignation of City Manager Milton Dohoney,
just one day after Cranley announced Dohoney’s leave and his support
for it. Although council members acknowledged they had to accept the
resignation in lieu of the Nov. 5 election results, they said they were
unhappy with the behind-the-scenes approach that was taken by Cranley throughout the process. For the year following his resignation,
Dohoney will receive $255,000 in severance pay and health benefits
through the city, which will cost an already-strained operating budget
that’s been structurally imbalanced since 2001.
Flaherty & Collins, the Indianapolis-based developer that’s building a downtown apartment tower at Fourth and Race streets, said it’s interested in the retail space being left vacant by Saks Fifth Avenue.
Northern Kentucky residents last night got a look at a regional strategy to fight the growing heroin problem in the area.
The report, put together by substance abuse and medical experts, law
enforcement officials, governmental leaders and business
representatives, calls for more physicians and long-term treatment
options to address the issue. “We cannot arrest or incarcerate our way
out of the problem,” said Dr. Lynne Saddler, director of the Northern Kentucky
Independent District Health Department. “The success of this
plan really hinges on having sufficient treatment options and resources
available so that everyone seeking and wanting treatment can easily
Union Township Rep. John Becker introduced a bill
in the Ohio House this week that would ban most public and private
health insurers from providing abortion coverage. The bill has yet to be
assigned to a committee. Becker describes himself as one of the most
conservative members of the Ohio legislature. He’s also supported the
Heartbeat Bill, which would ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected; called needle-exchange efforts part of the “liberal media
agenda”; and lobbied for the impeachment of a judge who allowed the
state to recognize the same-sex marriage of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who recently passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted urged the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission
to address politicized redistricting. Under the current system, the
political party in charge — the last time around, Republicans — can use
demographic trends to redraw congressional district boundaries to
maximize the votes of supporters and split and dilute the votes of
opponents. Although Husted is now calling for reform to make
redistricting more representative of the state’s actual political make-up, he opposed a ballot initiative in 2012 that would have placed
an independent committee in charge of redistricting.
Speaking at a Cleveland steel mill, President Barack Obama talked up U.S. manufacturing and its potential for economic growth.
The Christmas holiday tree arrives at Fountain Square tomorrow.
Tomorrow is also the day of the One Stop Drop recycling event,
where anyone can drop off electronic and other waste — TVs, computers,
cellphones and chargers, No. 5 plastics such as butter tubs and yogurt
containers, single-use grocery bags and used writing instruments like
pencils and pens — from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Whole Foods Market in
Rookwood Commons, 2693 Edmondson Road.
Five crashes in Covington, Ohio, left six horses dead and one injured.
More Ohioans also died on the road in 2012 than the year before.
The world’s oldest animal — a mollusk — missed Christopher Columbus landing in the Americas by 14 years.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
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.
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.
by German Lopez
John Cranley wins mayoral race; three non-incumbents win City Council seats
Cincinnati’s streetcar project lost big on Tuesday as voters ushered in ex-Councilman John Cranley over Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in the mayoral race and three non-incumbents who oppose the project to City Council, according to unofficial election results from the Hamilton County Board of Elections. With all precincts reporting, Cranley handily defeated Qualls 58-42 percent. Cranley ran largely on his opposition to the $133 million streetcar, while Qualls promised to expand the project.Voters also elected three non-incumbents to City Council: Democrat David Mann, Charterite Kevin Flynn and Republican Amy Murray. The three non-incumbents oppose the streetcar project, which means re-elected Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, Republican Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman are now part of a 6-3 majority on council that opposes the project.Democrats Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young — all supporters of the streetcar project — also won re-election. Incumbent Democrats Laure Quinlivan and Pam Thomas lost.It’s unclear if the newly elected council and mayor will stop current construction on the streetcar once they take power in December, given concerns about contractual obligations and sunk costs that could make canceling the project costly in terms of dollars and Cincinnati’s business reputation. But Cranley and the six anti-streetcar elects on City Council vested much of their campaigns on their opposition to the project, which they claim is too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.Supporters argue the project will produce a three-to-one return on investment — an estimate derived from a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR and a follow-up assessment to the HDR study from the University of Cincinnati.City Council’s new make-up will be five Democrats, two Republicans, one Charterite and one Independent. That’s a shift from the current make-up of seven Democrats, one Republican and one Independent.The new council slate will be the first to take up four-year terms following a city charter amendment voters approved in 2012.Sittenfeld also landed a huge win and easily topped the City Council race with 10,000 more votes than Winburn, who, at 27,000 votes, got the second most ballots cast in his favor out of the nine council victors. Sittenfeld netted nearly 5,000 more votes than Cranley did in the mayoral race, although Cranley ran in a head-to-head race with Qualls while Sittenfeld was one of nine candidates voters could pick out of a pool of 21.Citywide voter turnout ended up at roughly 28 percent.Other election results:Cincinnati voters rejected Issue 4, which would have privatized Cincinnati’s pension system for city employees, in a 78-22 percent vote.In the Cincinnati Public Schools board election, Melanie Bates, Ericka Copeland-Dansby, Elisa Hoffman and Daniel Minera won the four seats up for grabs.Hamilton County voters overwhelmingly approved property tax levies for the Cincinnati Zoo and Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in 80-20 percent votes.This story was updated with the final reported results.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld may not support the current incarnation of the streetcar project, but he’s progressive enough on every other issue to gain CityBeat’s support.
by German Lopez
Councilman collects more than 1,500 signatures
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has resolved his petition problems and will appear on the ballot for reelection this November.
“The (Hamilton County Board of Elections) confirmed last
night we have more than enough signatures to be placed on the ballot,”
Sittenfeld wrote in an email.
Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Board of Elections,
says the board has so far verified more than 900 signatures out of the
1,500 Sittenfeld turned in. Council candidates need 500 to get
on the ballot.
Sittenfeld was one of two candidates who faced petition problems
last week. In his case, petitions were found to have
crossed-out dates with corrections written on the back, which election officials
said might disqualify hundreds of signatures. In response, Sittenfeld renewed
his petition drive.
In a Facebook post this morning, Sittenfeld thanked a
93-year-old family friend, a former teacher, City Council candidates and
other volunteers for helping with the effort.
Mike Moroski, who was told his original batch of petitions fell 46 signatures short, wrote on Twitter that he turned in more than 1,100 signatures this morning. In a statement, Moroski thanked his team and participants
for helping him collect the signatures, which the Board of Elections will now need to verify.The deadline for turning in City Council petitions is Aug. 22. Once the Board of Elections finishes verifying the numbers, it will release the full slate of candidates.
How P.G. Sittenfeld found himself at the center of the city’s parking plan drama
2 Comments · Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was
one of the first to find out about a memo that’s spurred renewed calls
to halt the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages
to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.