by Nick Swartsell
121 days ago
Posted In: News
at 08:33 AM | Permalink
Streetcar cost confusion, Northside development and campaign finance questions
This morning, as it seems every morning, people are disagreeing on the streetcar. I know, big breaking news, right?Currently, the disagreement is as follows: Have cost estimates gone up for the always-embattled transit project’s eventual operations, or haven’t they? It depends on what you read, and which study you look at. The Enquirer yesterday ran a story reporting that the deficit the streetcar will run — the gap between operating costs and its revenues — will be $2.6 million in its first full year of operation and would then climb to $3.85 million by 2025. The story then compares those numbers to a study done in December by KPMG, an independent auditing firm, which found that operating deficit would top out at $2.4 million.So clearly the expected costs of the streetcar have gone up right? Not so fast, the city says. Streetcar project leader John Deatrick said yesterday that the city has always expected the deficit to end up around the $3.85 million figure, which were included in an earlier study of the project. The city isn’t sure exactly how the KPMG arrived at their numbers, but a spokesperson for SORTA told the Business Courier that the two estimates aren’t comparable.The KPMG study was commissioned by City Council during the December fight over possible cancellation of the streetcar project, and is a cost assessment of that proposed cancellation. The city’s numbers were developed by another group, called TRA, and they take into account staff and administrative costs. It’s unclear if the KPMG numbers do this as well.Deatrick did reveal that the start-up costs for the streetcar-- training staff, testing the project, and other details-- could cost $1 million more than originally anticipated. He asked council for that money, which will be needed by 2016, at the Transportation Committee meeting yesterday.• A new development broke ground yesterday at one of Northside’s most prominent intersections. The Gantry building will hold 130 apartments and first-floor retail and dining at the corner of Blue Rock and Hamilton Avenue. The $13 million project is expected to finish next year. Check out this story for illustrations of the building, which looks to be a big departure from the aesthetics of the neighborhood now.• Gov. John Kasich, Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine have all received those special invitations to a party you never want to go to: court hearings over alleged campaign finance improprieties. The three Ohio GOP leaders received subpoenas related to millionaire and big GOP funder Ben Suarez. The North Canton businessman is accused of funneling illegal contributions to two other Republicans, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel and Rep. Jim Renacci, a Republican from Wadsworth, after they sent letters on his behalf over a California false-advertising lawsuit. Prosecutors charge that after the letters were sent, Suarez channeled $100,000 from his employees to each politician. Both later returned the donations.Kasich, Husted and DeWine are trying to RSVP a “no, thanks” to the whole mess, fighting the legal standing of the court summons. Suarez wants the Republicans to testify that letters from politicians on constituents’ behalf are normal and legal.• A new study by Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business found that Ohio is ranked 38th in the nation in terms of job growth. That’s not that great, really. On the upside, we beat Michigan by one spot and New Jersey by several. Hey guys, we’re not New Jersey!• ICYMI: American Apparel kicked their founder to the curb recently after years of allegations that he’s, well, super creepy. Dov Charney has weathered a number of sexual harassment lawsuits and other scandals during his time leading the company. None of that was a big deal for the label, which is famous for its racy ads featuring scantily clad models, until it started losing money. Like, lots of money. Now the company is looking to distance itself from Charney’s weird sideshow in order to clean up its image a bit.* Finally, and really relevant to nothing in particular in the news today, here's a pretty awesome map someone recently did of America's tribal nations as they existed before contact with Europeans. NPR has a great story on the map here.
by Nick Swartsell
123 days ago
Posted In: Development
at 04:10 PM | Permalink
City and county seal the deal, offer sweet incentives
General Electric is officially moving 1,800 employees to The Banks, the entertainment and retail complex on Cincinnati's riverfront. But it took some deal-sweetening by the city to make it happen. City Council and Hamilton County Commissioners on Monday approved a landmark deal that incentivizes the company to consolidate some administrative and finance jobs at the site, which will be 10 stories tall and cost about $90 million to build.The city's bid beat out Norwood and other locations, though the city and county had to offer one of the most generous deals in the region's history. The company will receive a 75-percent property tax abatement for the next 15 years, with the other 25 percent of those taxes going to Cincinnati Public Schools. Eighty-five percent of employees' city earnings taxes will also flow back to the company over that period of time.GE said the incentives are needed because moving to The Banks will be about 15 percent more expensive than other bids it considered. The city hopes the deal will lead to a long-term payoff. County officials tout studies showing big benefits. The Economics Center for Education and Research at UC ran the numbers on the deal and suggest that the project could bring in $1 billion in overall economic activity. The site should reach full capacity by 2018.The estimated average salary of an employee at the site will be about $79,000, company officials say.Despite some questions about how quickly the deal came together, both council and county commissioners passed it unanimously during an unusual joint meeting at Great American Ball Park. Council member P.G. Sittenfeld praised the project but noted the city will need to remember to balance fairness and overall impact in the future. Council member Chris Seelbach used the occasion to tout the streetcar, tweeting that it was a big factor in GE's choice to move to The Banks.
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 11, 2014
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
3 Comments · Wednesday, March 5, 2014
This is my last article as a staff writer at CityBeat.
At the end of the week, I will be leaving Cincinnati for Washington,
D.C., to join a new journalistic venture.
1 Comment · Wednesday, February 26, 2014
WCPO's anti-streetcar story speaks to the sheer desperation local reporters must feel in
their attempts to attract TV ratings and Internet traffic.
by German Lopez
Group protests gentrification, streetcar fares revealed, FitzGerald supports death penalty
An anti-gentrification organization says development in
southern Over-the-Rhine and downtown is leaving out low- and
middle-income residents. The People’s Coalition for Equality and Justice
(TPCEJ) cautions it’s not against development, but it supports policies
that would seek to help more people take advantage of the
revitalization of Over-the-Rhine and downtown, such as more affordable
housing, protections for renters’ rights, rent control and the
formation of tenants’ unions. The agency behind much of the development
in Over-the-Rhine and downtown, 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development
Corporation), says “people tend to over-romanticize what this
neighborhood was” and points to some examples of 3CDC-developed
affordable housing as evidence the agency is trying to keep the neighborhood
mixed-income.Related: Some studies found gentrification could benefit longtime residents.A two-hour streetcar pass could cost $1.75, and a 24-hour
pass could cost $3.50, according to a new model unveiled yesterday by
Paul Grether, Metro’s rail manager. The same model set streetcar
operating hours at Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 6
a.m.-midnight. Under the model, city officials expect 3,000 daily
boardings, but Grether cautioned that’s a very conservative estimate
and excludes special events, such as Reds and Bengals games.But the City Council-enforced streetcar delay could cost
more than expected after the steel company originally contracted for the
$132.8 million project took another job while council members decided
the fate of the project. Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick told
council the company’s decision could push construction of a maintenance
facility by two months if the city doesn’t hire a steel supplier from
outside the region.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald yesterday
clarified he supports the death penalty, which aligns him with his
Republican opponent, incumbent John Kasich, on the issue. FitzGerald’s
remark comes after the debate over the death penalty re-ignited in Ohio following the execution of convicted killer and rapist
Dennis McGuire, who took 26 minutes to die after state officials used a
new cocktail of drugs never tried before in the United States. The Ohio
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction told CityBeat it’s reviewing McGuire’s death, as it does following every execution.Commentary: “Death Penalty Brings More Costs than Benefits.”After receiving support from family planning services and abortion
provider Planned Parenthood, Democrats running for Ohio’s executive
offices re-emphasized their support for abortion rights.Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune will announce
today whether he’ll challenge FitzGerald’s gubernatorial campaign in a
Democratic primary. (Update: Despite previously telling The Cincinnati Enquirer he already made up his mind, Portune canceled his announcement and said he has no final decision yet, according to Carl Weiser, politics editor at The Enquirer.)Hamilton County commissioners showed openness to keeping
some early voting downtown even if the county moves its Board of
Elections to a Mount Airy facility. Moving the board along
with the county’s crime lab would allow commissioners to consolidate
government services.Cincinnati’s economy should grow faster than previously expected, one economist says.Plan Cincinnati, the city’s master comprehensive plan, won a national planning award. CityBeat previously covered the master plan in further detail here.Ten major projects worth more than $1.4 billion are in the
planning stages or underway in Greater Cincinnati and Northern
Kentucky.Ohio meets voting standards set by President Barack
Obama’s bipartisan election commission, with the one exception of
online voter registration, according to Republican Secretary of State
Jon Husted.Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday announced the creation of a statewide taskforce to combat heroin abuse.Virtual reality could help people see what gender swaps would be like.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
City officials project 3,000 daily boardings
Riding the streetcar will cost $1.75 for two hours and $3.50 for 24 hours, according to a model unveiled Wednesday by Paul Grether, Metro’s rail manager.
The model also set streetcar operating hours at Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-midnight. Under the model, the streetcar should sustain 3,000 daily boardings, Grether said. But that estimate is very conservative and excludes special events, such as Reds and Bengals games, he cautioned. Grether presented the projections during a presentation at City Council’s Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee. Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick also released numbers that show the project remains on budget and time. But Deatrick warned council members of one potential hurdle: The originally contracted steel supplier took another job after City Council delayed the streetcar project for three weeks, which could force the city to delay construction of a maintenance facility for two months or hire a steel supplier outside the region. City officials also said they are looking at potential funding avenues for the next phase of the streetcar project, which would establish a rail line from Findlay Market up the Vine Street hill. The goal, they said, is to clear up any misconceptions about what the next phase of the project would cost.
The latest federal budget allocated $600 million in TIGER grants and $2 billion in Federal Transit Administration New/Small Starts grants that could go to a future phase of the streetcar project.
City Council would need to approve the next phase of the streetcar project before it could move forward.
City appears ready to pause streetcar project
3 Comments · Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City
Council appear ready to halt Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar
project on Dec. 4.
0 Comments · Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Major supporters of the streetcar project oppose the Oasis rail line and the broader Eastern Corridor project.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 04:25 PM | Permalink
Cranley promises to cancel streetcar project and shift city’s priorities
Mayor-elect John Cranley invited reporters to his home in Mt. Lookout on
Wednesday to discuss his plan and priorities for his first term as
mayor of Cincinnati.
Cranley claims the invitation to his house represents the
kind of accessible, transparent leadership he’ll take up when he begins
his term on Dec. 1.
Speaking on his immediate priorities, Cranley says he
already contacted the nine newly elected council members and intends to build
more collaboration with all sides of the aisle, which will include a mix
of five Democrats, two Republicans, one Charterite and one Independent
starting in December.
One of Cranley’s top priorities is to cancel the $133
million streetcar project, which Cranley and six newly elected council members
oppose. He also argues that the city should stop spending on ongoing
construction for the project.
“Seriously, look at who got elected yesterday. At some
point, this is a democracy. We shouldn’t be agitating voters like this,”
Cranley says. “Let’s not keep spending money when it looks like the
clear majority and the clear mandate of yesterday’s election was going
in a different direction.”
But in response to recent reports
that canceling the streetcar project could carry its own set of unknown
costs, he says he will weigh the costs and benefits before making a
final decision. If the cost of cancellation is too high, Cranley
acknowledges he would pull back his opposition to the project.
Canceling the streetcar project would also require an ordinance from City Council.
Mike Moroski, who on Tuesday lost in his bid for a council seat, already announced on Twitter
that he’s gathering petition signatures for a referendum to prevent the project’s cancellation. Cranley promises he won’t stop a referendum effort by
placing an emergency clause on an ordinance that cancels the project, but he expressed doubt that a referendum would succeed.
On the current city administration’s plan to lease the
city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port
Authority, Cranley says he will work with fellow lawyers David Mann and
Kevin Flynn, both of who won seats for council on Tuesday, to find a
way to cancel the deal.
But that could prove tricky with the lease agreement
already signed by the city and Port Authority, especially as the Port
works to sell bonds — perhaps before Cranley takes office — to finance
the deal and the $85 million payment the city will receive as a result.
Cranley also promises to make various development projects
his top priority, particularly the interchange for Interstate 71 and
Martin Luther King Drive. He says he will lobby White House officials to
re-appropriate nearly $45 million in federal grant money for the streetcar project to
the interchange project, even though the U.S. Department of
Transportation told the city in a June 19 letter that it would take back
nearly $41 million of its grant money if the streetcar project were
Cranley vows he will also work with local businesses to
leverage public and private dollars to spur investment in Cincinnati’s
neighborhoods — similar to what the city did with Over-the-Rhine and
downtown by working with 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development
“We want to have some big early wins,” Cranley says. “We
want to get moving within a year on the Wasson Way bike trail, see
significant progress at the old Swifton Commons and see Westwood Square
He adds, “And we intend to reverse the one-trash-can
policy, which I think is a horrible policy. … There have been several
stories about illegal dumping that have resulted from that.”
Cincinnati’s pension system and its $862-million-plus
unfunded liability also remain a top concern for city officials. Cranley
says he will tap Councilman Chris Smitherman to help bring costs in
line, but no specifics on a plan were given.