by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:27 PM | Permalink
Spanish company hired by city to design, build cars
The Cincinnati streetcar took another step forward on Monday when car builder CAF USA unveiled renderings for the $133 million project.
The city has hired CAF to supply five cars. The latest details
show the cars will have four doors on each side and be capable of
moving in both directions on a track. The cars are also completely
low-floor, which should make boarding, disembarking and moving around
the streetcar easier.
CAF, which is based in Spain, has supplied cars for a few
other U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, Houston and Sacramento, Calif.
John Deatrick, the streetcar project’s executive director, told CityBeat on Thursday that he’s been in regular contact with CAF USA since he joined the project in August.
Unlike most other streetcars around the world, the
Cincinnati cars are particularly tuned to handle sharp turns, according
to Deatrick. That’s because the city didn’t want to expand roads and
knock down buildings just to accommodate the transit network.
Deatrick says the true test for the cars will come once
they’re shipped and tested on a completed Over-the-Rhine loop in June
2015. The streetcar is set to open for use on Sept. 15, 2016.
Check out the renderings here.
by German Lopez
Conflicts of interest at JobsOhio, transportation projects approved, Ohio women fare poorly
CityBeat is participating in a City Council candidate forum on Oct. 5. Have any questions you would like to ask candidates? Submit them here.
State Auditor Dave Yost says he will investigate
the potential conflicts of interest found by the Ohio Ethics Commission
for nine of 22 top JobsOhio officials, including six of nine board
members. For critics, the conflicts of interest add more concerns about JobsOhio, the
privatized development agency that proposes tax breaks for businesses
and has been mired in controversy ever since it was set up by Gov. John
Kasich and Republicans to replace the Ohio Department of Development.
Because the agency is privatized and deals with private businesses, many
of its dealings are kept from the public under state law. Republicans
argue the secrecy is necessary to allow JobsOhio to more quickly
establish job-creating development deals, but Democrats say the secrecy
makes it too difficult to hold JobsOhio accountable.A state board approved nearly $3 billion in transportation projects
proposed by Kasich, including work on the MLK/I-75
Interchange in Cincinnati that city and state officials say will create
thousands of jobs in the region. The projects will require additional
state and local money to be fully funded over the next few years.
In comparison to men, Ohio women have lower incomes, hold
fewer leadership roles and disproportionately suffer from the state’s
high infant mortality rate. The issues placed Ohio at No. 30 out of 50 states for women’s issues
in a Sept. 25 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP). The report analyzed 36
indicators for women in the categories of economic security, leadership
and health; it then graded the states and ranked them based on the
grades. CAP, a left-leaning organization, is touting the report to
support progressive policies that could help lift women out of such
disparities, including the federally funded Medicaid expansion and an
increase to minimum wages.Commentary: “Ohio legislator worried a same-sex marriage case will turn the country socialist, make him cry.”
Mayoral candidate John Cranley, who’s running against fellow Democrat and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, says he doesn’t know if he can stop the parking plan if he’s elected.
Cranley explained it will only be possible if the Greater Cincinnati
Port Authority doesn’t set up contracts and sell bonds for the deal
before the election. Under the parking plan, the city is leasing its
parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then
hire various private operators to manage the assets. Qualls supports the
plan because it will raise money and resources to fund development
projects and modernize the city’s parking services, but Cranley argues
it cedes too much control over the city’s parking assets.
It turns out Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye won’t be removed
from Ohio’s education guidelines. State Board of Education
President Debe Terhar, a Cincinnati Republican, initially called the
book “pornographic” and demanded its removal from the state guidelines,
which led the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio to criticize Terhar and ask her to reconsider her comments.
With the latest delay, small businesses won’t be able to enroll online for Obamacare’s marketplaces until November. Until then, small businesses will
only be able to sign up by mail, fax or phone. The delay is the latest of a
few setbacks for Obamacare, but the rest of the federally run online marketplaces will still launch on Oct. 1 as planned. CityBeat covered statewide efforts to promote and obstruct the marketplaces in further detail here.Gov. Kasich is donating to charity more than $22,000 that he received in campaign contributions from an indicted man.
The city has begun work on a retail corridor that will start on Fourth Street and run north through Race Street. The corridor will take years to complete, but city officials say it will be different than previous failed plans.
The number of passengers whose trips originate at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has increased for six straight months, according to airport officials.
Data-analysis company Dunnhumby is looking to invest in Cincinnati startups.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center landed federal money to test vaccines. The contract could prove the largest the hospital has ever obtained, according to The Business Courier.
Police in the Netherlands use trained rats to catch criminals.
by German Lopez
Seelbach helps gunshot victim, Pure Romance to stay in Ohio, Council denies car allowances
Councilman Chris Seelbach last night helped a gunshot victim
before the man was taken to the hospital. Seelbach
posted on Facebook that he was watching The Voice with his partner,
Craig Schultz, when they heard gun shots. They went to their
window and saw a man walking across Melindy Alley. When Seelbach asked
what happened, the man replied, “I was shot.” Seelbach then ran down and
held his hand on the wound for 10 to 15 minutes before emergency
services showed up. “We have a lot of work to do Cincinnati,” Seelbach
wrote on Facebook. Police told The Cincinnati Enquirer the victim seemed to be chosen at random.Pure Romance yesterday announced it will remain in Ohio
and move to downtown Cincinnati despite a decision from Gov. John
Kasich’s administration not grant tax credits to the $100 million-plus
company, which hosts private adult parties and sells sex toys, lotions
and other “relationship enhancement” products. The reason for Pure Romance’s decision: The city,
which was pushing for Pure Romance despite the state’s refusal, upped its tax break offer
from $353,204 over six years to $698,884 over 10
years. Kasich previously justified his administration’s refusal with
claims that Pure Romance just didn’t fall into an industry that Ohio
normally supports, such as logistics and energy. But Democrats argue the
tax credits were only denied because of a prudish, conservative
perspective toward Pure Romance’s product lineup.
City Council yesterday unanimously rejected
restoring car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the
city government’s top earners, including the mayor, city manager and
council members. Councilman Seelbach said he hopes the refusal
sends “a signal to the administration that this Council is not
interested in making the wealthy more wealthy or giving more executive
perks to people who already make hundred-plus thousands of dollars.” The
restorations were part of $6.7 million in budget restorations proposed
by City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city administration previously
argued the car allowances were necessary to maintain promises to hired city directors and keep the city competitive in terms of recruitment, but
council members called the restorations out of touch.
The Cincinnati area’s jobless rate dropped from 6.9 percent in August 2012 to 6.7 percent in August this year as the economy added 11,500 jobs, more than the 3,000 required to keep up with annual population growth.
The former chief financial officer for local bus service Metro is receiving a $50,000 settlement
from the agency after accusing her ex-employer of retaliating against her
for raising concerns about issues including unethical behavior and
theft. Metro says it’s not admitting to breaking the law and settled to
Ohio House Democrats say state Republicans denied access to an empty hearing room
for an announcement of legislation that would undo recently passed
anti-abortion restrictions. But a spokesperson for the House Republican
caucus said the speaker of the House did try to accommodate the
announcement and called accusations of malicious intent “absurd.” The
accusations come just one week after the state’s public broadcasting group pulled cameras from an internal meeting
about abortion, supposedly because the hearing violated the rules. The legislation announced by Democrats yesterday undoes
regulations and funding changes passed in the state budget
that restrict abortion and defund family planning clinics, but the
Democratic bill has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled
Ohioans will be able to pick from an average of 46 plans
when new health insurance marketplaces launch on Oct. 1 under
Obamacare, and the competition will push prices down, according to a new
report. CityBeat covered Obamacare’s marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here.
Ohio lawmakers intend to pursue another ban on Internet cafes
that would be insusceptible to referendum, even as petitioners gather signatures to get the original ban on the November 2014
ballot. State officials argue the ban is necessary because Internet
cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on computer terminals, are
hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet cafe owners say what
they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get something of
value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their money.
Ohio tea party groups can’t find candidates to challenge Republican incumbents.
The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed the first openly gay U.S. appeals court judge.
The Cincinnati area is among the top 20 places for surgeons, according to consumer finance website ValuePenguin.
A graphic that’s gone viral calls Ohio the “nerdiest state.”
Insects apparently have personalities, and some love to explore.
by German Lopez
Streetcar on track, initiative to redevelop homes, Pure Romance touted in tax credit debate
The streetcar project is on track for its Sept. 15, 2016 opening date, according to a monthly progress report
released by the city yesterday. Through Aug. 31, the city spent $22.1
million on the project, including nearly $2 million in federal funding.
In total, the project is estimated to cost $133 million, and about $45
million will come from the federal government. CityBeat covered the project and political misrepresentations surrounding it in further detail here.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and community partners yesterday unveiled the “Come Home Cincinnati” initiative,
which promises to make vacant properties available to new occupants in
an effort to increase homeownership and redevelop neighborhoods hit
hardest by vacancy and abandonment. The initiative will work through the
Hamilton County Land Bank, private lenders and community development
corporations to connect potential homeowners with a pool of loan
guarantees, which would pay for the home loans if a borrower defaulted.
Qualls’ office says the plan will likely require tapping into the city’s
Focus 52 fund, which finances neighborhood projects. If City Council
passes the motion supporting the initiative, the city administration
will have 60 days to come up with a budgeted plan, which Council will also have to
approve.A Democratic state legislator used Pure Romance’s troubles to criticize Ohio’s process for granting tax credits. State Rep. Chris Redfern, who sits on the legislature’s Controlling Board, repeatedly brought up Pure Romance when discussing tax credits for three companies supported by Gov. John Kasich’s administration. Redfern ultimately didn’t vote against the tax credits, but he only backed down after getting state officials to say the three companies were meeting all of the state’s priorities. Pure Romance originally planned to move its headquarters and 60 jobs from Loveland to downtown Cincinnati and create 60 jobs in the process. But since the company was denied state tax credits, it’s openly discussed moving to Kentucky to take up a better tax offer. The Kasich administration says it denied the tax credits because Pure Romance isn’t part of a targeted industry, but Democrats argue the administration is killing jobs in Ohio just because of prudish feelings toward Pure Romance’s product lineup, which includes sex toys.
Cincinnati will be honored by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) later today for connecting residents to
renewable energy sources, according to a press release from the city.
Some environmental groups have already praised Cincinnati for championing
solar energy in particular, as CityBeat covered here.
At a City Council forum last night, residents demanded walkable, livable neighborhoods that include grocery stores.Internet cafes need more than 71,000 signatures to get on the November 2014 ballot.
The cafes are attempting to overturn a state law that effectively
forces them out of business. State officials argue the law is necessary because Internet cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on
computer terminals, are hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet
cafes say what they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get
something of value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their
The Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) marketplaces will go live in one week, regardless of whether the federal government shuts down. The marketplaces will allow users to enroll in insurance plans with tax subsidies from the federal government. CityBeat covered the marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here.
A Democratic state legislator is pushing new requirements that would force lobbyists to disclose their annual salaries.
I-75 lanes are temporarily closing for improvements.
Step one to stopping malicious hackers: Learn their ways.
by German Lopez
Plan addresses blight and abandonment in eight Cincinnati neighborhoods
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and community partners on Monday unveiled the “Come Home Cincinnati” initiative, which promises to make vacant properties available to new occupants in an effort to increase homeownership and redevelop neighborhoods hit hardest by vacancy and abandonment.The goal is to establish a residential base that will help jumpstart private redevelopment and revitalize largely abandoned areas of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. “Just about a year ago, we were in Evanston to talk about their housing strategy for the Woodburn Avenue corridor and what to do about the 200 vacant and abandoned properties in the community,” Qualls said in a statement. “The next logical step on the path to revitalization is to incentivize private market investment in the residential core of our neighborhoods and help to fill the once-abandoned homes with new owner-occupants.” The initiative will work through the Hamilton County Land Bank, private lenders and community development corporations to connect potential homeowners with a pool of loan guarantees. Qualls’ office says the plan will likely require tapping into the city’s Focus 52 fund, which finances neighborhood projects. The Port Authority estimates the loan guarantee pool will be $2.5 million to $4.5 million and other aspects of the initiative will cost $3.3 million, but not all of the funding will come from the city. To qualify for the program, owner-occupants will have to meet minimum credit requirements, agree to live in the rehabilitated home for five years and pay for 5 percent of the total rehabilitation and acquisition costs as a down payment. After five years, the loan will be refinanced at the same or better interest rates to relinquish the city and its partners’ loan guarantee.The city is eyeing a few potential partners for the initiative, including the Cincinnati Development Fund, Cincinnati Preservation Association, the University of Cincinnati Urban Design Center and neighborhood-specific groups.The initiative will start with 100 homes in the pilot neighborhoods of Evanston and Walnut Hills, but it will expand to Avondale, College Hill, Madisonville, Northside, Price Hill and South Cumminsville as resources grow. It will work in conjunction with the Moving Ohio Forward demolition grant program, which allows the city and Hamilton County Land Bank to tear down blighted and vacant buildings.At the same time, three of the neighborhoods — College Hill, Madisonville and Walnut Hills — are currently trying out form-based code, a special kind of zoning code championed by Qualls that allows developers to more easily pursue projects as long as they stay within a neighborhood’s established goals.City Council will now need to approve a motion that gives the city administration 60 days to develop a plan and budget for the initiative. The city administration’s proposal will also require City Council approval.
by German Lopez
Mayoral primary today, groups to push same-sex marriage, JobsOhio likely to remain
Today is the mayoral primary election between Democrat Roxanne Qualls, Democrat John Cranley, Libertarian Jim Berns and Independent Sandra “Queen” Noble. Qualls and Cranley are widely seen as the frontrunners. The big difference between the two candidates: Qualls supports and Cranley opposes the streetcar project and parking lease. Polls will be open
until 7:30 p.m. tonight. To find out more information and where to vote,
visit the Hamilton County Board of Elections website here.
LGBT groups, civil libertarians and legislators came together in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus
yesterday to announce Why Marriage Matters Ohio, a new statewide effort
to educate and persuade Ohioans to support legalizing same-sex
marriage. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, Equality Ohio,
Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign are all involved. The
efforts have also been endorsed by faith and business community leaders,
according to the groups. The groups say the campaign is partly in
response to public polling. The 2013 Ohio Values Survey from the Public Religion Research Institute
found Ohioans evenly divided on same-sex marriage: 47 percent supported
it and 47 opposed it. But the survey went against earlier polls from The Washington Post and Quinnipiac University, which found a plurality of Ohioans now support same-sex marriage.
If he’s elected governor, Democrat Ed FitzGerald says he would make changes to JobsOhio
to make it more transparent and open to a public audit, but he says he wouldn’t dismantle the privatized development agency altogether.
FitzGerald acknowledges he would prefer a public agency to land the
state’s development deals, but he says it’s unrealistic to expect the
Republican-controlled General Assembly to repeal JobsOhio. The agency
was established by Gov. John Kasich and fellow Republicans in 2011 to
replace the Ohio Department of Development. Democrats have criticized
JobsOhio for a lack of transparency that has mired it in several
scandals and potential conflicts of interest lately, while Republicans
insist the agency’s privatized, secretive nature help it establish
job-creating development deals more quickly.
In a letter to the city manager, Councilman P.G.
Sittenfeld is calling on the city to host town hall meetings with the four final candidates for Cincinnati Police chief. Sittenfeld says the meetings would help assess how the next police chief responds to
the community and takes feedback. City Manager Milton Dohoney announced
on Sept. 5 that city officials had narrowed down its pool of candidates to four:
acting Chief Paul Humphries; Jeffrey Blackwell, deputy chief of the
Columbus, Ohio, Police Department; Michael Dvorak, deputy chief of the
Mesa, Ariz., Police Department; and Jerry Speziale, deputy
superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.
Hamilton County commissioners are likely to keep property taxes higher
to pay for the stadium fund, which is running in the positive for the
next five years after years of shortfalls. Last year, commissioners agreed to reduce the property tax rollback
by half, effectively raising property taxes by $35 for every $100,000
in a home’s value. With yesterday’s news, it’s looking like the property
tax hike will remain permanent. Even without the full rollback in
place, the stadium fund is expected to start producing shortfalls again
in 2019. The rollback disproportionately benefits the wealthy, who end
up getting much more money back than low- and middle-income residents.
Meanwhile, county commissioners might take up an insurance policy with PNC Bank to meet debt obligations on the stadium fund
for the next three years. Commissioner Greg Hartmann says the plan
would give the county enough time to refinance, which could help reduce
the fund’s problems.
City Council committees moved forward with two major pieces of legislation yesterday:
• Qualls’ plan would enforce stricter regulations on the city’s lobbyists and expand disclosure requirements for city officials to make the political process more transparent.• Councilman Chris Seelbach’s proposal would help address cellphone theft by making it more difficult to sell the stolen devices.
As it stands, the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund needs more money to stay solvent. Still, officials say the fund needs time for newly implemented changes to start making an impact.
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino now stands as the top earner among Ohio casinos, according to the latest state data.
New hybrid engines could lead to a new era of more affordable spaceplanes.
by German Lopez
Parking meter enforcement will go up, but Port says it's not for revenue
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority today acknowledged that it will increase enforcement when it takes over Cincinnati's parking meters, but the agency says its goal is to encourage people to pay up, not raise revenues that will make the parking lease more profitable for the Port Authority and the private operators it's hiring.In a much-awaited presentation, the quasi-public development agency rolled out board members and statistics to explain why the city should lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port, which will hire various private companies to operate the assets.Much of the controversy surrounding the lease has focused on enforcement, which critics argue will be ratcheted up under the deal. Port officials clarified that the deal will involve more enforcement officers and more aggressive tactics, but Laura Brunner, CEO of the Port, claimed there will be limits. For example, parking meters won't have built-in connectivity that allows officers to immediately detect when a meter is going unpaid, which means enforcers will have to make regular rounds and checks, just as they do today, before issuing a ticket.Lynn Marmer, a Port board member and vice chairwoman of Kroger, said increased enforcement is necessary because most people currently don't pay for the parking services they use. She blamed that on the city's dwindling enforcement for parking violations: The city handed out 65,000 tickets in 2012, down from 104,000 in 2008."I think it's unlikely we all got better at following the rules and paying fines," Marmer said.The Port doesn't expect enforcement to reach the levels of 2008 any time soon, but Brunner and others said that tickets will gradually rise once the Port Authority hands the parking meters over to private operators.One of those private operators is Xerox, which will manage Cincinnati's parking meters under the deal. The Port says it plans to establish a 10-year contract with Xerox, but the contracts will be reviewed quarterly to ensure the company is doing a good job. If not, the contract can be terminated.Port officials stated that Xerox will not get revenue based on stringent enforcement. Instead, the Port will regularly review Xerox based on a series of measurements that attempt to gauge how efficiently the company is running the city's parking meters.Port officials also reemphasized that parking meter enforcement hours in neighborhoods — meaning outside of downtown and Over-the-Rhine — will only last until 6 p.m., instead of 9 p.m. as originally called for in the plan. Downtown and Over-the-Rhine meters will still be extended to 9 p.m., although some areas on the edges of downtown, such as Broadway Street, are exempt and enforcement will only run through 6 p.m. in those places.The change for neighborhood meter hours will presumably lower how much Cincinnati gets from leasing its parking assets to the Port, but officials weren't ready to unveil exactly how much money the city will get. Previous city estimates put the lump sum at $92 million and annual installments at a minimum of $3 million, but that was before the Port's changes.Prepared statements show if the final lump sum falls under $85 million, the city manager will need to approve the changes before the Port can move forward with the deal.The decrease in hours also comes with a caveat: It will be possible for the city manager, Port and an independent board appointed by the Port and city manager to expand parking meter hours in the future. But such a change would require approval from all three governing bodies.Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who's running for mayor and opposes the parking lease, says the Port's presentation did nothing to address his concerns. Claiming that "the devil's in the details," Cranley pointed out that the Port still hasn't released the actual contracts or bond documents.Brunner said the documents should be released within a month, and the Port plans to give the public two weeks to review the details between the documents' release and the Port's final vote.Cranley argued that might not be enough time. He told CityBeat that the city "almost gave away" free Sunday and holiday parking under its original lease agreement. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld's office had to catch the error and refer it to the city administration before it was corrected.The Port's presentation was meant to wrap up the agency's due diligence of the parking lease as it approaches a Sept. 4 deadline. Going into the presentation, Marmer explained, "Frankly, we were more skeptical (of the parking lease) than neutral."Emails previously acquired by CityBeat back Marmer's skepticism. Writing to other Port officials in June, Marmer expressed concerns that the parking lease has been poorly handled and will snare the Port with controversy. "This whole parking issue has been a gigantic distraction from our core mission," she claimed.Supporters of the parking lease argue it's necessary to leverage Cincinnati's parking assets to pay for development projects that will grow the city's tax base. Opponents argue it will take too much control out of the city's hands, cause parking rates and enforcement to skyrocket and hurt businesses and residents.The parking lease has been engulfed in political controversy ever since it was announced in October. Most recently, the city administration was criticized for failing to disclose an independent consultant's memo that found the city was getting a bad deal from the lease. City officials argue the memo was outdated, so they didn't feel the need to release its details. With its due diligence nearly finished, the Port will now finalize contracts, update the financial model for the lease and vote on the bonds and contracts that will complete the deal. If all goes as planned, the Port's new system will be in place by April next year.This story was updated to clarify some wording and what parking meters will be enforced until 9 p.m.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 14, 2013
The city of Cincinnati is suspending its relationship with SoMoLend, the local startup that the city partnered with in December to connect small businesses and startups with up to $400,000 in loans.