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.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 14, 2013
City Council met on Aug. 7 for the first
time since June and passed a slew of development deals and projects
spanning six Cincinnati neighborhoods.
by German Lopez
Council OKs development deals, racial disparity study advances, no MSD compromise yet
City Council met yesterday for the first time since June and passed various development deals
that span six Cincinnati neighborhoods. The deals include a 15-year tax
abatement for the second phase of The Banks, which will produce 305
apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space; several other
apartment projects; new Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, a
small business and startup incubator; the redevelopment of Emanuel
Community Center; and a new homeless shelter for women in Mt. Auburn. The deals are expected to lead to 575 new apartments around the
city, which could help meet the high demand for new residential space
City Council also approved a motion
that asks the city administration to begin preparations for a disparity
study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting
policies to favor minority- and women-owned businesses. The motion asks
the administration to either use part of the upfront money from
leasing the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater
Cincinnati Port Authority or find an alternative source of funding. The
study is required because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case, which
declared that governments must prove there’s racial or gender-based
disparity before changing policies to favor such groups. Since the city
disbanded its last minority- and women-owned business program in 1999,
contract participation rates have plummeted for minority-owned
businesses and remained relatively flat for women-owned businesses.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials still have not reached a compromise
on several local hiring and bidding policies for the Metropolitan Sewer
District (MSD), which is owned by the county but run by the city. A
moratorium on the controversial city policies expired on Aug. 1,
prompting county commissioners to block an upcoming MSD project in a
vote Wednesday. Councilman Chris Seelbach told WVXU that those working on a compromise just need a little more time, but he’s confident they’ll
be able to reach an agreement. City Council passed hiring and bidding
rules in May this year and June 2012 that require MSD contractors to
meet certain job training requirements that council members say will
lead to more local jobs, but county commissioners argue the standards
are too strenuous and favor unions. CityBeat covered the dispute in further detail here.
State Reps. Connie Pillich and Denise Driehaus of
Cincinnati will hold a press conference today asking Gov. John Kasich to
launch an ethics investigation into JobsOhio, the privatized
development agency. State Democrats have been particularly critical of JobsOhio
since a Dayton Daily News report
found six of nine JobsOhio board members have direct financial ties to
companies that have taken state aid from the development agency.
Republicans argue that JobsOhio’s secretive, privatized nature allows it
to expedite deals that bring businesses and jobs to the state, but
Democrats claim the set-up lacks transparency and fosters corruption.
Only one-third of Ohio school levies were approved in a special election Tuesday. Despite an increase in funding in the most recent two-year state budget, state funding to schools has been slashed since Gov. John Kasich took office.
The Charter Committee’s second round of endorsements for
this year’s City Council elections went to Democrats Greg Landsman and
David Mann and Republican Amy Murray. Previous endorsements went to Independents Kevin Flynn and Vanessa White and Democrat Yvette Simpson. The Charter Committee isn’t generally seen as a traditional political party, but it holds a lot of sway in local politics.
The Cincinnati Horseshoe Casino’s monthly revenue for July was higher than it was in June but lower than March. For local and state officials, the trend up is a welcome sign as they hope to tap into the casino for tax revenue.
Cincinnati-based Kroger and Macy’s are facing a boycott for opposing legislation in Texas that would make it easier for women to sue over wage discrimination.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is finding a niche with smaller airlines like Ultimate Air.
An app dubbed “lockout insurance” lets users scan keys then 3-D print them.
by German Lopez
Mayor Mark Mallory praises day's work as "huge day of progress for Cincinnati"
City Council met today for the first time since June and passed several development deals and projects spanning six Cincinnati neighborhoods.The approved deals include a 15-year tax abatement for the second phase
of The Banks, which will produce 305 apartments and 21,000 square feet
of retail space; several other apartment projects; new Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, a small
business and startup incubator; the redevelopment of Emanuel Community Center; and a new
homeless shelter for women in Mt. Auburn.The projects are expected to lead to 575 new apartments around the city. That could prove particularly timely for downtown Cincinnati, which is currently struggling to meet high demand from a growing market of aspiring property renters, leasers and buyers."Today is a huge day of progress for Cincinnati," Mayor Mark Mallory
said in the statement. "The momentum has been building in our city for a
while. And now, developers and businesses are lining up to do projects
in the city because they see all of the progress and they want to be a
part of it. This is the vision — our success is leading to more
success."Among the other items, Council passed a motion asking the city administration to look into a disparity study and a resolution condemning a ballot initiative that would change the city's pension program by pushing future public employees into a less generous 401K-style plan.Today's meeting was Council's only full session for July and August, which is why the agenda was so packed. That's irked some council members and critics, who argue Council should be in session for more of the summer."Council has no shortage of issues to consider and challenges to address — this should NOT be our only Council meeting of the summer," tweeted Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld during today's meeting.Council is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 11.