by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 10:07 AM | Permalink
New streetcar funding plan; Red Bike launches Monday; to sag, or not to sag?
Good morning Cincy! Here’s what’s going on around the city and other, less cool places in the world.There’s a new proposal to help fund operating costs for Cincinnati’s streetcar. The Haile Foundation, which has pledged donations to help cover some of the project’s funding gap, has suggested that a special improvement tax district covering downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton could help cover the streetcar’s $3 million operating shortfall. Downtown already has a similar district, which raises about $2.5 million. That district would expire if property owners in all three districts approve the new plan, which is expected to raise about $5 million a year. About half that money would be used for the streetcar. It’s unclear at this point how much that would raise the cost of owning property in the districts, but Haile VP Eric Avner says the increase wouldn’t be large or burdensome. Some nonprofits in the neighborhoods have questions about how the plan would affect their operating costs but have not said they oppose the measure.• Starting Monday, you’ll be able to borrow a bike from one of 30 bike racks around the city, ride around uptown, downtown, and Over-the-Rhine, and then drop the bike off at any other rack and be on your way. Red Bike, the nonprofit running the bike share, has announced that the cost for borrowing a bike will be $8 a day or $80 for a yearly membership. Each ride is limited to 60 minutes, but riders can check their bike in and start over with another as many times as they like. The bike share is intended to provide commuters and visitors with a quick, easy and environmentally friendly alternative to driving around the city’s core and uptown neighborhoods. Earlier this summer, Cincinnati City Council approved a proposal by Mayor John Cranley providing $1 million in start up funds for the project. • The University of Cincinnati has more students enrolled for the fall semester than it has ever had before, the school says. Total enrollment at all UC campuses is 43,691 students. That includes a record 6,651 freshmen. The university says it has also increased the diversity of its student body. U.S. News and World Report ranks UC 129th among U.S. universities, a six-spot increase from last year.• Testimony began today in the case against Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter. As we’ve talked about before here at the morning news, this is a complicated and highly contentious court battle. Hunter faces nine felony charges, including forging records and improper use of a court credit card. She claims the charges are false and that she’s the victim of politics. But there are a number of subplots beyond that basic argument — the trial looks to be one for the ages and is worth following. • Ohio’s beer industry is providing more state residents with jobs, according to a report released by the industry group the Beer Institute. The institute, which sounds like a fabulous place to work, ranks Ohio sixth in the nation for brewing jobs. Breweries employ about 83,000 people across the state, the study says, and puts about $10 billion into the state’s economy. Christian Moerlein here in Cincinnati has been a part of that great news. The company employs about 325 people in the city and says it’s looking to hire more. “We were the original brewing city outside of Germany," said Mike Wayne, general manager of Moerlein’s brewery in OTR. "We were the best once, we can be the best again."I’ll toast to that.• Here’s a pretty interesting article about the always-controversial intersection of fashion and politics. It seems a number of places around the country have taken to instituting laws against wearing your pants too low on your hips, which inspired NPR to take a long historical odyssey into the roots of that trend and the ramifications of legislating fashion. Warning: This article contains the phrase “the murky genesis of saggy pants,” which is maybe the best/worst subhead I’ve ever seen in a news article.• Thirteen years ago today, the U.S. experienced one of the most terrifying events in its history when hijackers flew airliners into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. A number of memorial services, moments of silence and other events have been taking place across the country. Meanwhile, the U.S. is still wrestling with how to navigate the post-9-11 world, as evidenced by the recent struggle to respond to newly powerful terrorist groups like ISIS.• Finally, I would be remiss in my job of telling you what you need to know for the day if I didn’t link you to this epic high school yearbook photo a Schenectady, New York student is fighting to use as his senior picture. It’s incredible.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 09:53 AM | Permalink
Lawsuit says school racially discriminated; Cranley says streetcar may run part time; Germany is so over Uber
Whoa. We're already halfway through the week. That's awesome. Here's your news today as we sail toward the weekend.The parents of four Colerain High School students filed a $25 million lawsuit yesterday against the school and the Colerain Township Police Department alleging racial discrimination violating the students’ constitutional rights.The lawsuit claims that the students were held in a room guarded by armed officers for six hours and interrogated April 10 after school officials said threats about a school shooting were found online. The four were later expelled. Officials say they found evidence on social media that the teens had gang affiliations. These accusations stem mostly from the fact the students were making “street signs,” in a rap video, administrators say, or “hand gestures associated with hip-hop culture” as their attorneys called the gestures. Hm. Neither of those sound racial at all.The students involved in the lawsuit, who are black, say white students at the school who engaged in similar conduct were not expelled. School officials deny any racial discrimination in discipline, though the school’s disciplinary records show that black students receive a higher number of expulsions than white students at the school, despite making up a smaller proportion of the student body.• Mayor John Cranley has suggested that maybe the streetcar will just run part time if voters, property owners along its route, or council members don’t find some way to pay for a projected $3.8 million shortfall in operating funds. Last week Cranley told 700 WLW’s Bill Cunningham, who is not really known to host reasonable conversations about public transit, that running the streetcar on reduced hours or select days, say when the Bengals or Reds play, could be an outcome of a funding shortfall. Supporters say the money shouldn’t be hard to find, and that there are a number of options available. They also say that Cranley and other critics aren’t taking into account the expected upswing in economic activity the streetcar will bring. Cranley said he was looking to property owners in OTR to get behind a special taxing district or $300-$400 residential parking permits that could make up some of that money. The thing is, the federal grant application the city filed to get the funds to build the streetcar stipulates that it will run seven days a week. Currently, the streetcar is slated to run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and until 2 a.m. on weekends. Cranley has said there is nothing stipulating how frequently it must run, however. “Remember there is no obligation that we have to run it on a certain level of frequency," Cranley said in the interview. "So if it doesn't end up having a lot of ridership we can reduce the rides on it.”• Work will begin in the next couple weeks to gut the former SCPA building on Sycamore Street in Pendleton to turn it into 142 market-rate luxury apartments under the name Alumni Lofts. Core Redevelopment, the Indianapolis-based developer leading the project, recently contracted the interior demolition out to Erlanger, Ky., company Environmental Demolition Group. There will be some special challenges in redeveloping the former school including two pools on the fifth floor that will have to be removed without damaging the building’s walls and floors. The redevelopment is a part of big ongoing changes in Pendleton, which also include the construction of single-family homes in the neighborhood and other renovation projects for apartment buildings.• Another big apartment project in a historic building is beginning to take shape in nearby Walnut Hills. Evanston-based Neyer Properties has purchased the historic 1920s-era former Baldwin Piano Company building on Gilbert Avenue for $17 million. Neyer has indicated it is looking to turn the building, which is currently office space, into 170-190 loft-style apartments. • A suburban Detroit man who shot a woman on his front porch seeking help after a car accident was sentenced today to a minimum of 17 years in prison. Theodore Wafer of Dearborn Heights shot and killed Renisha McBride Nov. 2, 2013 as she stood on Wafer’s front porch. She had been banging on Wafer’s front door, seeking help after she hit a parked car and sustaining injuries hours earlier. Wafer, whose car had been vandalized a few weeks prior, said he thought his home was being invaded. He grabbed a shotgun and fired through his screen door, killing McBride. He called 911 afterward. Wafer stood trial and was found guilty of second-degree murder in August for the shooting. He claimed the shooting was self-defense.• Finally, app-based rideshare company Uber has caused some controversy here in Cincinnati and across the country. Critics say the company skirts rules and regulations that cab companies usually have to follow. But the flak Uber has gotten here is nothing compared to Germany, where a court in Frankfurt just issued a temporary ban on the service that could hobble the company’s ability to operate across that country. The ban comes after a lawsuit by taxi companies alleging that Uber doesn’t have the necessary insurance and permits to operate in Germany.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 09:41 AM | Permalink
Museum Center board backs revised icon tax, streetcar money wrangling goes on and Obama's D.C. fashion faux-pas
There is so much happening today and I'm going to tell you about all most of it.
The board of the Cincinnati Museum Center yesterday voted to support
county commissioners’ plan to fund renovations of historic Union Terminal, which houses the museum. Officials for the Museum Center originally
criticized the plan, which replaced an earlier proposal that included Music
Hall, because it seemed to put some funding sources for renovations to both
Union Terminal and Music Hall in jeopardy. Republican Commissioners Chris
Monzel and Greg Hartmann voted to put the new plan on the November ballot despite
these concerns. Now officials with the Museum Center say their concerns have
been addressed and they’re comfortable putting their support behind the new,
Union Terminal-only deal, which will raise about $170 million through a .25
percent sales tax increase. The renovation project is expected to cost about
$208 million. The gap will need to be covered by private donations and possible
historic tax credits.
• Speaking of lots of money (seems like we’re always talking
about lots of money around here, but hey, cities are expensive) the streetcar
battle continues as the city searches for funds to pay operating costs. Right
now, the city needs to account for a slightly less than $4 million a year to
run the streetcar plus another $1 million in startup funds, which will need to
be raised by next July. Supporters on city council say this shouldn’t be a
problem and that multiple options exist for ways to raise the funds, including
sponsorships and advertising, selling gift cards for rides on the streetcar,
different property tax districts, possible grants and private donations. But
opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley, are more doom and
gloom, saying that the shortfall is just the kind of scenario they had in mind
when they spoke out against the streetcar. Either way, the city is committed at
this point. It agreed to run the streetcar for 25 years when it accepted millions
in federal grant money for its construction. Is there a really large couch
somewhere in the city with lots of change under the cushions? I’d start there.
• Ah, the early days of presidential campaigns, when the
candidates are about as committal as those tentative, nascent romances you had
your freshman year of college. Sen. Rob Portman has officially decided
he wants to think about the possibility he might run for president in 2016 and
is considering setting up an exploratory committee so he can raise and spend
money should he decide he wants to try for the big gig. That’s basically the
campaign equivalent of texting someone, “hey, ‘sup?” The presidency has yet to
text him back, but I’ll keep you updated. Portman has been also non-committal in his statements, saying he’ll think about a run for the White House
if no other Republican candidates seem capable of winning but that right now
he’s just working on his Senate campaign. He’s raised $5 million toward
that end, money he could shift that over toward a national campaign.
• California lawmakers have passed a law requiring its
colleges to adopt the most precise standards yet for what constitutes sexual
consent as part of a drive to curb the sexual assault crisis sweeping college
campuses. The so-called "yes means yes" bill is controversial, which is kind of mind-boggling since its
provisions sound like common sense when you read them.
The prospective law says that consent is "an
affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual
activity" and that lack of struggle, silence or the use of drugs or
alcohol do not invalidate claims of sexual abuse. Opponents say the bill is an overreach and
too politically correct and that it could open up universities to lawsuits.
California Gov. Jerry Brown must still sign the bill into law, and has until
September to do so.
• A while back we talked about New York City’s mixed-income
developments and so-called “poor doors,” or separate entrances the buildings’
low-income residents must use. The battle over those doors rages on, and the
New York Times has an in-depth look at the fight. As large-scale public housing
goes the way of the dodo across the country and affordable housing becomes more
a private enterprise, it’s a debate worth check out.
• So. There are a lot of important things going on in the
world. We’re struggling with how to handle ISIL, a militant, fundamentalist insurgent group in Iraq,
and the UK just raised its terror alert level due to threats from the group.
Russia continues to dance all over the Ukraine. Our economy is struggling to
support America’s middle class. Racial tensions in the U.S. continue to simmer
and our police forces are becoming more militarized. But the most breathtaking
news of all happened yesterday, when President Barack Obama wore a tan suit.
TAN. In what only further proves that journalists on Twitter are the absolute
worst people on the planet, that little bit of ephemera went viral as
every reporter ostensibly paid to inform you about a news conference discussing some of the aforementioned
important events flipped their wig about Obama’s new fashion statement. The
suit was completely unremarkable– a little too baggy, a little too
buff-colored, maybe, but come on now. The response to Obama's suit even spawned an article
about the response, because that’s journalism now. Someone got paid to write that article about journalists' response to Obama's suit, and now I’m writing about
the article about the response. Sigh.
• In other important national news, forget those cases of beer
that have like, 30 beers in them. Reuters reports that a small brewery has invented the 99-pack of
beer. Alas, it’s only available in Texas, where gas station beer caves are the
size of airplane hangers and the average Super Bowl party attracts 500
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 10:21 AM | Permalink
3CDC calls for development proposals, Ark park draws controversy and Kasich declines food stamp work waivers for most Ohio counties
Heya. It's news time.Got a few hundred thousand dollars sitting around? Want to be part of the gentrification renaissance in Over-the-Rhine? Step up and make your pitch to 3CDC! The development corporation has announced it will open up the 33 city-owned properties for which it is the preferred developer to other developers who want to get in on the action in OTR. 3CDC will then make recommendations to the city on which plans for the properties around Findlay Market get the green light, based on financial feasibility, timeliness of renovation, parking considerations and whether hotdogs, tacos and pizza served at your proposed upscale but casual eatery are artisanal enough. Proponents of the process say it’s far more open than 3CDC’s development strategies thus far, while opponents of the development group’s preferred developer status say 3CDC still has too much power calling the shots in the neighborhood. • As the streetcar gets closer to a reality in downtown and OTR, Northern Kentucky is now looking at how it can get on board. City leaders in Newport and Covington are talking about ways those cities can link up with Cincinnati’s streetcar. Covington Mayor Sherry Carran and Newport City Commissioner Beth Fennell have expressed support for the idea, saying the transit system could alleviate traffic problems and boost economic development there.• While we’re talking Northern Kentucky, let’s talk about the Noah’s Ark theme park, called The Ark Encounter, being built in Grant County. The project has come under fire from Americans for the Separation of Church and State, a national advocacy group, because it has applied for tax credits despite possibly discriminatory hiring practices. Americans for Separation of Church and State points out that the park’s parent organization, Answers in Genesis, requires job applicants to sign a “statement of faith” that pledges allegiance to the group’s Christian values, including opposition to homosexuality and a belief in the literal truth of the bible. Americans for Separation of Church and state says that amounts to discriminatory hiring and should make the Ark project ineligible for the $73 million in tax incentives the state has approved for the project. Officials with The Ark Encounter say the park’s employment policies have yet to be written and that they will comply with all state and federal laws. • Butler County Children Services employees have been on strike for the past week, fighting for a 3.5 percent pay increase each year for the next three years. The county is standing firm, however, and things have started getting acrimonious. The county claims union representatives for the Child Services workers have misrepresented work done by the county since the strike has happened by claiming that some 80 home visits have been missed in that time. Union officials deny any misrepresentation. They say they’ve been forced to strike by the county’s refusal to meet their demands and that work isn’t getting done. The county has hired a number of new personnel since the strike and say they’re handling the workload without the striking union members.• Gov. John Kasich signaled last week that he will again turn down job-requirement waivers for food aid in all but 17 counties in the state. Last year, the governor’s office allowed just 16 counties to get the waivers, which the federal government issues in high-unemployment areas to exempt those seeking food stamps from work requirements. Without the waiver, food aid recipients are limited to three months of benefits before they must find a job or enter a state-funded work program. But both jobs and spots in these work programs have been difficult to find, leading to criticism of Kasich’s decision to turn down the waiver in most of Ohio’s counties from groups like the Ohio Association of Foodbanks and liberal think tanks like Ohio Policy Matters. Advocacy groups have filed a federal civil rights claim seeking to overturn the state’s decision and extend the waiver to all 88 Ohio counties.• In national news, the funeral for Mike Brown, the 18-year-old shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, was held today. Brown’s family has asked protesters who have taken to the streets in the wake of his Aug. 9 shooting for a peaceful event. Ferguson has been on edge since the shooting, with everything from peaceful demonstrations to all-out rioting taking place. Civil rights attorney Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the parents of Florida shooting victim Trayvon Martin all attended the memorial.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 09:55 AM | Permalink
First anniversary of streetcar contracts, compost gone wild and shooting at helicopters
One year ago today, the city signed contracts to start construction on the streetcar. Fast forward 365 days, and the new transit loop through downtown and Over-the-Rhine is quickly taking shape. Roads are closed as major sections of track go in. Workers are constructing concrete slabs for the passenger stops. The cars themselves are being built. And the city recently named downtown-based Kolar Design to do branding work for the streetcar. The Business Courier has photos of the progress so far. Or you can just drive through Over-the-Rhine and see for yourself. Just don’t take Race Street if you’re hoping to get downtown — it's still closed at 12th Street.• We’ve all lived with roommates who don’t always take out their garbage. It’s gross. But I guess it could be worse. Like, tens of thousands of times worse. The city recently shut down a compost company called Cincy Compost in Winton Hills after two years of complaints from miles around about the ghastly smells emanating from what is effectively an 80,000 pound pile of rotting food, but things could get worse before they get better. The heap, which is piled two feet deep, needs to be cleaned up by the city now that the company is no longer in business. It seems the business didn’t get the correct balance of garbage for the compost process to work and was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of garbage it took in. It racked up 45 code violations while it was open. Now the city will have to spend $250,000 to kick-start the process and finish turning the garbage into soil. That involves stirring all that garbage around, basically, which is only going to make the smell worse in the short-term. Gross.• Community groups in the city will be holding a rally calling for an end to violence in the city at 7 p.m. in Piatt Park today. Last week, four people were shot, one fatally, in two separate but related incidents at the park. Cincinnati saw a surge in shootings early in the year, though that trend has slowed and the city may not see an increase over last year’s 75 murders. Forty-two people have been murdered in the city this year, many with guns. • One guy who will not be at that rally, I’d imagine, is this dude, who threatened to shoot down a University of Cincinnati Health Air Care helicopter yesterday. Angry that the helicopter was flying too low over his Green Township house, Leonard Pflanz is accused of driving to Mercy West Hospital and telling the helicopter’s pilot that he would shoot him if he did it again. Pflanz is appearing in court this morning over charges stemming from the threat.• General Motors may soon be in some big trouble with federal prosecutors, who are investigating whether the company made false statements about a defect in some of its cars that has killed at least 13 people. The defect relates to an ignition switch problem that has caused some GM cars to lose power while operating. The feds accuse GM of making misleading statements to the public about the defect, downplaying the dangers of the defective switches. The company has already been fined $35 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for dragging its feet in response to the problem. Some believe GM’s ultimate liability could end up being even more than the $1.2 billion Toyota was ordered to pay earlier this year over similar charges.• Finally, Smithsonian Magazine reports that skin cells may be able to detect odors and that some of these odors may aid the body in the healing process. Basically, this means the whole surface of your body is receptive to smells in one way or another. This is interesting, maybe even great news, unless of course you live near a failed composting facility or something.
by Nick Swartsell
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
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.