After a nearly four-hour meeting, Cincinnati's Historic Conservation Board adjourned this afternoon without voting on Columbia REI, LLC's application to tear down the historic Dennison building downtown at 716-718 Main St.
That application has caused controversy. Columbia, owned by the powerful Joseph family, says it would be too expensive to save the building and would like to build a headquarters for an as-yet unidentified Fortune 500 company on the site. But preservationists say the building, which was designed by the firm of noted architect Samuel Hannaford, is a vital part of downtown's urban fabric.
Representatives for Columbia and the Joseph family presented their case to five members of the seven-member board. The group called a number of experts they've hired while they've owned the building to give evidence they say shows the building can't be redeveloped in an economically feasible way due to its poor condition and structural attributes.
Most of the presentation restated the key points of this assertion in greater detail, but there was at least one new revelation: how the Cincinnati City Center Development Company, which purchased the building for $1.2 million and then sold it to Columbia for $740,000, recouped money on the deal. Representatives for the Joseph family say the group paid 3CDC further development costs after the initial sale, making up the missing money.
The meeting had its fair share of contention: Columbia's attorney Fran Barrett moved to have Cincinnati Urban Conservator Beth Johnson's testimony stricken from the proceedings. Barrett said that Johnson has shown "extreme prejudice and bias" and that the Josephs "have a stacked deck against us going in" to their demolition application.
Johnson last month wrote a report taking staunch issue with the Josephs' assertion that anything other than demolishing the building would present the company with an economic hardship, pointing out the building's sound structural condition and the fact that studies on the economic feasibility of redevelopment of the building didn't take into account historic state tax credits and other incentives.
Lance Brown, the executive vice president of Beck Consulting, which drew up the economic feasibility report, told the board that no normal type of use — apartments, condos, office space — was feasible for the Dennison. However, when pushed by the board, Brown admitted he wasn't specifically familiar with incentives like state Historic Preservation tax credits, LEED tax credits, or city grants and tax credits that could have made the project more feasible.
Multiple board members also took issue with Brown's use of the term "flophouse" to describe the Dennison's former life as a single room occupancy hotel. Brown cracked that he got his understanding of that term from "extensive research on Wikipedia and Google."
Board member Judith Spraul-Schmidt chided Brown for using the term, saying that such housing was designed to be "decent and safe."
The board will work with attorneys representing the Josephs and opponents of the demolition application to set the next hearing, at which those seeking to save the Dennison will make their case.
The plan would rehabilitate affordable housing at eight sites, many under contracts with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Currently, those sites house 302 units of housing, many of which city officials say are in substandard and neglected condition. The city money would go toward a $135 million effort by developers like Model Group and 3CDC to turn those sites into 304 units of high-quality affordable housing along with 212 market rate units at four of the sites.
Cranley, Vice Mayor David Mann, representatives from Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and developers Model Group and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation unveiled the proposal today at a news conference outside 1525 Race St., which would see 25 units of affordable housing developed by Model along with 85 market rate units.
“We’re very excited to be here today to celebrate affordable housing and a diverse community in Over-the-Rhine,” said Over-the-Rhine Community Executive Director Mary Burke Rivers. “At its core, affordable housing is a very simple math problem. People who are working in our city, or retired, or veterans, can’t afford what the market provides for housing. It’s gotten very complicated, but at its core it’s a simple math problem. This money addresses that math problem.”
The developments are designed to help the slide in affordable housing the neighborhood has seen in the past decade, Cranley says. Since 2000, 73 percent of OTR’s lowest-cost housing units have left the neighborhood, according to a study by Xavier’s Community Building Institute. That's caused some displacement of residents.
“We’ve seen here in Over-the-Rhine an extraordinary renaissance that was unthinkable five or 10 years ago,” Cranley said at the news conference. “But I think we all believe it should not come at the expense of the people who have lived here a long time. There has always been HUD contracts that have been extended for 15 or 30 years to preserve affordable housing. But it’s not enough, and we’d like to do more. We want to adjust to changing circumstances. We want a healthy community that is mixed income. I think this is a tremendous opportunity to do that.”
Cranley says the financing is general fund money coming from the city’s sale of the Blue Ash Airport and refinancing of some streetcar expenses.
Model Group CEO Bobby Maly says affordable housing and economic development can go hand and hand.
“Investing in affordable housing can also be investing in economic development and revitalization. That means investing in high-quality affordable housing alongside, adjacent to, high-quality market rate housing. It also means investing in affordable housing next to high-investment community projects. Things like Washington Park and other public investments.”
A focus on mixed-income development is the very deliberate focus of the proposal, Mann says.
“It’s no accident that we’re here,” Mann said about the site of the news announcement, a series of empty buildings on Race Street. “Next door, new, market rate condos are being built. As I understand from (3CDC CEO) Mr. (Steve) Leeper, they’ll be $300,000 and up. Here, because of the affordable housing money that the budget will commit to Over-the-Rhine, there will be about 25 renovated units of affordable housing.”
Mann cited statistics that 50 percent of renters in Cincinnati pay more than 30 percent of their incomes for apartments, the threshold for affordability set by the federal government.
“We hope there are ways that the $2 million can be leveraged,” Mann said, to create more opportunities for affordable housing creation. The other $2 million will be dispersed to developers doing low-income housing projects in other parts of the city through an as-yet-to-be-determined process.
The plan would, in some cases, move affordable units to other buildings and create market rate or mixed-income developments in their place.
As and example: Among the sites involved in the OTR plan are the Jan and Senate Apartments, six buildings containing 101 units of subsidized housing, and the so-called Mercy portfolio, which includes 140 units in 18 buildings in OTR for people making less than 60 percent of the area median income — about $71,000 for a family of four. About 70 of those units are in bad shape, developers say, while another 70 need only minor work.
Developers say the Jan and Senate properties are in danger of losing their rental subsidies due to their poor condition and have begun managing the sites and moving tenants to other, nearby affordable units with the help of the Cincinnati Legal Aid Society ahead of rehab work. The HUD contracts held by the Jan and Senate buildings would then be transferred to a number of other affordable housing sites, 3CDC and Model Group say in an outline of their plan provided by city officials. About 45 units of housing at 60 percent of the area median income will stay at the Jan and Senate as part of a mixed-income development.
NEWSkyline: It’s Skyline’s first year at Taste, which seems weird, right? They’ll be serving Greek salads, along with 3-ways, coneys and chilitos, for people who really enjoy the challenge of trying to walk and eat at the same time.
BEST OF TASTE WINNERS (people sampled, voted and these won)
Good morning, Cincy! A lot is happening around the city so let's get straight to the headlines.
• An off-duty Cincinnati police officer fatally shot a man suspected of robbing a Madisonville bank yesterday afternoon. CPD Chief Eliot Isaac confirmed that the still-unnamed CPD officer fired two shots at 20-year-old Terry Frost in the Fifth Third bank off Madison Avenue shortly after 4 p.m. Frost reportedly claimed to have a gun during the robbery, then, after being shot, stumbled off into the woods behind the bank where he was found dead by CPD officers. Police still haven't said whether Frost had a gun or any other weapon. CPD is planning on holding a press conference this morning to reveal the name of the officer. This is the third fatal shooting by a CPD officer this year.
• Mayor John Cranley says he is not OK with the cuts to human services funding in City Manager Harry Black's proposed budget released last week. Cranley told The Enquirer he wants to bring back 82 percent of the $413,500 Black has proposed cutting, amounting to an 8.5 percent decrease. Under Cranley's proposal, human services funding would account for 1.9 percent of the budget. Black's budget dedicates $4 million to five different agencies with the majority of funds going to nonprofit United Way.
• Mayor Cranley appears to be a busy man at the moment. The mayor will also hold a press conference with Vice Mayor David Mann this morning at 10:30 a.m. in Over-The-Rhine to unveil the details of a $135 million initiative to upgrade and add low-income housing to the neighborhood. The effort reportedly will be led by 3CDC and Walnut Hills nonprofit The Model Group.
• The city is taking Mahogany's owner Liz Rogers to court. Rogers received a $300,000 loan from the city in 2012 to open the soul food restaurant, which went under in September 2014. Taxpayers have forgiven Rogers for two-thirds of the loan, but she is refusing to repay the $96,928 she still owes the city. Rogers missed her $800 loan payments in March and April, and the city filed suit on May 11. Vice Mayor Mann said the city was left with "no choice." She is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 1.
• A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in Ohio in a highly restrictive form is on its way to Gov. John Kasich's desk. The legislation passed the Senate last evening with a margin of just three votes. The bill would still prohibit growing and smoking the plant, but would allow it in a vapor form and would be available for doctors to prescribe to patients with a list of approved medical conditions. The Ohio Department of Commerce would oversee the growth, distribution and testing of the plant. Some Democrats expressed disapproval at the provision that allows employers to fire employees who tested positive for the drug — even if they have a prescription. If Gov. Kasich signs the bill into law, Ohio will become the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana.
Good morning all. Here’s what’s going on in the world today.
The city of Cincinnati has officially announced an opening date for the city’s streetcar. The transit project running through Over-the-Rhine and downtown will take its first passengers Sept. 9, beginning with an opening ceremony at some point mid-day. The project, which has been fraught with political battles and funding concerns, is being financed with increased parking revenues, advertising proceeds and other sources that aren’t part of the city’s general fund budget.
• Mayor John Cranley yesterday rolled out more of his proposals for the city’s budget, which involve some $30 million for neighborhood projects. He spoke at a news conference in Avondale about projects he’d like to see funded in that neighborhood under his proposed fiscal plan, including a renewed Avondale Towne Center with a Save-A-Lot grocery store. Avondale has been trying to get a full-service grocery store since Aldi left the neighborhood about eight years ago. The city would chip in about $2 million to get development started under Cranley’s plan. The mayor did acknowledge that neighborhood activists had hoped for a higher-scale store such as a Kroger but that the Save-A-Lot will be expected to stock fresh produce and other necessities. Cranley yesterday also announced he would provide $3.2 million for a new community development corporation in Bond Hill and Roselawn.
• Cranley is set to pitch another round of investments today in the city’s East Side neighborhoods. He’s also expected to announce that the city will purchase the land necessary to build the Wasson Way bike trail. That $11.8 million, 4.1-mile stretch of former railway is vital to the completion of the trail, which would pass through a number of East Side neighborhoods on its way to Uptown. If the city doesn’t purchase the land by the end of July, the price will jump by nearly $600,000. It’s unclear where the construction money for the project will come from. The city applied for a federal TIGER grant last year to help fund building costs for the bike trail but was turned down.
• Wait. Hold on. Do I agree on something with U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, the tea party crusader from Northern Kentucky? It would… kind of appear so. Massie owes the GOP $24,000 in “party dues,” i.e. money from his fundraising coffers the party expects in order to stay in its good graces. Massie has criticized the practice, which is also used to determine who gets which committee assignment in the House. Particular assignments have particular dollar amounts assigned to them, and the more influential the committee, the more money a House member is expected to kick in. Massie is slamming this system, saying it means the best fundraisers, not the best lawmakers, get oversized influence in the legislative process. In what may be the only example of partisan agreement between a tea party member and the rest of Congress, some Democrats agree with him. I also think it sounds pretty messed up.
• What policies will law enforcement officers and departments have to follow regarding body cameras across Ohio?
Good morning all. Lots to talk about today so let’s get to it!
The 13 children of Samuel DuBose will each receive more than $200,000 as part of a settlement between the family and the University of Cincinnati, a Hamilton County judge ruled yesterday. DuBose was shot and killed by UC police officer Ray Tensing July 19 last year. In addition to the money for his children, DuBose’s mother Audrey DuBose will receive $90,000, his six siblings will receive $32,000 each and his father Sam Johnson will receive $25,000, Judge Ralph Winlker announced yesterday. The settlement, which also includes other elements such as college tuition for DuBose’s children, resolves a civil suit against the university. Criminal proceedings are ongoing against former officer Tensing, who is charged with murder and manslaughter. He’s scheduled to stand trial on those charges in October.
• Cincinnati City Council members are requesting the recently completed audit of the region’s Metropolitan Sewer District ahead of the city's budget process, but City Manager Harry Black says they shouldn't rush. The audit, which resulted from revelations that MSD spent millions on contracts it didn’t properly put through a bidding process, is still with the city’s lawyers in a working draft form, Black says. But with work on the city’s budget looming, council members like Kevin Flynn and Chris Seelbach say the time is now to reveal the results of the audit. Things got testy when Council pushed for more information from the audit at yesterday’s budget and finance committee meeting, with Black resisting requests for that information and Seelbach accusing the city manager of giving him an eye roll. Oh snap.
• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is at the White House today meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and state and local government officials as part of a discussion on gun violence. Sittenfeld made gun control a big part of his campaign when he was running for Senate against former Ohio governor Ted Strickland. Sittenfeld lost that race but has pledged to continue efforts to curtail shootings. He told WVXU he is there to learn more about strategies for curbing gun violence and that he doesn’t think the invite has anything to do with his former Senate campaign. President Barack Obama and VP Biden endorsed Strickland in that race.
• This is a weird article. Breaking news: The city has a lot of stairs. Some of them are crumbling. More breaking news: The city isn’t exactly rushing to pay to fix them. Thus concludes your breaking news update about something you probably already knew about. The steps are a big part of the city’s walking infrastructure (I take them every day). But they’ve been neglected since, well, probably since people started moving out of the city. The money it would take to fix them is also an infinitesimally small portion of the city’s budget at a time when Mayor John Cranley is discussing throwing $30 million to a few city neighborhoods.
• A federal judge has temporarily blocked an Ohio law that would strip $1.4 million in public money from Planned Parenthood in the state. That money goes to providing health screenings for low-income women, not to providing abortions. The temporary restraining order keeping Ohio from enforcing the law, which passed in February, comes as a larger court fight around the measure continues. You can read more about all of that in our story here.
• Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost yesterday announced the results of surprise headcounts at Ohio charter schools, saying at least some of the schools had very few or no students attending on the days of the unannounced visits. Yost said the extremely low attendance numbers at three charters in the state suggests they might be operating illegally as distance learning schools instead of the brick and mortar schools they’re certified to operate as. It’s the latest revelation in a bad stretch for the state’s charters, which have faced allegations of mismanagement and an Ohio Department of Education data rigging scandal that artificially inflated charter school performance by omitting some low-performing online schools. Yost visited 14 drop-out recovery schools around the state and found an average attendance of just 34 percent.
• The revelations, as well as other frustrations with the state’s public schools, had the auditor spitting hot fire at the ODE yesterday, calling it “among the worst, if not the worst-run agency in state government.” Yost cited poor charter school accountability and performance as well as a slow roll out for ODE’s new data management system as among the sources for his frustration with the agency.
• Finally, more presidential politics, because I know you need more of that in your life. Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump in Ohio, according to the latest polls asking voters about the upcoming general election. But it’s not the blowout you might expect. Clinton’s up 44 percent to Trump’s 39 percent in the Buckeye State — less than her primary opponent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who bests Trump 48 percent to 39 percent in the CBS/YouGov poll. Voters have a pretty negative opinion of both candidates, however — 55 percent view Clinton negatively and 59 percent feel the same about Trump.
That’s it for me. See you tomorrow. Tweet or email in the meantime.
Hey hey Cincinnati. Hope you got outside and soaked up the perfect weather this weekend. Now it’s back to the real world, where news happens.
The directors of every city of Cincinnati department received raises this past year, according to city records reported by The Cincinnati Enquirer. In total, those raises are costing city taxpayers $234,000 more a year. Some of the city’s 25 department heads got those pay bumps despite making few of their stated goals and receiving rather mixed performance reviews. Top salary getters include Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac, whose $162,000 paycheck is 20 percent more than his predecessor Chief Jeffrey Blackwell made. Fire Chief Richard Braun, who is now also making $162,000, saw his pay raised 16 percent. Those raises came during a time when the city projected as much as a $14 million budget deficit. That deficit was cut in half by more recent economic projections, but could still trigger cuts to the city’s human services and economic development efforts, among other services. The city manager’s recently released budget calls for a 1 percent raise for all city employees, and police and fire personnel are negotiating to get a 3 percent bump.
• Speaking of the budget, Mayor John Cranley is set to unveil his ideas for the city’s financial plan today at 11 a.m. at Westwood Town Hall, according to a news release from the mayor's office. On the agenda: $30 million for neighborhood projects in that neighborhood and in places like West Price Hill, North Avondale, Bond Hill and others. City Manager Black released his budget proposal Thursday, and Cranley has two weeks to submit his version to City Council. He’ll be presenting his version of the budget at town halls throughout the week.
• We haven’t even survived 2016 yet, but we’re already talking about the election after it. Last week, we told you about the increasing focus around Cincinnati’s 2017 mayoral and City Council races. Now, after revelations that Councilwoman Yvette Simpson sent out a memo to potential firms that could help her in a bid opposing fellow Dem Cranley, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Burke is asking party members to focus on this year’s election. Burke has said it’s too early to focus on next year just yet when there are big races at the county level — most notably a pitched fight for control of the Hamilton County Commission. State Rep. Denise Driehaus is running to grab a seat on that body, and if she pulls out a victory against Republican interim commissioner Dennis Deters, the three-member group that oversees the county could have a Democrat majority for the first time in years. But the call for unity from Burke comes as the party is experiencing tension between two factions in the city: younger, more progressive Dems who tended to support the streetcar and who push for items like increases in human services funding, and more established, moderate Democrats like Mayor Cranley.
• That battle continues to shape up: progressive 2013 City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham is launching her bid for a Council seat in the 2017 election tonight at Bromwell’s Harth-Lounge at 6 p.m. Dillingham came in 12th in that race and hopes to turn support for her from progressives into a Council seat this time around.
• A historic building in Covington will get at least a little more time safe from the wrecking ball. Kenton County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Summe told Bavarian Brewery owners Columbia Sussex that they can’t demolish the 100-year-old building. The structure, which sits in a historic district, once held Jillian’s nightclub. Columbia-Sussex originally wanted to put a casino on the property, but Kentucky legislators have yet to pass a law that would allow that to happen. Now, the company says the only way it can see a return on investment is by demolishing the building. Covington’s Urban Design Review Board previously denied a permit application for that demolition, and Judge Summe’s ruling affirms that position. Columbia-Sussex can appeal her decision, however.
• Finally, University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono made big news over the weekend with his admission that he suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts as a younger man. Ono made the revelation at a fundraiser Saturday for mental health-awareness group 1N5, whose name is a reference to research that shows one in five individuals in the United States suffers from mental illness. Ono said that by talking about his past struggles, he hoped to show that mental illness is treatable and nothing to be ashamed of.
Since last week’s Stage Door I’ve seen several productions that are definitely worth checking out.
Diogenes Theatre Company is presenting Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days at the Aronoff Center’s Fifth Third Bank Theater through Sunday. Don’t ask me to tell you what it’s about — it’s by Beckett, so it’s an absurdist piece that deals with existence, loneliness and happiness.
There are two characters: Winnie talks incessantly, while Willie barely speaks at all. They’re a couple, it seems, but they’re living minimal and seemingly diminishing lives, literally stuck in holes in a vast, arid landscape. Nevertheless, Winnie seems to remain relentlessly optimistic about the future, while Willie doesn’t have much to say but seems weary of it all. It’s one of those works (like Beckett’s Waiting for Godot) that can be interpreted in numerous ways, so I’ll leave that to you. But I will say that it’s a rare opportunity to see an impressive acting performance by Amy Warner, a professional who graced local stages for more than a decade. She now lives in Minnesota with her husband, former Playhouse Associate Artistic Director Michael Evan Haney, who staged this piece. In the show’s shorter second act, she is buried up to her neck — and still presents a compelling performance based almost solely on facial expressions. (Willie is played by Michael Sommers who teaches at the University of Minnesota.) This show won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a fascinating script that will keep you talking with anyone who joins you to a performance. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is presenting Antony & Cleopatra, the second installment in its staging of Shakespeare’s Roman plays. It uses many of the same actors in roles established in its recent staging of Julius Caesar (April 8-May 7), most particularly Nick Rose as the ebullient but besotted Roman general Marc Antony. Guest actress Chantal Jean-Pierre is Cleopatra, the object of his obsession. The role is an unusual one for Shakespeare — the Egyptian queen is strong-willed, impulsive and downright willful. Jean-Pierre’s performance put me in mind of Beyoncé, strong and sassy performer who knows how to manipulate her audience. I can’t say her performance struck me as historically accurate, but it has an emotional essence that distills her power over the aging warrior. It’s not the chemistry I expected, but she’s intriguing to watch. Kyle Brumley plays a slightly creepy, slow-mo Emperor Octavius, a reticent but efficient in establishing his power yet drained of passion. Cincy Shakes stages this sweeping story with projected video and animation to depict sea battles and military combat, and that’s a plus for this production. The show is one for completists who want to check it off, but I found it overlong and not always compelling. Through June 4. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
The Cincinnati Playhouse’s staging of Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates is an entertaining evening of storytelling by a woman who’s trying to make a go at finding love after a dry spell and at middle age. It’s amusing without being in any way profound, but you’ll like Vivia Font’s charming performance as Haley Walker, a sweet but uninhibited girl next door — at least next door in New York City. This show was an immense hit for the playhouse in 2005, and it seems likely that this revival will pack the Shelterhouse Theatre through June 12. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets: 513-421-3888.
If you’re a musical theater fan and willing to spring for a ticket to the touring production of Cabaret at the Aronoff, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a fittingly slutty interpretation of Kander and Ebb’s powerful piece, and this rendition doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to the sinister undertones of life in Berlin before World War II as the Nazi regime rose to power. The show has great music, but sometimes that takes precedence over the admonitory tale of people unwilling to see what’s right in front of them. The tour features a strong ensemble, especially with 2000 CCM grad Randy Harrison as the sleazy, sinister emcee. He’s so engaged in this role that right after intermission he ad libs his way through a few minutes of audience interaction — spreading the discomfort beyond the stage. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Quite a few shows are wrapping up runs and seasons this weekend, what with Memorial Day not far behind when Cincinnati theaters tend to slow down. It’s final curtains for Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing at the Playhouse, Brigadoon at the Covedale, the truly excellent staging of Violet at Ensemble Theatre, plus Next Fall at Newport’s Falcon Theatre and Catch Me If You Can by Showbiz Players at the Carnegie in Covington.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday.