Despite what its past record suggests, Cincinnati is fully capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time when it comes to development projects.
Some city council members — chiefly John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls — have worried that a proposed $102 million streetcar system in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine would jeopardize funding for other big projects around town and began having second thoughts.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. appeared before city council's Finance Committee Feb. 25 and tried to reassure the duo. There's enough money available for streetcars and other projects, Dohoney said. But he threw water on the latest complaint du jour, stating unequivocally that it isn't feasible to consider building a route to the Uptown area at the same time the Downtown loop is constructed.
Dohoney explained that the current funding plan for the 3.9-mile Downtown loop calls for using $25 million in tax increment financing (TIF) money. The revenues would be generated from the Downtown South TIF district, located along the riverfront. That district's estimated revenue between now and 2033 totals $56.2 million, which means about $30 million will remain available for other purposes, Dohoney said.
TIF districts allow city officials to use the taxes generated by new development within a targeted area for specific projects instead of going into the city's general fund.
Cranley, who's been skeptical about the streetcar project's financing plan, said he's glad it won't take all of the riverfront TIF funds, because he thinks the city ultimately will have to provide more cash to complete The Banks housing and shopping district, proposed between the Reds and Bengals stadiums.
Other aspects of the city's financing plan for the streetcar project include issuing $25 million in debt, which would be repaid from the capital projects budget.
Dohoney is urging city council to approve the financing plan for the streetcars and authorize him to begin negotiations with private sector firms to share some of the costs. Cranley postponed a vote until March 10 to give himself and other members time to review the additional background material they received at the committee meeting.
Dohoney told council that in order to comply with the group's wishes that a streetcar system be operational by late 2010 or early 2011, there wouldn't be enough time to do the preliminary design and study needed for an Uptown link. The goal "is not physically possible," he said.
Such work already has been completed for the section proposed in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.
An Uptown link would cost about $82 million, city planners said. Its preliminary design could occur while engineering and construction of the first link is under way.
For the past several months, city council has debated a proposal to build a streetcar system, which supporters say would spark redevelopment of vacant or underutilized parcels. The 3.9-mile zig-zag loop would link Findlay Market to Great American Ball Park, with multiple stops along the way.
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