Hello all! There is an insane amount of news happening today. Let’s get right into our midweek news roundup.
Cincinnati City Council will vote today on two parking-related pieces of legislation: a residential parking permit plan in Over-the-Rhine costing $60 a year (with a lower-cost $25 a year option for residents of subsidized housing) and a change that would remove parking space minimums for developers in downtown and OTR. While the city says the shifts are the best way to work on OTR’s parking snags while encouraging development, some aren’t thrilled. The Over-the-Rhine Community Council has asked city council to hold off on approving the plan, citing concerns with the two-tiered parking permit fee structure and lack of time to review the new permit plans. Today could be the culmination of a long battle: some members of city council have been trying to pass a residential permit plan in OTR for years.
• Council will also vote on a deal that would allow a local business to buy 6.8 acres of city-owned land worth about $180,000 for one dollar. That deal comes after FC Cincinnati paid the Kenkel family millions for property in the West End it needs to build a parking garage for its coming professional soccer stadium. That land held the Kenkel’s business, Tri-State Wholesale. The family wants to build a new headquarters on the city’s land in Lower Price Hill.
Some council members have been supportive of the deal, which will also include tax abatements for the property, saying it will keep jobs in Cincinnati and bring new employment options to Lower Price Hill. Others, however, have questioned why the company can’t use some of the millions FCC paid it to compensate the city for the land it owns.
“A company was given money well over $20 million dollars by FC Cincinnati for their property in the West End,” Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard wrote on social media after a council committee meeting earlier this week. “Today, in Budget and Finance Committee meeting, we were asked to vote on a sale that allows that same company to purchase city-owned real estate for $1. I was ABSOLUTELY floored. This company can easily afford to pay market rate for the property, which comes to about $180,000. I can’t believe our city administration thought this was a good idea. This company has MORE than enough money to pay us for this property.”
• Another council item that raised some eyebrows: a move that would lease a city-owned building home to beloved OTR eatery Alabama Fishbar to the Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation. That lease comes as 3CDC explores purchasing the building and redeveloping its vacant top floors into mixed-income housing. That's caused concerns from some in the neighborhood, but 3CDC says it wants Alabama to stay in the space.
• City council will also likely move forward with incentives for a group looking to rehab the currently-vacant Ingalls building downtown. SREE Hotels wants to turn the historic building — the first reinforced concrete skyscraper in the world — into a luxury hotel. To do that, the company says it needs a 15-year tax abatement on improvements to the building. The project is expected to create 35 full-time and 100 temporary construction jobs. Under incentives passed by council’s Budget and Finance Committee earlier this week, SREE would still pay taxes on the value of the building before renovations, more than $100,000 a year to Cincinnati Public Schools and $62,000 a year to VTICA for the streetcar’s operations.
• A resident of a series of tent cities who took a leadership role in those camps has secured affordable housing. Leon “Bison” Evans got the keys to his apartment yesterday via help from Ohio Valley Goodwill. Evans had said that he wanted to remain living in camps and didn’t want housing, but now says he’s taking the opportunity so that others living without homes can see it’s possible.
“I just want to make sure that everybody gets the help that they need,” he says, “and if it takes me being inside to set examples for people then by all means, I’ll do it.”
• Settlement negotiations around a lawsuit against members of Cincinnati City Council accused of holding “secret meetings” via text message have ground to a halt, and council this week opted not to approve $150,000 to hire lawyers in that case. Conservative activist Mark Miller filed the lawsuit alleging that text messages between five Democrat city council members released by the city about the firing of Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black amounted to a violation of the city charter’s prohibition on council meeting in private. Miller is pressing to get more of the messages released. The city was negotiating a settlement, but Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman refused to sign a waiver allowing the city to move forward with those negotiations. Smitherman, who is running for mayor in 2021, is the subject of a motion by former council candidate Derek Bauman to intervene in Miller’s lawsuit. Bauman alleges Smitherman violated the same rules by responding to a different text chain involving all nine city councilmembers and the city manager. Smitherman criticized Black’s handling of the drama around his departure in those messages. Phew. Got all that? Hamilton County Judge Robert Ruehlman will hold the next hearing on the issues Sept. 25.
• If you’re a Cincinnati politics watcher, you probably remember the fanfare around the city’s efforts to fix its underfunded pension system. Those efforts helped shore up one of the city’s largest and most looming liabilities — its retirement obligations to former employees. Failure of the pension system means the city would likely have to file for bankruptcy. But this interesting Cincinnati Business Courier story explores how there is still little wiggle room in the pension fund, especially in the event of an economic downturn. Worth a read.
• The city’s controversial Riverfront Transit Center, a tunnel under Second Street for buses that cost more than $32 million in state and federal funds to build, is closed due to flooding in February and will need more than $1.2 million to repair, a memo from Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney says. That money will be covered by the federal Emergency Management Agency. The tunnel is used as a layover spot for one of Metro’s express routes, a few concerts throughout the year, and as a space to park buses and trucks during other large sporting and concert events. Metro also leases a spot near the entrance for parking, the proceeds of which go toward maintenance costs for the tunnel. The transit center was finished in 2003 during the Fort Washington Way project as a replacement for a previous bus staging area in the Riverfront Stadium Plaza area.
• The Hamilton County Board of Elections heard more about why one of its officials blacked out the memo spaces on checks written by the congressional campaign of Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval. The emergency meeting held this morning explored why board deputy director Sally Krisel redacted the information on the checks turned in by Pureval’s campaign. There is nothing specifically prohibiting a board employee taking that action, Democrat board chair Tim Burke claims. But attorney Brian Shrive, who filed a complaint with the Ohio Election Commission about payments from Pureval’s clerk of courts campaign fund, says the action was highly inappropriate. In his state filing, Shrive alleges that Pureval used $30,000 from his clerk campaign account for his congressional campaign — a potential violation of federal election law.
"It is not our practice for the board staff to do that redaction," Burke said before the meeting. "The campaign should do it. It's their filing. I don't think she knows why she did it."
Krisel told the board she did not cross off the memo field of the four checks to hide any information, but simply as a courtesy to Pureval's campaign manager.
• Just as FC Cincinnati gets ready to break ground on its $30 million training facility in Milford, a new lawsuit alleges that the city council there engaged in illegal secret meetings to pass some of the ordinances making the facility possible. Among the items Milford resident Rachel Richardson, who filed the suit, says she found in public documents — discussion of a $1 million bridge and $500,000 road to be paid for with TIF dollars that never came up in public meetings. If the suit is successful, Richardson’s lawyer says it would invalidate the ordinances the city council passed to allow the deal between the city, Clermont County, its port authority and visitors bureau to go through. FCC will hold its groundbreaking ceremony for the practice complex this afternoon.
• Finally, Ohio gubernatorial candidates Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine will hold their first debate tonight in Dayton. It’s been a tight race, though DeWine led 42-37 percent in a survey by Baldwin Wallace Univesity released Tuesday. You won’t get to see all the possible candidates during the debate, however. Libertarian Party candidate Travis Irvine and Green Party candidate Constance Gadell-Newton weren’t invited. Organizers say that’s due to low polling numbers. The Ohio Libertarian Party has threatened to sue over the issue.