Morning News: Last day to hear WNKU; how will Portman vote on ACA repeal?

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio could be a deciding vote in a last-ditch effort by the GOP to repeal Obamacare.

click to enlarge U.S. Sen. Rob Portman
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman

Hello Cincy. It’s the first day of fall! Do you feel it? No, me either. Let me break down some news for you as I sweat onto my keyboard.

Another day, another controversial development deal involving city land. The potential sale of city-owned land in Oakley to some prominent developers is off after questions arose about the deal. City officials were going to sell 4.25 acres of land worth more than $500,000 to Vandecar Holdings and Al. Neyer for $260,000, but other developers have cried foul because the city didn’t put the land up to bid and is selling it for half its appraised value. Adding to the controversy: Both Vandecar and Neyer are big contributors to Mayor John Cranley’s campaigns. Cranley says he wasn’t aware the sale was happening and that it has nothing to do with donations from the companies.

• The city of Cincinnati has begun removing concrete benches on Third Street downtown. Officials say it’s because people were engaged in “lewd and lascivious behavior” behind the benches, and that they’ll be replaced with transparent ones that are harder to hide behind. The benches have become a popular place for people, including those without homes, to congregate — leading to consternation from advocates for the homeless, who say it's an attempt to place low-income people out of sight and out of mind. The four blocks of benches stretch between the bustling restaurants and bars of The Banks and buildings that hold offices for some of the city’s biggest businesses. Originally, the city was going to remove the trees that shade the benches as well, but that part of the plan has been abandoned. The city has already demolished one block of the benches, but the removal of the rest has been put on hold by request of Vice Mayor David Mann, who is looking to take up the issue at City Council’s Oct. 2 Neighborhoods Committee meeting. According to a memo from City Manager Harry Black, the plan to remove the benches came from a meeting between 3CDC, Cincinnati Police, Downtown Cincinnati Inc., REDI and Strategies to End Homelessness.

• While we’re downtown, let’s revisit the long-in-the-works Fourth and Race project. To make way for the complicated effort to build the mixed-use tower and parking garage, the old 1,200-space Pogue’s garage was torn down. That, local businesses say, has put a dent in their bottom line as customers struggle to find parking. And as the project drags on, some are getting nervous. But developers Flaherty and Collins and 3CDC say they’re working on breaking ground sometime early next year, and that they’ve tacked on another floor to the project, bringing it to 15 stories tall with 264 units of housing. At issue right now, however, is the financing for the parking garage portion of the effort, which will be underneath the residential portion of the building and must be squared away before the rest can happen. 3CDC is responsible for the garage, and says that it’s working to convince lenders that revenue from that portion of the project will cover costs.

• This seems kind of obvious now, but I didn’t see it coming. The University of Cincinnati has announced that it will relocate its College of Law to the building currently inhabited by the Linder College of Business. The building will get a $40 million rehab and UC says it will “likely set the standard for law schools for years to come.” Don’t undersell yourselves, guys. The business school is currently awaiting its new home, which is under construction just across the way in the heart of UC’s uptown campus.

• Beloved radio station WNKU announced yesterday that it would cease broadcasting on its last signal, WNKN-FM out of Middletown, on Sept. 28. That comes after Northern Kentucky University sold the station’s main signal to the Bible Broadcasting Corp. in August following state budget cuts to higher education. Since that sale and the sale of another WNKU signal in Portsmouth in August, the station can only be heard from the Middletown signal. But next week, that will be no more. Buyer Jeff Ziesmann says WNKN-FM will launch a new format Oct. 2.

• Finally, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman still hasn’t said how he’ll vote on an upcoming last-ditch effort by the GOP to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Senate Republicans are mulling a bill that would distribute health care funds to states in block grants, giving them the option to disregard protections for pre-existing conditions, ending the Medicaid expansion and shifting funds from states that took that expansion to those that didn’t. That effort is opposed by nearly every major national medical group and could cost millions their healthcare. Yesterday, a group gathered outside Portman’s downtown Cincinnati office to hold a “die-in,” wearing black and clutching tombstone-shaped signs. The GOP has until Sept. 30 to pass a bill with 51 votes under a process called reconciliation. After that time, the chamber will need 60 votes. With a slim 52-48 majority, there’s no way an ACA repeal would pass. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul has already signaled he’ll vote against the bill, meaning GOP leadership can afford to lose just one more member if it wants to pass the repeal.  

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