Sunday, January 30, 2000

City, county cheap out in home stretch




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        By now, I was so used to our elected officials pouring money into the gaping brown hole on our south side that I was flabbergasted when they finally drew the line.

        Shocked.

        And a little curious.

        I can't help wondering how they decided to draw this particular line.

        Those fabulous folks who brought us the Bob Bedinghaus Taxatorium and Testosterone Complex at a cost of $1.4 billion — who have allowed the cost of the Fort Washington Way project to balloon to more than $300 million, who let $15 million in road repairs disappear down an as-yet undisclosed pothole — can't find the $10 million needed to forge a real link between riverfront development and downtown.

        And I thought that was the whole point.

Working together
        Why else would Hamilton County voters have approved the sales tax? Surely, voters saw this project as more than simply throwing money at two commercial sporting enterprises. And isn't the reason we are all doing the orange barrel polka around Fort Washington Way so the riverfront will be more accessible?

        So why, when we have poured millions (and millions and millions) into these projects, are officials cheaping out on the green cap that might actually benefit some of the people who are paying for it? Why would they not insist on the final link, the critical piece?

        A deck over Fort Washington Way would create three new city blocks of park space. And now, at the 11th hour, nobody wants to pay for it. The county and state have refused to help the city with the cost. So has the Hamilton County Park Board.

        Some developers have told Cincinnati city officials they'll cough up if in return they can control future development. I guess they should negotiate this with Mike Brown, who appears to have first dibs on controlling the riverfront. And who has gotten the biggest chunk of our money. Perhaps because he was first in line.

        As usual, we are under the gun. City Manager John Shirey says cranes needed to do the work won't be on-site after Monday, unless council votes to proceed. There's a meeting scheduled at 4 p.m. Monday to decide.

        “The platforms are not just some nice little add-on,” said Riverfront Advisors Chairman Jack Rouse. “These are essential to the whole park-like feel, but also to connect to the Central Business District, for economic development of Third Street and the whole area moving north.”

A down payment
        The Fort Washington Way project was designed to narrow the highway, which stretches from the Brent Spence Bridge through Lytle Tunnel, and make it safer. It was also supposed to improve connection to the riverfront and free more than 14 acres for development.

        The $10 million is just a down payment on the decks. Building the covered walkway would cost another $34 million. An additional $12.8 million is needed for grass and trees. But we have five years to come up with that money.

        Meanwhile, if we don't commit now, it will cost at least $14 million more to do the work later. Not to mention that traffic would be rerouted. Again.

        It's a lot of money. That's for sure. The missing $10 million is the cost of, say, a football practice field. And we spent twice that — $20 million — just to move Paul Brown Stadium farther west.

        Our leaders — elected and otherwise — have committed this community to an enormous purchase. For a family, it would be like buying a luxury car. Handsomely accessorized. It might even get us where we want to go.

        But as business leader Roger Ach said disgustedly, “This is just stupid. Would you buy a car and not put the fourth wheel on it?”

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com or call (513) 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU radio, National Public Radio's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.

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