Monday, September 8, 1997
Just a teensy problem
with rec center plans

The Cincinnati Enquirer

College Hill residents thought this might be the year - after years and years of waiting - that they would finally get a new community center.

Cincinnati City Council made serious noises about it. Elected officials passed a motion to put the center at the top of the to-be-built list. But, in the end, they wouldn't put the money where their motions were.

This is politics as usual, people in City Hall tell me. But there may be reason to hope the long wait will be over before the millennium.

College Hill's community center has been proposed, over and over, ever since a Cincinnati Recreation Commission study was completed in 1973. So far, it's been all show and no go.

In 1996, the commission conducted another survey at taxpayer expense. Communities were asked about their recreation and community center needs. A master plan - more than a glorified wish list but less than a working blueprint - was created.

Council approved the plan. Five new places were proposed where neighbors could play basketball, work out and take arts and crafts classes together.

The master plan put Madisonville's center at the top of the list, aiming for 1998. Next came College Hill, slated for 2000. Centers in Mount Airy and Kennedy Heights, as well as an expanded one in Mount Washington, would follow.

One sticking point: Money.

The commission doesn't have it, and council hasn't authorized any to construct these centers. Each one costs $3 million to $5 million to build and $250,0000 a year to operate.

Promises, promises

The lack of money did not stop council members from making more promises. Remember, this is an election year. And thousands vote in College Hill.

In August, council's unofficial power bloc - Charles Winburn, Jeanette Cissell, Phil Heimlich, Minette Cooper and Dwight Tillery - passed a motion putting College Hill at the top of the community center list.

This was great news for Gina Moss. For years, she has led a neighborhood coalition working to make the proposed center a reality. These people went to meetings, passed out fliers, checked out sites, surveyed the neighborhood, tried to raise matching funds.

Suddenly, their center is at the top of the list.

But, in the end, the motion did not carry much weight. No money was authorized. Instead, council instructed City Manager John Shirey to find the money, like it was lost or hidden under a rug.

And, while he was at it, could he possibly come up with money for street repairs, the Underground Railroad Museum and a new Contemporary Arts Center?

The city manager has found a way to pay for part of the street repairs and finance the museum and the arts center.

As for the community centers, he's said, in essence: I'll get back to you. After the election.

Last week, the recreation commission tabled the issue of building a center in College Hill until it's in the city's budget. Translation: No money, no building.

''It's easy for council to make a referral,'' said recreation Commissioner Harriet Russell. ''But, in the tradition of Jerry Maguire, 'Show me the money.'''

There's hope

Back in College Hill, Gina Moss is disappointed, hurt and confused. ''The way things stand now,'' she says, ''we don't have a snowball's chance in hell.''

She doesn't know where to turn. Somebody broke her civic heart.

''We've done all the good stuff that community activists are supposed to do.''

I spoke with the city manager about Gina Moss and her neighbors in College Hill. He held out more hope.

''She should not despair,'' Mr. Shirey said. He's not making any promises. But, he thinks he might be able to find the money to build two new centers. He hopes to resolve this issue by the end of the year.

But he better move fast. The wish list is growing again. A majority of council members has asked the city manager to look into buying Allen House and turning it into a community center for Price Hill.

This may make Gina Moss and her neighbors in College Hill grow tired of organizing for a new community center. Instead, they might start organizing for a new council.

After all, it is an election year.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.