Wednesday, June 28, 2000

Nordstrom deal

City Council can't think straight

        Cincinnati's City Council stands poised today to give its formal approval of a plan to pay for a downtown Nordstrom store.

        While council's members are in a voting mood, they should move to change Cincinnati's nickname. Instead of the Queen City of the West, it deserves to be called: The Town That Can't Think Straight.

        No one — not City Council, the city administration, or the city's movers and shakers — can sensibly agree on a comprehensive plan to develop downtown Cincinnati.

        In the short run, this lack of agreement could kill the deal with Nordstrom.

        In the long run, Cincinnati's chronic indecision — if left untreated — will kill downtown.

        Strings attached to the Nordstrom deal prove Cincinnati doesn't know what to do with Walgreens. Local developers are two-faced about small shops. And everyone gets failing marks for not communicating.

        The Town That Can't Think Straight is again playing musical chairs with Walgreens. The last time the city played, it paid $3.7 million in taxpayers' funds — our money — as part of a settlement for a botched move.

        Until last week, plans called for the drugstore to set up shop on the northwest corner of Sixth and Race. Now, the Cincinnati Equity Fund — bankrolled by 12 high-profile local firms — says it won't lend its $12.7 million share of the Nordstrom deal unless Walgreens goes even farther west.

        One chain drugstore, CVS, already stands on the northeast corner. Arguing that one pharmacy is enough, the equity fund wants the northwest corner for small, up-scale specialty shops.

        A row of small, thriving shops once lined the block. One store, Kathman's Shoe Repair, was a downtown fixture for 95 years.

        Kathman's closed in March. Downtown's uncertain future became too iffy, and no fund would rescue the cobbler's shop with a multimillion-dollar loan.

        Last week, some council members expressed surprise over news of the strings being attached. They have short memories.

        In a May 22 report, council received a 50-page document from City Manager John Shirey that included an equity fund memo about relocating Walgreens once more. The memo was written in legalese.

        The city manager deserves some blame for council's surprise. Knowing some members are not the brightest bulbs in City Hall's chandelier, he should have translated the memo into “See Spot run” sentences.

        See the equity fund. Look at its $12.7 million loan. Put Walgreens on the corner across from Nord- strom and CVS. Oh! Look! See the $12.7 million go away. Bye-bye, big bucks. Goodbye, Nordstrom.

        For now, Walgreens refuses to change locations. Developers think a deal can be worked out.

        Council says don't look for any more money from City Hall. But it has changed its mind before. Look what the city did with Walgreens.

        This debate should not be happening. The Nordstrom location was no secret. City officials and developers should have planned who was going to be the department store's neighbors.

        I'm not sure dueling drugstores across the street from Nordstrom are overkill.

        With all the headaches and heartburn caused by this project, two drugstores might not be enough.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.