Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Split council may stall riverfront projects




BY PHILLIP PINA
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The timing of several riverfront projects is being jeopardized by a split Cincinnati City Council.

        On Wednesday, council members will likely vote on a pact with Hamilton County dealing with portions of the Fort Washington Way reconstruction and new Reds stadium projects. Backers are confident they will get the votes needed to move the projects forward.

        But the deal received a setback Monday when council's community development committee rejected it. A week ago, a separate council committee on financial issues approved the agreement. The timing of the projects is critical, said Deputy City Manager Richard Mendes, who likened it to a “row of dominos,” each dependent on the other.

        The pact is the result of five months of negotiations between the city and county on issues such as a highway ramp, the relocation of utilities and engineering work on riverfront streets. Some of the work has already begun because deadlines are so tight.

        “If we don't get a decision this week, it puts us in a fairly difficult situation,” said John Deatrick, Cincinnati's department of transportation and en gineering director.

        Work on the relocation of utilities has already started, he said. And construction on a new Second Street, from which a new ramp will descend, will begin next week. These projects are crucial to the entire reconfiguration of Cincinnati's central riverfront.

        The area is in the midst of a billion-dollar renovation, which includes two new sports stadiums, the reconstruction of Fort Washington Way, a museum dedicated to the Underground Railroad, a new downtown park and neighborhood.

        Council is being asked to approve a tax abatement and the reimbursement to the county for building and inspections permit fees for the Reds ballpark and riverfront parking garages. The tax abatement, which would take effect in the year 2024, would cost the city about $2.4 million over a 10-year period.

        At Monday's council committee meeting, the agreement failed by a 1-2 vote. Two of the five members abstained, including Todd Portune, who asked whether the spending was necessary considering a request by City Manager John Shirey for a moratorium on new spending.

        “It's not going to hold up these projects,” said Councilwoman Jeanette Cissell, who also abstained. “We can get these answers, and we should get these answers.”

        Rejecting the pact were Jim Tarbell and Tyrone Yates, both of whom objected to the abatement. Mr. Tarbell challenged the city administration, saying they were trying to “push through” the project at the last minute.

        If the council rejects the pact, the city and county would have to go back to the negotiating table, and who knows how long it would take to hammer out a new deal, said Councilman Phil Heimlich. Details in the agreement have been known for weeks, and a Sept. 9 report by Mr. Shirey spells out the pact's main points.

        “We'll put the administration out on a string,” said Mr. Heimlich, who urged that the agreement be passed. He was the lone supporter in Monday's committee vote.

        Mayor Roxanne Qualls said the city has invested a lot of effort in the riverfront project. “We have a lot of momentum built up,” Ms. Qualls said.

        She plans on voting for the agreement Wednesday. Representatives for other council members said Monday night they were still reviewing the county pact.

        The Hamilton County commissioners are expected to pass the same agreement at their meeting Wednesday.

       



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