Sunday, December 26, 1999

'99 Local News: Prosperous year punctuated by hard times




BY TIM BONFIELD
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Even though the weather was lousy and the Bengals were bad, Greater Cincinnati spent most of 1999 basking in the glow of prosperity.

        Business was good. Tri-state residents reaped the bounty of a soaring national stock market, high local employment and record housing sales. Tower cranes and orange barrels all over town marked a healthy, busy construction season.

TOP LOCAL EVENTS
  January
  11: Cincinnati native Bob Taft inaugurated Ohio's 67th governor.
  16: Jerry Carroll sells Turfway Park.
  23: Study on 1998 job creation reports a nine-year high.
  February
  15: Crown renamed Firstar Center.
  16: Michael Gallis presents report on Tristate development.
  March
  9: Thomas Streicher sworn in as Cincinnati police chief, continuing a long string of chiefs with west-side roots.
  4: City Council votes to put proposal for direct election of the mayor on the May 4 ballot.
  20: Peace Bell rings for the first time in Nantes, France.
  23: UC reveals that a nearly $80 million gift from the French family trust will be dedicated to cancer research.
  April
  9: Killer tornado strikes Blue Ash and environs.
  19: 11-year-old Katie Luchsinger dies rescuing her siblings from a fire.
  29: City of Cincinnati files controversial lawsuit against gun makers.
  May
  4: Voters approve plan for direct election of Cincinnati's mayor.
  4: U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith gives final approval to settlement in $4.6 million UC Cold War radiation case.
  9: Inaugural Flying Pig Marathon takes place.
  12: Larry Flynt cuts deal, settling charges.
  15: Oceanic Adventures Newport Aquarium opens.
  June
  2: Hoxworth Blood Center announces emergency blood appeal, first of three summer shortages.
  23: New studies show that health concerns for long-time neighbors of Fernald go beyond lung cancer to include kidney, bladder, prostate and skin cancers. But worker health concerns remain unaddressed.
  July
  19: Anderson Township High School refuses to change Redskins nickname.
  25: First death reported from heat wave that ultimately kills 12.
  August
  4: Northern Kentucky complains about plans to change area code.
  13: E.coli outbreak sickens customers of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  20: Two Ross teens killed in ''launching'' accident.
  September
  15: UC officials and business leaders announce plans to step up recruitment and support for biotech start-up companies.
  20: Twenty-three injured by drunken driver at Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati in downtown Cincinnati.
  24: CDC officials kill long-debated plans to conduct an epidemiology study of health problems encountered by Fernald neighbors.
  30: Officials unveil plans for the Banks riverfront development.
  October
  13: Tall Stacks begins.
  24: Westbound lanes of Fort Washington Way open to traffic.
  November
  2: Charlie Luken elected Cincinnati mayor, Cincinnati school levy fails.
  5: United HealthCare announces national plan to stop second-guessing doctors.
  10: Mason schools close after bomb threat.
  18: TriHealth officials announce plans to close Bethesda Oak Hospital on March 31.
  28: UC dedicates new CCM building.
  December
  1: South Lebanon resident Suzie Thompson killed by ex-boyfriend William H. Chapman, who then shot himself, after he failed to return from a Thanksgiving jail furlough he wasn't supposed to get.
  7: U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott uses a poem to reject lawsuit challenging giving federal workers a paid holiday for Christmas.
        Life was good. As of mid-1999, serious crime was down in almost every city neighborhood, continuing a seven-year national streak of declining crime rates. United Way donations reached an all-time high. The Enquirer's Tristate Child Index showed signs of progress in welfare reform, infant mortality and proficiency test scores.

        Bad weather and a handful of controversies did temper the good news.

        Tristate residents endured a deadly tornado, a lethal summer heat wave and a killer winter storm. Meanwhile, people argued about police-community relations, worried about schools and complained about HMOs.

        Still, even serious local problems generated little sense of urgency or crisis. Local issues were overshadowed in a year that saw a president survive an impeachment trial, an air war over Yugoslavia, a massacre at Columbine High School, and the death of thousands from an earthquake in Turkey and floods in Venezuela.

        Cincinnati voters did put Charlie Luken back in the mayor's office after several years as an anchorman for Channel 5. But voter turnout reached near-record lows for local elections.

        Instead of life and death issues, the most vigorous public debates and largest amounts of money, both public and private, focused on entertainment and tourism.

        Along the shores of the Ohio River, big crowds turned out for the Riverfest fireworks, the Tall Stacks steamboats and the arrival of the Peace Bell. Another party was spoiled when a reckless drunken driver injured 23 downtown on the last day of Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati.

        Much like the refurbishing of Fountain Square, those who flocked to the big events witnessed the city itself undergoing a vast and expensive transformation.

        By year's end, drivers were using part of the rebuilt $288 million Fort Washington Way. The $404 million Paul Brown Stadium steadily rose from the rubble of an old produce district into a 158-foot-tall edifice crowned with 36 soaring steel ''raker beams.''

        As sales tax receipts poured into county coffers even faster than projected, even more riverfront plans emerged, including the new Reds stadium, a riverfront park and a development concept dubbed ''the Banks.'' Planning continued for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

        Across the river, Northern Kentucky's building boom continued with the opening of a new convention center, an aquarium, office and hotel construction, and a smaller-than-planned home for the Peace Bell.

        A few controversies about the development popped up. For example, there remains no agreement on how to pay for the Banks riverfront project.

        African-American groups complained that the football stadium contracts fell short of minority-participation goals but they never could convince county commissioners to do much about it. Officials promised to be more vigilant when the Reds stadium gets built.

        The biggest controversy about the Bengals stadium, however, appeared to be that so much money was going to support a team that doesn't win.

        Beyond the riverfront, entertainment options sprouted all over the Tristate. The Manatee Springs exhibit opened at the Cincinnati Zoo. Construction began for the Kentucky Speedway and a new arena for Xavier University. Paramount King's Island introduced two new rides and launched plans to start building another giant wooden roller coaster in 2000.

        Amid news of Olympic bid-rigging scandals, Cincinnati kept on dreaming of hosting the 2012 games.

        Even political clashes were wrapped up in tourism and entertainment.

        Larry Flynt, Cincinnati's most famous nemesis, practically dared officials to take action after he opened a Hustler store downtown. Eventually, they did.

        But instead of pursuing another massive First Amendment court battle like the one years ago that inspired a recent movie, Mr. Flynt cut a deal just before a May trial kicked into high gear.

        Mr. Flynt's Cincinnati corporation, Hustler News & Gifts, pleaded guilty to two counts of pandering obscenity and Mr. Flynt promised to never sell sexually explicit videos in Hamilton County.

        Meanwhile, one the biggest downtown development arguments of the year focused on expanding and renaming Cincinnati's convention center -- a project aimed at attracting more business tourists.

        Amid debate over financing plans, officials sold the naming rights for the expanded convention center to Delta Airlines. The move threatened to erase Cincinnati's last public tribute to Dr. Albert Sabin, inventor of the oral polio vaccine that has nearly wiped the once-feared disease off the planet.

        Children's Hospital Medical Center helped defuse the potential political embarrassment by naming its new education center after Dr. Sabin.

        But not everything worked out so well for Greater Cincinnati in 1999.

        An April 9 tornado killed four, injured dozens and destroyed 95 homes as it ripped through Blue Ash, Montgomery and Sycamore and Symmes townships. It was the worst twister to hit Greater Cincinnati since 1974.

        As tragic as the tornado was, the July heat wave was more deadly -- killing 12 area residents in five sweltering days. The winter was nasty, too. A January storm claimed three Tristate lives as it killed more than 100 throughout the Midwest.

        Despite improving crime statistics, the city was captivated by the manhunt for accused killer Lance Love, who managed to hide mostly in plain sight. It also was terrorized by a series of rapes in the northern suburbs.

        Mason and Ross Township mourned the deaths of four teen-agers killed in two car crashes, both apparently involving the dangerous game of ''launching'' or hill-jumping.

        In Cincinnati, racial tensions flared anew in 1999 after police shot and killed Michael Carpenter, a 30-year-old African-American who turned out to be unarmed.

        Even though one of the officers involved was black, the shooting sparked protests by African-American groups, an FBI investigation and a lawsuit filed by the Carpenter family.

        The black officer involved ultimately resigned. The other officer was given a written reprimand. Critics were outraged that the disciplinary action wasn't stronger and that the decision was made without recommendations from a new citizen review panel.

        In late 1999, an Enquirer investigation revealed that Cincinnati police fired shots less often than police in many other cities. However, the city's track record was inconsistent for disciplining officers after improper use of their weapons and the city completely failed to investigate nine of 32 shots-fired incidents.

        In the schools, Cincinnati witnessed the opening of several new charter schools trying to compete with the public schools. Meanwhile voters rejected a tax levy for the city schools even as interest groups called for more spending to fix up buildings and reduce class sizes.

        Elsewhere, the fallout from the Columbine massacre was felt here as many local school districts adopted or stepped up ''zero tolerance'' policies for scary behavior.

        A wave of fake bomb threats shut down schools in the Mason, West Clermont and Lakota school districts. At Colerain High School, a student actually brought a small pipe bomb to school.

        But other incidents made people wonder whether zero tolerance polices have gone too far. In September, two Madeira students were suspended for 10 days without class credit for making signs that joked about a bomb. In May, a second-grade girl from Fairfield West Elementary in Butler County was expelled for having a cap gun on the school bus.

        On the health-care front, Bethesda Oak Hospital announced plans to close, while managed-care controversies made headlines.

        Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield eventually agreed to pay for removing an enlarged breast from a teen-age boy after initially claiming the surgery was purely cosmetic. Troubles at PacifiCare's SecureHorizons health plan led a pack of Medicare HMOs that either raised premiums for seniors, cut benefits or both.

        Meanwhile, doctor groups and some hospitals stopped doing business with HMOs that insisted on low reimbursement rates, forcing hundreds of area residents to switch plans or find new doctors.

        Greater Cincinnati's continuing suburban growth was reflected in census data released in 1999 that showed people flocking to places like Lebanon, Springboro and Independence, Ky., in the 1990s while fleeing places like Cincinnati, Norwood and Newport, Ky.

        The price for all that sprawl: commuters cursing the orange barrels as highway planners try to keep up with the growth.

        Even as Hamilton residents cheered the opening of the new Butler County Regional Highway, road widening and repaving projects choked Interstate 71 north of I-275 and I-75/I-71 in Northern Kentucky for most of 1999. In Kentucky, the barrels promise to add color to the daily commute for another two years as work pushes south toward the I-275 interchange.

        Like many cities, 1999 began in Cincinnati with considerable fear about Y2K computer problems. By the end of the year, however, most concerns had dwindled.

        Now, with a dash of finger crossing and breath-holding, officials predict the new Peace Bell will ring in another prosperous year for Greater Cincinnati.



'99 Year in Review: Recalling the century's last gasp
'99 Sports: Color the year Red
- '99 Local News: Prosperous year punctuated by hard times
'99 Business: Consumers hang on as economy and technology take rocket ride
'99 Nation/World: A fitting finale to the century
'99 Films: Embarrassment of riches
'99 Pop music: Cincy back on the charts
'99 Television: A million reasons to watch
'99 Classical music: Life imitates opera
'99 Dance: Comings and goings
'99 Theater: A year to remember
'99 Visual art: All eyes on Vontz Center