Thursday, May 25, 2000

The Banks bill: $177 million

Officials forming plan to pay for it

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It will take a lot of green — about $177 million — to grow parks, condominiums, restaurants and shops out of the dirt and dust that is today's riverfront.

        That's the amount of money unaccounted for in the development proposal known as The Banks, as well as a 51-acre park officials would like to build along the Ohio River.

        The Riverfront Advisers, a group of volunteers appointed by city and Hamilton County political leaders, first unveiled The Banks plan to the public in September.

        But their ideas on how to pay for it were rejected, in large part because they relied heavily on money from the sales tax increase passed by voters in 1996 to pay for the stadiums.

        Today, the advisers will take a second shot at suggesting how to pay for their riverfront vision to city and county leaders — with less time to implement it.

        The advisers' new deal would tap into state and federal dollars, then use an existing development agency — the Port Authority for Brownfields Redevelopment — to oversee the entire development.

        Developers also will bring money to the table, pushing the bottom line to about $250 million. The riverfront park adds another $82 million to the mix.

        Of course, there is no deal yet.

        The first thing the advisers will ask is that city and county officials agree that the Port Authority should carry out the riverfront face lift.

        The advisers think the Port Authority is a sensible choice because it has access to state and federal grants that governments do not; it pays no sales tax when buying materials for construction; and it can be a one-stop shop for developers who may be weary of having to work with both the city and the county on development issues.

        “The Port would be a single source for developers to work with, and that is critical in terms of sending a message that this will happen,” said Tom Humes, who heads the advisers' finance committee.

        “But the city and county will have to reconstitute the Port Authority and charge it with implementing The Banks,” he said.

        The advisers would like to have the county and city agree to reshaping the Port Authority by July 1.

        A request for proposals from developers would hit the streets by summer's end and a developer would be selected by early next year.

        The development itself would be built in two phases: Four blocks of development west of the Roebling Suspension Bridge are to be built between 2002 and 2004; two blocks of development east of the bridge between 2004 and 2006.

        Jack Rouse, chairman of the advisers, said the Port Authority is the only existing organization that can do the job.

        The Banks plan is the way to go, officials say, if taxpayers are to get the most out of the $1.9 billion they're already spending on the stadiums, Fort Washington Way, a museum, new streets and parking.

        The Banks plan, city and county leaders say, is the way to turn Cincinnati into a world-class city.

        But there has been little agreement on how to pay for it.

        Although the numbers in the plan unveiled today will change over time, the basic concept is meant to be flexible.

        Under the adviser's new plan:

        • A device known as Tax Increment Financing would be used to raise about $47 million. This allows property taxes paid on new development to be poured back into the project.

        • Developers would pay about $6 million for the right to build along the new riverfront.

        • About $9 million in federal and state money would reimburse the city and county for riverfront projects already under way.

        • The Port Authority would generate about $17 million by coordinating the project and by paying no sales tax when buying materials. It also can apply for several grants meant exclusively for the state's port authorities.

        In addition, the advisers have accounted for $82 million to pay for the riverfront park. Under their plan, the park would be paid for by a combination of state, federal and private dollars.

        Although the advisers aren't responsible for that funding, they said it was important to view riverfront development as a single project.

        “This is an eight-year project of tremendous complexity,” Mr. Humes said. “We realize the park is a very important piece of the puzzle, but no one had really ever brought it into the fold.”

        Michael Beyard, vice president for strategic development at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C., said Cincinnati's riverfront development plan is one of the most ambitious in the country.

        “This is really at the heart of what many cities are trying to do,” Mr. Beyard said. “The advantage you have in doing all of this at approximately the same time involves economies of scale. Clearly, nothing in the region will equal it in the short term.”


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