Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Banks plan needs push

Port Authority's role is sticking point

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Time is running out for Cincinnati and Hamilton County political leaders to agree on formation of a group to oversee construction of a riverfront neighborhood.

        City and county political leaders will meet this morning to discuss modifying the Hamilton County Port Authority's charter so that it can oversee construction of The Banks, a plan that would build housing, offices and an entertainment district atop parking along the central riverfront.

The Banks projects
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        Jack Rouse, chairman of the group that drew up the development plan, said an agreement has to be made on the Port Authority by Friday so that a developer can be secured by the first of the year. This would keep the project on track to be finished by 2006.

        There is a $177 million hole in the financing plan for The Banks, which was supposed to be filled by the Port Authority. The authority could do that because it has access to state and federal grants that governments do not and it pays no sales tax when buying materials for construction.

        But the city and county have been unable to agree on how the new Port Authority would operate.

        Mr. Rouse this morning will address the city-county steering committee about the need to move forward with the plan.

        “I'm going to say the same thing I said back in May,” Mr. Rouse said. “We need to reconstitute the Port Authority in as simple a manner as possible.”

        That's been the sticking point.

        In a draft proposal in June, city officials suggested that actions by the authority would have to be approved by City Council and county commissioners.

        That led Mr. Rouse to write a letter to City Manager John Shirey, saying the proposal would not work.

        Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken said it is not the city's goal to micromanage the Port Authority.

        “I don't view it as being involved in every decision,” Mr. Luken said. “But I think their ability to raise money should be dependent on our approval.”

        The Riverfront Advisers, a group of volunteers appointed by city and Hamilton County political leaders, unveiled The Banks plan last September.

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

        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 project.

        Developers also would ante up for the right to build along Cincinnati's new riverfront, according to the plan.

        Hamilton County Commission President Bob Bedinghaus wrote a letter to Mr. Luken last week, saying the only threat to the city's rebirth of the riverfront is “inaction.”

        “We must simplify this process, adopt the necessary legislation and let the Port Authority get on with its job of ensuring that The Banks development moves forward,” Mr. Bedinghaus' letter states.

        The county is suggesting that the Port Authority's board have an equal number of appointees from the city and county; giving the Port Authority all the powers allowable under the law; and committing equally to funding it for at least two years.

        “Everybody knows what's at stake,” Mayor Luken said. “There are a lot of hurdles to cross. But I think we can move very quickly.”


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