Sunday, September 10, 2000

Banks tax battle over

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A potential roadblock for The Banks riverfront project — the issue of whether a proposed port authority should have the power to put tax issues on the ballot — has disappeared.

        Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus on Friday sent a letter to Jack Rouse, chairman of the Riverfront Advisers group, saying the Riverfront Advisers' insistence that the port authority have taxing authority “seems to stand in the way of completing our mission.”

Bob Bedinghaus
Bob Bedinghaus
Jack Rouse
Jack Rouse
        The county commissioners, Mr. Bedinghaus told Mr. Rouse, would pass a resolution Wednesday creating the port authority, minus the taxing authority.

        “This just isn't worth fighting over,” Mr. Bedinghaus told the Enquirer Saturday. “If it's going to get in the way of getting The Banks project under way, it's time to cut our losses and move on.”

        A number of Cincinnati City Council members, along with the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), had objected to the taxing authority, saying it was wrong for an unelected body like the port authority to be able to put tax issues on the ballot.

        Both Cincinnati City Council and the Hamilton County Commissioners have to act to create the port authority.

        Saturday, some council members who had objected to the taxing authority said Mr. Bedinghaus' willingness to take the issue off the table makes it more likely a council majority will approve creation of the port authority.

        “That ought to be the end of the discussion,” said Councilman Pat DeWine, who opposed the taxing authority. “I would expect the ordinance to be passed now.”

        Council could vote Wednesday.

        The Riverfront Advisers' original plan to finance The Banks — at an estimated cost of $248 million — relied heavily on money from the stadium sales tax passed by voters in 1996. City and county officials rejected that idea.

        Now, the advisers want to tap state and federal funds, but they say they need the city and county to act on creating the port authority by mid-September to keep de velopment on schedule.

        Councilman Todd Portune — the Democratic candidate opposing Mr. Bedinghaus' re-election bid — said he asked city lawyers to draw up an ordinance creating the port authority, minus taxing powers, and expects council approval.

        Mr. Bedinghaus' action also defused a potential election issue. Until Mr. Bedinghaus wrote the letter, Mr. Portune was lined up on the anti-taxing authority side and Mr. Bedinghaus had been willing to support it.

        Council and commissioners' action this week would give the port authority the go-ahead to begin turning riverfront parking lots into a neighborhood of shops, housing, parks and restaurants.

        Mr. Rouse said Saturday his city-county riverfront advisory group wanted the taxing authority for the port authority because it would need all the power allowed by Ohio law to attract world-class developers to The Banks project.

        But, Mr. Rouse said, the port authority would never have used the power and can live without it.

        “It just means we'll have to do a little better selling job with developers,” he said.

        COAST organizer Tom Brinkman Jr., whose organization tried to rally council members to oppose the taxing authority, declared victory Saturday.

        “I'm glad Bob got the message,” Mr. Brinkman said. “A non-elected board will not be able to put tax issues on the ballot. That's all we wanted.”

        Mr. Bedinghaus said he took Mr. Rouse and other Riverfront Advisers at their word when they said they had no intention to use the authority, but said he decided to take the issue off the table “just to get the politics out of this and get on with it.”


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