Tuesday, October 03, 2000

Port authority plan passes final hurdles

By Robert Anglen and Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        By Wednesday, the development of Cincinnati's riverfront could be out of the hands of politicians.

        City Council members on Monday OK'd turning over The Banks — a $250 million plan to create a neighborhood with shops, restaurants, condos and office buildings between the two new stadiums — to an expanded port authority.

        Hamilton County Commissioners have agreed to major points of the proposal but still must must review the specific contract.

        Since May, city and county officials have been trying to agree on the authority's jurisdiction, finances and policies for minority participation, causing a series of delays.

  • Port Authority proposal details
        “We got it out of committee, and we're all thankful for that,” said Jack Rouse, chairman of the volunteer group that conceived of using the port authority. “It doesn't look like there's anything in the revisions that give us any heartburn. There probably should be some reason for dancing in the streets.”

        County commissioners and the City Council will vote Wednesday on identical final agreements.

        “Now let's turn the page and get on with it,” Mr. Rouse said, adding that a developer should be selected in January. “I don't think we've slipped too much.”

        At issue for the county are changes approved by a majority of council members during a three-hour meeting Monday of the Community Development Committee.

        The most significant change is one that will require the authority to establish policies “that stimulate economic inclusion and ensure an equal opportunity to participate among all ages, races and genders in all aspects, including design, construction, execution and operation.”

        Council members said they want the city's equal employment opportunity and workforce participation policies to serve as the minimum standard.

        That would, among other things, require 11.8 percent of all construction work to go to minorities and 6.9 percent to go to women, of whom half must be minorities.

        This didn't sit well with members of the Baptist Minister Conference of Cincinnati and Vicinity, who say riverfront development will divert money and attention from disadvantaged neighborhoods.

        Members said Monday that the city's minority standards were created in the 1970s and don't reflect modern racial percentages.

        “This is sickening,” said the Rev. J.W. Jones. “Nothing says anything that gives us the basic hope that blacks will be included.”

        Councilman Todd Portune, chairman of the committee, said he hopes port authority members will go farther than the city's minimum standards.

        “We didn't get everything I wanted,” he said after the meeting. “But we made significant progress in adding substantial issues.”

        The council approved several changes requested last week by county officials that will take away the authority's ability to take by eminent domain city- and county-owned property and prohibit the authority from interfering with deals the county already has in place on the riverfront, including the stadiums.

        The council also strengthened the port authority's ability to continue its three-year mission of restoring polluted industrial sites, so-called brownfields.

        Randy Welker, executive director of the current Port Authority for Brownfield Redevelopment, said nothing in the city's proposal would hamper brownfield restoration.

        “We're right at our break-out point now with brownfields. We are starting to get things done,” said Mr. Welker, noting the port authority is planning to buy its first piece of property, in Sharonville, on Oct. 19. He said the county has to be ready in case Gov. Bob Taft's plan to pump $200 million into brownfield redevelopment is approved by voters in November.

        “We were concerned because, if the governor's plan passes and we are not ready to go with our projects, we would miss out,” he said.


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