Thursday, March 22, 2001

Council ends plan to save tenement hotel

Tie vote finishes proposed Fort Washington renovation

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati lawmakers pulled the plug Wednesday on a $4.8 million plan to save the Fort Washington Hotel.

        After nearly three years of debate about how much the city should pump into the dilapidated Main Street tenement hotel, council members in a rare tie vote refused even to lend the city's name to the project.

        The endorsement would have helped developers to compete for state tax credits that they say will be nearly impossible to get without Cincinnati's support.

    Council voted 4-4, with Mayor Charlie Luken absent. Because of the tie, the motion automatically failed.
        As a result, they say the plan to purchase and renovate the hotel is just about dead.

        That leaves about 100 low-income residents at the mercy of city building inspectors who have identified about $500,000 in needed repairs just to meet city codes.

        “It is devastating,” said David Little, spokesman for the nonprofit Save the Fort Washington Hotel, which needs to submit an application to the state today. “It's a blow not only for this project, but for all of the working poor who want to live in this city.”

        But council members said that by endorsing the developer's tax-credit request the city was tacitly agreeing to put up $2 million for future development of the hotel.

        That's because developers — in their state application — name the city as a proposed source of $2 million needed to finish the project.

        Councilwoman Alicia Reece, however, insisted the city was making no promises by endorsing the application. She tried to sway fellow council members by questioning their commitment to the homeless and challenged others to come up with a better plan.

        “If you've got space at your house, I'd like to hear about it,” she said.

        Councilman James Tarbell, who has long opposed the plan as too expensive, said other developers have offered to do it more cheaply.

        “There is not one single person that needs to be displaced from this building,” he told Ms. Reece. “It's in a shoddy condition that with a broom could have been improved overnight.”

        Costs for improving the hotel have been debated for years, with estimates ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million to $4.8 million. Pauline Van der Haer, owner of Dorian Development, which was selected by Save the Fort Washington to do the renovation, did not speak Wednesday.

        Mr. Tarbell insisted that owners could have sold the hotel years ago but are working with developers who want the city to sweeten the pot with a subsidy.

        Hotel owner Frank Fieler denied the accusations. He said that he cannot afford to make needed improvements and that staying open now depends on the city inspectors, who issue a permit annually.

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