Thursday, April 19, 2001

County, city offer relief to businesses




By Robert Anglen and Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The state of emergency in Cincinnati was rescinded Wednesday, but Hamilton County and city lawmakers say businesses are still in danger. So they made plans to offer a combined $2.25 million in loans and grants for businesses that suffered losses in last week's riots — and are promising that another $1 million will soon be on the way.

        The order placing the city under a state of emergency and allowing a curfew that was lifted Monday was rescinded just before 2 p.m. by Mayor Charlie Luken.

        Hamilton County officials said Wednesday they will move forward next week with a plan to offer $2 million in low-interest loans.

        If approved, half of that amount will be made available to businesses in Cincinnati and the other half would be made available to businesses outside the city limits in areas such as Norwood and Elmwood Place.

        The plan was proposed by Commissioner Todd Portune and has the support of Commissioner Tom Neyer. The loans will be made available through two existing programs at the county's Office of Economic Development.

        “I will support the loan component of this,” Mr. Neyer said. “We should be able to put that in place quickly.”

        But another part of Mr. Portune's plan — to offer $500,000 in grants to affected businesses, again with half going to Cincinnati — was not received so warmly.

        “I just don't know what our role is in this,” said Commissioner John Dowlin, questioning whether the county should be offering grants to city businesses when officials are looking at millions in cuts to the county budget for 2002.

        Mr. Neyer was equally skeptical. He said he wants to get a sense of how much damage there is, and said he would prefer that any grants be targeted to long-term solutions to economic problems facing the city and its nearby suburbs.

        “I'd like to understand the magnitude of the damage before we put in place a variety of programs to deal with it,” Mr. Neyer said. “Is this the right gesture?”

        Mr. Neyer suggested county staff examine the grant proposal and report back. Mr. Portune shot back that the county does, indeed, have a responsibility.

        “There are business owners looking for immediate help,” he said. “Hamilton County should be a partner.”

        And so should the downtown business community, Mr. Portune said. He has suggested that businesses match the city's funding.

        Mr. Portune's plan would double that proposed by Cincinnati, which is offering $250,000 in grants and may offer $1 million in low-interest loans.

        The $250,000, approved by council Wednesday, will come from a pool of federal money and can be used to repair damage to buildings, primarily broken windows and doors, suffered by business owners throughout the city. Areas affected include Walnut Hills, Avondale, Bond Hill and Madisonville.

        Economic Development Director Evonne Kovach said $250,000 might not sound like a lot, but she said it will likely be used to cover gaps and deductibles in insurance policies.

        “Believe me, we have plenty of requests coming in for $100,” she said.

        City officials also are working to create a $1 million emergency small-business loan fund that would allow business owners to apply for up to $50,000 in low-interest loans.

        But Leonard Weinstein, owner of Barrs Loan pawn shop on Vine Street, said he's not interested in a loan. He says the city owes him for not protecting his store.

        “We were pretty well wiped out,” he said, adding that during five different burglaries his stock was almost entirely pilfered.

        And because the loss happened during civil unrest, it's not covered by insurance. “We lost about $100,000,” Mr. Weinstein said.

        His friend and co-worker, Myles Kapson, put it another way.

        “Why should we borrow money when it's their job to protect us?” he said.

        Today in Over-the-Rhine, where Vine Street and Findlay Market were devastated by looting and vandalism last week, City Councilman Pat DeWine will announce plans to bring people back downtown.

        “These are service programs to attract shoppers and investors,” Mr. DeWine said, adding that he will be joined at 10 a.m. by several business executives in front of 1600 Vine St. "

       



- County, city offer relief to businesses
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Poverty called first level of violence
State trooper also fired beanbag shotgun
Violence could spread elsewhere, Lawson warns
State agency to assess damage