Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Heimlich proposes new maneuver

He wants voters to chart fresh development slant

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Saying Cincinnati's economic development strategy is “insanity,” Councilman Phil Heimlich wants voters to decide if an independent development board is needed.

        Mr. Heimlich plans to introduce a charter amendment at tonight's city council meeting that could lead to the formal establishment of the development authority he has long championed.

        Mr. Heimlich said the city development panel could give direction and focus to what he called City Hall's nonexistent economic development strategy.

        “I'm reminded of the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” Mr. Heimlich said Tuesday. “That characterizes how we've done economic development in this city.”

        Council is not expected to vote until its August meeting on placing the charter amendment on the November ballot. Six of nine council members have to agree to put the issue on the ballot.

        Though he and former Mayor Roxanne Qualls began calling for formation of a development authority in 1999, Mr. Heimlich said Tuesday a demand by the Saks Fifth Avenue store prompted him to draft the charter amendment.

        Saks is seeking a $6.6 million incentive deal to keep its downtown store open for another 15 years.

        Last year, council tried to woo a Nordstrom store to downtown with a nearly $50 million incentive package, a deal that fell apart when Nordstrom backed out.

        Just five years ago, council approved a $2.3 million incentive package for Saks. And in 1995, the city agreed to pay $27.8 million for Lazarus to develop a department store on Fifth Street downtown.

        The board would be at least partially composed of private developers, development experts and other business professionals who would work with council on drafting long-term development plans.

        “The problem with the people in economic development at City Hall is that they've never developed anything,” Mr. Heimlich said. “We're just kidding ourselves to think we have the expertise that we can find and utilize in the private sector.”

        Other cities, including Portland, Minneapolis, Louisville and Pittsburgh have established such boards.

        Some council members want to move more slowly on the idea.

        “I'm open, though I have not seen the formal proposal,” Mayor Charlie Luken said Tuesday. “I definitely think we need to have a different look at the mousetrap.”

        Vice Mayor Minette Cooper said she also wants to see Mr. Heimlich's charter amendment proposal before deciding if she'll support it.


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