Sunday, October 07, 2001

Riot costs add up

The price in lost business, battered image and human pain is incalculable. But the damage in dollars in one measure.

By Robert Anglen, Ken Alltucker,
Tim Bonfield and Dan Horn

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati is still paying a steep financial price for the riot that tore through the city six months ago.

        So far, the cost is at least $13.7 million.

        That figure covers direct costs of the April 10-12 riot — from police overtime to broken windows — as well as long-term costs that emerged in the weeks and months since.

        Some losses were obvious and immediate: a looted store, a burned-out building, an overturned car.

        Other losses came weeks and even months later: lost traffic-ticket revenue from a police slowdown and medical costs from the wave of shootings that followed the riot.

   April's riots and the ensuing months of violence directly cost Cincinnati area taxpayers and businesses at least $13.7 million, an Enquirer analysis shows. The estimate includes only direct costs, not lost business reported by many downtown and Over-the-Rhine merchants.
   Police/fire overtime $2.5 million
   Ohio Highway Patrol $300,000
   Arson $300,000
   Business/inventory damage $500,000
   Billy Martin, city-hired lawyer $300,000
   Lawsuits/special prosecutor $35,000
   Arrests/attorneys/jail $100,000
   Summer jobs program $2.8 million
   Police slowdown/lost ticket revenue $2.2 million
   Over-the-Rhine street cleaning/lights $660,000
   Violent Crimes Task Force $250,000
   Entertainment $45,000
   Medical costs $3 million
   Image building $750,000
      Total estimated cost: $13.7 million

        The Cincinnati Enquirer measured the losses by reviewing records from the city, Hamilton County and state, and by interviewing those active in business, politics and the arts.

        Many costs, however, will never be known. And some losses are impossible to measure in dollars.

        How much did the city's image suffer from worldwide TV coverage of rioting on Vine Street? How many people now equate Cincinnati with racism or violence or both?

        “Image to any area is very important,” says David Ginsburg, an official with Downtown Cincinnati Inc., downtown's advocacy group. “There is no question (the riot) cast Cincinnati in an unfavorable light.”

        The damage, of course, goes beyond image. It extends to taxpayers who must pay the bills, to businesses struggling to recover, and to individuals hurt in the violence.

Ringing register

        The initial cost of the rioting and unrest was more than $3.6 million in property damage and in overtime pay for police, firefighters and state patrol officers.

        The number is low compared to recent natural disasters. A storm in January 1999 cost an estimated $41 million, and the tornado in April 1999 cost $66 million.

        But unlike those disasters, the cost of the riot keeps rising, and taxpayers will have to pay most of the bills.

        The reason is a slew of post-riot expenses that continue to drive up the total cost. Those expenses include cleanup costs, legal fees and funding community programs.

        Post-riot expenses add up to about $10.1 million, bringing the riot's total cost to at least $13.7 million.

        “I am certainly aware that the cash register has been chinging,” City Manager John Shirey says. “We ran up big bills.”

        Some of the fastest growing expenses are for legal bills related to the riot and its aftermath. The city hired Billy Martin, a high-profile Washington, D.C., lawyer, to help it through a federal investigation of the police division.

        So far, Mr. Martin has billed the city for about $300,000, which is about $100,000 more than the city originally approved for his fees.

        The city also set aside about $20,000 to defend against lawsuits stemming from the riots. Another $15,000 is earmarked for the special prosecutor who handled the case against Officer Stephen Roach. His fatal April 7 shooting of Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black man wanted on 14 misdemeanor warrants who ran from police, sparked the riot. The officer was found not guilty Sept. 26 of negligent homicide and obstruction of official business.

        Other legal costs include nearly $100,000 to provide attorneys and at least one night in jail to the more than 600 people arrested during the riot.

        One of the biggest expenditures was for a $2.8 million summer jobs program. Hamilton County paid half the total, private donors paid $1.2 million and the city paid the rest.

Race-related news coverage
        The program, a direct response to the riot, put 2,400 young people to work in jobs at parks, grocery stores and amusement parks.

        But the city and county have nothing to show for another huge expense: traffic-ticket revenue lost by the police work slowdown that followed the riot. Hamilton County officials estimate the loss at $2.2 million.

        “What happened in the city is driving this,” says Tom Gould, an administrator for the Clerk of Courts.

        The riot also was the driving force behind city initiatives aimed at improving neighborhoods and cutting crime. The city spent $660,000 after the riot for better street lighting and cleaner streets in Over-the-Rhine.

        Another $250,000 went to police overtime for the Violent Crimes Task Force, which formed in response to the wave of shootings that followed the riot.

        Mr. Shirey is confident city council is spending the money wisely, but he says it's unfortunate council has to spend it at all.

        “This was senseless to begin with,” he says of the riot. “The money could have been better spent.”

Difficult straits
        The loss to private businesses is harder to quantify, but the total is at least $800,000.

        More than 140 businesses suffered physical damage and inventory loss, with the hardest hit stores claiming losses of more than $100,000 each.

        In the end, the physical damage may not be the biggest problem businesses face.

        Many complain about lower sales since the riot, with some saying business is off by as much as 40 percent. No one has been able to put a dollar amount on that loss.

        “It's just impossible to put a number on it,” says Bob Schneider, an Over-the-Rhine developer and past president of the neighborhood's Chamber of Commerce. “I know a lot of people are in difficult financial straits.”

        He says business at Main Street's bars and restaurants is down by as much as 25 percent since the riot.

        Some businesses, including the Deveroes clothing store in Findlay Market, have closed. Others are struggling to win back wary customers.

        “What people destroy in two or three days can take a long time to get back,” says Gerald Mallin, co-owner of Leader Furniture in Over-the-Rhine. “It's not what it was.”

        The entertainment industry also took a hit, from theaters to Reds games to the cancellation of the Pepsi Jammin' on Main music festival. Reliable numbers are hard to come by, but the loss to the economy could run into the millions. The music festival alone generates an estimated $1.6 million.

        Canceled shows and lost ticket revenue cost Playhouse in the Park about $35,000 and the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival at least $10,000 .

        Even non-profit charities are suffering in post-riot Cincinnati. No school groups have volunteered at the Freestore/Foodbank in Over-the-Rhine since the riot.

        “We used to get them a lot,” says Pat Henderson, a volunteer at the charity. “We haven't had any.”

The human toll

        The human toll of the riot — and the summer of violence that followed — is immeasurable for two reasons.

        First, there is the physical suffering of the victims. Some lost their lives, while others will never again speak clearly or walk without a limp.

        There is also psychological toll. Residents have reported a lost sense of security, increased racial tension and hostility — directed at police and sometimes their own neighbors.

        What can be measured, at least in part, is the financial cost — not only to the victims and their families, but also to society.

        Most of that cost was incurred in the months after the riot, when police stepped back from troubled neighborhoods and criminals filled the void.

        An unprecedented wave of gun violence soon followed. More than 100 people were injured, and 23 died in shootings this summer.

        The cost of medical care was at least $3 million, and probably much higher. Because few victims had insurance, taxpayers will pay most of the bill.

        According to University Hospital, which treats nearly all gunshot victims in Cincinnati, the hospital bill alone averages $11,000 for a gunshot victim. Doctor fees, physical therapy and other expenses typically double the bill.

        In addition, long-term rehabilitation for 10 of the gunshot victims cost about $100,000 each.

        “There's a tremendous cost to society from violence. It's not just the medical bills but all the indirect costs,” says Dr. Thomas Watanabe, a medical director at the Drake Center.

        “Typically, the victims of violent trauma are young, and some of them will need lifelong care,” he says. “When you think about the loss of 30, 40 or 50 years of lost employment, that's a huge loss.”

        The cost of treating those victims will continue to rise. Bill Connor, an Over-the-Rhine bartender who was shot in May, spent a month in a coma and two months learning to walk again.

        The cost of his care already exceeds $150,000. He will likely need years of follow-up care.

        “Let me tell you, it's no fun being shot,” Mr. Connor says. “On TV you might see people up and walking around a month later. It doesn't work that way.”

Silent phones

        Perhaps the biggest cost to Cincinnati is a tarnished image.

        In ways large and small, the city's wholesome Midwest reputation has been portrayed as a cauldron of racial tension.

        Those images ripple from Cincinnati's suburbs to cities across the country, guiding decisions of where people will shop, eat, vacation, live or work.

        “Clearly when we talk to clients, consultants and others they have seen the publicity in one form or another,” says Joe Kramer, who recruits new business and industry for the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. “They are certainly familiar with the event.”

        More than $750,000 has been spent or committed to improving Cincinnati's image.

        Downtown Cincinnati Inc. has used more than $500,000 in donated television, newspaper and radio advertisements to encourage visits to downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

        Another $250,000 in private donations is being used to install window flower boxes throughout Over-the-Rhine as part of the Miracle Mile program to spruce up the troubled neighborhood's residential and commercial facades.

        The riots also had a role in further harming the city's struggling tourism and convention business. At least two conventions and several high school proms canceled plans to come downtown because of the riots, according to the Greater Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau.

        No one has put a firm dollar amount on the losses. But on Saturday, an official at the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau said the Thomas shooting and ensuing violence cost the city “millions of dollars in lost economic activity.”

        “Anytime you lose convention business in the city of Cincinnati — and including the region — that is significant and a concern,” spokeswoman Julie Harrison said.

        In July, the area's hotel occupancy sank below 50 percent, down from 57 percent a year ago.

        The vacancy rate for downtown apartments is up to 8 percent, from 1 percent a year ago.

        Arn Bortz, a major downtown apartment owner and former Cincinnati mayor, says fewer people inquire about his downtown units.

        He has no doubt the riots are partly to blame, even though prospective tenants rarely give that as a reason.

        “When the phone doesn't ring, that's more eloquent than words,” Mr. Bortz says.

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