Friday, October 19, 2001

Development key mayoral issue

Luken, Fuller differ on where, and especially how

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Cincinnatians voted to give more power to the mayor's office in 1999, they did so — at least in part — because of a perception that the current system had failed to create meaningful economic development.

        And so in 2001, with Charlie Luken and Courtis Fuller vying to become the first mayor elected into the new system, both candidates have made downtown development and job creation a key part of their campaign platforms.

        Asked about his agenda for the first 100 days of that new form of government, Mr. Luken said, “I think it's all about economic development.”

        Like the Cincinnati Bengals, the city itself needs some key victories early in the season, he said.

        “I think a lot of it is perception,” he said. “It shouldn't be too hard to get some wins in Cincinnati, and get people to believe it's a comeback city, a gazelle city.”

        Charterite Courtis Fulleralso includes economic development as a key part of his seven-point platform.

        But he's careful to note that downtown is not the only engine for job creation in the city.

        “Development downtown is important, but not at the expense of undeveloped neighborhoods,” he said.

        Issues of economic development are difficult to explain in 15-second sound bites. They're often about technical aspects of financing not clearly understood by voters. Many of those who benefit most from jobs created in the city don't vote in the city.

        And in many ways, the candidates' positions on development issues aren't very different. Both include some of the same, nuts-and-bolts approaches that have been successful in other cities:

        Both platforms talk of the need to redevelop “brownfields,” former industrial sites in need of cleanup.

        Both support expansion of the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center, which would allow the city to compete in attracting the kinds of events that fill downtown hotels and restaurants.

        And both want to “explore” the possibility of a separate Cincinnati Development Authority, which Mr. Luken said will allow progress “without sinking each potential project into the quagmire of City Council.”

        But in other ways, the platforms are miles apart.

        Or, to be more accurate, blocks apart.

        Mr. Luken's focus is on the Race Street corridor, which he said will connect the Banks project on the riverfront through downtown to Over-the-Rhine and Clifton's hospitals and colleges.

        The mayor rarely makes a campaign appearance in which he doesn't use the words “mixed-use” or “mixed-income” to describe his development philosophy.

        On Race Street downtown, he sees a development formula that includes hotels, offices, apartments and yes, retail.

        “I haven't given up on retail like many people have,” he said.

        Farther up the street, in Over-the-Rhine, Mr. Luken stresses mixed-income as the formula for a successful neighborhood.

        Mr. Fuller's focus is two blocks to the east, on Walnut Street.

        The distinction isn't just geographical.

        It' philosophical.

        Mr. Fuller's plan would capitalize on the existing cultural institutions there — the Aronoff Center for the Arts, the Contemporary Arts Center and the Emery Theater — to create an “Avenue of the Arts” in Cincinnati.

        And, in a broader way, Mr. Fuller would use the arts as a catalyst for economic development across the city.

        He speaks of “cultural tourism” — an attempt to draw visitors not just to downtown, but to neighborhoods such asOver-the-Rhine, the West End, and Price Hill.


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