Wednesday, November 21, 2001

$6.6M Saks subsidy advances

But it's uncertain if council will OK it

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A $6.6 million subsidy to Saks Fifth Avenue in downtown Cincinnati passed a City Council committee Tuesday, but it's not clear whether the package has enough votes in the full council today.

        If he can't find the votes by 1 p.m. today, Mayor Charlie Luken said he would ask council to put off a vote until the new council is sworn in Dec. 1.

        Saks wants $6.6 million to dress up its store with new custom displays for designers such as Louis Vuitton, Prada and Gucci.

        In exchange, Saks will sign a 15-year extension to its lease and agree not to open another store within 30 miles. If not, Saks has said that it may leave downtown for a suburban location.

        Voting to approve the deal were Minette Cooper, Chris Monzel and Mr. Luken, who cast a rare vote in committee. Opposed were Pat DeWine and John Cranley.

        That leaves two more votes needed to get the five necessary for passage.

        One key vote is Paul Booth, who voted yes in committee but then changed his vote to an abstention. He said he has some lingering questions about whether Saks would pay prevailing wages and agree to adopt anti-discriminatory hiring procedures.

        Another committee member, Alicia Reece, did not attend the meeting and has not taken a firm position.

        “I know there's disagreement here about the merits of this. ... I know this is distasteful,” Mr. Luken told the committee. “To me, what we have in front of us today is a jobs bill. It's about jobs — thousands of jobs in the center of the city.”

        He said if Saks leaves, Lazarus and other retailers could follow.

        The mayor and the city manager also took pains to point out that the $6.6 million comes through tax- increment financing — city funds earmarked for downtown development that can't be used anywhere else.

        That makes no difference to detractors.

        “This is what you hear every time. It's not real money. It's pretend money that doesn't really count,” Mr. DeWine said. “Come on. It's $6.6 million that's going to be used to fix up the shoe displays at Saks.

        “Every six months in this city someone tries to blackmail the taxpayers. If we don't approve the zoo levy then we're going to get rid of the elephants. If we don't give Saks $6.6 million, then they're going to leave town.”


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