Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Luken: Why just help Saks?

Mayor proposes $5M fund to save small businesses

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken said Tuesday he wants a $5 million fund created exclusively to help downtown small businesses.

        The money would be drawn from the same source of downtown property taxes used to finance a $6.6 million aid package to keep Saks Fifth Avenue downtown.

        “It seems to me to help small businesses that are otherwise economically viable would put some parity in our treatment of (big) and small business,” Mr. Luken said.

        Mr. Luken's proposal comes after several businesses questioned the fairness of City Council's subsidy of Saks as smaller merchants struggle to stay afloat.

        Downtown merchants such as Arnold's Restaurant and women's apparel retailer Georgiou at Tower Place have announced plans to curtail hours or close because of slow business.

        Globe Furniture Galleries is considering shutting its doors, and the Diner on Sycamore in Over-the-Rhine has closed.

        Downtown Cincinnati Inc. Chairman Clifford Bailey first urged Mr. Luken last week to consider establishing the fund.

        “Downtown-based businesses of all sizes have experienced trying times over the last few months,” Mr. Bailey wrote in a Dec. 11 letter. “Our feedback from small businesses indicates they have been significantly impacted.”

        Mr. Bailey's proposal calls for funds to help small businesses in downtown, West End and Over-the-Rhine to pay rent, renovate buildings and relocate.

        Last week, City Councilman Chris Monzel asked the city's law department to investigate whether the DCI proposal was legal.

        It wasn't legal, as written, the law department said, because it asked for assistance for businesses in neighborhoods outside downtown.

        Also, city lawyers said, tax-increment financing funds can be used only to fund property improvements, not to help pay rent.

        Under Mr. Luken's proposal, only downtown businesses would be eligible.


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