Friday, January 11, 2002

Luken focuses on Vine Street

Outlines goals, promises results

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Mayor Charlie Luken proclaimed a 1 1/2-mile stretch of Vine Street the most important street in the city Thursday, announcing a “Vine Street Project” that would aggressively clean up the historic divider between east and west.

        The redevelopment of Vine Street, near the epicenter of April's riots, would “be a signal that Over-the-Rhine is a neighborhood for all, not just people at the lowest income level,” he said.

        And in making Vine Street the focus of his State of the City Address on Thursday, Mr. Luken called it a “a critical test” of his new position as strong mayor — and indeed, the entire “strong mayor” form of government.

        But he didn't stop there. Mr. Luken set out goals in police-community relations, riverfront development and government reform — and then challenged Cincinnatians to hold him accountable for results.

        He said, for example, the Cincinnati Police Department would have an agreement on use-of-force guidelines with the U.S. Justice Department by April 1.

        Mr. Luken said the city would track the performance of each police officer and “assist officers who need relief from the rigors of life on the street.” He said the city would insist that officers be more polite, and that they develop better relationships with the residents they serve.

        But he also tempered those comments with strong support for police officers, saying citizens must understand that police work is often a matter of “split-second decisions.”

        “George. Pope. Jeter. Crayon. These are the names of fallen heroes — Cincinnati police officers who have lost their lives in the brave performance of their duties. I attended each of their funerals,” he said. “I will not roll over to those who stereotype our police as murderers, or rapists, or criminals. And neither should any Cincinnatian.”

        Mr. Luken's 20-minute speech to the Rotary Club at the Omni Netherland Plaza Hotel also hit on themes of development and a City Hall bureaucracy that has been resistant to change:

        • On managed competition: “Last month, City Council ... said very clearly that, if the city cannot provide a service effectively, that we are not afraid (to), and we will, look to the private sector to perform services traditionally done by government.

        “Our employees got the message, and, I think, most relish the challenge to demonstrate that they can do what the private sector must do every day: be accountable and get results.”

        • On a more developer-friendly City Hall: “We will treat every development plan as if it were the only one on the table. We will respond promptly and courteously to developers. We will institute a one-stop process where you can get all your permits, understand what is needed, and have a professional assigned to your case whose job it is not just to throw a packet of information at you, but assist you throughout the process.”

        • On the Albert B. Sabin Convention Center: “I've told you we're going to have measurable results for you. But I'm going to use some fudge words here. I'm very optimistic in the next 30 days we're going to have a plan to expand our convention center. It's time to get it done. We're either going to do it or get it off the table.”

        • On stalled riverfront development: “The promise of the sales tax that voters approved several years ago was not just for stadiums. It was a riverfront development that included a park, that included a neighborhood, and included some entertainment,” he said.

        Without those elements, he said, “The spectre that's out there right now is is that we will have the stadiums and the (National Underground Railroad) Freedom Center and a sea of parking.”

        The riverfront development sits at the south end of Vine Street, a corridor that Mr. Luken sees as a key link through downtown and Over-the-Rhine to the city's other major employment center: Clifton.

        “It is a street too often filled with crime, litter, abandoned buildings and cars, and human beings without hope,” he said. A “Pride Center” on Vine Street will coordinate city efforts to fix those problems and to attract small businesses.

        “Someone is bound to say: You are throwing out the poor. I invite you all to take a look at Vine Street. We are not offering the poor any reason to hope for their lives on the current Vine Street,” he said. “The politics of poverty hasn't helped Vine Street at all.”

        Councilman Jim Tarbell, who has long championed Over-the-Rhine issues, called the mayor's speech “about 20 years overdue.”

        “It's a miracle that there's still something to build on after three decades of neglect and dysfunction,” he said.

        The mayor's promise to Vine Street was welcomed at Irby's, an African-American-owned barber shop at 1213 Vine Street.

        “All these boarded up buildings have the potential to be someone's business — whether it be a a cleaners or day care,” said proprietor Phillip Irby.

        He's not concerned that city-funded development might drive up rents and force out businesses, like his, that cater to low-income people.

        “One thing about Over-the-Rhine, it has always been a diverse neighborhood,” he said. “We plan on being here forever.”

        But some small-business owners are skeptical that the mayor's remarks will have any more impact than scores of other city plans.

        “They dilly-dally, promise us everything and then give us nothing,” said said Larry Ashford, manager of Smitty's Men's and Boy's Wear at 1425 Vine Street. “Give us half of what they gave Main Street and downtown, and I'll be happy.”

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