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Monday, February 17, 2003

The Banks: OKI approval



The Banks riverfront project moved closer to the day when it will rise above the current "sea of surface parking" between the stadiums and become a long-awaited $600 million development.

Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) on Thursday voted to commit $10.4 million in its transportation improvement plan to help build The Banks $68 million parking garages. They are designed to lift the project above the flood plain and provide platforms for private development.

Next, OKI's plan goes to the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) for its signoff. The money was already appropriated in the last federal transportation bill. The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority is overseeing the project. The Port, with OKI's help, applied for special federal transportation funds set aside for managing traffic congestion and improving air quality. The application used $20.8 million from Hamilton County as local matching money. Last March, the county commissioners put that first financing piece in place when they committed $20.8 million in revenues from the half-cent stadium sales tax.

Without upfront public investment in the garages/platforms, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to attract private developers to the site. It was part of the deal that county money would be forthcoming only if the city of Cincinnati paid for other infrastructure items such as the street grid and utility installation. Neither the city nor the county is swimming in excess revenue at the moment. Hamilton County's original projections for the stadium sales tax were for a "conservative" 3 percent rate of growth, but the slumping economy since 2000 has seen either minimal sales tax revenue growth or collections below the previous year's. But one additional upside to the federal transportation grant is that the Port has three years, until 2007, to obtain the county's matching funds and spend the money.

Many here have felt frustrated by delays over The Banks. OKI's action adds needed leverage to keep the riverfront from being left half-finished.




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