Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Advice: Develop outside City Hall

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A mayoral commission on economic development will recommend today that Cincinnati make drastic changes in its economic development apparatus - moving most of the city's development efforts outside of City Hall.

In what would be the most fundamental shake-up of economic development in the city's history, the Economic Development Task Force recommends creating an independent development authority and an economic development "strike team" under the direction of the city manager.

The system would create two separate, but closely related, entities outside of City Hall:

• The Cincinnati Development Corp. would be a nonprofit developer with an emphasis on creating housing, office, retail, arts and sporting venues. Its domain would be narrowly focused on the riverfront, Fountain Square and Over-the-Rhine.

• The Cincinnati Development Authority would be a quasi-governmental authority with power to issue bonds and take property by eminent domain - but not to tax or grant tax breaks.

The development authority - similar to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority but with more muscle and citywide jurisdiction - would work closely with the Cincinnati Development Corp. and would primarily be responsible for the stalled riverfront project known as The Banks, and for redeveloping old industrial sites throughout the city.

A third city entity would remain under the control of the city manager but would be physically moved outside City Hall itself. The One-Stop Business Development Center would issue permits and help developers - large and small - navigate the complicated city, county and state bureaucracies responsible for tax breaks, grants and loans.

The 18-member task force, co-chaired by City Manager Valerie Lemmie and Fifth Third Bank Chairman George A. Schaefer Jr., has been meeting for nine months. Its recommendations will be released this morning at what will likely be its final meeting.

The Cincinnati Enquirer obtained a summary of the recommendations Tuesday.

Mayor Charlie Luken said getting economic development out of City Hall and into the hands of experienced dealmakers would be an important step forward.

Luken said the recommendations would strike a balance between those who want the private sector to control economic development and those who see a strong role for the city and its elected officials.

Luken expects a vigorous debate at City Council over how much control the city should cede to outside entities.

"I know that some council members worry that we're taking too much out of City Hall, and others are going to be upset that we're not moving enough out of City Hall," he said.


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