Thursday, September 11, 2003

Kroger gets its garage, but not before debate

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Kroger Co. will get its 850-car garage at Vine Street and Central Parkway, Cincinnati City Council said Wednesday. The $12 million city project means the city's second-largest private employer will keep its world headquarters downtown.

The vote was 7-2. And while the roll call itself was anticlimactic, Wednesday's session was full of election-year debate about "corporate welfare" and the privatization of city services.

Laketa Cole and Alicia Reece voted no. Cole said she would vote no on any economic development until the administration develops consistent guidelines about how to grant city assistance.

"This deal stinks," Cole said. "It stinks for the council. It stinks for the taxpayers. It stinks so bad that I beg the administration to get its act together and get us the information we need before we have to make any more of these decisions."

Reece pleaded with her colleagues to approve her alternative plan to shuttle Kroger workers back and forth from a West End parking lot. They declined, 8-1.

Councilwoman Minette Cooper initially voted no but changed her vote afterward. "I'm not happy with what's being done, but I didn't want to hold up things," she said.

Council also rejected a Republican-led effort to insist that parking operations be privatized to save money. Without cutting costs, they said, the annual debt service and operation of the garage will cost taxpayers - or downtown parkers - $480,000 a year.

Democrats cried foul, accusing Republicans of engaging in election-year politicking.

"We had some tough votes today," Democrat John Cranley said. "We don't need any more wedge issues."

"It seems to me that a wedge issue is something that someone doesn't want to talk about until after Election Day," Republican Pat DeWine responded. "These are decisions that people ought to know how they're going to be paid for when we write the check, not three months later."

Mayor Charlie Luken interjected: "That's not a campaign commercial, Mr. DeWine. But it's close."


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