Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Site re-use discussed

Brownfields just one topic at convention

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The City of Cincinnati opened its doors and threw out the welcome mat to showcase its assets as the International Economic Development Council convention took center stage at the Albert B. Sabin Convention Center downtown.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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A panel of nationwide development experts Monday urged state, city and private groups to do a better job of cleaning up old factories or polluted sites and returning the land to productive use.

One speaker at the International Economic Development Council convention even lauded Cincinnati's efforts to restore old downtown factories as a model of brownfield redevelopment.

"I was really impressed with the downtown housing," said Sharon Kophs, a brownfields redevelopment manager for the state of Washington. "There's just some tremendous redevelopment that's going on here."

Brownfield redevelopment was one of a dozen topics discussed at IEDC's annual convention, which runs through Wednesday in Cincinnati. About 1,000 participants debated topics such as finding money to pay for difficult projects and retail development in urban and rural areas.

Delta Air Lines chief executive officer Leo F. Mullin delivered a keynote address focusing on his company's economic impact on the city. Mayor Charlie Luken called for a new set of ground rules on incentives to prevent bidding wars among cities and states chasing companies and jobs.

Mullin said Delta's hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport provides about 50,000 direct and related jobs and generates about $3 billion for the area's economy.

The brownfield panel highlighted several Cincinnati projects such as the cleanup of the former Green Industries site in Sharonville and a mixed-use development planned for the Ford transmission plant in Fairfax.

Some highlights of Monday's sessions include:

• New market tax credits, a federal tool used to encourage private investment in distressed communities. The federal government has set aside $15 billion in tax credits available through 2007 to spur private investment via neighborhood community development groups.

Common uses: loans to businesses and development of factories, office space or shops in low-income communities. Also, the credits can be used to build owner-occupied homes.

• Availability of money for hard-to-fund projects. In Glendale, Ariz., a "community facilities district" helped pay for construction of a sports stadium, office and other development. Those districts, within a city, have the power to issue bonds to fund large projects. Debt is repaid through sales taxes, parking and other fees collected within the district.

In Ohio, special loan and grant programs have been a popular choice for new and expanding companies, said Tracy Allen, manager of credit and finance for the Ohio Department of Development.

Among the unique offerings in Ohio are synthetic leases - or special leases that allow companies to build and occupy new office and factory space without the asset or debt reflected on the firm's balance sheet.

Such financing deals have come under increased scrutiny since the collapse of Enron Corp.

But Allen said it's a tool that Ohio companies continue to ask about. He said a dozen Ohio companies have used such leases.

Other development topics discussed Monday included international competition, media relations, work-force training, university partnerships, tourism, organizational development and accreditation, rural projects, retail and sports stadiums.


E-mail kalltucker@enquirer.com

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