Point A to Point B: Here’s the Plan

From the very beginning I didn’t think there was much we could do about the Lytle Park Historic District. Western & Southern had such a head start. They’d acquired the properties over a fifty year period and have been through a gazillion zoning issues a gazillion times all over the country with a never-ending supply of highly competent lawyers at their disposal, not to mention an obvious appetite for courtrooms. So I thought we’d go through the public process, squabble back and forth at the hearings with a lot of gusto – and then in the end our political leaders would have to get practical and go on record in favor of Western & Southern.

Which is exactly what happened. (Except for the back and forth with gusto part – that part, we just sort of skipped.)

But the Historic District designation was never what really interested me. What I wanted to know about was the new vision for the area, how those decisions are made, and what sort of financial support Cincinnati puts into the kitty. A former financial consultant, I’m not afraid of numbers, but with absolutely no background in commercial real estate development, it was a far more ambitious objective than I ever imagined.

This stuff hurts your head. Because it’s not one-stop shopping. Big projects involve countless decisions in many city departments, votes by commissions and review boards, not to mention City Council, financing issues, property valuations and tax abatement, contracts plus more contracts, the interests of the public schools, Tax Increment Financing Districts, and political concerns on city, county, and state levels.

On top of the absurd level of complexity, none of the “experts” I knew were eager to talk to me. In my 58 years, I’ve never had such a high percentage of non-returned phone calls and unanswered emails on any other project I’ve tackled. Except for the developers themselves, I have yet to identify anybody who claims competency in the total development picture on all levels (although there are lots of professionals who are brilliant with their piece).

Unless we citizens take the time and trouble to educate ourselves about these decisions, we will forever be at the mercy of those who benefit from the confusion of the current system. We will never know how much we’re giving away or really understand politics in this city. And – this is the important part – we will end up with a bunch of empty commercial office space and cute little retail malls that looked good at the time (Tower Place, the Convention Center – and what the heck are we going to do with the Saks space now?). These are expensive decisions and we need to ask lots and lots of questions before we sign-on the bottom line for one more thirty-year tax abatement.

Step 1: Use Cincinnati’s emotional attachment to Lytle Park to get more people interested in development issues.

Step 2: Continue to build a social media network to share information with concerned citizens, one that can be used to call the public to action when crucial votes are going to take place.

Step 3: Develop long-term relationships with the press, political representatives, city and county administrative staff, and other interested organizations in the same way real-estate developers have established their networks of influence.

Step 4: Partner with investigative journalists and political representatives to better educate our citizens through a series of salons like the one the Enquirer recently conducted for the Streetcar at Memorial Hall. (They did a great job and I could listen to the recording on Sound Cloud while I was 5,000 miles away.)

For instance: I’d love to see P.G. Sittenfeld, Chair of the Education Committee and Mary Ronan, CPS Superintendent, co-sponsor a session on how development impacts our public schools – and hold it in one of our beautiful new school buildings.

Step 5: Every election is about development whether we know it or not and every election is important. We need to look at all our candidates through the prism of private-profit development versus the public good. November 2014 is particularly important as 2 members of the Hamilton County Board of Revision are up for re-election.

Point A may be one little Historic District with a handful of residents. But Point B matters to everybody. It’s a more thoughtful use of public funds and a relevant built-environment that will serve our city for many generations to come. It may not be an easy journey, but taking the first determined step is crucial to getting where Cincinnati wants to go.

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5 thoughts on “Point A to Point B: Here’s the Plan

  1. crtmrrbrd@aol.com

    You have exactly described grassroots organizing. I am doing the same, and I am sure many of the others on this list can also relate to your words. Let’s all do our best, and “hold each other in the Light” as we say in our faith, as we work for the common good! The arc of justice is long, but in the end it bends towards justice.

    Your friend,

    Mary Anne Curtiss

    Reply
  2. Dave Ginter

    Regarding this post and the Enquirer opinion column on July 18 (“Lytle Park…Process a Sham”), I know you’re in for a long slog. You’ve probably figured that out, too. In 2007, on the occasion of an unannounced zoning change, single-family homes demolition, and planned construction of an unwanted “multiple-purpose facility” in our residential neighborhood, I organized the neighbors to lobby, protest, and finally litigate our objection to defacing the street. All to no avail. In the end the backhoe wrecked all three homes while our complaints were still being processed.

    But I don’t think it was an entirely fruitless effort. We neighbors didn’t prevent the destruction and damage, but we delayed demolition for perhaps a year and exposed and embarrassed the key people who knew better and should have played according to the rules. Ultimately the “multi-purpose facility” was redefined as an elementary school gymnasium. By the way, owing, in my opinion, to the negative exposure, the properties never were rezoned. I can only surmise and hope that that means when the gym finally goes, we have a chance to get that corner of our neighborhood back. It’s been sorely missed.

    My advice is to marshal your neighborhood resources, but especially to insist that every document is prepared in full and signed and processed, every notification is issued, every deadline and waiting period is observed. In other words, be the pain in the arse that every bureaucrat and lawyer hates, the pit bull that doesn’t give up. Then you have a chance to be taken seriously, to get sufficient information to know what’s going on, and maybe to eek out some consideration for the opinions and needs of the people who actually live there. You won’t sit at the decision table, but you might nudge one of its legs enough to shake up the process.

    Reply
    1. executivedreamer Post author

      Thank-you so much for your very thoughtful, detailed reply. It does, indeed, encourage me. — As to the length of the endeavor, I’ve always assumed this was at least a 3-year project. Luckily I am very comfortable with “annoying.”

      We have an advantage on Lytle Park you might not have had in your neighborhood. These are such big projects – and so many of them – that it’s hard for me to imagine they can be done without significant city financial support. By keeping the spotlight trained on votes on those dollars, I’m hoping we can get a conversation going that the whole city wants to follow. Because, as you point out, it’s our turn today – but every neighborhood has to balance development decisions based on private profit with a broader range of values and concerns.

      Keep the advice coming. We need to support each other. And thanks for caring enough to push back when the rules were bent on your street. It definitely wasn’t a fruitless effort.

      Reply
    2. executivedreamer Post author

      Had to check you out on LinkedIn, Mr.Ginter and felt better once I saw that you are a professional writer. Great image on the decision-making table with the wobbly leg.

      Reply

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