City Council Actions on Real Estate & Development in November 2014

The most interesting note from this month’s actions in City Council is the complete and total absence of any votes on abatement, first time ever since I started tracking these issues last summer.  Perhaps the hiatus has something to do with the hiring of the new Development Director.  However, we did have a lot of proposed zoning changes, especially in neighborhoods where we obviously need more development.  

The Port Authority also delivered a slick dog & pony show for Christopher Smitherman’s Economic Development Committee.  As usual, their power point highlights work in neighborhoods that really need help like Bond Hill and Evanston, an emphasis on the ever-popular inclusion issues and of course, jobs, jobs, jobs – but also indicates growing ambitions on a regional level and a strategy to become the “most sought after development partner.”  As a “public” agency that is not compelled to meet city government standards for transparency – and one without the benefit of elected representatives answerable to that “public,” how this very ambitious agency operates deserves more critical questions.  Clearly the Port Authority is getting ready for something big.  Thus the PR push.  These issues involve huge taxpayer dollars and are therefore prone to favoritism and special interests when we let them happen where they cannot be seen.

MOTION, dated 11/14/2014 submitted by Councilmembers P.G. Sittenfeld, Wendell Young, Amy Murray, Chris Seelbach, Kevin Flynn, Charlie Winburn, Christopher Smitherman, Yvette Simpson, and Vice Mayor David Mann, WE MOVE that the Administration provide a report to Council setting forth the feasibility and financials of extending the CRA Commercial Tax Abatement Program extended benefits for LEED projects to other higher and more rigorous energy efficiency standard programs, including, but not limited to the Living Building Challenge and we move further that the Administration provide the report by January 13, 2014  (note:  probably a typo, should read 2015)

PRESENTATION, submitted by Councilmember Christopher Smitherman on 11/12/2014 from Laura Brunner, President and CEO, Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority entitled The Port Authority

PRESENTATION, dated 11/07/2014 submitted by Vice Mayor Mann from Jocelyn Gibson, City Planning presenting a power point presentation entitled Extension of IDC # 71 in the CUF Neighborhood.

PRESENTATION, dated 11/03/2014 submitted by Vice Mayor Mann from James Weaver, City Planning Department presenting a power point presentation entitled “Extension of IDC #75 Evanston King’s Village District.”

PRESENTATION, dated 11/03/2014 submitted by Vice Mayor Mann from Steve Briggs, City Planning Department presenting a power point presentation entitled Proposed Change in Zoning from SF-20 Single Family to SF-6 Single Family at 403, 415, 429, and 433 Sutton Road.”

PRESENTATION, dated 11/03/2014 submitted by Vice Mayor Mann from Justin Lamberello, City Planning Department presenting a power point presentation entitled Zone Change at 2209, 2223, 2225 Queen City Avenue from RM-2.0 to CC-A in South Fairmount.”

PRESENTATION, dated 06/18/2014 submitted by Councilmember Murray entitled Concept Design Ohio River Trail – Oasis Corridor From Carrel Street To Boathouse Cincinnati, Ohio.

ORDINANCE submitted by Harry Black, City Manager, on 10/29/2014, authorizing the City Manager to execute a Property Investment Reimbursement Agreement with Zipscene, LLC, in which the company commits to retain and create jobs and the City agrees to provide funding of up to $100,000 by making annual payments to the company over a 4-year period, with such annual payments limited to 45% of new income tax revenue generated from 47 new jobs.

6 thoughts on “City Council Actions on Real Estate & Development in November 2014

  1. Bill Collins

    Yes, Cincyopolis, I can understand your skepticism of the Port Authority, but I have a slightly different take on this agency under Laura Brunner’s leadership.

    As I understand it, the model for these types of port authorities comes down to us from various metropolitan-wide development agencies in the USA that started in the 1920s with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in NYC. Yes, the imperious dark shadow of the uber-planner Robert Moses, whose life Robert Caro chronicled in his class, “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” does hang over these agencies. So, we should be skeptical, and as good citizens we should monitor closely what these metro development agencies like the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority do for neighborhoods and to neighborhoods.

    That being said, I think that in the context of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, our Port Authority has the potential to play a positive role in both job creation and in neighborhood development. Please remember that in Hamilton County outside of the City of Cincinnati (where most Hamilton County residents live) there is nothing that I am aware of— no agency, not departments, no staff — except the Port Authority that can lead and manage planning and redevelopment competently. That results from a fundamental flaw in the legal manner by which most county governments are structured in most Ohio counties

    And, here inside the City Limits, it’s no secret that there are many unmet planning/redevelopment needs that City Hall has not addressed successfully to date. In this context — in this vacuum, really — I would argue that this kind of joint city/county planning/development agency represented by the Port Authority has the potential to play a very, very positive role in the coming years, especially if it listens to communities rather than just greasing the skids for the powerful and well-connected to get what they want out of local and state government.

    First of all, if Cincyopolis has not met and interviewed Laura Brunner, the Port Authority, I would encourage you to do so. I have never met Laura, but from everything I’ve ever heard from anybody who has met her and knows her, she is an effective development professional, she enjoys good relationships across the City and County, and seems to be the right person at the right time to do this critical job.

    Next, please keep in mind that when the City and County voted 2-3 years ago to expand the role of the Port Authority and, in effect, create a “new” Port Authority (and hire Laura Brunner to run it), the main goal that the City assigned to the Port Authority was to execute the “Go Cincinnati” plan. As I understand it, this City plan was NEVER designed to be an all-purpose development agency to execute projects all over the City. As I understand it, GO Cincinnati was focused on three areas of opportunity, with the Port Authority supposedly directed to focus on those areas. Those areas are all located along and near the I-71 and I-75 freeways: Oakley and Madisonville along I-71, Bond Hill and Roselawn along I-75 and Queensgate and the Lower Mill Creek Valley along I-75 just wet of downtown. That’s it: no downtown, no OTR, no Price Hill, no private schools.

    We see the Port Authority moving aggressively today in Bond Hill and Roselawn, and that’s good. The opportunity there is great, obviously, because large tracts of land — such as old Swifton Commons shopping center site and the old Showcase Cinema site — are available and because this communities are located at a strategic location near the interchange of the I-75 freeway and the Norwood Lateral (Ohio Route 562) freeway and along important rail corridors. The Lower Mill Creek is also a no-brainer for redevelopment for the same reason. Not only is this location served by the 75 freeway and the new Waldvogel Viaduct, but it enjoys extraordinary rail access, proximity to the Ohio River and proximity to all the capital concentrated in Downtown/OTR. As for the Oakley/Madisonville area, this area at the eastern end of the Norwood Trough also enjoys good rail access, and proximity to the junction point of the Norwood Lateral and I-71. Plus, Oakley and Madisonville sit adjacent to lots of capital and rich people — Indian Hill, Hyde Park, Mariemont, Amberley Village, etc. — along with all the amenities they like (the largest and most toney retail centers in Southwest Ohio, country clubs, tony restaurants, high-end health clubs, etc.) So, clearly, these three geographic areas are slam dunks for development during the coming years.

    For at least 150 years, Cincinnati’s economy has been defined and has prospered as a manufacturing/logistics hub. Of course, as capitalism matured, all kinds of other sectors — marketing, sales, high finance, service, support, maintenance/repair/overhaul — emerged out of this economic core of manufacturing and logistics (transportation), but it is manufacturing and logistics that built Cincinnati and it is manufacturing/logististics (with all of its modern spin-offs, as described above) which will lead our economy and ensure prosperity into the future.

    Since the interstates and freeways were built here during the 1950s-1970s period, we’ve seen two significant manufacturing/logistics hubs develop in the suburbs near these freeways. One is located in and near the interchange of I-75 and I-275 around Sharonville, Springdale, Forest Park, Fairfield and West Chester, and the other is in Northern Kentucky in and near the junction point where I-275, I-75 and CVG are located. In recent years, the biggest and most visible “plum” in this area is the distribution center — see — whose massive distribution center is located just north of I-275 at the KY Route 237 interchange just west of I-275.

    When we talk about ending poverty in the City of Cincinnati, it seems to me that one of the most direct ways to fight poverty is to create (or recreate is probably a better word) a similar manufacturing/logistics hub in Queensgate. This notion has been, at least on paper, job #1 for the Port Authority since it was re-organized a few years ago. Yet, to date, we see little progress on this front. But, to extend this argument, imagine what the impact would be on Lower Price Hill, East Price Hill, West Price Hill, Westwood, the West End and Cumminsville, would if a new manufacturing/logistics hug in the Lower Mill Creek generate thousands of new jobs during the next 20 years paying $25,000-$50,000 annually hour plus benefits. Do you reckon this would crate some opportunity for the tens of thousands of people in the City of Cincinnati today who are trapped in poverty and have no plans to ever get a 4-year college degree?

    Here in Madisonville, the situation is different from Queensgate, but the opportunity is real. Now that the Cincinnati Milacron site in Oakley — which previously provided high-wage skilled manufactured jobs — has been (horribly) developed into a low-wage park for big-box retail stores and concrete-block centers for vicarious entertainment (Target, Sam’s Club, Meijer, the multi-plex cinema, LA Fitness, Fresh Thyme market, PetSmart and now Kroger), much of the land located nearest I-71 in Oakley, Columbia Township and Madisonville has been snatched up.

    In this note, there is some detail that I cannot be specific about, out of respect for a developer planning a project on the western edge of Madisonville along Red Bank Expressway who says they don’t want to release detail prematurely. But, suffice it to say this: at recent open meetings of the Cincinnati Board of Education, the board has discussed with community members a major plan to build a large-scale development south of Madison Road near its John P. Parker School (formerly the site of Lyon Junior High). This school sits on a 13-acre site on the northeast corner Madison and Red Bank, just a hop-skip-jump from I-71 Exit 9 (Red Bank Expressway).

    It seems to me that if the Port Authority really wants to boost development in the GO Cincinnati area of Oakley and Madisonville, it needs to start discussions with the City and with CPS on this 13-acre site. In that immediate area, we already have two large-scale single-employer corporate campuses: Fifth Third Bank’s Madisonville operations complex which employs 5,000 people on Duck Creek Road just west of Red Bank Expressway adjacent to I-71 and the Medpace campus which employs about 700 people (more to come) on the southeast corner of Madison and Red Bank.

    This developer that says it want to develop a $100-million-plus development involving retail, restaurants and hotel south of Madison is telling the CPS board that it will not go through with its plans unless CPS agrees to, in effect, carve up the school campus and build a connector road through the campus. If that is the case, it seems to me that the best way to resolve this matter, give the developer what they need and further boost development and job creation in this corridor, is to develop another large single-employer campus on the 13-acre site where the school is now located, and move the school into the center of Madisonville where it belongs, in Madisonville’s neighborhood business district (NBD). If the new road is built and the school stays at its current former junior-high site — making the school less safe for children — the school will continue to remain under-enrolled as it is today. [It has one of the lowest enrollments of any CPS K-6 school, and fewer than 23% of Madisonville/Madison Place parent who live in this school’s attendance zone choose to send their children to the school].

    Fortunately, the old Madisonville High School building on Ward Street in our NBD is intact. Madisonville High — the building is now owned by a church, which uses the building for Sunday school — sits directly behind the Madisonville branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Madisonville High School also sits immediately next to the City of Cincinnati’s historic Madisonville firehouse, which City authorities says they want to close during the coming years so they can build a modern one-story firehouse for Madisonville.

    So, it seems to me that this area — a “Back to Future” Madisonville elementary school campus in the heart of our NBD — is better suited for a walkable, 21st Century public neighborhood elementary school than the current John P. Parker School site out near the freeway, with lots of roads running around it, sitting on land that is worth millions and millions and millions of dollars because of its proximity to I-71 as well as to the Medpace and Fifth Third corporate campuses. If this “Back to the Future” scenario were to unfold — neighborhood school back in the NBD, along with hundreds more jobs and $100-200 million in new investment out near I-71 along Madisonville’s perimeter — imagine the new jobs, the better road connectivity and of course the expanded tax revenue coming to the City, the County and the State of Ohio.

    I hope you will monitor the Port Authority closely. Clearly, today the local media is not doing this. But, I’m enough of a cock-eyed optimist to think that as the “new” Port Authority matures and develops process to listen to and respond to communities (as opposed to just the elites), the Port Authority can play a very, very positive role in creating jobs and strengthening communities across Hamilton County.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      Well, Bill – it’s 2am over on my side of the ocean – I can’t sleep and thought I might as well get up out of bed and answer your well thought-out comment regarding the Port Authority. It’s not like me to leave something undone for so long – and the only excuse I can offer is how I was raised: If you don’t have something nice to say about somebody, it’s better to say nothing at all.
      I agree with you in theory about the Port Authority. Unfortunately my personal experience with Laura Brunner and the Port’s interaction with citizens has been extremely negative. The criterion I use to judge any public agency’s effectiveness is rather narrow: all I care about is transparency. It took me 6 months to get a very basic question answered about the biggest project this city has ever subsidized: Queen City Square and Western & Southern’s equity participation (this entire contract negotiated by the Port under Laura’s predecessor is a moral outrage) – and Laura personally obstructed my access to this information as hard as she could. I had to put huge pressure on them to get it and in the end it was only through the intervention of a personal friend who works for the City and at the most intimidating meeting I’ve ever attended, with their counsel (the new head of the legal department for the city) in attendance, watching. – You’re right, everybody says Laura is great and she is very polite. However even though she holds the title of executive director – she is not the brains behind the Port’s strategy, their short-lived initiative to take over the Brent Sprence Bridge project, the redevelopment of Queensgate or the Lytle Park new construction that I am 99% sure they intend to play a big role in. – I’m not just skeptical about the Port Authority. I think it’s dangerous and controlled by a handful of powerful development interests. It’s not promising that Rick Greiwe’s spot on the Board was filled by Charlie Luken – also a favorite of big development interests. The total lack of transparency on what this group is doing is not good. If we can raise the standards for public information and participation in the decision making process, the Port Authority should play an important role in Cincinnati development.

    2. executivedreamer Post author

      Now that I’ve got the venom out of my system – I want to thank you for supplying the skinny on all things Madisonville and how you see the Port enhancing that project. You’re right of course. Can we both be right? That we need the Port – but we need more transparency – and I don’t like the current smaller Board structure. Too easy for a couple of big players to control – and usually the folks that end up making the big, big bucks out of the big deals are the ones who control the board. That’s what turns my stomach. Does it bother you at all? The contracts I read that are written by the City are easy to understand. The Queen City Square – Port Authority contracts were impossible. It’s like there was nobody negotiating for the city and our primary financial objective as a community came to be to make Western & Southern as wealthy as possible.

  2. executivedreamer Post author

    Bill Collins, you are too funny. When you comment, boy do you comment. And of course, the comment is always thoughtful. This one entails so much, it’s going to take me a couple of days to digest. I’m sure I’ll be back to talk about several points so I can further develop my ideas. Thanks for your input and knowledge.

    1. Bill Collins

      executive dreamer: Thanks. I don’t mean to bury folks. But, I think it’s time that we started sharing our ideas about the Port Authority. Obviously — ha! — I’ve been thinking a lot about the Port Authority, so welcome more dialogue about it. Either we, as the “little people,” grapple with this or we end up in a situation where the elites dominate these new agencies so that that their selfish agendas are pursued at our expense.


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