The Lytle Park Mystery Hole

Last week I was running to an appointment when I bumped into Mario San Marco coming out of the University Club.  He’s the President of Eagle Realty, a subsidiary of Western & Southern, the developer of Queen City Square/Great American Tower, the hotel-conversion of the Anna Louise Inn, and the new hotel proposed for the Banks, to name but a handful of their current mega-deals. (He’s big.  Really big.)

“I was just talking to one of the guys on the crew on the Lytle Park construction site,” I told him, “and he said the only reason for that hole IS to replace the utilities.”

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This picture was taken on August 16, but all the dirt is out of the hole now. This is what a 2-year project to replace ventilation fans and upgrade the lighting system looks like. Come see for yourself. It’s a damn, big hole.

The “hole” I was referring to is the giant mystery hole that looks suspiciously like the same type of construction used for the underground garage in Washington Park and I knew Mario would be interested since he’d sent me an email on July 27th regarding my post, “Calling all Engineers and Construction Professionals.”

washingtonparkgarage

This is what the underground garage looked like during construction in Washington Park. You can see why a neighbor might get confused.

“Your posting of rumors that you have not taken the time to validate does nothing to further the efforts  of attempting to restore 311 Pike Street and the former Anna Louise Inn Building for adaptive reuse, with positive impact for our neighborhood and City. Had you called me or emailed me and waited for a response to your inquiry of the State of Ohio, you could have used your forum to make a positive statement that would have reassured stakeholders that the work being done by the State was federally/state mandated and will serve to maintain the park for many years to come. You can be assured that none of the work on the tunnel is to accommodate any plans we have for the Lytle Park neighborhood.”

While Mario’s offer to answer my questions regarding the Ohio Department of Transportation project in a public park is generous, I’m stymied. Why would I contact an executive of a private corporation about a public project on publicly owned land?   I thought the logical source for information would be officials who have a fiduciary responsibility for taxpayer interests.  And yet this is the second time that Mario has called me to task for not coming to him on such a matter. After 6 months of calls to the Cincinnati Public Schools, the Port Authority, the Hamilton County Auditor, city administrators and elected representatives, finally Western & Southern summoned me to their office and told me where to look for the semi-annual property tax payments they’ve been making to our public schools for Queen City Square.  (Indeed, it was a lot faster when the pros gave me the clues – but, come on, somebody in the public sector should have known where to look for the tax payments on one of our biggest public-private partnerships ever-completed.)

“Were you telling them how to do the job?” Mario chided when he heard I was talking to the construction guys.

Which is pretty much the same attitude I always get from the professionals who have made all the decisions about our “public-private” partnerships behind closed-doors for decades.

This is none of my business.  I don’t know enough.  About public financing.  About real estate development.  About journalism.  I should go back to school before I write about these complicated matters.  I should trust the professionals.

Except I don’t.

Because all the professional-experts earn their livings from building these big projects, even the ones who work for public agencies – and the professional journalists clearly can’t afford to alienate the business community if they don’t want advertising pulled. Our experts are not capable of being objective.  Objective sources I can identify – long-term trends in property tax income, infant mortality rates, the poverty rate, and population figures – all of these sources are flashing the exact same great big giant red neon warning signs:  Whatever we’ve been doing based on the advice of our experts hasn’t been working.  If the point is not just to build buildings but to improve the standard of living for all the residents of Cincinnati, the results have been a disaster.

This country was founded on democratic principles of citizen participation in the decision-making process.  We not only have the  right to ask questions about public projects.  It is our responsibility to ask them. The reason for Ohio Sunshine Laws, for open records and meetings is so that we can verify the integrity of the democratic process as well as fair and even application of our laws.  Access to information is not enough in and of itself.  We have to use that information to demand accountability so that we can make better decisions about our collective future.

Whether or not the Lytle Park Mystery Hole turns out to be a garage or just a hole is irrelevant to my responsibility to raise awareness about decisions from which the public has always been intentionally excluded.  The public needs to ask more questions. Lots of them  And hard ones.  If developers and public administrators find the questions annoying, these projects should be undertaken with private money, not the public’s.

BTW, I did call Mario in response to his email and even offered to let him write his own post for cincyopolis.  He never returned my call or acknowledged my emails.

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11 thoughts on “The Lytle Park Mystery Hole

  1. Pat Timm

    As I read your column today, I thought, if the Enquirer would post your column, I would become a subscriber again. Good thinking, good writing, good citizenship–all in one place! Congratulations and keep at it, my friend.

    Reply
    1. Blue Ash Mom

      It may not be as prestigious as the Enquirer but I think this blog’s content fits City Beat better. At least that’s what I’ve thought since discovering this joint a few months ago.

      My feeling about the Enquirer is that one is less informed when one is finished reading it than before.

      Reply
  2. Mary Lambert

    I enjoyed commenting on Enquirer articles before they forced the discussion to Facebook, where I felt it would be watered down, and serve the Enquirer’s editor’s (Washburn, I think?) purpose of keeping the comments “civil”. Therefore, I no longer use it as a forum. But, at the beginning of the Anna Louise Inn debate, I came down on the side of “mixed use development” which is something a lot of cities value so that all citizens mingle. I felt that the relocation of the Inn was not only a real estate grab, but a distinct effort to classify certain citizens as not deserving of a place in the “new” downtown, their consistent home even during the hard times the city had faced. I think, while many people in Cincinnati were sympathetic to that thinking, others who commented then, had been brainwashed by middle class “cleanliness”, “newness”. The same syndrome which makes our college campuses so sterile politically (good article in the Atlantic Monthly about same). The last thing the area needed was more subsidized restaurants (one of the riskiest businesses to exist: generally,no capital, all cash flow, etc etc) serving MORE fare over spiced with chipotle;. Or now, as we know, another hotel. Lately, too, I’ve noticed that the term “gentrification” is being used in casual conversation to describe the destruction of old properties in otherwise middle and upper middle class, non “blighted” neighborhoods, to justify the building of new structures on the same footprint. Slippery slope like calling Social Security an “entitlement” over and over until people who don’t know how it’s funded, don’t even bother to find out. THANKS AGAIN, Cincyopolis.

    Reply
  3. 5chw4r7z

    I was at a party last week and a Cincinnati councilperson was ranting and raving about giving away $137 million to developers in one meeting. But attempts to spend money on helping Cincinnati residents in need was roadblocked.
    What I want to know is where is all this money coming from? And I’m sure the reason it is so hard for you to find public information isn’t accidental.

    Reply
  4. MJB

    Kathy, This hole in the ground “smells” like more than federal and state mandates. Assurances from Eagle Realty may be true or self-serving disguise. I suspect you will eventually find out. Meanwhile, the belittling ridicule serves no purpose, but raises questions about motivations. Keep up the good work. Mike

    Reply
  5. Steve Deiters

    So what is this “councilperson” doing or has been doing to stop this giving away of $137 million? I’m sure this “person” realizes the word “developers” doesn’t necessarily mean some nameless out of town investor with a subliminal agenda, but many other people who have been given grants, loans, upfront infrastructure investments, etc. etc. over the years who may very well be their supporters.

    I think if one really digs into it this council person may realize some of the group that he is railing against may contain many of his/her own supporters who have received something on some level. So when does a bad thing for those “developers” stop and it’s a good thing for ones political base begin?

    Reply
    1. Mary Lambert

      That’s why transparency and people demanding it is so important. We all know politicians, especially in a social setting with little to lose, could be nothing more than blowhards. But, “let the record show that _____” is what we should have and easy to get. And, as for the Enquirer, formerly known as a NEWSpaper, it should provide less morning after photos of “young urban professionals” hoisting one with giddy smiles, and more mud raking.

      Reply
    2. 5chw4r7z

      This councilperson wanted to spend some money on helping residents of Cincinnati. But welfare for big developers is more important. I’m sure they’re all good buddies with the promise breaking mayor.

      Reply
  6. Steve Deiters

    BS: “This councilperson wanted to spend some money on helping residents of Cincinnati.”

    All of us like to help people/residents. There is a finite amount of money available. What do you and this councilperson suggest we cut back on to fund whatever this endeavor is?

    Reply

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