Cincinnati Park Levy and the Lucky Nine

If you live or work in one of these nine neighborhoods, there’s a high probability you are an enthusiastic supporter of Mayor Cranley’s property tax increase for the parks:

Central Business District


College Hill


Mt. Airy

Mt. Auburn




These are the fortunate folks singled out to receive the majority of the goodies from the 13 projects on the Mayor’s list of suggested possibilities (it’s not definite – we have to trust the Mayor and all future mayors as to what they want to do with these funds) for the $80,000,000 to be borrowed if the levy passes next week.  The list includes an interesting mix of new amenities for our city, although, oddly enough, over half of them have absolutely nothing to do with our existing park facilities.

The “urban campground” in Roselawn is actually on private church property owned by New Prospect Baptist where Damon Lynch III is the pastor.  His congregation moved earlier this year from their long-term home across from Findlay Market and when I went out to get a tour last spring, I couldn’t figure out how the modest church I used to attend was going to raise the funds necessary to refurbish such an ambitious facility (complete with dilapidated tennis courts, basketball courts and crumbling pool) – a facility that needed everything, up to and including a kitchen sink as all the pipes in that area of the facility were missing.  

Oasis River Trail.  Wasson Way Trail.  Ohio River Trail West,  Mill Creek Valley Trail.  My mouth waters when I dream of a city connected by dedicated bike infrastructure – but why is the responsibility for construction and oversight being moved from the established expertise of the Department of Transportation to the Park Department with absolutely no experience in this area whatsoever????  Park folks are bloody geniuses when it comes to green space, but transportation is transportation and highly specialized.

For as long as I can remember – and my mother started the Park Board Volunteers in the mid-70s when city money was so tight she decided to drive our family station wagon up onto Fountain Square and plant the empty flower beds herself  – the Park Department has never had enough money to maintain the parks we already own.  But if this passes, five million bucks a year in tax revenues is apparently enough to add bunches of brand new ones in College Hill, Pendleton, the former Mercy complex now being referred to as Oskamp Park, and some kind of green space around the Westwood Town Hall.  Yes, Westwood Town Hall is now going to be designated a park.

And I don’t even know what to say about James Brown’s dilapidated former recording studio.  According to what definition does this have anything whatsoever to do with anything the Park Board should be doing?  Why is the city involved in this project at all?  


Does this look like a park to you?

At least Lytle Park is an actual, existing park.  But damn.  The only reason I didn’t make a bigger stink about John Barrett getting private sessions with the park design team for the public land smack dab in the middle of his company’s hotels and office complexes was because it was repeatedly suggested by very reliable sources that Western & Southern would be paying for the upgrades.  Now it turns out middle class property owners are also expected to foot the bill for Mr. Barrett’s preferences.  

So if your neighborhood is going to be a beneficiary of Mr. Cranley’s tax levy windfall, I get which way the wind is blowing.  But if you live in one of the other neighborhoods, the unlucky ones, it looks like you can forget about getting anything nice for a long, long time to come because this money has already been promised and then some.   Take a careful look at the OTHER neighborhoods, the very, very long list of neighborhoods that – according to Mayor Cranley – won’t be getting much from raising the taxes on their homes:  


Bond Hill


Columbia Tusculum


East End

East Price Hill

East Walnut Hills

English Woods

Fay Apartments


The Heights

Hyde Park

Kennedy Heights


Lower Price Hill



Mt. Adams

Mt. Lookout

Mt. Washington

North Avondale

North Fairmount



Paddock Hills

Pleasant Ridge



Sayler Park

South Cumminsville

South Fairmount

Spring Grove Village

Walnut Hills

West End

West Price Hill

Winton Hills

Where do YOU live?  If you’re on the unlucky list, you better get out and vote.

26 thoughts on “Cincinnati Park Levy and the Lucky Nine

  1. Bill Collins

    This is an excellent addition to the discussion about Issue 22.
    Suffice it to say that I live in one of the unlucky neighborhoods.

  2. Chip Kussmaul

    I’ve read a lot on Issue 22, and this is the most well thought out. I can think of better things to do with 5 million/yr. Leaving it in homeowner’s pockets seems like a good idea.

  3. Jacquie Chischillie

    I am in total agreement concerning the trails. Moving people from point A to point B is not a function of the Park Board. We really need to stop thinking of multi-use trails as something for recreation. They are part of infrastructure and therefore should be funded as such. I wonder if putting it under the Parks rather than DOT would deter the FEDs from offering funding.

  4. John Hopkins

    This Roselawn issue really bothers me cause the congregation vote me unanimously to Not sell the land to city. Mayor Cranley says there still might be a way but using tax money for private land doe not sit well with me

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Peter

      Here are five reasons to vote against Issue 22:
      Reason No.1.
      It’s not a typical levy – it’s a new permanent property tax. No renewal vote opportunity after five years. $5.5M new revenue under direct control of the mayor and the parks board.

      Reason No. 2.
      Despite an existing citizen engagement structure and process, the mayor has selected a list of projects—ignoring both the 2007 Parks Master Plan recommendations, and the policies and principles of community engagement (adopted by the city council in February 2015).

      Reason No. 3.
      The mayor’s project list is not included in the charter amendment. It is, therefore, a mere campaign promise. Project selection criteria? Unknown. Cost-benefit analysis? Unknown. Return on investment? Unknown.

      Reason No. 4.
      The Enquirer’s recent revelations about spending and personnel policies suggest the board and department need to be brought back to reality and trained so that they will properly oversee public spending.

      Reason No. 5.
      The amendment’s $5.5M of new revenue and $2.3M annual guarantee—almost $8M in total—will be subject to a new budgeting process specific to the parks board and mayor. Why this extra-ordinary process for this single department? What could possibly justify such a new practice? What is that fishy smell?

  5. Quimbob

    Interesting argument as Cranley has been accused of spreading the cash around evenly instead of investing it strategically.
    I am OK with having some buildings in the park designation.
    But I voted no.

  6. Marijo O'Connell

    Love your point of view. For the record, the Roselawn church has pulled out of the project as they were not informed that they would have to sell their property to the city for the city to spend money there. (Good example of the poor planning for this permanent property tax). Secondly, the list of promises is so long that a mere $80 million cannot possibly pay for all of these projects. So then what? Borrow more?? Even Willie Cardin himself disavowed the cost estimates stating, “They’re not even ball park.” I call this the PPT a pig in a pork barrel poke. I’m voting “Hell NO!”

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      Wow!!! You’re kidding. New Prospect Baptist pulled out? Why haven’t we heard about this? Why hasn’t the information on the Park Levy website been corrected? I try to pay attention – but I sure missed that news. Seems kind of important, don’t you think? How in the world we could get 4 new bike trails and all this other stuff done for $80 million has always been a mystery to me.

      1. Blue Ash Mom

        I remember seeing this mentioned once in passing in The Enquirer recently. Surprised they gave it that much attention, pulled them away from advocating for Pot and Kasich, which are the only things they seem interested in these days.

        I still harbor dreams of returning to the city proper, once my child finishes his suburban public school career. But I have to say, shenanigans like this levy make that idea less attractive.

  7. Marc Raab

    I have been waiting for Cincyopolis to chime in on this. A different angle than what’s been generally argued. But a good angle.

    I am in Mount Washington. We are generally the forgotten neighborhood when it comes to city hall. In fact many in our neighborhood think we are part of Anderson Township, the lack of the attention is that bad.

    So it’s been nice to get a bunch of attention from the city at our recent community council meetings. Charlie WInburn has generally had an aid there, and the parks department sent an employee who promised everyone “if you’re not on the list now, don’t worry- you will be.”


    Then David Mann came this month. Talked about a whole lot of things. Spent a few minutes on Issue 22, too. He made the comment “don’t worry, if you don’t like Issue 22, you can repeal it at anytime.” Which I had to correct him on… can’t repeal Issue 22 so long as debt is outstanding. Doing so would enable the bondholders to go after the city and it’s operating budget.

    The level of misinformation coming from Issue 22 has been ridiculous, and their changing messaging shows they are desperate for votes. Don’t fall for their trap. This is a flawed amendment, and even worse, it’s permanent. No on Issue 22.

  8. Matt Peiken

    Kathy, I live in Clifton and take my dogs nearly every day to Mt. Airy yet thanks to you, Margy Waller and others with larger perspective on this city, I can’t support Mayor Cranley’s plan. There’s no community input or buy-in behind Issue 22—it all seems negotiated through behind-the-scenes glad-handing and favor-dealing—and no logic or consistency connecting the individual pieces of the proposal. Thank you so much for your work, Kathy.

  9. Matt Jacob

    I think this is flawed thinking. Just because your neighborhood isn’t one of the ones to benefit from something shouldn’t be enough of a reason to vote against something that makes the city overall better. It’s a dangerous rational to promote IMO.

    That being said, even those in the “lucky” neighborhoods should still be voting No on Issue 2. Without accountability and community input baked into the deal, we’re left taking the mayor and park boards’ word that these limited resources will have the impact they promise. The false dichotomy they’ve presented asks us to accept a flawed proposal for the promise to fill an actual need for long term parks funding. Don’t take the bait, Cincinnati.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      Hi, Matt. No bait intended here. These are valid and important questions – no matter how attractive the vision that Mayor Cranley has advanced – and Issue 22 is a truly grand possibility of what might be. But the numbers don’t add up. The math doesn’t work. And while avoiding the hard realities of good decision-making might be expedient – it can blow up in our faces like other development decisions pushed forward by special interest groups who reap the benefits of particular plans. My biggest concern is how much debt this city is taking on currently to make all this happen (roads, garages, parks). If it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. Current political leadership probably won’t be around when the next big economic downturn happens and taxpayers still have to pay for all these attractive items paid for with money borrowed based on overly optimistic financial assumptions.

  10. velpaul

    I totally agree that is a totally flawed proposal. I love Cincinnati parks but this is not about the parks! I think they trusted the mayor when they shouldn’t have. Shame on the Enquirer on trying to say the park board is out of line. They are the scape goats in this

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      I keep wondering why the mayor seems to be shifting power out of City Hall and Council control on this one. Those bike trails are huge transportation projects. Department of Transportation answers to the City Manager who answers to Council. If they are under Park Board control – where there is no transportation expertise – is this one more move to privatize the decision making process. I have to assume the Park Department would have to use outside consultants for the work or partner with non-profits or public agencies (3CDC? Port Authority?) that are not accountable to voters.

      1. marilyn ormsbee

        This City Manager reports to the Mayor. He didn’t even get a review from Council before he got his raise.

      2. executivedreamer Post author

        Politics. We better learn how to play it, Folks. Because the guys with the money are experts on how to make it work for them. We better watch carefully, share information, organize through social media and be persistent. We can change outcomes. The Believe in Cincinnati movement is proof positive.

  11. B Davis

    Camp Washington doesn’t even make the list of “unlucky” neighborhoods it is so overlooked. But I would add, a lot of people in Clifton aren’t fond of the idea of getting rid of the woods in Burnet Woods either.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      I apologize profusely and from the bottom of my heart for the oversight, B Davis, because I am one of Camp Washington’s biggest fans. Joe Gorman gave me a grand tour of the miracle of self-sufficiency that is your neighborhood. I have to write about it soon. The Camp is what happens when bingo-financing crosses with heartfelt belief.

  12. Kate Gallion

    22 is a fatally flawed ballot issue. It subverts real citizen engagement as per the CEPP model adopted by city council in February 2014. It creates an extraordinary budget process for a single city department and shifts the balance of budgetary power to the mayor and murky parks board.
    Were Mayor Cranley to pledge to remove himself from the equation- and put 100% of the decision making back to CEPP, council and parks board, then I might be a viable funding initiative. As written- it’s a giant leap of faith in the better angels of politicians motives. The vaunted Washington Park 3CDC model of exploitation and privatization of natural resources does not travel well to all neighborhoods- especially the core bio-jewels of Burnet Woods, Mt. Airy Forest and Eden Park. The Audubon Society is opposed- as are the most forward thinking City Council members and civic leaders. That “fishy” smell Peter Hanes calls out in his open letter of dissent- can be traced directly back to mayor Cranley’s latest red herring power quest. No on 22.

  13. jonathan

    I don’t think your list is accurate, the oasis line runs through the east end columbia tusculum and linwood, Oakley is by the WW trail just to name a few. Most of the complaints I see are from people who live in OTR and downtown where most of the recent money is being spent. Do you really think the park board can’t manage a bike trail?

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      Those bike trails are a real stickler for me. Of course, you are right if you count every neighborhood where the trail passes through. But – damn – Jonathan, what scares me to death is more and more of our tax dollars being transferred outside a system where it is accountable to voters. WHY? A 6 person Mayor-appointed board of wealthy, influential people – well, I don’t know – but it sure has been the trend since 2004. More and more of our government is being taken out of City Hall where citizens can have a voice. — The Park Department (I assume) will find qualified professionals. But why, Jonathan – why aren’t we using the department that understands and has connections with the highly complex world of transportation funding? Why are they (lead by Michael Moore who has overseen the streetcar project) being cut out of the process?

  14. jzavon

    With this issue, the mayor initiates the spending decisions for 75 percent of the money. Why should he have such enormous influence and power rather than the professionals who run the parks? He doesn,t have that kind of authority with Health Dept. spending or Schools, so why the parks? I voted no.


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