Author Archives: executivedreamer

About executivedreamer

Former financial consultant and straight-ticket Republican until 2000, I quit my wonderful, fascinating, well-paid job to go explore what else was in the world. These days I can't be bought with money, drive my car 1,000 miles a year and spend summers in Italy.

The Dennison and the Myth of the Free Market in Cincinnati

Cranley on preserving the Dennison: ‘I’d rather let the market decide’

That was yesterday’s headline for Chris Wetterich’s article in the Business Courier about Mr. Cranley’s take on the best use for the Dennison Hotel site.

On this particular issue,  I have to admit, I strongly agree with our mayor.

I, too, would rather let the market decide what we build and what we tear down in this town.  But that’s not the way things work.  Laws of supply and demand have absolutely nothing to do with decisions regarding commercial real estate development.

pic-701-sycamore-street-1-750xx1200-676-0-18

Proposed development for the Dennison site

 

There hasn’t been a major office building constructed in the last forty years without significant government intervention to override existing market realities.

Take Great American Tower, for instance, the most recent Class A office building completed in Cincinnati.  In order to make that project economically feasible, our local government had to pay for over $65,000,000 of the costs.  The 2,250 space garage.  The pedestrian promenade.  The lobby.  The escalators.  The plaza out front. We also abated the property taxes for over 30 years so Eagle Realty (a Western & Southern subsidiary)  doesn’t have to pay their fair share of the costs of basic services like police and fire.  The city also picked up 47% of the cost to build the 84.51 building now owned by Kroger – and abated the property taxes.

Now the developer of the Dennison site wants us to over-ride existing district protections to destroy an important historic structure well-suited to needs for residential housing, and we’re supposed to do this in order to speculate on the remote chance that  a major corporation might want to move to Cincinnati and bring lots of jobs.  And we’re supposed to believe this in spite of everything we’ve witnessed on a local basis that indicates big corporations are reducing personnel and need less traditional office space – the reason Cincinnati’s Class A vacancy rate is 13.7% versus 7.3%  in Pittsburgh and other comparable cities our size.

Members of the current administration also claim parking is a goldmine and so the city can’t seem to build them fast enough.  Shouldn’t the private sector be more than eager to keep those profits all for themselves without the need for government subsidy if that’s the case?   That is, unless private developers are worried about streetcars, self-driving vehicles and shifts in generational taste like I am.

Yes, Mayor Cranley, I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment.  City governments should not interfere in the real estate markets and subject taxpayers to the risks associated with those investments. It’s time to return to business decisions based on logical assumptions about supply and demand.  It’s time for government to leave real estate speculation to the private sector where it belongs.

Advertisements

Our "Moment of Leverage" is tonight at 6 pm.

Tonight the Over-the-Rhine Community Council will vote on whether or not to sign a letter of support for a proposed development at Elm and Liberty.

According to a post written by community activist, Margy Waller, on sway.com,  this is a large, prominent piece of land  with a massive development that will include 15,500 square feet of commercial space and almost 100 small apartments, plus a huge garage.  Margy thinks the Community Council should withhold their support.

AZCui4qsaFpkJU

An image from the marketing materials of the proposed development at Liberty & Elm

Not that she’s against the development of the property. Or this particular developer. Nobody is.  Her point is that the community hasn’t been given enough information to make an intelligent decision on whether or not this plan works for the people who actually live here and know each other by name, homeowners and renters and business owners who believe in their little place on the planet more than any other and are intimately familiar with its challenges.

Why the rush?  Why tonight?  Why no time for questions or discussion?  This is a decision Over-the-Rhine will live with for decades to come, an important conversation that deserves to be treated with respect.  Quicky votes that limit input are the norm in publicly subsidized commercial real estate development.

The logic is always the same:  If support isn’t given this minute, the whole deal could fall apart.  The neighborhood is lucky anybody wants to risk private capital to build anything, with the ubiquitous “job creation” carrot dangled liberally throughout the argument – because “job creation” is accepted on such faith within the political community, it’s almost a religion.   As long as a development is legal and can be financed, ALL development is always assumed to be good.

Baloney.

This deal is not going to fall apart if there’s more conversation.  Big developments like this take decades to acquire properties, work with architects and lobby elected representatives.  A few more months is not going to dampen the enthusiasm of the for-profit developer who has been dreaming this dream morning, noon, and night for years.  They’re not going to walk away from what they’e already invested.

As population precipitously drained from our cities, municipalities had to do whatever they could to stabilize the tax base.  Thank goodness the factors that required such desperate government intervention have finally reversed.  Buyers now want what we’ve got- an affordable, walk-able, urban experience with unique historic building stock and non-chain everything on a sweet little bend in the river .

Citizens, it’s time we learned how to negotiate better deals.  Which means we need to organize, show up for meetings, lobby politicians, and demand transparency.  The point is not to stop development.  But we absolutely have to get more for our money and lower the public risk, the exact same thing any smart for-profit investor tries to do.

This vote tonight is very, very important.  Not just for the future of Liberty and Elm.  It’s important for every neighborhood that wants a say in  the investments taxpayers make for the Greater Good in whatever part of town has captured their heart.  This vote is an important lesson in power to every Community Council in Cincinnati.

As Margy so astutely points out:

When developers seek our support—especially when they are hoping to get city investment, zoning and other land use changes, or other public benefits—it’s our moment of leverage.

Our “Moment of Leverage” is tonight at 6 pm.

Tonight the Over-the-Rhine Community Council will vote on whether or not to sign a letter of support for a proposed development at Elm and Liberty.

According to a post written by community activist, Margy Waller, on sway.com,  this is a large, prominent piece of land  with a massive development that will include 15,500 square feet of commercial space and almost 100 small apartments, plus a huge garage.  Margy thinks the Community Council should withhold their support.

AZCui4qsaFpkJU

An image from the marketing materials of the proposed development at Liberty & Elm

Not that she’s against the development of the property. Or this particular developer. Nobody is.  Her point is that the community hasn’t been given enough information to make an intelligent decision on whether or not this plan works for the people who actually live here and know each other by name, homeowners and renters and business owners who believe in their little place on the planet more than any other and are intimately familiar with its challenges.

Why the rush?  Why tonight?  Why no time for questions or discussion?  This is a decision Over-the-Rhine will live with for decades to come, an important conversation that deserves to be treated with respect.  Quicky votes that limit input are the norm in publicly subsidized commercial real estate development.

The logic is always the same:  If support isn’t given this minute, the whole deal could fall apart.  The neighborhood is lucky anybody wants to risk private capital to build anything, with the ubiquitous “job creation” carrot dangled liberally throughout the argument – because “job creation” is accepted on such faith within the political community, it’s almost a religion.   As long as a development is legal and can be financed, ALL development is always assumed to be good.

Baloney.

This deal is not going to fall apart if there’s more conversation.  Big developments like this take decades to acquire properties, work with architects and lobby elected representatives.  A few more months is not going to dampen the enthusiasm of the for-profit developer who has been dreaming this dream morning, noon, and night for years.  They’re not going to walk away from what they’e already invested.

As population precipitously drained from our cities, municipalities had to do whatever they could to stabilize the tax base.  Thank goodness the factors that required such desperate government intervention have finally reversed.  Buyers now want what we’ve got- an affordable, walk-able, urban experience with unique historic building stock and non-chain everything on a sweet little bend in the river .

Citizens, it’s time we learned how to negotiate better deals.  Which means we need to organize, show up for meetings, lobby politicians, and demand transparency.  The point is not to stop development.  But we absolutely have to get more for our money and lower the public risk, the exact same thing any smart for-profit investor tries to do.

This vote tonight is very, very important.  Not just for the future of Liberty and Elm.  It’s important for every neighborhood that wants a say in  the investments taxpayers make for the Greater Good in whatever part of town has captured their heart.  This vote is an important lesson in power to every Community Council in Cincinnati.

As Margy so astutely points out:

When developers seek our support—especially when they are hoping to get city investment, zoning and other land use changes, or other public benefits—it’s our moment of leverage.

Bad Luck on W. 5th

A historic district is a group of buildings that have been designated as historically or architecturally significant – and the honest to goodness truth is that they are all – every last one of them – a ridiculously expensive, royal pain-in-a-developer’s-butt.

Tour a few “before” and “afters” it won’t take long to conclude there’s a special place in heaven for the idealistic, passionate believers who restore our structural past.   In addition to the normal bureaucracy of construction they have to contend with Historic Conservation Board hearings and specifications like compatible wood-framed windows that cost boatloads of money. It’s a herculean challenge to get an elevator to fit in a five story walk-up built in 1895 so that there’s a prayer somebody will carry groceries to the top floor in 2016.  All this after decades of neglect from absentee landlords, holes in the roof and damage from the elements.  It’s insane.

How does anybody do it?  That must be why cincyopolis is regularly privy to so many stories about historic buildings collapsing under highly mysterious circumstances. Last week Chris Wetterich of the Cincinnati Business Courier, decided one such example was worthy of broader public attention in the traditional press.

The four-story, 24,000-square-foot building at 313 W. Fifth St., built in 1860, partially collapsed recently.  According to John Blatchford, vice president of the Cincinnati Preservation Collective, it was probably after the owner or the tenants began cutting through joists in all the floors to install a spiral staircase without a permit.

In and of itself, the collapse is strange – but it’s particularly troubling in light of the demolition of the adjacent buildings a few years ago, property owned by Shree Kulkarni, member of the Historic Conservation Board.  He turned those into nice, efficient parking lots.

 

IMG_4090

313 W. Fifth – to be demolished

 

fifth1Auditor’s photo from 2008 of the 2 historic structures torn down to make parking lots.

 

When City Manager Harry Black appointed Kulkarni to the Historic Conservation Board last August, it wasn’t well-received by preservationists.  They weren’t comfortable with previous comments Mr. Kulkarni posted to his Twitter account about the Board’s denial of the demolition of the Davis Furniture Building in Over-the-Rhine.

“Another example of how historic preservation, with no economic interest, is making economic decisions,” Kulkarni wrote. “Terrible result for developer.”  After the Mayor and members of Council vouched for the candidate’s character as a hard-working first generation American, the appointment was approved anyway.

It’s getting to the point citizens don’t know who to trust..  Today’s surface parking has a way of turning into tomorrow’s taxpayer subsidized new construction. One concerned preservationist decided to go check out the damage for himself at 313 W. 5th  and see if this was intentional destruction to circumvent legal protection or if the building really was a safety hazard to the public..

Here’s what he saw:

 

IMG_4100

 

IMG_4228

 

IMG_4223

Accident or intentional sabotage, demolitions are very, very rarely actual emergencies that require immediate government intervention to protect the public from harm.  The real emergency seems to be to avoid public discussion until it’s too late for any other solutions. Owners know what they are buying when they purchase these properties, but they also know how to get around the rules.

It’s time to remind elected representatives why we have historic preservation districts. When Council confirms an appointment to the Historic Conservation Board, character isn’t enough.  We need knowledgeable individuals in a position to make objective decisions untainted by their personal economic interests.  Our built history is irreplaceable and these important decisions deserve more time and respect.

 

Make a noise.  Get feisty.

mayor.cranley@cincinnati-oh.gov

david.mann@cincinnati-oh.gov

yvette.simpson@cincinnati-oh.gov

kevin.flynn@cincinnati-oh.gov

amy.murray@cincinnati-oh.gov

chris.seelbach@cincinnati-oh.gov

christopher.smitherman@cincinnati-oh.gov

pg.sittenfeld@cincinnati-oh.gov

charlie.winburn@cincinnati-oh.gov

wendell.young@cincinnati-oh.gov

 

(drum roll please) the new cincyopolis

Cincinnati, meet Daniel Tonozzi, the new editor of cincyopolis.  

IMG_5598

He’s got a PhD in History.  And he cooks.  His job is to invite new voices to the cincyopolis platform and co-ordinate events that bring real human beings together in rooms across the city to share ideas about building a better city.  

Here’s the way Daniel explains his position in our experiment in civic exploration:

“cincyopolis has, since its inception, followed the urban adventures of one professional citizen. The purpose of this chronicle has been to raise public awareness of the city’s role in commercial real estate deals and to encourage an inclusive dialogue about the civic goals and benefits of those deals. It is now a natural and logical step for cincyopolis to become a forum for that public and a conduit for multiple voices to be heard. One professional citizen, after all, does not a strong and vibrant community make.

To that end, cincyopolis is pleased to welcome a new format along with the new year. As we move forward into 2016, the blog now boasts a staff that has doubled in size. The professional citizen publisher now finds herself supported by an amateur civilian editor who admits that real estate jargon seems more opaque at times than any foreign language he has ever learned. Undaunted by the task ahead and eager to learn, the team will continue to rely on readers’ support, insight, and vigilance as we clear a path through to the greater good and the positive development of our city.

Please know that you are welcome – indeed encouraged to be an active and vocal part of this new year. cincyopolis already relies on you to help us maintain our accuracy and our efficacy through your thoughtful responses to the blog posts, and we will continue to do so. We now also look forward to the ways in which your written contributions will motivate, inform, and inspire fellow readers. Guest posts, freelance columns, and featured stories will advance our mission of community awareness and civic participation as they broaden the coverage of cincyopolis.

Happy New Year, Cincinnati! We’re here to make it a good one.”

 

Economic Development is about more than buildings.  At its core, it’s about the investments we make with taxpayer money to improve the lives of all of us who live in this community.  Make sure that your voice is part of the conversation about how we spend that money and what we value, the kind of city we want to be.  

Our first event this year is the Guest Blogger Invitational on Wednesday, January 27th, 7 pm at MOTR at 1345 Main St. in Over-the-Rhine.  Come find out how to be a more active participant in our local democracy and make yourself heard.  

 

This Week's Guess on the Lytle Park Mystery Hole

The 1-71 tunnel completed under Lytle Park in 1970 is only a little over 1,000 feet long – you can see daylight at the other end when you enter it – but that still makes it the longest tunnel in Ohio and the Ohio Department of Transportation is clearly taking their responsibilities very seriously in terms of updating the ventilation fans and lighting systems to the tune of $30 million, a project that will take over two years.

In case you haven’t been down to check out our Mystery Hole in a while, this is what it looks like now:
IMG_5433 IMG_5434 IMG_5436 IMG_5437

We affectionately refer to this project as the Mystery Hole because it’s difficult for non-engineers of average intelligence and reasonable common sense to understand the need for this Hoover damn-like structure to ventilate such a tiny little stretch of highway.  Smart folks with City Hall and construction experience started to contact me shortly after they saw the layout of the footers, suggesting there was something more to find out about the real scope of this project.

The main floor is four feet thick and took almost 1900 yards of concrete.  Operations began around 11:30 pm on Monday, October 19 and ran continuously through Tuesday afternoon.  Two concrete pump trucks ran that whole time with as many as 14 concrete trucks per hour during the 16 hour operation.

Come on. Admit it.  It looks just a tad bit excessive, don’t you think?

A couple weeks ago I had coffee with a reader who has worked for a wide variety of government agencies including OKI (the Ohio Kentucky Indiana agency responsible for oversight of federal transportation dollars) and he is passionate about transportation.  After giving the problem a few minutes thought he suggested the project makes perfect sense if it’s not just to ventilate the existing tunnel but enough power to take care of the entire length of Ft. Washington Way if and when they cap it for future development.

Mayor Cranley used an Emergency Ordinance last year to rename part of 3rd St. in honor of Carl Lindner, and when I questioned why it was an emergency a member of his staff explained to me that the Mayor was hoping the announcement at Great American’s annual Christmas party might encourage them to help pay for the cap.  Which surprised me.  I didn’t even know the City of Cincinnati wanted to cap the highway – but as this is the most reasonable explanation yet for the Lytle Park Mystery Hole, I’m starting to suspect we do.

Once again, as in all things involving commercial real estate development, the most important questions for citizens to ask are: “How do these decisions get made?” and “Why don’t reasonably intelligent non-engineers with average common sense trust their government?”  Why – oh why – is it necessary for me to play detective?

This Week’s Guess on the Lytle Park Mystery Hole

The 1-71 tunnel completed under Lytle Park in 1970 is only a little over 1,000 feet long – you can see daylight at the other end when you enter it – but that still makes it the longest tunnel in Ohio and the Ohio Department of Transportation is clearly taking their responsibilities very seriously in terms of updating the ventilation fans and lighting systems to the tune of $30 million, a project that will take over two years.

In case you haven’t been down to check out our Mystery Hole in a while, this is what it looks like now:
IMG_5433 IMG_5434 IMG_5436 IMG_5437

We affectionately refer to this project as the Mystery Hole because it’s difficult for non-engineers of average intelligence and reasonable common sense to understand the need for this Hoover damn-like structure to ventilate such a tiny little stretch of highway.  Smart folks with City Hall and construction experience started to contact me shortly after they saw the layout of the footers, suggesting there was something more to find out about the real scope of this project.

The main floor is four feet thick and took almost 1900 yards of concrete.  Operations began around 11:30 pm on Monday, October 19 and ran continuously through Tuesday afternoon.  Two concrete pump trucks ran that whole time with as many as 14 concrete trucks per hour during the 16 hour operation.

Come on. Admit it.  It looks just a tad bit excessive, don’t you think?

A couple weeks ago I had coffee with a reader who has worked for a wide variety of government agencies including OKI (the Ohio Kentucky Indiana agency responsible for oversight of federal transportation dollars) and he is passionate about transportation.  After giving the problem a few minutes thought he suggested the project makes perfect sense if it’s not just to ventilate the existing tunnel but enough power to take care of the entire length of Ft. Washington Way if and when they cap it for future development.

Mayor Cranley used an Emergency Ordinance last year to rename part of 3rd St. in honor of Carl Lindner, and when I questioned why it was an emergency a member of his staff explained to me that the Mayor was hoping the announcement at Great American’s annual Christmas party might encourage them to help pay for the cap.  Which surprised me.  I didn’t even know the City of Cincinnati wanted to cap the highway – but as this is the most reasonable explanation yet for the Lytle Park Mystery Hole, I’m starting to suspect we do.

Once again, as in all things involving commercial real estate development, the most important questions for citizens to ask are: “How do these decisions get made?” and “Why don’t reasonably intelligent non-engineers with average common sense trust their government?”  Why – oh why – is it necessary for me to play detective?