Stories of Cincinnati’s strong history, promising future highlight 2011 State of the City

Last night, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory delivered his sixth State of the City address. In the speech Mayor Mallory gave those in attendance a bit of history lesson about Cincinnati in tough economic times, and stood boldly in the face of opposition to his administration’s projects and programs.

The history lesson began with a story of two men, Jim and Bill, who started a company during tough economic times in 1837. Those men, Mayor Mallory says, did not listen to the naysayers and eventually created the world’s largest consumer products company – Procter & Gamble. The history lessons continued with examples of bold investment projects like the construction of Union Terminal in 1928 and Carew Tower in 1930.

“The naysayers keep saying we need to slow down; we need to pull back; it is not the right time,” stated Mayor Mallory. “In these economic times, we need to be bold when others are scared. That is how you prosper.”

The mayor then tied those history lessons to more recent endeavors that have attracted significant opposition. Mayor Mallory cited the development of The Banks, implementation of the City’s Enhanced Recycling Program and 2010’s CitiRama in Northside. Mallory’s assertion, in part, is that a city must continue to change, innovate and investment in order to stay competitive.


Cincinnati Skyline photography by Aaron Davidson.

“What brings people to a city is when there is clearly something going on, when the city is on the move. People want to be in cities where things are happening. And clearly things are happening in Cincinnati.”

One of those things, Mayor Mallory contended, is the Cincinnati Streetcar project for which he reserved some of his most pointed comments.

“The streetcar project will bring jobs and development to the city and that is why my administration will continue to pursue the streetcar,” Mallory exclaimed. “And yes, we will do it in the face of opposition. The reality is opposition never built anything…and just like we built The Banks, we will build the streetcar.”

Mayor Mallory also discussed the vibrancy of downtown, the new Cincinnati Horeshoe Casino, massive investments taking place in Over-the-Rhine, the redevelopment and expansion of Washington Park, renovation of Fay Apartments into the nation’s largest green housing development and a $100-200 million project that will transform a polluted creek into a clean park space.

In short, Mallory said, “Few cities are seeing the type of rebirth that we are seeing in our urban core.”

Other highlights include:

  • Launch of a new initiative called Bank On Greater Cincinnati that will transition 8,000 people from payday lenders to banks or credit unions.
  • Progress made on cleaning up lead paint from households with the help of $7.5 million in federal grants.
  • 72% of Cincinnati households now recycle, and 36% more has been recycled so far in 2011 following the introduction of the City’s Enhanced Recycling Program.
  • The Enhanced Recycling Program was expected to achieve $47,000 per month in savings. In March 2011, the program actually saved $83,000.
  • Since 2007 the City has decreased energy usage by more than 15%, which exceeded their 10% goal, saving the city more than $1 million in 2010.
  • Graduation rates at Cincinnati Public Schools have increased from 51% in 2000 to 80% in 2010, and college enrollment has increased 10% over the last four years.
  • The Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) has been responsible for getting several violent gangs indicted in federal court and has significantly reduced violent crime throughout the city.
  • Unemployment has dropped from 10.1% to 8.6% since last year.

Mallory concluded by reflecting on these accomplishments and looking forward.

“Let me make it clear. We do not lie down. We do not give up. This is Cincinnati. When times are hard, we work harder. It is a part of our history. It is part of our heritage. It is in the very fabric of who we are as a city. So, what are you willing to work on? What are you committed to? I challenge all of you to find something you are passionate about to make Cincinnati greater. Future generations of Cincinnati will thank you.”

  • http://cincybibliophile.blogspot.com/ Josh O.

    Great post. Somehow, there is not anywhere on the Cincinnati.com main page any reporting on last night’s speech. I don’t get it. Isn’t a state of the city speech important?

    At least one of the real news sources in town covered it. Keep up the good work.

  • Nate

    Great speech by the Mayor. I loved his examples of pushing past the naysayers. For kicks, if he wanted to provide an example of the naysayers winning at a huge loss to the city, he could have pointed to the Cincinnati Subway.

    Cincinnati.com did list it on their main page, but only for a few hours.

    http://communitypress.cincinnati.com/article/AB/20110421/NEWS0108/104220347/Mallory-Now-time-bold?odyssey=nav|head

  • http://urbancincy.com/author/randysimes Randy A. Simes

    Mallory could have easily mentioned the renovation of Fountain Square as a project that the city pushed on with regardless of what the naysayers had to say. The project has been wildly successful since its completion, and now those same naysayers just try to forget the whole thing happened because they look incredibly stupid and lose credibility on these sorts of matters.

  • John Schneider

    ^ And here’s another: the Aronoff Center for the Arts. In the mid-Nineties, it was opposed by some very influential Cincinnatians who thought it would doom Music Hall. Opponents gathered signatures to put a measure on the City of Cincinnati ballot to prevent its construction. The ballot initiative passed, but by Election Day, the title had been transferred to the State of Ohio, which went ahead and built the Aronoff anyway.

    Wonder how many of those opponents still think we should have never buit the Aronoff, especially in light of Music Hall’s pending $100 million renovation that will make it good for another fifty years. Just like the renovation in the 1960’s carried it to this point.

  • http://quimbob.blogspot.com/ Quimbob

    It’s on the Politics Extra Blog
    http://cincinnati.com/blogs/politics/2011/04/22/mallorys-full-state-of-the-city-speech/
    Last year’s video is online (which I thought was this year since I’m an idiot) This year’s should be up as soon as their 1.2 GHZ PIII Acer compresses it.

  • Joe

    Urban rebirth? Really …. Didn’t we just get census numbers showing that the city’s population dropped by more than 10% from the 2000 census to less than 300,000? Sure there are some exciting projects that are going on in downtown and in OTR including the banks and the casino but the overall the picture is much less bright. Vacancy rates are still increasing at alarming levels and much more is being demolished than is being built. Sure downtown may be a bright spot but some of the other neighborhoods in the city such as Walnut Hills, Price Hill, and College Hill are still having many problems, losing residents and business. Also Cincinnati just lost 5th/3rd processing to Mason and other large tenants downtown are rumored to be looking to move across the river or out to the periphery. These trends show that the economic base is not strong as Mallory is alluding to and his speech ignores the massive problems that the city still needs to overcome. Currently he just seems out of touch with the reality of the situation and the larger structural problems that he is trying to overlook.

  • John Schneider

    Cincinnati is rebuilding similarly to the way it declined since its peak in the 1950’s — starting at the core and moving outward. This is a common pattern in most American cities today, and it will probably take decades to complete the process.

    Other than Warren County/Mason, Hamilton County/Cincinnati has the lowest unemployment rate in the region. I’m hard-pressed to name any other area that is seeing as much development activity as Cincinnati is right now.

    Fifth-Third moved to Mason for free parking.

  • JustinBlaze

    With $5+ gas this summer I’m intrigued to see how development will shake out in the near future. A tipping point is being reached. With the inherent ease of connections in the central core I would expect to see more relocations coming soon.

  • cornercase

    Fifth Third Processing didn’t move to Mason. They moved to Governor’s Hill in Symmes Township (in Hamilton County, for those keeping score). That’s the exact same place that P&G vacated 2 years ago to move 650 jobs downtown. Throw in the 150 jobs that First Financial recently promised downtown and you can call it a wash.

    http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/news/2010/12/03/fifth-third-processing-signs-at.html
    http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2009/06/22/daily39.html
    http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/news/2011/03/10/first-financial-to-keep-headquarters.html

    Does that mean that everything is hunky-dory in the city? No, but it doesn’t mean that the city isn’t progressing either. The Mayor did a good job of articulating that progress in his speech.

  • Joe

    First Financial – Cincinnati got a raw deal on that one since they had to “lure” them with $3.6 million and it only creates 55 new jobs while preserving 95 others in the company’s corporate headquarters in Atrium One. That is a lot of money per new job and Cincinnati can only hope that First Financial continues to grow rapidly and makes several other acquisitions in the near future. It also creates a precedent that corporations can shake down the city for incentives even if they were likely to locate there anyways.

    Personally I’m in favor of using incentives to land corporate headquarters but the city has to be more careful and not take the first offer they receive. The mayor should be actively courting companies in New York and Chicago, trying to get them to relocate to Cincinnati. This strategy may be effective since the cost of living is so much cheaper here and there is relatively cheap office space. Just look at Dallas-Fort Worth as a city which has effectively built upon its CBD by getting companies to relocate.

  • cornercase

    Bologna. First Financial is committed to create at least 150 net new jobs by 2014 and they must maintain those jobs (and payroll) until 2025. Further, the likely result is a net gain in tax revenue for the city (crunch the numbers) and it keeps a growing business downtown. I bet if they would’ve left you would’ve said “the silly city didn’t do enough to keep them”. The city never gets the benefit of the doubt.

    “the city has to be more careful and not take the first offer they receive”. I agree, but what evidence do you have that they ever did that??

    I don’t doubt that Dallas/Fort Worth is in a better situation, but give me an example of a business relocating there without that business getting some kind of tax incentive.

  • Joe

    @Cornercase – The following article goes into the new and retained jobs numbers. The number of new jobs associated with the incentive deal is not 150 but 55. First Financial had already rented space in Atrium One in early 2010 and had 95 employees already there. This makes me think that they had already decided on moving their operations downtown and that the City could have gotten away with offering far less (or no incentives at all).

    http://www.choosecincy.com/news/first_financial_deal_gets_early_ok

    The reason I bring up Dallas is that they have facilitated the relocation of companies from other regions of the country due to an aggressive marketing campaign which focused on. In 2001 they were one of the top competitors for Boeing (which eventually went to Chicago but praised Dallas for its access to world markets, concentration of technology companies, and its highly qualified workforce). AT&T relocated to Dallas in 2008 saying that;
    “Dallas will give it better access to customers and worldwide operations, and also to the key technology partners, suppliers, innovation and human resources need as it continues to grow” (AT&T press release 2008)

    AT&T did accept incentives of $11.5 million over ten years but said that it had been offered much more and decided on Dallas largely for the reasons mentioned in the quote above. Considering that AT&T is such a large corporation and that several thousand jobs were being moved the amount per job created is much less than the amount offered to First Financial. Also the spillovers related to AT&T move, such as visitors to the headquarters and the use of professional services by the company will create a significant amount of economic spillover.

    Comerica Bank is another example of a major company relocating to Dallas not based on incentives but due to strategic advantages. They did receive $500,000 in the move that brought several hundred employees and a top-tier fast growing bank to downtown Dallas. Comerica cited “growth concerns” as the reason for its move from Detroit to Dallas and has recently acquired several competitors in the Texas market region thus adding a significant number of new jobs to their corporate headquarters.

    Not to be overly harsh on the economic development office at the city, I understand they have a lot on their plate but I would like to see a more coordinated campaign to promote the city. We certainly have advantages, a high concentration of corporate offices, several excellent universities, and a favorable geographic location at the cross roads of the heartland. Now we need to figure out ways to exploit these advantages.

  • Joe

    @Nate “For kicks, if he wanted to provide an example of the naysayers winning at a huge loss to the city, he could have pointed to the Cincinnati Subway”

    How exactly does the city ignore the “naysayers” when the city does not have any money and the continuation of the project would put the city’s fiscal health at risk and possibly led it to insolvency. What is the mayor going to do, pull the money from thin air? The Cincinnati Subway however is a practical and painful example of the need to make sure you have the needed money set aside before construction starts. I can see history repeating itself in the Cincinnati Streetcar project and my prediction is that they will lay about 2 miles of track before they run out of money and scrap the project.

    Streetcar supporters – wait five or ten years until the city can actually afford the project!!

  • Dale Brown

    Wasn’t Fountain Square way over budget and not on time, similar to the Banks? I don’t think most people have problems with these projects, its the combination of rosy estimates and then flawed execution that turns most people away.

    And unemployment is a flawed statistic, especially in Cincinnati where there are many people who aren’t even looking for work.

    Cincinnati needs some sort of angle to draw businesses to the area, and its not going to be bars/restaurants/street cars.

  • Jim Uber

    Dale, No. I do not recall Fountain square being over budget. I recall a $55M estimate and I believe that’s close to where it ended up.

    Opponents to that project routinely labelled it as a boondoggle that was spending $55M “to move the Fountain 50 feet.” As a civil engineer I remember thinking how intentionally misleading that was; the bulk of the money was spent on renovating the substructure for the garage roof and installing other infrastructure like the chiller for the ice skating rink — all subsurface work that you’ll never see with your eyes. The city and 3CDC brought in a well regarded planning expert and carefully listened to his reasoning. His ideas were right, and the City was wise to listen.

    You’ll have to capitulate on this one, Dale, otherwise your arguments will be destroyed by facts. Fountain square is a huge success. Spending that money to “move the fountain 50 feet” was one of the wisest decisions made by the City. Go there pretty much any time of day or year and you’ll see what I mean.

  • John Schneider

    ^ Add these success stories:

    * Cincinnati Convention Center renovation – on time and under budget, resulting in huge increases in hotel bookings and probably partially responsible for the construction of three new hotels in downtown.

    * Fort Washington Way – on time and on budget, opened the Central Riverfront to flood-proof development for the first time in 225 years.

    I can’t think of a single City of Cincinnati infrastructure project that has been a loser.

  • http://urbancincy.com/author/randysimes Randy A. Simes

    The expansion of the convention center has been so successful, in fact, that it has also allowed for the expansion and renovation of the Springdale Convention Center through the higher than expected hotel room night tax returns. The only thing that could probably be seen as a failure with the convention center expansion is that it wasn’t expanded enough. But that was due largely to the naysayers.

    Fountain Square was not delayed or over budget. There were delays to the official grand opening due to inclimate weather, but that was it. The big thing about the budget is that everyone thought the city was paying $55M to move the fountain, when in fact the city paid a mere fraction of the $55M while the private sector covered the rest. And yes, previous commentors are correct by saying that the overwhelming percentage of the costs went to improve the substructure of the square and renovate the underground parking garage.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    The convention center expansion was similar in cost to the streetcar project. Opposition to the convention center expansion existed, but it came nowhere close to the unrelenting harassment of the streetcar.