Can Cincinnati’s Ground Breaking Collaborative Agreement Serve as a Model for Ferguson?

The events that have unfolded across America over recent months are strong reminders that there is much to do in terms of civil rights and equality, but they are events that are particularly moving for Cincinnatians who were the center of similar controversies in 2001.

Leading up to days of civil unrest in Cincinnati, and months of economic boycotts, 15 black men were killed over a six year period. In the last case before rioting, 19-year-old Timothy Thomas was shot and killed by officer Stephen Roach. It was later found that Thomas was unarmed, and Roach was eventually acquitted of negligent homicide charges.

The similarities between what happened in Cincinnati, and what is happening in Furgeson, Missouri, are striking. The protests and boycotts eventually led to the ground breaking Collaborative Agreement in 2002. The agreement called for outside monitoring by the Department of Justice, and enacted several sweeping reforms which are still followed today more than seven years after the Collaborative Agreement was designed to last.

“I think policing needs to change in America,” Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell recently told Bloomberg News in an eight-minute video report. “I think it needs to be different with a different focus. The relationship building that police officers have to do in those communities gives it a certain relationship collateral. People will allow you to make mistakes if they know you and trust you.”

The progress that has been made in Cincinnati is now being looked at as a potential national model for reforming community relations for police forces.

“One of the things that i was most afraid when we finished monitoring was could these reforms be sustained,” explained Saul Green, the monitor for Cincinnati Police Department from 2002 to 2007. “From everything I can tell there continues to be good interaction and good communication.”

While much progress has been made since April 7, 2001, those who pushed for the reforms then are continuing to make sure progress continues to be made.

“I do see some change, but we’re not utopia yet for African Americans and the police department yet,” explained Iris Roley of the Cincinnati Black United Front. “We’re not there yet, but I’m glad we started in 2001 and I’m glad of where we are today. I look forward to going to the Missouris and the Clevelands and New York, and talking with everyday people who care so that everyone is treated fairly…that everyone has an opportunity to fair and unbiased policing.”

Hamilton County Could Plant Four Trees For Every Assault Rifle Received Through DoD Program

The scenes on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri have caused national outrage not only for the racial tension over the killing of a young black man by the local police, but also due to the overtly militarized response to the rioting. The City of Ferguson did not get their military supplies by accident, instead they utilized a government program that sells local police forces these items at a discounted rate.

Beginning in 1997 the U.S. Department of Defense authorized the 1033 program, which allows local police forces to buy surplus military items. The intent of the program is to  help local law enforcement officials with counter-drug and later counter-terrorism efforts. Over 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies participate in the program, and, to date, over $5 billion worth of items have been distributed to local police departments across the country. This includes, but is not limited to, assault rifles, body armor and armored vehicles.

The folks over at NextCity developed an infographic that illustrates what some of these military items could buy in terms of urban infrastructure. It’s easy to see that some of the more expensive items could translate into huge improvements for local public infrastructure repairs and fixes.

ArmsDealing_final5

Hamilton County has also participated in the program. The available data covers the last ten years and has a few noteworthy items.

The largest find in the database is a 2006 transfer of 158 5.56mm rifles for $499 each. The rifles have a total value of $78,842. Additionally, Hamilton County received night vision equipment totaling at least $5,795.

Adding even more to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s arsenal, 23 7.62mm rifles, at $138 each, were received for a total of $3,174; and 62 more 5.56mm rifles were received in 2010 at $120 each for $7,440.

In total, the database shows that Hamilton County has obtained a total of 243 assault rifles for a value of $82,760; making it the largest transfer on the list.

While the total amount may not seem like a huge impact on municipal budgets,  it is easy to imagine what even this sum of money could be used for if it was spent on more peaceful projects to keep citizens safe, such as creating more bike lanes, fixing potholes, streetlights or installing stop signs.

One such example locally is that the amount of money spent to give Hamilton County assault rifles could have covered the cost to plant more than 200 street trees.

It is important to note, however, that not all the stuff the county is getting is weapons. Hamilton County has also received medical devices and supplies, clothing, furniture, and other non-combat related accessories from the program.

Revised Agreement for Redevelopment of Pogue’s Garage Poised to Advance This Week

More than a year after an initial deal was proposed to redevelop the aging Pogue’s Garage site into a sleek residential tower, a new deal may actually move forward that will allow for construction to finally move forward.

In November 2013, the City of Cincinnati had entered into a Development Agreement with Flaherty & Collins to build a 15,000-square-foot grocery store, 950-space parking garage and a soaring 30-story residential tower with 300 units costing $94 million. As part of this deal, the City had committed to providing a $12 million forgivable loan to the project. This came after an initial deal to fund the project through the proceeds generated by the then proposed Parking Modernization & Lease program.

The Parking Modernization & Lease program, however, was almost immediately cancelled upon the arrival of Mayor John Cranley (D); who then subsequently stated that the $12 million forgivable loan for the project was “too rich”, and that the entire project should be rethought.

This led to the engagement of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), and the new deal that will go before City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee, chaired by Vice Mayor David Mann (D), at 2pm today.

According to a leaked memo from City Manager Harry Black’s office, the new deal is substantially different from the previous Development Agreement. Instead it calls for a $5.5 million grant to Flaherty & Collins to construct an eight-floor residential tower including 208 units, and a $4 million loan to 3CDC to construct a 925-space parking garage and 25,000 square feet of street-level retail space.

The Cranley Administration is touting the deal as a savings for taxpayers, while also not sacrificing too much.

“We inherited an overly rich deal,” Jay Kincaid, Mayor Cranley’s Chief of Staff, told UrbanCincy. “This new deal saves taxpayers $6.5 million, and gives the City control over the garage.”

Much of the savings is realized through the changes to the parking agreement. The previous deal provided the developer a grant to build and operate the parking structure, while the new deal utilizes a $4 million performing loan to be repaid later by 3CDC. Once the loan is paid off, the revenue stream from the parking structure would be shared by the three parties.

The emergency ordinance that will be put before the Neighborhoods Committee today, and then most likely be voted on by the full City Council on Wednesday, also includes a 30-year property tax abatement for the apartment component.

As of now, property tax abatements in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine filter 25% to Cincinnati Public Schools, with the remaining 75% being the actual realized abatement. Starting on January 1, 2015, however, that latter number would be reduced to 67.5% with the 7.5% difference being put into a fund to help cover the costs of operating and maintaining the Cincinnati Streetcar.

With the development losing approximately two-thirds of its height, but only one-third of its number of residential units, it signals that the new development will look quite different than the initial renderings released to the public. The final result may mean smaller residential unit sizes or a wider tower that utilizes more of the site’s footprint.

Yet unanswered is what will happen with Paragon Salon, which has remained in operation at the site despite being served eviction notices from the City. Since the original Development Agreement was signed more than a year ago, the owners of Paragon have claimed the City is violating their lease agreement, and has requested assistance in finding a new location. The City, meanwhile, has rebuffed Paragon and said they will not submit to paying for the costs of its relocation.

One item previously holding up construction on this still unnamed project was the redevelopment of Tower Place Mall into Mabley Place. Now that the parking garage is complete and open for business, City leaders say they feel more confident in closing down Pogue’s Garage to allow for construction to commence.

System Designs Unveiled, Operating Agreement Reached for Cincinnati Streetcar

Officials with the City of Cincinnati and Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) made several major announcements last week pertaining to the rollout of the Cincinnati Streetcar system.

While the design of the rolling stock and the system’s color scheme were revealed more than a year ago, the official branding for the new mode of transit for the Cincinnati region had not. SORTA officials say that the branding will be utilized all throughout the system including its fare cards, ticketing machines, uniforms, wayfinding, brochures, website and social media, and, of course, the trains and their stations.

The branding scheme was put together by Kolar Design, whose offices are located in the Eighth Street Design District just two blocks from the nearest streetcar stop, after competing with more than 100 other firms interested in the opportunity to developing the design scheme.

Project officials say that the $25,000 cost for the branding effort was paid for through Federal funds.

Founders Club Card Sales
At the same time, SORTA and City officials announced the availability of 1,500 Founders Club Cards. The sale of the cards, officials said, would help raise some initial funds to be used to help offset initial operating expenses.

Project officials have informed UrbanCincy that approximately half of the 1,500 cards were sold within the first 24 hours of going on sale; and that more than 1,000 had been sold by Friday. A limited number of Founders Club Cards are still available for purchase at the Second Floor Cashier’s Office at City Hall, Metro’s sales office in the Mercantile Arcade across from Government Square, and online at Metro’s website.

There are three card options available. The first goes for $25 and allows for unlimited rides for the first 15 days of service, which is currently pegged for 2016. The second and third options go for $50 and $100, and allow for unlimited rides for the first 30 and 60 days, respectively.

The commemorative metal cards and matching metal cases were seen by some as one of the first ways for Cincinnati Streetcar supporters to show their support. Having experienced strong sales thus far, it seems as Metro’s strategy may prove to be a success.

“This is one of the first tangible opportunities streetcar enthusiasts can show their support,” said City Councilwoman Amy Murray (R), Transportation Committee Chair. “This is a great idea that Metro has developed to generate excitement. I think many will appreciate the privilege of being a Founding Club Member with this commemorative card.”

Operating Agreement Finalized
Perhaps lost amid the other news was the signing of an official operating agreement. Under the current structure, the City of Cincinnati is building the system, and is its owner, but will contract out its operations to SORTA.

The Cincinnati Streetcar Operating & Maintenance Agreement first came out of Murray’s Transportation Committee and was approved 7-2 by City Council in early November. It calls for expanded on-street parking enforcement in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine until 9pm, an increase in parking rates in those two neighborhoods, and a set streetcar fare of $1 for two hours.

The agreement also utilizes an innovative technique that would lower property tax abatements 7.5%. This is an important component of the agreement as it addresses a longstanding call from opponents for those benefiting from real estate valuation increases to cover more of the costs of modern streetcar system. It also eliminates the need to utilize the Haile Foundation’s $9 million pledge, and would instead only tap into those funds in a worst-case scenario.

Project officials estimate that the system will cost approximately $3.8 to $4.2 million annually to operate, and that those costs would be covered by $1.5 million in additional on-street parking revenue in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, $1.3 million from fares and advertising, and an estimated $2 million annually from the tax abatement reductions.

“This is the most innovative plan I’ve seen in the United States,” stated John Schneider, noted transit advocate and real estate developer, at the time of City Council’s approval in November.

The SORTA Board approved the agreement last week and touted the benefits of having operations of the Cincinnati Streetcar be handled through Metro, which also runs the region’s largest bus service.

In addition to the critical financing elements of the agreement, it also delineates various responsibilities once service goes into effect. To that end, the City of Cincinnati will be in charge of maintaining traffic signals, clearing blockages from the streetcar path, cooperation on utility interfaces, safety and security; while SORTA will be responsible for operating the system, maintaining vehicles and facilities, fare collection provision and maintenance, marketing and advertising sales.

Construction on the $148 million first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar continues to progress, with most track work in Over-the-Rhine now complete and track work now progressing through the Central Business District. Current time frames call for operations to begin in September 2016.

Collection of Young Entrepreneurs Open First-of-its-Kind Coworking Space in Over-the-Rhine

Another coworking space has opened in the center city; and like the others, this one has its own unique twist.

The Office, as it is casually called by its owners and users, is a small 800-square-foot space at the southeast corner Twelfth and Walnut Streets. The space is located next to HalfCut, which opened earlier this year, and is now directly connected with the beer café and its partner Gomez Salsa operations.

“Whether you’re looking to answer emails, hold weekly meetings, brainstorm new marketing techniques or partake in a game of ping pong on your lunch break, The Office is for you,” explained Jack Heekin, co-owner of HalfCut.

As of now, those operating HalfCut, Venn, Pedal Wagon, Squirrel Films, Gomez Salsa and Push Pull Studios are utilizing the space most often. Others that are interested in using the space can set things up by simply contacting Heekin at 513-382-2734.

The cozy space is a bit different from the other coworking spaces that have opened around the city in recent months due to its casual nature. Most striking is that there are no memberships or regular fees. The main requirement to be able to use the space, Heekin says, is a good attitude.

“We have created a space, where entrepreneurs can come and learn from each other,” Heekin said in a prepared release. “We focus on sharing the combined love for creating and developing ideas into unique experiences. Everyone brings different skills, contacts and energy to the table.”

The reason for setting things up like this, as opposed to charging traditional rates to use the space, is to create an atmosphere where ideas and skills can be exchanged quickly and easily.

“I believe we’ve developed a culture within this office that promotes fine-tuning ones strengths and discovering your passion,” Heekin concluded. “It’s a great feeling watching young companies challenge each other to become more successful, and deliver the best product possible to their customers.”