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UrbanCincy Q/A with candidates for Hamilton County Commissioner

Kevin Wright and David Ben collaborated on this UrbanCincy exclusive.

Next Tuesday, the much anticipated mid-term elections will be held across the country. Although there has been a lot of discussion about national politics and policy making in the mainstream press, there are many historic policy issues facing Hamilton County as well. These issues are as divisive as they are important, and they are going to require serious decisions by serious candidates.

The two men running for Hamilton County Commissioner – Chris Monzel (R) and Jim Tarbell (C) – represent two different approaches to county government. While they are both experienced politicians, they have two distinctly different visions for the future of Hamilton County.

UrbanCincy sent a list of questions to each candidate. The questions were based on issues that we thought you, our readers, would classify as the most important. Below are the questions we sent, as well as the candidate’s responses exactly as they were sent back to us.

1.  Where do you stand on the 3C Rail Project, and how are you prepared to deal with it should you be elected?

Chris Monzel: I do not support the 3C Rail Project.

Jim Tarbell: I am in support of the 3C rail project. Ohio’s $400 million investment will result in over 255 immediate construction jobs over a two-year period, and a US Department of Commerce study predicts approximately 8000 indirect and spin off jobs in Ohio. We need jobs.

According to the Amtrak report from September 2009, the 3C “Quick Start” passenger rail service will serve at least 478,000 in its first year of operation. Historically, throughout its national system, Amtrak has had steady ridership support from college students. An analysis by ODOT reveals that more than 220,000 students are within less than 10 miles from the proposed train station. Furthermore, the 3C passenger rail line runs near 40 colleges and universities.

According to a March 2009 Quinnipiac University statewide poll:

  • 73% of Ohioans ages 18-34 support passenger rail in Ohio and the 3C “Quick Start” Plan
  • 62% of Ohioans ages 35-54 support passenger rail in Ohio and the 3C “Quick Start” Plan
  • 61% of Ohioans 55 years or older support passenger rail in Ohio and the 3C “Quick Start” Plan

Furthermore, the 3C “Quick Start” Plan has received more than 200 statewide letters of support from various businesses, cities, universities and colleges, and other organizations who understand the benefits of passenger rail service in Ohio. The 3C “Quick Start” Passenger Rail Plan will connect Cleveland, Columbus, Springfield, Dayton, Riverside, Sharonville and Cincinnati.

2.  Where do you stand on The Banks project, and how are you prepared to deal with it should you be elected?

Chris Monzel: I have supported the Banks project as a current Cincinnati City Councilman and if elected as County Commissioner will continue to do so.

Jim Tarbell: I am very supportive of The Banks project. I am happy to report that Phase I is complete, ahead of schedule and under budget.

The Board of Commissioners of Hamilton County (County), the City of Cincinnati (City) and the Riverbanks Renaissance, LLC (developer) are partnering to develop the Banks Project. The Banks Project is a public improvement and mixed-use development located between the Paul Brown Stadium (to the west) and the Great American Ball Park (to the east). The Banks Project will be developed in phases over a period of approximately 15 years and will include 1,800 residential units, one million square feet of office space and more than 300,000 square feet of retail space. The Banks Project will be funded with public and private dollars. A recent article in The Enquirer reported that rental units being built are already being rented.

This will be a huge boost for the County. The added retail and entertainment venues mean additional tax dollars for the County. I believe recruiting businesses and residents to this area should be a joint venture of the City and County.

3.  Where do you stand on the Riverfront Park project, and how are you prepared to deal with it should you be elected?

Chris Monzel: I have supported the Riverfront Park project as a current Cincinnati City Councilman and if elected as County Commissioner will continue to do so.

Jim Tarbell: The Riverfront Park Project is another example of what can be done to create enduring landmarks. Not only will this be a tourist attraction, but residents within greater Cincinnati will be attracted to spend more time on our riverfront.

Phase I of Cincinnati Riverfront Park—currently under construction—will include the new Moerlein Lager House restaurant and brewery as well as a plaza of water jets with cascades of water that drop to pools along Mehring Way. There will be a grand stairway with landings at water-filled basins, a glass-floored walkway above a lower level loggia, a shade trellis, informational and interpretive displays, and public restrooms. Also part of the design is the Jacob G. Schmidlapp Stage & Event Lawn, a promenade, and within a tree grove, a monument to the Black Brigade, a floral garden and a labyrinth. The park will also feature a bike center and welcome center, and a section of the Ohio River Bike Trail.

I have a very good relationship with Willie Carden, Director of Parks, and David Prather, the project coordinator. I expect to be in close communication with them and am very supportive of their work.

4.  Given that both Louisville or Indianapolis are outperforming Cincinnati in economic indicators according to the newly released Agenda360/Vision 2015 Regional Indicators Report, do you support the idea of consolidated government similar to what is used in Louisville-Jefferson and Marion counties?

Chris Monzel: I do not support big metro-government. I do support shared-services between the county and other government jurisdictions.

Jim Tarbell: I spent an entire day three years ago with Mayor Abramson of Louisville and his cabinet specifically to study their system. I have also met numerous officers from Indianapolis over time for the same reason. I feel there is much to be gained from having an ongoing discussion with the stakeholders in Hamilton County with an eye towards taking advantage of their experience and progress. Every county, every jurisdiction, has its own challenges; but Indianapolis, for over forty years, and Louisville, for ten years, have made changes and improvements that could help here. Portland, Oregon has made similar changes. I remember one of their planners remarking that Cincinnati had considerably more resources than Portland, but that Portland simply had more of an attitude!

5.  What is your specific plan to close the stadium deficit? Does this plan completely close the projected deficit, and why/why not?

Chris Monzel: The Stadium fund is driving the county budget crisis. There are several avenues to look at to help address this. One is to work on any possibilities of renegotiating the lease.

The Bengals have put an offer on the table to renegotiate parts of the current lease. I will put the taxpayers first in these negotiations. The Bengals owner’s are part of the budget problem and must be part of the solution. I also understand the need to lower taxes in order to establish a welcoming environment for businesses. I believe in promoting home ownership, such as, a
Homearama in Hamilton County. Homearama has been held in Warren County seven (7) of the last eight (8) years.

Another option is to look at the county assets that could be sold which would generate $$ to get us out of our serious debt.

Jim Tarbell: Commissioner David Pepper and I have proposed a similar plan to reduce the debt by at least half by suspending the property tax rollback inappropriately promised over a decade ago.

The current property tax rollback, which reduced the amount of money homeowners pay in property taxes annually, would be rescinded on the value of homes over $150,000. In other words, no one would be affected unless their homes are valued over $150,000, and then only on the amount of the value OVER $150,000, putting the emphasis on higher priced real estate (whose owners have gotten the biggest break so far). The average homeowner would pay about $100 per year. This can be enacted immediately by a majority vote of the commissioners and give us a huge start towards balancing the budget. This would also put enormous pressure on the teams to play their part, with the commissioners and the public having taken the lead. There is nothing fair about this dilemma. None of us played a part in creating this crisis, but we must resolve it now and get on with moving this economy forward.

Business News

FUEL Cincinnati to provide technical assistance and funding for creative young professionals

On Thursday, September 16, Give Back Cincinnati will host an event to showcase Cincinnati’s newest young professional retention tool called FUEL Cincinnati. FUEL provides technical assistance, volunteers, capital funds, and directional assistance to individuals who are looking for the means to start a new business in Cincinnati.

FUEL is a program of Give Back Cincinnati, which uses a diverse set of resources to enhance neighborhoods through the use of volunteers and leadership development. They are the region’s largest young professional organization.

Thursday’s event lasts from 6pm to 8pm at Northside Tavern, and is free and open to the public.  Reservations are appreciated due to limited space and can be made online. The event will discuss new ideas for the region, will describe the types of programs that FUEL seeks to fund, and will provide insight about how to apply. The event will also feature the opportunity to submit ideas for a $1,000 grant. Free appetizers and drink specials will be available.

Northside Tavern (map) is located in the highly accessible Northside neighborhood. Plenty of on- and off-street parking is available. Northside is served by several bus lines (plan your trip), and was the first neighborhood in the city to install free, on-street bicycle parking in addition to the many bicycle racks found along the neighborhood’s sidewalks.

Read more about FUEL Cincinnati in this week’s issue of Soapbox.

Business News Politics

UC study identifies huge economic gains from new regional water district

The University of Cincinnati Economics Center for Education & Research recently conducted a study to determine whether expanding Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) would have beneficial impacts. They concluded that expanding the service would prevent a 14 percent rate increase, save taxpayers money, and generate additional money for the City of Cincinnati.

The study concluded that a regional water district would allow for more people to absorb operating costs, and thus prevent the anticipated rate increase and save taxpayers $24 million over the next ten years. Furthermore, the study asserted that the increased coverage will allow the City of Cincinnati to receive an additional $15 million from the transfer of assets – money that city officials say go towards helping fill a projected budget shortfall.

The economic analysis also cites that a new regional water district would generate an additional $33 million in economic activity annually, and lead to the creation of 300 new jobs. The new jobs alone are anticipated to inject an extra $10 million into the economy each year.

The financial benefits extend even further according to Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney. He noted that a municipality owned water district, like GCWW, is barred under Ohio law from receiving payment from other jurisdictions. A regionally owned water district, on the other hand, is allowed to receive payment from outer municipalities, including those in other states.

As a result, many are now looking at an expanded regional water district to not only help the city shore up its finances, but also provide a step towards greater regional cooperation amongst municipalities.

“When we looked at the issue of a public regional water district, we approached it by asking whether expansion makes good economic sense,” says George Vredeveld, director of the University of Cincinnati Economics Center for Education & Research. “The analysis revealed that expansion will keep rates lower, create jobs and have a positive and lasting effect on the local economy.”

The next step is for the City to submit its plan for court approval, and if approved, voters will have the opportunity to vote whether or not to adopt the plan. A public vote on the sale of GCWW to a regional authority is now required following the approval of Issue 8 last November.

Development News Politics

Fort Washington Way caps to provide valuable real estate

Each Wednesday in July, UrbanCincy has highlighted Fort Washington Way (FWW), the I-71/US-50 trench bisecting the Cincinnati’s central riverfront from its central business district. Part one of the series discussed what the area looked like prior to reconstruction a decade ago, and how that reconstruction made way for the development along Cincinnati’s central riverfront. Part two discussed some of the unseen assets included in the project that are saving taxpayers millions of dollars. Last week’s article highlighted even more of the unique features that contributing many societal benefits to the region. To conclude the series, this week will feature ideas for future development around Fort Washington Way.

When the stretch of highway was redesigned a decade ago, the better design allowed for several acres of space to be reclaimed for uses that are more productive than a highway. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center was located on land that was once a highway, as are portions of The Banks development which is currently under construction. Plans for the second phase of The Banks also will make use of the reclaimed land from the redesign. The Banks, bookended by our major league stadia and highlighted by the Freedom Center, is a development project that will fundamentally transform this city’s urban core. It was only made possible through redesigning the stretch of highway and reclaiming under-utilized land on Cincinnati’s urban riverfront.

When the Federal government chose to build I-71 through downtown Cincinnati, they chose to do so in an area that already had a major roadway on it. As a result, local authorities were allowed to maintain the rights to the space directly above the federal highway. Generally, when the Federal government builds highways, they maintain the air rights so that they can better control the factors that impact the highway’s utility. In this case, Cincinnati’s ability to maintain control over these rights ensures that the area can be used to its maximum local utility.

To maximize the utility of the space, officials could choose to install 600 feet-long caps over the highway. As has been discussed previously in this series, the reconstruction of Fort Washington Way ten years ago included building infrastructure necessary to support such caps. Structurally, these caps could support several feet of dirt, allowing the city to create a fascinating, unique pocket park in the heart of downtown Cincinnati. Nearby residents would benefit greatly from a place to walk their dogs. Having the retail, office, and residential space at the Banks surrounded by green space on the south with the new riverfront park and on the north with a park above the highway could provide a stunning and dramatic space.

However, some view more park space in that location as unnecessary, and that the real estate in that particular location is too valuable to be planted over. As a result, it is likely in the city’s best interest to explore options that would generate tax revenue. According to engineers responsible for the project, the caps could be built in such as way so that developers would not be restricted with the building materials they use. However, as the height of a building increases, so too does the building’s weight. As a result, buildings on the caps would likely be limited to about four stories in height.

With that particular height, the new development would provide an aesthetic feature that would visually link The Banks to the rest of the central business district. When the first phase of The Banks is complete, portions of mixed-use development will rise six stories above Second Street. Directly to the north of this area sits the trench of Fort Washington Way, followed immediately by highrises like the E.W. Scripps Tower and Cincinnati Enquirer Building. Developers could opt for a design on the caps that would have first floor restaurant or retail options, with offices or residents above.

One of the worst features of the old Fort Washington Way that the new design did not completely fix is that the highway bisects downtown from the Ohio River. Capping the highway and building several-story, mixed-use buildings on it would go a long way to rectifying that disconnect. Because of the required space between the current bridges over the highway and the caps, entrances to these buildings would have to be from Second or Third Street. This particular design would allow comfortable transition north and south between the waterfront and downtown, but would also keep pedestrians moving east and west in the city.

A task force of engineers recently convened to study the feasibility of building and installing these caps. Their task not only includes determining the exact structural capabilities, but also projected costs. Armed with this information, city officials and developers could begin discussions shortly. Should the city push for a unique park over the highway? Or would you rather see a the area built with multi-use buildings?

Development News

Newport’s Southshore condominium tower promises life, luxury, fantastic views

Newport saw the completion of its first high-rise tower when the 21-story SouthShore condominium tower began welcoming residents over a year ago. With much of the tower now occupied, UrbanCincy was invited to tour the dramatic riverfront building to see where it stands now.

The building soars 240 feet above Newport, overlooking the Daniel Carter Beard “Big Mac” Bridge and downtown Cincinnati. SouthShore’s 61 luxury condominium units range in size from 1br to a 5,000 square-foot penthouse that encompasses the entire 21st floor. Condominiums range from $395,000 to $3.3 million for the large penthouse unit.

One of the most unique features of the SouthShore tower is its front loaded design that allows each unit to face north toward the Ohio River and downtown Cincinnati – a common design approach in high-end, waterfront residential towers. The building was intentionally designed with all of the mechanical features facing away from the river so that all the residents have stunning views of downtown, Mt. Adams and the river. Each unit also features a terrace, which range in size from a modest sitting area to an enormous 3,000 square-foot outdoor terrace for the penthouse.

With potential flooding being a concern for the structure, architects designed the building to be integrated right into the levee. The first four floors of the structure is a parking garage for residents and visitors, which feature two sets of floodwalls. If the City of Newport must shut their floodwall to protect the city from rising waters, residents at SouthShore can still exit from the complex’s private floodgate. The building then narrows as it rises from the garage, creating ample rooftop deck space for a swimming pool with fountains and a hot tub, an 1,800 square-foot fitness center, putting green, walking trails, gardens, and a two-level clubhouse for residents.

On the ground level, many of the residents use a secure storage area for their bicycles and segways. The building management is also looking to purchase two segways for residents to use at their leisure.  Many residents walk to Kroger in Newport, spend time at Newport on the Levee, or walk or bike into other parts of Cincinnati. It is just a ten minute walk from SouthShore to The Banks development on the other side of the river. Realtors from Sibcy Cline also speak highly of the building’s soundproofing which allows residents to enjoy peace and quiet despite sharing walls with their neighbors.

Capital Investment Group, the project’s developer, has plans to build a similar tower next door to SouthShore called The Marina. This residential tower is planned to feature many of the same amenities with the addition of private dock space for homeowners in the new 100-slip marina approved by the US Army Corps of Engineers early in 2009.

Those interested in obtaining more information about condominiums at SouthShore can contact Christine Schoonover with Sibcy Cline at (859) 431-8000 or When you speak with her, mention that you read about the condos on UrbanCincy.