Monday, June 28, 2010

Cincinnati committee approves $14M package for Washington Park

Cincinnati City Council's Budget and Finance Committee has approved a $14 million financing package for the $47 million redevelopment of Over-the-Rhine's Washington Park.

The construction and financing package includes $11.5 million in bonds, $2 million in City capital funds, and a --> --> --> Green Demonstration Program grant of between $450,000 and $550,000. Debt for the bonds would be serviced through revenues from the Downtown/Over-the-Rhine East tax increment financing (TIF) district.

Scheduled to begin construction in August, the Washington Park makeover represents a partnership between 3CDC and the Cincinnati Park Board.

The park itself is estimated to cost $20.3 million. New elements will include an event lawn and stage, a centerpiece fountain, picnic tables and seating, a dog park, children's playground, walkways, restrooms, a concession building, and new lighting and irrigation.

The historic bandstand will be retained.

A 450-space underground parking garage, estimated to cost $27 million, will feature a green roof that will help extend the park from 6 acres to 8 acres. Three headhouse structures, also with green roofs, will provide pedestrian access and elevators to the garage below.

The City of Cincinnati will continue to own the park, while 3CDC will lease and maintain the parking structure.

Construction is scheduled for completion in November 2011.

'Where's the money?'

Although conceding that the redevelopment would be "critical for the redevelopment of Over-the-Rhine", Councilmember Chris Bortz worried about the $450,000 in City general funds the park would require for annual operations and maintenance.

Currently, the City spends approximately $28,000 annually to maintain the park.

Vice Mayor and Committee Chair Roxanne Qualls shared Bortz's concern.

"Where's the money?" she asked.

"We don't have any money," said Cincinnati Parks Director Willie Carden, adding that the Cincinnati Park Board has cut its budget for the past eleven years. "I don't have those answers."

Carden said that funding for the operations of Washington Park, Cincinnati Riverfront Park, and all other Cincinnati parks would have to be negotiated as part of the regular biennial budget process.

But he conceded that private money will be needed. Cincinnati Riverfront Park, which also is expected to open its first phase in 2011, will likely require $600,000 a year to operate and maintain. That project is seeking $40 million in private donations.

Qualls said that council would never agree to take those funds from other parks – or other programs.

"If you come in and expect that we're going to take $420,000 from other neighborhoods – and other projects – that's not a course of action that you should be pursuing," she said.

Qualls suggested that 3CDC explore arrangements similar to the one around well-maintained Piatt Park, where neighboring property owners invest personally in keeping it maintained and clean.

"The idea, eventually, of creating a district makes sense," said 3CDC president and CEO Stephen Leeper. "It's a timing thing. I think there are different ways we can raise money to support this park. The park needs to be maintained to be successful."

Leeper said that the project will carry $9 million in debt, and parking garage revenues are estimated at only $300,000 a year. Five years of deferred interest and principal on its loans will allow 3CDC to catch up on its obligations.

"We're taking some risk here," he said. "If the [garage] revenues fall short, 3CDC will have to make up the difference."

Jobs for the underserved

Nine hundred twenty jobs are expected to be created during the reconstruction of Washington Park, with 30 permanent positions fulfilling maintenance duties.

Councilmember Charlie Winburn, who ran his most recent campaign on the platform of job creation and lowering crime, said he needed some assurances that 3CDC and the Cincinnati Park Board would work to achieve high local small- and minority-owned business (SBE and MBE) participation. , he said, has 72 percent of its workforce living outside of Cincinnati.

"We feel very confident that we're going to put together a hiring program you all will approve," Leeper said.

Leeper said that he's been meeting with several targeted contractors, with the goal of boosting SBE and MBE participation at both the general contractor and subcontractor levels.

But Qualls wondered about companies that didn't have this "inside track".

Leeper said there's still time.

"We would brief them right now," he said. "We haven't hired anybody."

Treating people with dignity

Although nearly two-thirds of the people who testified before the committee were generally supportive of the park overhaul, a significant portion of the speakers felt that long-time resident's concerns were brushed off.

Among the complaints were the loss of recreation activities and the loss of perimeter parking in exchange for the parking garage.

"We think it's been a considerably open process," Leeper said, sharing a portion of his presentation listing more than a dozen public meetings held to discuss the project.

Still others felt that the commercialization and management of the park would criminalize the poor and the homeless, who populate the park during the day when the shelters are closed.

One idea raised by several speakers was for the City to open a nearby property to those residents during construction.

Leeper said they'll make every attempt to keep at least a portion of the park open open.

"We'll try to make some accommodations," he said. "We're well aware of the issues, and we'll try our best to work this through."

"It's important that we treat people with dignity," Winburn said. "All people deserve civility, they deserve respect, and they deserve to be treated with dignity."

'It just needs a facelift'

Those in favor of the project cited its enhancement of the cultural center created by Music Hall and the new School for Creative and Performing Arts, lower crime, and a rise in property values.

Councilmember Cecil Thomas agreed, saying that the neighborhood has become stagnant, and its high concentration of poverty has become a magnet for crime – and more poverty.

"I'm looking at the before and after, as it relates to the transition of a neighborhood," he said. "It has been long overdue. I'm glad to see 3CDC as the vehicle by which we're seeing this transition take place."

Carden said that the project is a great way to enhance the experience of the park.

"Here's an opportunity to continue to leverage resources," he said. "The Cincinnati Park Board has a tremendous record of taking public dollars and leveraging private dollars."

The funding agreements go before the full council on Wednesday. Councilmember Charlie Winburn abstained from the committee votes, awaiting further word on SBE and MBE participation and annual operating expenses.

Even with the City funding, a $3.7 million funding gap remains. 3CDC is talking with a number of foundations to address that gap, Leeper said.

"It just needs a facelift," Leeper said. "This can be something special that can be a real asset to the neighborhood, and a regional draw for all of Cincinnati."

Previous reading on BC:
Dohoney: City addressing Washington Park issues (10/10/08)
Washington Park homeowners 'no longer willing to accept' park nuisance (9/10/08)
Washington Park will expand (6/3/08)
Dohoney says City will enforce agreement over CPS land (5/8/08)
Morgan says City, 3CDC 'diminishing rights of citizens' (3/31/08)


Anonymous said...

Are all of the images shown in this post available in one place? Could you cite image sources so we can take a closer look?

Kevin LeMaster said...

Yes, they were all pulled out of a report on the 3CDC website.

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