For the past three weeks, it has been my honor to be a part of a small group of citizens called the Citizens Oversight Board. We have gone up against some of the most power people in Cincinnati to ask one simple question, “What would be a Fair Share approach to paying for the repairs needed on Union Terminal?”
Citizens Oversight Board Conclusions
1. The Citizens Oversight Board recommends the Commissioners delay placing the renovation of Music Hall and Union Terminal on the Ballot because of substantive issues which must be resolved. Failure to come to agreement on ownership and the many changing financial details, before anything is put on the ballot, places the Citizens of Hamilton County at substantial financial risk.
2. We recommend that Music Hall be removed from this plan and that only Union Terminal be considered. The reasons for Music Hall removal from the plan are as follows:
a. Union Terminal represents the clearest immediate need for renovation. The County has a long history with Union Terminal it has very little history with Music Hall.
b. Music Hall does not require immediate renovation and many of the proposed repairs are cosmetic.
c. Music Hall is clearly owned by the City of Cincinnati. The City has transferred its financial risk of owning Music Hall by transferring operation of Music Hall to the Music Hall Revitalization Company with a 75 year operating agreement. It is unacceptable for Music Hall Revitalization to simply pass this financial risk to the County. County stakeholders should not accept the long-term financial risk of owning Music Hall.
3. We recommend that the Task Force and Commissioners work to incorporate aspects of the Fair Share funding approach proposed (other side). This Fair Share approach places equal responsibility on all stakeholders involved by utilizing
a) User Fees
b) Philanthropic Giving
c) City of Cincinnati Contributions and
d) Hamilton County Contributions. If we move forward with renovation of Union Terminal all groups must be equally represented and equally responsible for the funding of the renovation of Union Terminal.
4. Before language is placed on the ballot, the Commissioners must use this opportunity to clarify ownership of both facilities. The City owns Union Terminal, but it isn’t contractually responsible for managing or repairing it. Failure to clarify ownership will result in a continued lack of accountability for who owns Union Terminal and who is responsible for the facility. Clarifying ownership is also important to ensure receipt of historic tax credits.
5. Before language is placed on the ballot Commissioners must resolve the question of what the City of Cincinnati will contribute to any renovation plan to satisfy their Fair Share investment in Union Terminal. We recommend the three Commissioners engage and meet with Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Vice-Mayor David Mann before voting on ballot inclusion.
6. Before language is placed on the ballot there must develop a plan for the future maintenance and caretaking of Union Terminal (we suggest by tenants—who are getting the facility for $1). Failure to implement a long term maintenance plan will lead to future funding requests on Hamilton County citizens.
7. We recommend that time be taken to investigate all approaches to funding. For instance, a local well-known attorney went to the Cultural Facilities Task Force with funding ideas and his input that was not even considered. He called the task force work not very creative, nor imaginative, and missing the larger picture altogether. Have all possible funding options been considered?
8. The Oversight Board is concerned that by raising its sales tax that that Hamilton County will place itself in a negative position for incoming residents and businesses (Sales tax ½-1% above KY & other Ohio). The County simply must answer all questions #1-#8 before placing the issue on the ballot for voting. Otherwise, many of these unresolved issues will continue to be a financial strain for Hamilton County Citizens in the future.