Wednesday, March 10, 1999
Group argues against Sabin expansion
Bigger convention center won't help city, conservatives say
BY LUCY MAY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Conservative activists will urge Hamilton County commissioners this morning to stay out of the convention center business.
A proposal to expand the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center would more than double the size of the center at a cost of $325 million to $350 million. A tentative funding plan for the project asks commissioners to increase the county hotel tax and pay off nearly $50 million in debt to help finance the project.
But opponents want to talk to commissioners to try to pull them back to their conservative roots, said Tom Brinkman Jr., an anti-tax activist and spokesman for a group called the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, or COAST.
All of these projects keep on growing, and they're creating a huge tax burden on us, Mr. Brinkman said. But when the economy goes sour, they will leave a tremendous burden.
The group of opponents will be led by Mr. Brinkman and Chris Finney, former chairman of Hamilton County's Tax Levy Review Committee.
Advocates say the expansion is necessary to maintain Cincinnati's standing in the competitive convention industry.
But Mr. Brinkman and Mr. Finney argue that the last expansion of the convention center, completed in 1987, hasn't helped downtown and that the jobs created by such an expansion would be low-paying jobs that the city and county shouldn't be subsidizing.
Mr. Brinkman vowed that he would collect enough signatures to have a public referendum on any vote the city takes to help fund the project.
Certain people can be bought off, but the one group that can't be bought off are the citizens, Mr. Brinkman said. And if we have to take it to the ballot, we will.
Advocates of the project have been trying to keep the issue off the ballot by tapping funding sources that don't need voter approval.
Politicians and business leaders pushing the project argue that previous expansions have helped downtown and that this expansion must move forward to keep downtown businesses from suffering from the loss of convention business.
Michael Wilson, president of the Greater Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau, said he started out in the hospitality industry as a room clerk and has worked his way into his current job. I've made a career of it, he said.
Mr. Wilson said he would be happy to sit down with Mr. Finney and other opponents to explain the research that shows how an expansion could help the community.
We're dealing with the best in the business, Mr. Wilson said. We're doing all the right things.
But Mr. Finney and Mr. Brinkman say downtown has only two department stores now, compared with half a dozen 10 years ago, and only one five-star restaurant, though it used to be home to three.
I don't think you can blame the convention center for the decline of downtown, but it certainly didn't bring the resurgence that was promised, Mr. Finney said.
Mr. Wilson says the convention center is just one piece of the puzzle that keeps downtown healthy. It's an important piece, he said, but the convention center can't do it alone.
The downtown and the decision of businesses to be downtown is predicated on far more than just the convention center, Mr. Wilson said.
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