Wednesday, April 05, 2000

Area wins big in capital plan

State will send millions to projects

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — For a city told not to expect much from the state construction budget beyond money for the Bengals stadium, Greater Cincinnati stands to be a big winner this spring.

        A two-year, $1.8 billion spending plan proposed Tuesday by Gov. Bob Taft's administration includes $115.5 million for projects in Hamilton County, including $49 million set aside for the University of Cincinnati and $20 million for Paul Brown Stadium.

Listing of Southwestern Ohio projects recommended by Gov. Taft.
        Mr. Taft and Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, had repeatedly cautioned community leaders that the state's 1996 commitment to help the Bengals would sap money away from other projects. But the leaders found plenty of money to spread around the region.

        For instance, there's $2 million in the bill to help remove the roof at the City Centre Mall in Middletown, part of an effort to revive that city's downtown.

        There also is $200,000 to build a new marina at Caesar Creek State Park in Warren County, $50,000 to help build the Beech Acres Family Center in Anderson Township and $12,000 for a “historically accurate” fieldstone wall outside the German Heritage Museum in West Fork Park, Green Township.

        “We try to be helpful,” Mr. Finan said. “But as long as we have projects that we already are committed to funding, others are going to be disappointed.”

        The budget is pending in the House Finance Committee and is expected to be sent to Mr. Taft within the month. Little debate is expected, because most of the bill's details already have been hammered out in private meetings among Mr. Taft, Mr. Finan and House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, R-Reynoldsburg.

        Projects included in the budget are financed with bonds paid off by taxpayers. The largest share of the bill — $603 million — would be used to build and repair public schools. Another $530 million would go to UC and other state-supported colleges and universities.

        Of the state's 88 counties, Hamilton would be in line for the second-largest share of the construction budget. Franklin County, the home of state government, would get $204.8 million; and Cuyahoga County would get $65.5 million.

        Besides the stadium money, the list of Cincinnati-area projects includes $3.5 million for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, $2 million for the Contemporary Arts Center and $1 million to expand the Lincoln Heights Health Center.

        Those projects also received money in previous construction budgets.

        New ones added to the list this time include $1 million to study a proposed park between the Bengals and Reds stadiums on the riverfront and $500,000 to plan the proposed expansion of the city's convention center downtown.

        “I think this is a good start for those projects,” said Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken. “Having the governor and the president of the Senate from our area at least ensures we get excellent consideration with our requests.”

        Another big-ticket project on the list got Mr. Luken's attention.

        The state plans to spend $28 million on additional renovations at the Pauline Warfield Lewis Center in Roselawn. City officials hope the money will encourage the U.S. Postal Service to locate a new distribution facility on the property and forestall a move across the river to Kentucky.

        “We're talking about 2,300 jobs we need to keep in the city,” Mr. Luken said.

        In Middletown, meanwhile, the state's contribution to removing the City Centre Mall roof is an effort to reverse an ill-fated, federally funded plan that enclosed part of the downtown business district and shut off traffic.

        “This is a worthwhile project for investment,” said Ron Olson, Middle town city manager. “This money demonstrates that the state Legislature believes we're moving in the right direction.”

        With about $30 million set aside for community projects in Cincinnati, most groups had to settle for less than they requested.

        The Freedom Center, for instance, had asked for $7.5 million. The Cincinnati Museum Center asked for $1.4 million, pared its request to $750,000 and ended up with $200,000. Anderson Township officials asked for $5 million to build their proposed family center and got $50,000.

        “We're not surprised, because there were many well-deserving projects on the list, including several that will open before the Freedom Center,” said Ed Rigaud, the center's president and chief operating officer. “This clearly shows our state leaders are very enthusiastic about this project.”

        Another big-ticket local project didn't get any money in the bill. Despite an aggressive letter-writing campaign, Mr. Finan rejected a request from his predecessor as Senate president, Cincinnati Republican Stanley Aronoff, to chip in $5 million to renovate the Emery Theatre in Over-the-Rhine.

        Said Mr. Finan: “We just didn't have any more money.”

        Enquirer reporter Janet Wetzel contributed to this report.



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