Tuesday, June 20, 2000

Mayor rebukes Nordstrom doubters

Council concerned, but not opposed

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Questions from City Council members about a downtown Nordstrom brought a swift rebuke Monday from Cincinnati's mayor.

        “Without Nordstrom, there will be lights going off — stores will be closing,” Charlie Luken said. “What are you going to do if you don't do Nordstrom? ... Are you going for that bombed-out Beirut look at that site?”

        But council members said their questions don't reflect opposition to the project at Fifth and Race streets — and two members say they will support a planned $48.7 million incentive package for Nordstrom when it is voted on next Monday.

        Council members Minette Cooper and James Tarbell — who have both expressed concern over the amount of public subsidy going to the store — said Monday that it makes no sense to stand against the project.

        “What else are we going to do?” Ms. Cooper said after the meeting. “We can't afford not to do it.”

        That means only two more votes are needed to win a majority from the six remaining council members.

        And while many have raised issues about the deal, none has said he will vote against it.

        They want to know:

        • Whether Nordstrom and developers will agree to a maximum price for the project and pay any overruns.

        • Whether air rights can be secured above the project, and whether Nordstrom will allow something to be built above the store.

        • How a second Nordstrom store planned for a mall in Deerfield Township would affect downtown.

        Developers and city officials said answers will be hammered out as a deal is negotiated during the summer.

        After the council votes Monday, officials will draft a final contract that will be voted on in September.

        But it was questions about how this deal compares with those in other cities that sparked Mr. Luken's ire.

        “I have watched you cross-examine these witnesses,” he told Councilman Phil Heimlich. “Rather than analyze what other cities have done ... talk to store owners, talk to retailers in downtown.”

        Mr. Heimlich had asked the developer and the city manager to explain estimates showing the project would cost the city only $27 million.

        Thomas Stapleton, vice president for Eagle Properties — which negotiated the deal and would serve as landlord — acknowledged his estimate did not include a $12.7 million loan from the Cincinnati Equity Fund, a $5 million state loan or $5 million in tax increment financing. Nor did he include $10 million the city paid to acquire and demolish the former Fifth and Race Tower.

        Resident Tom Brinkman told the council Monday that the deal is akin to corporate welfare.

        But resident Karen Fischer said the city must bite the bullet.

        “We're not going to have another opportunity for a very long time.”


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