Tuesday, June 27, 2000

Ohio could get funds to restore properties

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ohio Gov. Bob Taft on Monday proposed measures to help cities like Cincinnati redevelop blighted property and buildings.

        But the money to put teeth behind those measures won't come until November, when Ohio voters will vote on $200 million in funding to help redevelop abandoned industrial sites.

        Mr. Taft said he hopes the Ohio General Assembly will enact measures including tax-increment financing districts for blighted areas, expanded tax credits in poorer areas, and new financing for small minority-owned companies.

        A new Office of Urban Development with the Ohio Department of Development will administer the new programs.

        “It's good that on a state basis, someone is looking at problems that are endemic to urban areas,” said Richard Mendes, Cincinnati's deputy city manager.

        If the funding is approved and the measures are successful, Cincinnati and state officials will have new tools to use in converting old and underused spaces to new industry — and new jobs.

        Mayor Charlie Luken said the legislation needed to be narrowly drawn to prevent businesses from using the incentives to simply move from one part of the region to another. But he called the potential effect of brownfield redevelopment “huge.”

        “In terms of neighborhood development, it's one of the few opportunities we have to bring new business into town,” he said.

        Locally, brownfield development is managed by the Port Authority. If voters approve the $200 million this fall, it would give that group the bonding authority to raise funds and redevelop specific properties.

        Lee Johnson, the state's development director since early last year, headed the Urban Revitalization Task Force that conducted the study. The task force included 16 Ohio mayors, with former Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls one of the original members.

        Mr. Johnson has said that by concentrating on new, high-tech industries and redeveloping industrial sites, Cincinnati and other cities can create new layers of jobs for both the highly educated worker and the poor urban resident left out of the huge economic expansion of the 1990s.

        In his State of the State speech last fall, Mr. Taft recommended the $200 million fund set aside to help cities redeveloped contaminated industrial sites, which often are called brownfields.

        John Magill, assistant director of the new office of urban development and a staff member of the task force, said the proposed funding “would give impetus to these measures, and help drive urban economic development forward.”

        The recommendations released Monday include:


  • Creating Tax Increment Financing Districts: This measure, long advocated by Cincinnati officials to spur new urban development, would allow a city to pool revenue created by developments in one geographic area, then use that money to pay for more development. It has been used by many cities across the country, including Portland, Ore., to develop big-ticket downtown projects.

            Designating Community Asset Partnership zones: Those zones would be in “blighted” areas, and would allow higher tax credits.

            Capital Access Program: This would establish a pool funded by government and private lenders to make loans to small and minority-owned companies, Mr. Magill said.


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