Tuesday, September 19, 2000

No decision on expanded Port Authority

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County officials last week put off a final decision on an expanded Port Authority, the agency that could lead a $250 million riverfront renovation, to give the city time to craft an agreement.

        Now Cincinnati officials are saying they have three extra weeks to study the situation.

        That means a decision first scheduled July 1, then Aug. 1, then Sept. 15 and again on Wednesday will probably not happen until the end of the month.

        “We are under no pressure of a deadline,” said Cincinnati Councilman Todd Portune, who objected to any reference of a delay. “We have time.”

        Several members of council's community development committee agreed Monday, saying the public has raised many questions that have yet to be answered.

        “Unless you believe it should be a sham process,” Mr. Portune said, “I don't envision an ordinance will be before us on Wednesday.”

        But Councilman Pat DeWine criticized the committee for dragging its feet, saying he was tired of the delays and that he will likely call for a vote Wednesday.

        “The idea of the Port Authority has been before the council since June,” he said. “Council members have had more than enough time to study the issue.”

        A vote on the authority was put off last week after council members called for a public hearing.

        Mr. Portune acknowledged a promise to vote this week, but said the county's decision gives the committee time to answer questions about the authority's power and scope.

        County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus said the county voted unanimously last week to support the authority. But because the county and city must approve identical agreements, he said it waited to adopt a specific contract.

        “We thought by doing what we did that we were facilitating the city review of this,” he said. “Now the issue is crying out for leadership from the city.”

        He said this is exactly why the Port Authority is needed.

        “Somebody has to grab the bull by the horns and get this thing going,” he said.

        An expanded Port Authority is the only agency capable of developing the riverfront, according to a group appointed by the county and city to come up with a plan for housing, shops and office space between the new sports stadiums.

        Advisers said expanding the financial and legislative power of the city-county authority would allow it to oversee construction and raise the $177 million still needed for development, including $81.2 million to pay for a 71-acre park.

        They first said the Port Authority needed to be approved by August so that a developer could be selected by the end of the year.

        “We do need to get on with it,” said Jack Rouse, Riverfront Advisers chairman. “We are not sending out good signals.”

        The Port Authority has existed for years, but its mission has been to reclaim contaminated industrial sites. By taking the process slowly, Mr. Portune said, the council has beefed up the authority's ability to continue its original mission.

        He also said the city has taken away a proposal that would have given the new agency the power to put tax questions on the ballot.


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