Friday, January 25, 2002

Over-the-Rhine developer's funding withheld

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The city of Cincinnati will hold funding for an Over-the-Rhine housing developer while lawyers investigate whether a $770,000 contract with the developer is legal.

        Acting City Manager Tim Riordan told City Council on Thursday that the city will not pay ReStoc to rehabilitate vacant buildings as long as questions remain about the deal.

        Councilman Pat DeWine, livid that the city's Department of Neighborhood Development and Housing had approved the contract last week without informing City Council, called it “the most troubling thing that's happened in my 2 1/2 years on council.”

        Under a agreement approved by City Council in 2000, ReStoc was to sell the building at 1214 Vine St. to a market-rate housing developer. In exchange, the city would give ReStoc $770,000 to rehabilitate seven other buildings for low-income housing.

        But the deadline for ReStoc to sell 1214 Vine Street was April 1, 2001. That deadline could be extended, but only with advance written approval by the city's development director. That didn't happen until Oct. 12.

        And so, without further action from City Council, city officials had no legal authority to sign the contract, Mr. DeWine argues.

        But ReStoc defended its record, saying the delays were beyond its control.

        “There was never a time that we were not serious about selling the building,” said Bonnie Neumeier of the Drop-Inn Center, which is closely affiliated with ReStoc. “There were reasons for the extensions — lead abatement issues, things like that.”

        Mr. DeWine's complaint Thursday at City Council sparked a new round of debate about ReStoc's role in Over-the-Rhine.

        Critics say ReStoc, the Race Street Tenant Organization Cooperative, is stockpiling buildings in order to prevent development.

        Mayor Charlie Luken, who has made Vine Street his top priority in 2002, said the most recent controversy shows that ReStoc can't be trusted to keep deadlines.

        “You can look back at the headlines back in the early 1980s. They were the same issues: Timeliness. Productivity. Accountability. It hasn't gotten any better,” he said.

        “They are the owners of the most blight in Over-the-Rhine. Period. Both in terms of the numbers and the quality of their property, that is an indisputable and undeniable fact.”


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