Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Growth plan divides council



By Gregory Korte, gkorte@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Supporters of an economic development proposal being debated by Cincinnati City Council say it will save money, promote development and favor local companies in public projects.

        Opponents say it will do just the opposite.

DEBATE
    A look at the economic development debate

   The economic development proposal by Councilmen John Cranley and David Pepper comes in the form of five motions. Here are the arguments for and against the most controversial provisions:

    Motion: That the mayor appoint a panel to study ways to reform the city's faltering economic development efforts. The panel should consider the “full-scale regulatory reforms as well as the potential creation of an independent development authority that can issue bonds and utilize eminent domain powers.”

    • For: Supporters say the economic numbers — a decline in population, lagging job growth and stagnant salaries — call for dramatic changes.

    • Against: Opponents — mostly liberal Democrats — argue that allowing an unelected, independent board to make crucial development decisions is undemocratic.

    Motion: That projects of $1 million or more, and receiving a city subsidy of at least 25 percent, be required to seek competitive bids for all trade work.

    • For: When taxpayer money is used to subsidize private development, the bid process should be “open and transparent,” supporters said.

    • Against: Developers say it would make “design-build” projects — all but impossible.

    Motion: That the city's 13-year-old “meet-and-confer” requirement be expanded to also require developers to report to the city — in writing — about their efforts to meet with trade unions and minority- and women-owned businesses.

    • For: The new language will provide verification that contractors are giving all subcontractors the opportunity to participate in publicly financed projects, supporters say.

    • Against: The requirement adds additional paperwork and gives preferential treatment to union contractors.
   — Gregory Korte

        The proposal was introduced a week ago by Democrats John Cranley and David Pepper. City Council, in debating it, is divided largely along party and ideological lines.

        The Cranley-Pepper proposal calls for a panel to study an independent development commission and rid City Hall of the red tape that can hold up projects. That provision is favored by moderates and conservatives on City Council, but opposed by liberals.

        New regulations would strengthen the hands of unions and minority-owned businesses in getting city construction contracts; require competitive bidding on private projects when a substantial city subsidy is involved; and impose additional reporting requirements on developers.

        Many of those developers came to City Hall Monday to express their displeasure.

        “We think this is just the wrong approach. If the ultimate goal is to stimulate new investment in the city, the last thing we need is new regulations,” said Dennis Nutley of Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group. “I think it's the cart before the horse. You're implementing regulations and then appointing a commission to go study them.”

        Mr. Pepper sees two benefits in requiring developers to bid on projects that get substantial city funding. Bidding can save money, and opening up the process will give local and minority-owned firms an advantage, he said.

        Many developers disagree. They said the regulations discourage “design-build” projects,which save time by circumventing the traditional bidding process.

        And publicly advertising for bids could actually benefit out-of-town contractors who wouldn't know about the project otherwise, Mr. Nutley said.

        Many of the Cranley-Pepper proposals are recycled from a motion by Councilman Paul Booth last year.

        That motion died quietly after a report from then-City Manager John Shirey concluded that the proposals would add a new layer of bureaucracy and increase the cost — in time and money — of city-assisted projects.

        David Sueberling, chairman of the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati, called the newest proposal “convoluted.”

        “I'm shocked that you would use nine-month old legislation that was soundly defeated, rewrap it in a economic development proposal that, as far as I can tell, no economist had anything to do with, and call it economic development,” he said.

        The proposal is headed for a Wednesday vote.

        But City Council has also heard from a few union contractors and minority developers who favor the plan.

        Vice Mayor Alicia Reece told the developers that if everyone were being included in projects, the legislation wouldn't be necessary.

        “Just like you're saying you didn't know about this proposal, that's what I hear from a lot of developers. A lot of African-American and minority contractors say, "I didn't know about that contract,'” she said.

        “It's not going to be business as usual. In some cases it means that the country club is going to have to be broken up.”

        E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com
       

       



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