Friday, May 10, 2002

County needs unit for convention job

By Dan Klepal,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County commissioners have to take an important step next week if expansion of the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center is to happen.

        Commissioners have until Wednesday to create a Convention Facilities Authority, which would be responsible for collecting and spending the $198 million needed for the expansion.

        If the authority is not in place, the state legislature will not allow the county to raise its bed tax — the keystone to the proposed financing plan to pay for the expansion.

        Commissioners are expected to discuss the issue at their staff meeting on Monday, and possibly vote on the matter.

        “There's just no way to raise the money without the authority in place,” commissioner Todd Portune said.

        The authority would be made up of 11 members:

        • Six from Hamilton County: one selected by the Township Trustees Association; one by Sharonville; one by the Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau; one by Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce; two at large nominations, with one of those coming from the Northern Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, if it is created.

        • Three members selected by the city of Cincinnati.

        • Two selected by the Hamilton County Municipal League.

        The largest chunk of the expansion financing package is to be raised by a hike in the countywide hotel-motel tax. The initial proposal had the tax jumping from 3 percent to 7.5 percent.

        But that proposal raised considerable objections from hotels in the suburbs, who fear the higher rate will cause them to lose business.

        The state legislature must pass a bill allowing the county to raise its bed tax above 3 percent before any new tax rate can take effect. That bill has been stalled in a committee for months.

        Commissioner Tom Neyer said the authority may have already been created when the commissioners in April passed a resolution outlining how the county would raise its portion for the expansion.

        “If that turns out not to be true, then I would envision setting one up next week,” Mr. Neyer said. “In my mind, it's just a prudent step to follow whatever course is eventually set in Columbus.”


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