Sunday, February 8, 2004

Support the Museum Center levy


Cincinnati Museum Center officials are asking for a 0.2-mill tax levy because of costs of their historic home, not because its attractions aren't successful. Union Terminal, a National Historic Landmark, eats up 20 percent of the Museum Center's $13 million operating budget, and outside consultants say $20 million needs to be invested in the 71-year-old building in the next 10 years to preserve it. They say repairs such as a new roof and HV/AC systems can no longer be put off.

The center/terminal is jointly owned by Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and as such, its problems are our problems. The grand Art Deco terminal with its Winold Reiss mosaics is one of the community's most beloved buildings. The merger of museums, historical collections and Omnimax theater has made it one of the Midwest's top cultural attractions, with more than a million visitors a year. The 0.2-mill levy request is one of Hamilton County's smallest in more than 50 years, costing the owner of a $100,000 home a modest $5.89 a year. And county officials have tacked on private fund-raising obligations to insure the center will be self-supporting in 10 years. The center/terminal is too valuable a regional asset to allow it to decline. Voters should back this small countywide levy to buy some time for the center to build its endowment.

The Tax Levy Review Committee and county commissioners have demanded more fiscal discipline from levy groups, but both bodies approved the center's five-year levy request for the March 2 ballot. It can be renewed only once, for a total of 10 years. The commissioners and museum officials agreed to set annual targets for private fund-raising to build a $38 million endowment in 10 years. If the Museum Center fails to hit its targets, the commissioners can withhold levy dollars.

Board chairman Buck Niehoff says the museum has missed out on substantial gifts because of its shaky finances due to maintenance costs. He is confident the levy will ease those concerns and help open the spigot for private donors. Vote yes on Issue 11.

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