Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Mayor pitches benefits of mall

Library funding would rise, he says

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - The Kenton County Library Board receives about $8,200 a year in property taxes from the 25-year-old nearly vacant Crestview Hills Mall.

That annual payment would jump to $12,700 a year under the $90 million plan to redevelop the mall into an upscale outdoor lifestyle center that would feature a new Dillard's department store and as many as 65 other smaller stores and restaurants.

That's the message the library board heard Tuesday morning from Mayor Paul Meier of Crestview Hills, where city officials are concerned that the mall plan could fall through over complaints about a tax break offered to the project's developer.

'You've been hearing a lot about the Crestview Hills Mall and how we were taking money away from the mouths of the students, the schools and the library," Meier told the board. "I just want to clarify a few things."

Crestview Hills sought state approval last month to issue $90 million in industrial revenue bonds as an incentive to Cincinnati developer Jeffrey Anderson, who has proposed the redevelopment of the mall in a joint venture with Dillard's.

The bonds are exempt from local property taxes, meaning entities such as Kenton County Schools and the county library would not receive any tax revenue from the project for at least 20 years.

But Crestview Hills City Council negotiated an agreement with Anderson to pay $5.1 million in lieu of taxes over the 20-year life of the bond issue. Meier said 85 percent of Anderson's payment would be disbursed outside of the city to the schools, library and other local governments and taxing authorities.

The library would receive $12,700 over five years and then an additional $600 a year for 15 years.

"We kept the library in our mind when we were going through this process," Meier said. "You're actually going to be gaining money."

But Kenton County Judge-executive Ralph Drees objected to the bond issue, saying the schools and others deserved more tax money. Drees' objections convinced state officials to hold off on final approval of the bonds until a new agreement could be reached.

Anderson has said he cannot afford to pay any additional money and is seeking private financing for the project. Meier fears without the bonds the project, which has already been delayed, could be in jeopardy.

"This may be good news for the schools, library and ourselves," Meier said, "because then it would go on the tax rolls on its full appraised amount.

"However, this could also be the deal killer," he said.

Board Chairman John Toelke said he thought the library "is being well-treated" by Crestview Hills.

But Toelke said Drees also told him the library would ultimately be receiving less tax money under the bond issue.

However, library director Wayne Onkst mentioned other cities in Kenton County are also issuing bonds to help fund retail projects and offering nothing in the form of payments to the library, schools or others.

Onkst did not mention the project by name but Crescent Springs has issued more than $50 million in bonds for the proposed development of a retail center on the site of a mobile home park near Buttermilk Pike.


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