Monday, August 9, 2004

Mariemont Inn plan stymied

Lack of agreement with schools on tax abatement puts expansion on hold

By Steve Kemme
Enquirer staff writer

MARIEMONT - A planned $3 million expansion of the Mariemont Inn, a landmark at the village square for 78 years, has been scuttled - at least temporarily - sparking a controversy between the Inn's owner and the Mariemont Board of Education.

Mariemont Inn owner Spinnenweber Builders Inc. blames the Mariemont Board of Education for not voting quickly enough on a proposed 15-year, 100 percent tax abatement for the 38-room expansion. The owners say the delay cost them a favorable interest rate and caused them to shelve the project indefinitely.

School board officials say the Spinnenwebers didn't provide them with information soon enough to vote at its July 20 meeting. So questions about how the owners would compensate the district for lost tax revenue from the abatement remain unresolved.

Bonnie Malone, the manager of the Best Western Mariemont Inn in the heart of Mariemont on the square.
(Enquirer photo/TONY JONES)
The controversy has placed the project in limbo and has left some bruised feelings in Mariemont, one of Hamilton County's most affluent suburbs, where testy public conflicts seldom erupt.

"We kept telling the school board that time was important for us," said Bonnie Malone, administrator of Spinnenweber Builders. "Interest rates keep changing. We just couldn't wait any longer."

Village officials also are upset. Village Council voted July 12 to approve the abatement. But for the abatement to take effect, the school board also needed to approve it.

"I'm disappointed," Mayor Dan Policastro said. "It would have been such a great thing for Mariemont. The Mariemont Inn is a beautiful building and the most important building in the village."

Peggy Landes, president of the Mariemont Board of Education, said the board will continue to work with Spinnenweber Builders in hopes that the expansion project can still occur.

"It will be a great project for the community and for our whole area," she said. "It will just take some cooperation on both sides. We all are hoping for this project."

The historic building, built in Mariemont's signature English Tudor-style architecture, houses the 60-room Best Western Mariemont Inn and the National Exemplar restaurant.

Spinnenweber Builders wanted to add rooms and combine some of its existing rooms, which are small by today's hotel standards.

"People expect to have two double-beds, and we can't accommodate them now," Malone said.

The expansion would have been a significant step in the owner's efforts to attain a coveted four-star rating for the hotel.

But the school board and Spinnenweber Builders have not yet resolved their differences concerning how much the company should pay the district to compensate for the anticipated tax revenue loss from the abatement.

Initially, the company offered the school district annual payments of $2,000 a year for 15 years or annual payments of $10,000 in the last five years of the abatement.

The school board wanted $10,000 a year for 15 years.

In a July 13 letter, the school board suggested possible compromises. But Rick Koehler, school board member, said Spinnenweber Builders didn't e-mail a response to the school board until 6 p.m. July 20, an hour-and-a-half before its meeting.

"It wasn't enough notice to make a decision," Koehler said. "We've given plenty of tax abatements, but we've never given a 100 percent tax abatement.

"Schools are in a tough situation. We just saw eight local school levies fail. If we gave a 100 percent tax abatement, the burden would be on the taxpayers for the next 15 years."

Koehler said the school district would be sacrificing $59,000 a year in tax revenue by granting the abatement.

But William Spinnenweber, director of operations of Spinnenweber Builders, said in a July 20 letter to the school board that the district's share of property taxes without the abatement would be between $39,000 and $49,000. Without the project, the district would be receiving nothing, he said.

Landes remains hopeful everything will work out.

"We have worked so well together in the past," she said. "I hope everyone remains optimistic."



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