BLUE ASH, Ohio - Blue Ash City Council has approved legislation to move forward with the sale of the Blue Ash Airport to Cincinnati.
The council voted Friday and the vote passed 6-1. The one "no" vote came from Blue Ash Mayor Mark Weber.
The legislation will allow the city of Cincinnati to purchase the airport and then re-sell it back to the city of Blue Ash no later than Aug. 31.
There had been some confusion on how the two cities were moving forward with the sale, especially on the issue of what Cincinnati would be doing with the money they would get by re-selling the property to Blue Ash.
First, Cincinnati said it would sell some of the airport's acreage to Blue Ash, and led many to believe it would use that money to rebuild the facility.
Blue Ash passed a tax increase in 2006 to buy the land to build a park.
Cincinnati never followed through with airport improvements, either for Blue Ash or Lunken, even though the FAA said that's what the money had to be used for.
The FAA's stance didn't fly with Cincinnati, and officials threatened to sue the federal government.
Then Cincinnati altered course again, voting to rescind the agreement altogether.
That didn't sit well with Blue Ash resident Jeff Capell.
"It is like if you sell a house to your neighbor," Capell said, "and then you come back five years later and sue the buyer because you don't like what you did with the money."
Mayor Mark Mallory's communications director Jason Barron said it was just a technicality, not a big deal. He said the sale is still happening.
Barron also says the goal was always to get money for the streetcar, and the FAA was making that difficult.
The controversial Cincinnati streetcar project, a favorite of the mayor's, has had several sources of public funding dry up over the years.
The mayor's office has consistently denied any problems and said the project is on track and moving forward.
However, Cincinnati Councilmember Christopher Smitherman said Wednesday's vote could cause funding from the airport deal to crash and burn.
"It ultimately could cost the city $100 million in legal expenses and fines," said Smitherman, who opposes the streetcar project. "Giving the money back to Blue Ash, that might not be sorted out for five years, but there certainly is a risk that going down this road, the FAA will not agree with us, even with the deal being rescinded."
Blue Ash officials also say the transaction is still happening, only the documentation will change to get around the FAA roadblocks.
Blue Ash issued a statement about the approval of the sale before Friday's vote, detailing what it would accomplish:
This Thursday, Aug. 9, Blue Ash City Council will vote on legislation allowing for the finalization of its transaction with the City of Cincinnati to purchase 130 acres of property at the Blue Ash Airport. This legislation, if approved, will address FAA procedures, complete possession by Blue Ash of the property and allow for construction to begin on schedule as contemplated in the original 2006 document.
After voters approved Issue 15 by a two-to-one margin, Blue Ash City Council embarked on this now 6 year journey so it could, consistent with that vote, construct a world-class park with accompanying amenities. The proposed amendments authorized by the legislation will finalize the transaction and allow Blue Ash to take possession of the 130 acres no later than Friday, Aug. 31.
Notably, there are several important actions that this legislation will have no impact upon. These include:
· The City of Cincinnati, which owns and operates the Blue Ash Airport, announced plans in March to close the airport – the effective date of closure will be Wednesday, Aug. 29. Blue Ash City Council cannot prevent the airport from closing.
· The City of Blue Ash and the City of Cincinnati have previously attempted to work with both the FAA and local aviation advocates to keep the Blue Ash Airport open. After significant study, going forward, Blue Ash determined that operating the airport was not financially feasible.
· The City of Cincinnati has stated its intention to proceed with its streetcar project even if cannot use funds available from the sale of land at the airport to Blue Ash. Additionally, nothing in the original 2006 agreement nor the amended version gives Blue Ash any right to determine how Cincinnati uses those proceeds or the projects it funds as a result.
Should the legislation be approved, the amended agreement will provide a $250,000 credit to the City of Blue Ash. Further, the approval of the amendment will allow Blue Ash to immediately obtain possession of the property no later than Friday, Aug. 31 so it can continue development of a phenomenal voter-approved park.
Capell is angry at how both cities are using his tax dollars.
"We in Blue Ash don't appreciate that Mayor Mallory wants to bully us into paying for his streetcar," he said. "I'm very disappointed at some members of our Blue Ash city council