Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority considers changing name to clear confusion

CINCINNATI -- It's a common misconception. But, no, the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority has no official role in area maritime activity.

And thus, its leadership is tossing around the idea of a name change in 2017 to more aptly describe what the organization actually does -- regional economic development.

Gail Paul, the port authority's vice president of communication, made first mention of the idea to re-brand to the board of directors this week. No specifics were proposed, and discussion is preliminary, but she expects internal discussions could start this quarter.

"Other port authorities have done this," Paul said. 

The port authority's reach is increasingly broad-reaching. It aids in economic development. It's cleaned up hundreds of acres in Hamilton County, remediated several former industrial sites -- including, most recently, the former Hudepohl brewery and Cincinnati Gardens, both of which will be demolished this year -- owns office space, works to revitalize neighborhoods and issues bonds to spur projects like a hotel at the Medpace campus in Madisonville.

It does not, however, operate an actual port, although it did have a hand in a recent initiative to expand the Port of Cincinnati's boundaries from 26 miles to 226.5. In turn, that span of Ohio River waterway is now considered among the busiest in the U.S.

"We're not like (the) Toledo (Port Authority), which has an operation on Lake Erie, and they charge docking fees and rent space to users…there's still some of that residual confusion," Paul said.

"When you think about where we've been over the last five years and how much we've expanded… it's probably a good time to look at our brand and consider whether a stronger identity could help better communicate who we are and our unique role," she said. 

And there's no time like the present. It's a new year. Its board has new officers, a new member in Pradeep K. Bekal and another new member to be announced soon. Laura Brunner, the port authority's president and CEO, just released her key metrics for 2017. 

The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority was created by Hamilton County commissioners and city of Cincinnati leaders in 2001, and its actions authorized by Ohio Revised Code. While port authorities often operate railroads, airports or rail, they can exist in any political jurisdiction, even if those locales lack the facilities aforementioned. 

Changing the name -- other port authorities in Ohio are shifting to denominations like "development authority" or "development finance authority," like in Columbus-Franklin County and Summit County -- would initially involve internal discussions. Paul hoped the board would help kick-start talks.

"I'll say in the professional realm, in professional circles, when you say 'port authority,' people know what you're talking about," said Robert Fisher, a member of the board of directors since 2015. "But the average citizen, if they see that, they ignore it. People just don’t know what the port authority does." 

But is that important, for the general public to have a better understanding?

"Yes," Paul said. "More and more." 

More and more of the port's work is directed at neighborhoods, she said, like REACH, which aims to bring vacant and blighted properties back online. That initiative started in Evanston and, now, is targeting Walnut Hills with a third neighborhood to be announced. "We're working with residents, with people who actually live there," she said.

"I think anything we can do to help people better understand how we work, what our mission is, what our goals are…" Paul added. "If a brand revamp can support that -- or at least minimize confusion -- it's something we have to look at."

@_LizEngel

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