Appeals court rejects delay of Cincinnati's parking lease

Case now headed to Ohio Supreme Court

CINCINNATI - An appellate court ruled Monday morning to deny a request to block Cincinnati officials from implementing a controversial parking lease.

The First District Court of Appeals denied a motion to stay the decision it issued Wednesday in the city's favor.

Parking lease opponents still plan an appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, their attorney said Monday.

"Before the New York interests issue the bonds (for the parking lease), this could go before the Supreme Court," said attorney Curt Hartman.

"This is not dead," Hartman added. "I would think a New York investment bank would not want to issue the bonds with this uncertainty over the lease still hanging in the air."

In its 2-1 decision June 12, the appellate court ruled the Common Pleas Court acted appropriately when it issued the injunction March 27, but erred when it later ruled the city's charter didn't clearly state that officials could use emergency ordinances.

In his March ruling, Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Winkler had said city council's use of an emergency clause to have the lease take effect immediately does not supersede provisions in the city's charter or Ohio law that ensures the right to referendum for most legislative actions.

In a 5-4 vote in March, city council approved a decades-long lease of city-owned parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority using an emergency ordinance. The vote occurred just 15 days after the plan was unveiled publicly and presented to city council.

Councilman Chris Seelbach, who opposed the lease, then provided the sixth vote necessary to enable the city to enact it as an emergency ordinance, which officials thought would make it immune to referendum.

Shortly thereafter, however, the citizens group got an injunction from the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court against the action.

Under the deal, the city's parking meters would be leased to the Port Authority for 30 years, while the city's parking lots and garages would be leased for up to 50 years.

In return, the city would get a $92 million upfront payment, along with annual payments of about $3 million for the remainder of the lease.

City officials planned to use the money to help avoid deficits in the 2014 and 2015 budgets, and to quicken the pace of some citywide development projects. Instead, they used other sources of money to fill gaps in the budget, which was approved in late May.

A New York-based financial consultant hired by the city to analyze the lease said the city would get $197.4 million – or 41 percent of its current market value. The remainder of the lease's value will go to the Port Authority, private contractors and a New York investment bank that will issue debt to support the deal.

Opponents said the lease would cause rate increases and aggressive enforcement might drive away customers from small businesses, while some residents said the city was undervaluing a prime city asset.

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