Cincinnati Streetcar: Story behind the Haile Foundation that came to project's rescue

CEO says goal was to maintain city's momentum

CINCINNATI – Five years ago, nobody had ever heard of The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation.

But its role in saving the Cincinnati Streetcar project has quickly made the foundation one of the highest profile philanthropic organizations in the Tri-State.

“It doesn’t get much higher profile that the streetcar issue in the city of Cincinnati in December 2013,” said Cincinnati City Councilman Kevin Flynn.

Flynn knows as well as anyone. He cast the swing vote that gave Cincinnati City Council a super majority to keep the streetcar project alive. And he did that only after several days of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Haile Foundation that resulted in a $9 million commitment to fund the streetcar’s operating costs over 10 years if necessary.

So what is the Haile Foundation ? And why did it step in to try to save the streetcar, the divisive project with an estimated cost of $133 million to $148 million to build?

Meet The Hailes

Based in the U.S. Bank Tower downtown, the foundation was funded in 2006 after the death of Ralph V. Haile, Jr. His wife, Carol Ann, died in 2004.

The Hailes' wealth came from the sale of Peoples-Liberty Bank, which Carol Ann Haile’s family founded. Cincinnati-based First National, which was U.S. Bank’s predecessor locally, bought Peoples-Liberty in 1988 after it had become one of Northern Kentucky’s largest banks.

The Hailes were well known local philanthropists during their lives, and they established the foundation to ensure their money would continue to help the region they loved.

Since the foundation’s official debut in 2009, it has awarded tens of millions of dollars in grants in four focus areas: arts and culture, community development, education and human services.

The foundation also has become known as a trailblazer in philanthropic circles, taking a chance on programs and projects that its staff believes can make a difference in the community.

“They’ll take more risks than more established organizations,” said James Yunker, CEO of Cincinnati-based Smith Beers Yunker & Co., which advises nonprofits. “They’re sort of on the edge of things.”

Haile Foundation CEO Timothy Maloney relishes the organization’s reputation as a philanthropic maverick.

“Ralph was a trailblazer,” he said. “And we’d like to shape the work of the foundation on what Ralph and Carol were passionate about.”

Because of that, Maloney said, the foundation isn’t afraid to experiment. In fact, its five staff members seek new ideas to fund.

Through the first three quarters of this year alone, for example, the Haile Foundation spent:

• $200,000 on LumenoCity. The event brought thousands of people to Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine in August to hear a live performance by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as lights danced across the front of historic Music Hall.

• $150,000 with the American Sign Museum on the CoSign Initiative, where artists and graphic designers competed to create 11 new signs for Northside businesses.

• $186,300 to the Strive Partnership for various education initiatives.

• $315,285 to Easter Seals TriState for its new veteran employment program.

In all, the foundation awards between $10 million and $13 million in grants each year.

Keeping The Momentum

The Haile Foundation has always been an advocate for the streetcar because foundation staffers believe the project can have an important economic impact “if it’s well managed,” Maloney said.

“When the new administration came in with a plan to cancel the project, we stepped up,” he said. “We were worried about the aftermath of canceling the project, given all that we’ve accomplished with this city over the past five years as a community. We didn’t want us to lose momentum.”

The foundation first offered to fund an independent study to determine how much it would cost to stop the project versus finishing it. City officials rejected that offer, and the city paid for such a study itself.

Then the foundation pledged $1 million to help with ongoing operating costs, which started the negotiations with Flynn.

Ultimately, the foundation assembled a group of private funders who committed $900,000 per year over 10 years to help fund the streetcar’s operations if that money is needed.

Maloney won’t say how much the Haile Foundation pledged, but Flynn said he’s been told the organization’s commitment is substantial.

Regardless, it won’t impact the foundation’s other giving, Maloney said, “Not at all.”

Maloney declined to discuss the Haile Foundation’s total assets. The organization’s 2011 tax return, the most recent year that is publicly available, lists total assets of $217 million.

Getting ‘Clearer And Sharper’

That much money – combined with the willingness to take risks and try new things –made the Haile Foundation a critical part of the Greater Cincinnati community even before the final streetcar vote, said Kathryn Merchant, CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

“They have the ability to act very quickly when they see opportunities they believe will have a profound

impact one way or the other in how things work in our community,” Merchant said. “Each day that goes by, they just get clearer and sharper in ways they can play and make a difference.”

For his part, Maloney said he’s pleased that City Council voted to continue the streetcar project.

The foundation wasn’t trying to promote itself through its actions, he said. He and foundation Vice President Eric Avner simply believed that finishing the project was the right thing to do for the community.

“Moving forward, we are committed to being at the table,” Maloney said. “We have a lot of smart people in this town, and shame on us if we don’t figure this out because we can.”

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