Two of Hamilton County’s three commissioners—Todd Portune and Greg Hartmann—appear to be leaning toward forwarding to voters a proposal to fund renovations at Union Terminal and Music Hall.
CINCINNATI—Two of Hamilton County’s three commissioners—Todd Portune and Greg Hartmann—appear to be leaning toward forwarding to voters a proposal to fund renovations at Union Terminal and Music Hall.
Each commissioner expressed concerns and had unanswered questions about the proposal and none would say with certainty how he intended to vote. Still, their comments, after more than six hours of testimony over two public hearings, indicate they think it best that voters ultimately decide the issue in November.
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Union Terminal, left, and Music Hall in Cincinnati. (File images)
CINCINNATI—Two of Hamilton County’s three commissioners —Todd Portune and Greg Hartmann—appear to be leaning toward forwarding to voters a proposal to fund renovations at Union Terminal and Music Hall .
The county’s Cultural Facilities Task Force, working for the Tax Levy Review Committee, estimates costs to renovate two of Cincinnati’s most revered cultural assets at $331 million. An independent analysis pushes that estimate up another $10 million. That money would come chiefly from a quarter-cent sales tax increase, private philanthropy and the City of Cincinnati.
Commissioners have until Aug. 6 to decide whether to place the plan on the November ballot.
“I think it’s an incredibly hard ask—a huge ask, a huge dollar figure—for three county commissioners to decide the future of these buildings,” said commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican.
“I would like to see some movement from the city before I send this on to voters,” Hartmann said, speaking of the city’s financial commitment to the renovations and maintenance of both buildings. “But I ultimately think this decision should be made by the voters.”
“Arts and culture are not extras. They speak to the soul of what this community is about,” said Todd Portune, the commission’s lone Democrat.
“These icons need to be preserved for future generations—no doubt about that,” he said. “I do think this is a good plan, but whether this is a plan that should be presented to voters, I have not decided yet.”
While also saying “I haven’t made up my mind,” Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, said he wouldn’t send a plan to voters without concrete assurances taxpayers wouldn’t be “on the hook” for cost overruns of the renovations or the ongoing maintenance of the buildings.
“I heard a lot of talk in ‘96 about ‘Just let us vote,’ but that’s not really the issue. It’s what happened after the vote that got us in trouble,” Monzel said, referring to the county’s responsibility for new and costly stadiums for the Reds and Bengals.
“We need something more (in this plan) than just ‘Trust us, you won’t be on the hook,’” he said.
First at a July 23 hearing in Sharonville and then July 28 at the county administration building in Cincinnati, supporters of the plan far outnumbered opponents, rallying around a campaign to “Save Our Icons.”
In bursts of two minutes, though many stretched that boundary, speakers delivered economic boilerplates, boosterism, anecdotes of weddings, graduations and collegiate pursuits, warnings of inaction and taxpayer fatigue, county vs. city identity and responsibility, ghosts of stadiums past and streetcars future, and calls for the democratic process to play out.
WCPO live-tweeted both hearings, and you can read details of arguments people brought to the podium by scrolling through our @WCPOarts Twitter feed.
Among key arguments made by plan supporters:
Among key arguments made by plan opponents: