Foundations say sales tax hike could be seed money for Union Terminal, Music Hall renovations

CINCINNATI - A group of Cincinnati foundations and civic groups may have a promising idea for saving the crumbling Union Terminal, restoring historic Music Hall and helping other Tri-State cultural institutions.

It says a small sales tax hike of a quarter-penny to a half-cent in Hamilton County would be enough over time to provide seed money to build a new cultural renovations fund that could pay for repairs to Union Terminal, renovation of Music Hall and a lot more.

Estimates say the total bill for Union Terminal, Music Hall, the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Cincinnati Zoo might come to as much as $500 million. Already Union Terminal is talking about needing in excess of $120 million to repair crumbling concrete throughout Union Terminal from decades of water damage.

How much would a sales tax hike cost you? You would have to spend an extra quarter for every $100 you spend in Hamilton County under a quarter-cent sales tax hike. A half cent tax hike would make you spend an extra 50 cents for every $100 in purchases.

Under a proposal from the Haile Foundation, those sale tax hike funds would be matched, to some degree, by contributions from foundations and private individuals.

They say the problem that confronts Union Terminal, Music Hall, the Cincinnati Zoo and the Cincinnati Art Museum is that Hamilton County doesn't have enough money now to pay for expensive restorations and major improvements. In addition, neither do many local foundations.

"The private section, the foundation sector lacks the money to do it all and the government sector lacks the funds to do it all. Let's create a partnership that is a shared responsibility, where both public and private sectors can work together," said Andy Scott of the Haile Foundation.

Funds from any new sales tax hike would not be used for operating expenses at any of the cultural institutions. It would only be fore major capital expenses like making repairs and renovations or building new additions and attractions.

However, the Haile Foundation says for some of Cincinnati's prized attractions, time and money is of the essence right now.

"Music Hall and Union Terminal have immediate needs that are significant and when these needs of fixing buildings, especially buildings suffering from extensive water damage over decades are not quickly addressed, the cost can increase and it does increase significantly," Scott said.

We found some of the visitors to the Museum Center who brought their families along for Easter Sunday say they like the idea and would be willing to pay a slightly higher sales tax.

"I don't know how else you would pay for these museums. I would definitely be willing to pay a half-cent sales tax hike. We have to preserve these buildings somehow," said Bruce Hehemann of West Chester.

"Why not. They do it for everything else, so… and this is such a nice place. You shouldn't get rid of something like this. The kids have fun here," said Neva Holloman of the West End.

The sales tax hike and public-private funding partnership is just a suggestion for now. The Haile Foundation and other civil groups want to have several months of seminars and hearings on the idea before they would be ready to have a final proposal they could present to the Hamilton County Commissioners or to the voters.

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