Mayor and City Manager unveil potential streetcar station signs

Voters have yet to approve streetcar project

CINCINNATI - A young man walking along 8th Street downtown clutches a sign reading "Boondoggle." It plays off the visible Cincinnati streetcar project marketing, showing a caricatured streetcar with gnashing teeth. A small man shovels dollar signs into its mouth.

Behind him a crowd containing both supporters and opponents of the project stands, wrapping up a conflicting scene.

On Tuesday, Mayor Mark Mallory, City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr., and Metro CEO and General Manager Terry Garcia unveiled the first station sign for the Cincinnati streetcar.

There's one caveat: the streetcar project has yet to be approved by voters.

The mayor said the signs are meant to be temporary markers so that people can begin to understand the route and where the streetcar will take them when it is built.

The signs show the route the streetcar will run on, from downtown to Findlay Market, with possible expansions to The Banks and Clifton. The route was shortened after the state pulled funding for the project .

Cincinnati City Councilman Wayne Lippert released a statement Tuesday, calling on the city to "respect the democratic process" and halt all streetcar activity.

"I don't care what side you are on in this debate," said Lippert. "To move forward with this project in the face of a legally organized and certified ballot initiative shows the arrogance of the administration."

Though, city leaders contend the project will create jobs, both during construction and later with ongoing roles needed to run the streetcar. The city manager and the mayor said the project also has the potential to inspire filling vacant downtown lots.

"There are some 500 vacant buildings in the Over-The-Rhine area…along with the 92 acres of surface parking lots [in] downtown Cincinnati," said Mayor Mallory at the unveiling Tuesday. "The streetcar will provide an opportunity [to change] those parcels into new commercial, office or residential space," he said.

"The white elephants in Cincinnati are numerous!" shouted Tom Luken, an opponent of the Cincinnati streetcar. "They're not going to have a groundbreaking until after November, because people are going to vote it down."

Still, the dialogue at Tuesday's unveiling revealed optimism from all parties supporting the streetcar.

"This is really a great project in terms of collaboration and support," said Terry Garcia of Metro. "We're excited with the fact that we'll be moving forward with the operation of Metro being able to link people to the critical areas downtown and ultimately the Uptown area," she said.

City leaders have emphasized that no General Fund operating dollars would be used for the project. This will ensure that the streetcar never competes for funding with essential services such as police and fire protection or trash pick-up.

"We've got a $95 million project. We have $99 million allocated for this project. So we're going to start construction sometime at the end of this year," said Mayor Mallory.

Councilman Lippert concluded his statement by reminding people, "There is a ballot initiative seeking to bring an end to the streetcar project. At the same time, there is not a majority on council supporting moving forward on this project."

The last request at the sign unveiling comes from a young man, no older than 17, asking people to get involved. He says, "Tell City Hall how you really feel about this Boondoggle."

Stay with 9 News and WCPO.com on all streetcar developments.

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