Cincinnati asked to consider kicking in another $10M for Museum Center and Music Hall repairs

City spokesman: 'Nothing's been committed'

CINCINNATI – It's not just Union Terminal that's falling apart.

Dalton Street and the expansive plaza just outside the historic building also need about $9.6 million in repairs, according to the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman told WCPO he has asked Cincinnati City Manager Scott Stiles whether the city might consider absorbing those costs to reduce the overall scope of the project.

"It's not an offer from the county, not a recommendation from the county and not a demand of the county," Sigman said.

The proposed work includes repairing and reinforcing concrete, new sidewalks and new lighting and security.
 
The city hasn't signed off on the idea at this point, either, said Rocky Merz, the city's interim communications director.

"Nothing's been committed or approved on that," he said.

Covering those costs would nearly double the city's direct contribution to the massive $331 million plan to restore both Union Terminal and Music Hall .

The city last spring pledged $10 million toward the renovation of Music Hall, and that figure is part of the overall financing plan for both buildings. The city will contribute it's $10 million for Music Hall in installments of $2.5 million per year over four years.

There is no detail about how the other money would be paid.

Proponents of the plan have asked Hamilton County commissioners to place a quarter-cent sales tax on the November ballot. Such an increase would raise Hamilton County's total sales tax from 6.75 cents on the dollar to 7 cents on the dollar.

If the commissioners agree, and if voters approve the measure, the tax increase would fund about $225 million of the cost of the overall project.

Critics of that proposal have questioned why the city wouldn't be asked to contribute more – especially since the city owns both the buildings.

"Cincinnati chose to spend $100 million of their own funds on a streetcar instead of taking care of their own buildings," Jeff Capell told the county's Tax Levy Review Committee during a July 8 meeting. Capell spoke on behalf of COAST, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes.

"Governments have to set priorities. Hamilton County has done this," Capell said. "Cincinnati has not."

Merz said even though the city of Cincinnati owns both Union Terminal and Music Hall, the lease agreements for both buildings clearly state the city is not responsible for maintenance costs.

The Union Terminal lease states the city has "no responsibility for payment of the costs of the construction, renovation, remodeling, operation, maintenance and debt including any cost overruns and additional expenses, of the Museum Center."

The Music Hall agreement states: "The City shall not have any maintenance or repair obligations or any obligations to provide services for the benefit of the Property under this Lease."

Even so, the city has budgeted $200,000 a year to help with maintenance and repairs for each of the buildings in its capital budget, Merz said.

That contribution wasn't highlighted in previous presentations made by the Cultural Facilities Task Force that is recommending the quarter-cent sales tax increase. But it was discussed at a Monday meeting of the county's Tax Levy Review Committee, which is studying the proposal.

Merz wrote in a statement that "no formal endorsement or approval by the Mayor, City Council or City Manager of the Museum Center renovation plans, or commitments of City financial support, has occurred."

But Vice Mayor David Mann told WCPO that he would be open to the idea of the city's helping to fund some of the Dalton Street repair needs.

"These icons are obviously structures that serve the whole community," he said. "It's not unusual for us to provide those kinds of (infrastructure) supports for developments of all kinds."

For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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