CINCINNATI -- One week after John Cranley was elected as Cincinnati’s next mayor, he and the Port Authority announced Tuesday afternoon that a controversial parking lease will be canceled.
Cranley campaigned against the lease during the past year. The next City Council, which takes office Dec. 1, will include a majority opposed to the lease, so Tuesday’s action merely hastened the lease’s end.
"We believe what the voters asked was clear and we are here to say thank you to the Port, thank you to the voters and especially thank you to all of those folks to organize the petition drive and work and hope that we could be at a day like today and we are now here," John Cranley said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference.
The Port Authority’s board of directors was scheduled to vote Wednesday to sell revenue bonds to finance the deal.
"We have delayed the issuance of bonds out of respect for ... this group until they assume their official positions next month and have a chance to formally weigh in," said Port Authority CEO Laura Brunner.
By delaying the planned sale, City Council will be able to end the deal once members take office.
The Port Authority's board has agreed to follow Cranley and City Council's lead, and not oppose the lease's cancellation.
Sources close to the decision said several of the city’s “thought leaders” – including real estate developers, professors and others – convinced the Port Authority’s board it shouldn’t pick a fight with City Hall that it would likely lose.
Less than a month ago, the Port Authority’s board voted to approve contracts with the two private firms that would have overseen daily management of city-owned parking meters and garages.
The quick reversal shows the seismic changes to Cincinnati’s political landscape after the Nov. 5 elections.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who ran against Cranley to be the next mayor but lost, was a strong lease supporter.
Cranley and a majority of the next City Council sent the Port Authority a letter Monday night, asking the agency to scuttle the lease.
Besides Cranley, the letter also was signed by Kevin Flynn, David Mann, Amy Murray, Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman and Charlie Winburn.
Cranley held a meeting with Brunner at noon Tuesday.
In March the current City Council voted 5-4 to approve the lease of city-owned parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority. It happened after Mayor Mark Mallory urged council and the public to support the deal, warning of dire consequences if it didn’t.
Council’s vote occurred just 15 days after the complicated deal was unveiled publicly and presented to the group by the city manager.
The lease triggered several legal battles and became a central issue in this year’s mayoral and City Council elections.
Originally, lease supporters said the deal was needed to balance the city’s budget and avoid hundreds of layoffs at City Hall, including police and firefighters.
As legal challenges dragged on through spring, however, city officials managed to pass a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2014 without the lease revenues or making any layoffs.
Lease supporters had said the deal would’ve provided cash to let the city jumpstart projects that will expand its tax base and attract new jobs.
Opponents, however, said the lease would’ve lessened direct public control over the meters. Also, it would’ve caused rate increases and aggressive enforcement that might drive away customers from small businesses, they added.
More than 19,000 signatures were collected last spring to hold a voter referendum on the lease. But a court blocked the effort, stating because City Council passed the measure as an emergency ordinance a referendum wasn’t allowed.
After council’s March vote to OK the lease, Seelbach provided the sixth vote to pass the measure as an emergency, allowing it to take effect immediately and block any referendum.
Once the city’s budget was balanced in May without the lease, six council members then said the deal should be revised or canceled. Mallory, however, used a procedural maneuver to stop a vote.
Under the lease, the city would’ve been paid a total of $105 million over the lease’s term, with an upfront payment of $85 million.
Initially, the Port Authority planned on issuing $127.65 million in tax-exempt bonds to finance the deal, with the city getting a $92 million upfront payment.
Delays in the process and changing interest rates led to the lower amount.
City officials never decided specifically how to use the cash, but had said they wanted to quicken the pace of several development projects, including the construction of an interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive.