Council prepares to borrow money from neighborhoods to keep streetcar on schedule

CINCINNATI - The sponge mop Chris Weideman was using to clean the efficiency ceiling was disintegrating.

"The ceilings tear them up pretty quick," he said.

Weideman is rehabbing an apartment building he bought for $16,000 in Over-the-Rhine, just a half block from Cincinnati's controversial streetcar line.

That's no coincidence.

"The success of this project definitely hinges on the streetcar," he said.

Weideman has struck out on his own to make a business of fixing up, then renting old housing stock.

He expects the streetcar will allow him to charge twice the rent he would otherwise get from his property.

To protect his investment, he felt compelled to step into the hornets' nest we have become all so familiar with: the debate over the Cincinnati streetcar.

Monday morning the city council's chamber was packed with supporters and foes of the project, vying for a chance to persuade the Finance Committee to their side of the tracks.

Nearly 50 people signed up to speak.  

Weideman's message was from the heart as well as his wallet.

"It's really important for us to get the streetcar going to continue the burgeoning development we already have in the downtown," he said.

Monday's volley of opinions came as city leaders prepared to commit another $15 million to the project....from the $37 million sale of the Blue Ash Airport property.

The goal: to pay for relocation of utilities along the streetcar route.

While the city is twisting Duke Energy's arm to pay them back, City Manager Milton Dohoney wants a back up plan to keep construction on track.

 "At the conclusion of the resolution of those issues, then this $15 million...would be restored," he told the committee.

Many residents feel that money is coming at the expense of their neighborhoods.

"They seem to be willing to mortgage the entire city," said John Cranley, "whether its the Banks project, whether its the neighborhoods, whether its paving the streets [to pay for the streetcar]."

The committee voted to approve the use of the money, and the matter will be up for a vote of the full council on Wednesday.

Weideman says he is confident the streetcar will stay on track and his new apartments will be in demand as soon as he finishes them by the end of the year.

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