CINCINNATI – Two city council members are demanding Cincinnati Children’s Hospital agree to invest another $14 million in Avondale before they support the hospital’s planned $550 million expansion.
That’s in addition to $11 million the hospital has already committed for housing and neighborhood improvements.
The Avondale Community Council opposes the expansion, which would reroute Erkenbrecker Street and mean the demolition of a dozen or so houses.
“It seems only the budget of this goliath project matters to council members, not the further destruction of our black neighborhood,” Patricia Milton of the Avondale Community Council said at the meeting of Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhood Committee Monday.
Michael and Leah Ellsworth, Avondale residents for 40 years, say they have watched the neighborhood get smaller and they're concerned it's going to happen again with construction of a new critical care tower.
“I'm concerned about the additional construction, the wiping out of our community again. I mean, it's purely to me genocide,” said Leah Ellsworth.
"They're not moving into a cornfield in Butler County somewhere and just expanding. They're moving into places where real people live, where real people worship, where we shop and we have friends and family who come to visit,” said Michael Ellsworth.
Council members Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young oppose it, too, but they are willing to change their mind if Children's agrees to more help for the community.
“We don't want to create little ghettoes where these amazing institutions sit and surrounding them is deterioration, poverty, lack of positive health outcomes,” said Simpson.
“You cannot look at neighborhoods as acreage in the way of development that you want to do. You have got to understand that you're impacting the lives of people — real people. They're not just widgets,” said Young.
Vice-Mayor David Mann objected to their amendment coming in at the 11th hour and got in a verbal scuffle with Young.
“We're saying to someone else, ‘Spend more money and we'll give you a zone change, and we'll give you a change in your planned development,' ” said Mann.
“Mr. Chair, I have to object to that. You are changing my words,” said Young. “You need to know that is not what I said and I will not permit you to put words in my mouth.”
“That's exactly what you said,” Mann replied.
In the end, the committee voted to advance everything to Wednesday’s full council meeting.
Children's officials say the request caught them off guard.
“I'm not familiar with political procedure so I have nothing to add to that,” said Steve Davis, the hospital’s chief operating officer. “We'll go back and our team will talk about it and we'll be here on Wednesday.”
The new emergency room and 10-story patient tower would fill much of the block bordered by Erkenbrecher, Burnet, Hearne and Wilson avenues, north of its two existing patient towers. The plan also includes a 1,100-car parking garage expansion.
The expansion would create up to 600 new jobs and accommodate a 26 percent increase since 2009 in the number of children spending the night at the hospital.
Milton says Children's should consider building in Walnut Hills or Liberty Township instead. The current hospital is big enough, she said, and Children's didn't do enough to build neighborhood support during the planning stages.
"This is not about their work and duty as a hospital to care for the sick and prevent disease. It's about kingdom-building, where they expand their kingdom," Milton said. "The kingdom must not come across Erkenbrecker contributing to the further destruction of another black neighborhood."
Davis says the hospital considered other sites but ruled them out.
"Medicine today has evolved into a very high-tech specialty where as many as 40 providers take care of a child in the ICU," Davis said. "To be able to safely take care of those children, those providers need to be able to be located close to each other."
This story contains prior reporting by WCPO.com's Dan Monk.