Monday, May 3, 2010

Ginsburg to stakeholders: 'Downtown moving in the right direction'

Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI), a non-profit dedicated to creating a safer, cleaner, and more vibrant Downtown, elected its new slate of board members and officers and updated its membership on key benchmarks during its 2010 Annual Meeting last Thursday at The Cincinnati Club.

The meeting coincided with the release of both DCI's 2009 Annual Report and its 2009 State of Downtown Report. While the Annual Report provides highlights of DCI's progress in its three core services areas of safe and clean, marketing, and stakeholder services, the State of Downtown Report provides a more comprehensive profile of activity in and around the central business district (CBD).

These sectors include development, office and employment, retail and restaurants, residential, conventions and hotels, arts/culture/entertainment, safe and clean, and parking and access.

DCI President David Ginsburg called 2009 "a very successful year with a high level of difficulty".

"All the new indicators are terrific," Ginsburg said. "All the new energy is great. Everything Downtown is moving in the right direction."

DCID was key

Ginsburg said that the number one accomplishment of 2009 was renewal of the Downtown Cincinnati Improvement District (DCID), an assessment against Downtown property owners that funds nearly 75 percent of DCI's activities.

The four-year services plan, which runs through 2013, was approved by more than 70 percent of Downtown's property owners – despite a poor economy and an increased budget.

"What it really is is an endorsement and a tribute to the leadership of Downtown Cincinnati, led by the members of DCI," Ginsburg said. "The argument was that if we are going to succeed Downtown, that the enormous investments that have been made in the Backstage area and the residential in the surrounding areas of Over-the-Rhine, now we have to protect and enhance those because they're at risk."

Perceptions changing

"Our primary goal is to build a dynamic center city valued as the heart of our region," Ginsburg said. "And we play a very specific role. Our job is to make sure Downtown is safe and clean, both in reality and perception."

According to the Annual Report, DCI's 21 ambassadors spent 45,860 hours on performing safe and clean and outreach activities. Calls for service per month to the Ambassador hotline tripled following an effort to build its awareness.

Additionally, the CBD received an average Keep Cincinnati Beautiful Litter Index of 1.2, on a scale with 1 indicating "no litter" and 4 rating as "extremely littered". Part 1 and Part 2 crimes are down double digits over a decade ago.

DCI's 2009 Annual Perceptions Survey found a 17 percent increase in people who believe Downtown is safe (61 percent), a 21 percent increase in people who believe Downtown is clean (65 percent), and a 12 percent increase in people who believe that Downtown has "lots of potential" (92 percent)

"We're finally starting to see perceptions change," Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg said that is why Downtown continues to buck economic trends.

"The old 'one-two' in terms of development and revitalization is that first you stabilize through a safety program," Ginsburg said. "But you can only go so far with that. The 'two' – the real knockout punch – is the development. And that is residents, initiatives, and arts and culture, and entertainment. And that's why we're bucking economic trends Downtown."

'A great sign'

Ginsburg chronicled such work as The Banks, the new casino, Great American Tower at Queen City Square, and even lesser projects such as the new Procter & Gamble child care center and KZF Design projects at Seventh Street and Broadway.

According to the State of Downtown Report, completed construction and renovation projects in the urban core totaled more than $116 million in 2009. Another $1.6 billion is in development.

Thirty new retail, restaurant, and entertainment establishments opened for business.

"You're starting to see development all over Downtown," Ginsburg said. "And that's a great sign."

Still work to do

Despite all of the recent investment in Downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods, Ginsburg said that there's still much work to do.

For example, the Class A office vacancy rate in the CBD still stands at 18.2 percent.

"There's still too much vacant property," he said. "There are some challenges in retailing some of the space that will be emptied out with the development of the new office building. How does Downtown integrate with The Banks and the casino? How do we make this all one big more successful, more synergistic center city? How do we make sure that property values and employment continue to rise."

City on board

In his keynote address, Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney likened the City's growth to a "big staircase", where the City can take large steps faster – therefore having more impact and more quickly achieving its goals. To achieve that, the City needs more confidence and a greater expectation of success, he said.

"When you study cities from around the country, those that are considered progressive do accept risk in some of their decision making," he said. "Bigger steps mean bigger gains."

That first step, Dohoney said, is The Banks. The water district is another.

"It's a regional step," he said. "It will bring a revenue stream to the City."

Other major projects such as the 3C Corridor intercity passenger rail line and the Cincinnati streetcar are also considered necessary to advance the City agenda, increase the tax base, and increase jobs, he said.

"Moving incrementally up the ladder is not good enough," Dohoney said.

New board elected

This year's newly-elected board members include:

  • Marvin Blade, Director of Government and Community Relations, Duke Energy;
  • Karen Forgus, Senior Vice President of Business Operations, Cincinnati Reds;
  • Dr. LaVaughn M. Henry, Vice President and Senior Regional Officer with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland – Cincinnati Branch;
  • James J. McGraw, Jr., President of KMK Consulting;
  • Peg Moertl, Territory Executive Senior Vice President of PNC Community Development Banking;
  • John Ryan, Senior Vice President of Investments, Raymond James & Associates; and
  • Carl Satterwhite, President of River City Furniture.
The newly-elected board officers are:
  • Chair: Jill Meyer, Member in Charge, Frost Brown Todd LLC;
  • Co-Vice Chair: Mark Reitzes, Regional President, Huntington Bank, Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky;
  • Co-Vice Chair: LeVon Thompson Jr., President and CEO of Foxx Construction, LLC ;
  • Treasurer: David Eshman, Partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP; and
  • Secretary: Kelley Downing, President and CEO of Bartlett & Co.
Previous reading on BC:
Downtown improvement assessments near council vote (8/4/09)
Cincinnati establishes board for DCID appeals (7/8/09)
Downtown Cincinnati improvement district approved for 2010-2013 (6/18/09)
Ginsburg: Prepared for challenges, Downtown improves against benchmarks (5/18/09)
Last days for Downtown Preceptions Survey (4/30/09)