Monday, August 6, 2012

Blue Ash considering restructuring of airport deal

UPDATE by City of Cincinnati Director of Communications Meg Olberding at end of article (8/6/12, 5:05 P.M.)...UPDATE on Blue Ash vote at end of article (8/6/12, 9:00 P.M.)

The City of Blue Ash is considering a proposal by the City of Cincinnati to rescind a purchase and sales agreement for 130 acres of land at the Blue Ash Airport, which Cincinnati says will free up $11 million for the streetcar and $26 million for other municipal projects.

In late 2006, Blue Ash agreed to buy the property at Glendale-Milford and Plainfield roads from Cincinnati for $37.5 million, to be paid over 30 years, for construction of a signature "central" park.

Cincinnati agreed to relocate airport operations onto an adjacent 98 acres, remediate the former airport site, and transfer it to Blue Ash by August 31, 2012. The agreement also required Cincinnati to apply for a $10 million Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grant to perform that work.

Denied the FAA grant, Cincinnati announced plans to close the airport on August 29. Doing so will allow it to save money on annual operating and maintenance costs and to channel all of its aviation funding into Lunken Airport.

More importantly, closing the airport and restructuring the agreement allows the City to use the sale proceeds for any purpose, including the streetcar. If the City continues to operate the airport, FAA rules require any funds from the property sale to be used for aviation-related expenses only.

Proposal similar

Under the proposed new agreement, Blue Ash would pay $37.25 million for the property – minus $6 million it has already paid – over the next 24 years.

Blue Ash City Council could vote on the issue as soon as Thursday. If it declines the new agreement, Cincinnati will likely put the property up for sale on the open market.

"Legislation being contemplated by Blue Ash allows the City to finalize the transaction, to address FAA procedures, to obtain possession of the park property, and to begin construction of the park on schedule, as contemplated in the 2006 Agreement," Blue Ash City Solicitor Mark A. Vander Laan said in a statement released on Friday. "In fact, the City is currently in the process of selecting design consultants for the park."

A winning bidder for the design, engineering, and construction of Phase I of the $20 million Blue Ash Airport Park will be selected on Thursday.

Bids for construction of the $110 million Cincinnati streetcar project are expected this fall, with the service tentatively scheduled to be up and running between The Banks and Findlay Market by late 2014.

In related streetcar news, Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday:
  • Authorized the transfer and appropriation of $3.1 million received from the sale of City street lights to Duke Energy and $10.9 million received through the U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER program into a capital improvement program project account for use in the streetcar project; and
  • Authorized the transfer and appropriation of $170,000 to complete the removal of contaminated soil and underground storage tanks, a problem that is more widespread than anticipated.
UPDATE (8/6/12, 5:05 P.M.): City of Cincinnati Director of Communications Meg Olberding says that it's important to understand that the City cannot unilaterally rescind the 2006 agreement, and disagrees with my assertion that the City could sell the land if both cities fail to re-validate it:

"I believe this is a mischaracterization of the both the intent and spirit of the cooperative stance that the cities of Blue Ash and Cincinnati have had going into this administrative clean up of the agreement. The City of Cincinnati is committed to selling to the land to Blue Ash, just as in 2006, to allow them to go forth in building their first-class park. Additionally, our conversations with representatives from Blue Ash have been to that end and in furtherance of bringing the deal to the FAA’s satisfaction. Redoing the deal allows the City of Blue Ash to get its park and the City of Cincinnati to use the proceeds from the sale of property for other municipal purposes."

UPDATE (8/6/12, 9:00 P.M.): Blue Ash City Council will review the amended agreement and take a vote at its meeting this Thursday at 7 P.M.

Previous reading on BC:
Master plan completed, Blue Ash issues RFQ for Airport Park (5/30/12)
City declares intent to acquire properties for streetcar facility (5/7/12)
UC lecture to examine broader effects of streetcar project (5/1/12)
Cincinnati selects preferred vendor for streetcar vehicles (4/11/12)
Streetcar team to hold DBE outreach on Thursday (3/20/12)