Cincinnati City Council puts hold on $80 million Liberty and Elm project

Cincinnati City Council puts hold on $80 Million Liberty and Elm Project


Ordinances that would allow the massive development proposed for the corner of Liberty and Elm streets near Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine were held Thursday by Cincinnati City Council, pending potential changes by the developer.


The $80 million project by Cincinnati-based Kean Ventures, in a partnership with Indianapolis-based Buckingham Cos, calls for nearly 300 apartments, commercial space and 210 parking spaces in two new and four existing historic buildings. Council held the project because of concerns about affordable housing in it.


The developers have said they intend to secure low-income housing tax credits that will allow them to make 5% of the units affordable. The development team agreed to put provisions to ensure they apply for the credits in the development agreement. The developers said the project’s finances cannot provide affordable housing without the tax credits.


Councilwoman Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, a Democrat, said the project needs changes.


“I’m really not comfortable with this project. We’ve displaced too many people. This is such a huge project. Let’s see if we can include some affordable housing in it,” she said.


The project will not displace people, said Mayor John Cranley, a Democrat, and Councilman Steve Goodin, a Republican, because there’s no one in the buildings being renovated and the rest is vacant land.


“If we walk away from this, we may as well hang a closed for business sign,” Goodin said. “Great cities do both” affordable housing and market-rate development, he added.


Cranley said in the 2010s, the city would have had to put its own cash to get the project built. Today, the capital stack requires a 30-year project tax-increment financing (TIF) district valued at $19.4 million that allows property taxes that would have been paid on the improvements to the property back into it. Those are taxes that wouldn’t be paid if the land and buildings are left vacant, Cranley said.


Over the course of the deal, the developer would pay $750,000 to the city’s affordable housing trust fund, $10.3 million to the Cincinnati Public Schools, $1.4 million to the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar’s operations and an estimated $611,730 in income taxes, a total of $13.1 million.


Supporters and opponents of the project made their feelings known in public comments when the project cleared council’s zoning committee on Wednesday and the full council meeting on Thursday. A narrow majority of the Over-the-Rhine Community Council opposed the project last year.


Opponents called for the project to have affordable housing in 30% of the units and blasted the scale and massing of the building.


The pandemic has shown Over-the-Rhine is not a self-sustaining neighborhood, said Jean-Francois Flechet, the owner of Taste of Belgium.


“We need more residents. This is exactly the type of development we need in OTR. As business owners, we need it,” he said.


The development agreement was the first to be before council since council members P.G. Sittenfeld and Jeff Pastor were arrested on corruption charges that alleged they traded official action on development projects for bribes. Sittenfeld has proclaimed his innocence, while Pastor pleaded not guilty.


Council sent the project back to council’s zoning committee, which next meets at 11 a.m. Feb. 2.