Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why Cincinnati Needs Historic Preservation? Jobs!

Historic preservation is a powerful economic development strategy, creating more private-sector jobs per dollar of investment than new construction. According to the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, "One million dollars spent on rehabilitation, compared to the same amount spent on new construction, yields between five and nine more local construction jobs, creates 4.7 more new jobs elsewhere in the community and provides $107,000 more in community income. It also generates $34,000 more in retail sales."

Those are powerful arguments for Preservation Advocacy in Cincinnati. We clearly have the Historic Building Stock. Urban neighborhoods are increasingly the preferred location for your Professionals employed downtown and other, tired of long commutes, are being attracted to the idea of Urban Living, The biggest drawbacks to Urban living for younger people with children is schools, but CPS has embarked on reopening schools like the Old Fairmount High school as the Quebec Heights Academy and new private schools like the Roosevelt school are opening on Treemont.

The city  has also been hard hit by the foreclosure crisis with many who bought in at the height of the market who became upside down on their mortgages simply walking away. Property assessments have declined in many Urban neighborhoods with viable housing stock, While many locals may not be interested in these Neighborhoods, Cincinnati draws increasing attention from National Preservationists drawn to the area because of that architecture. Spend anytime on a preservation forum or website and Cincinnati's wealth of riches inevitably come up.

At the same time we have a serious unemployment problem. While Fortune 500 companies continue to attract top talent we have many living on assistance or in poverty, many of thoe unemployed lack the education to be competitive and manufacturing jobs have dried up due to global competition. Restoration of Cincinnati's Historic Housing stock would create valuable construction jobs. Restored neighborhoods like OTR and West End will help contribute to a heritage tourism industry  which creates retail and hospitality service jobs.

We have the Historic Housing Stock, we have the interest of people wanting to come to Cincinnati and restore, we have the workforce and we have major Corporations telling us we need viable Urban neighborhoods to attract top talent. So whats the problem?

The problem is a city leadership mired in old policy, red tape and roadblocks and a serious addiction to CDBG and NSP funds to help supplement salaries. This fosters bad policies that hinder investment in our community. The Blight=bulldozer approach of 1960 urban renewal didnt work then and its not working now. Creation of red tape, an extremely complex and costly permitting process, the VBML which prohibits one from living in house they are restoring ( which would promote safety in Urban neighborhoods as the more eyes you have the harder it is for criminal elements to operate), demolition without city acquisition or maintenance of the remaining vacant lots, all contribute to a 'hostile' environment for Preservation.

With over FIVE THOUSAND properties on the keep Vacant/condemn/nuisance list, while attractive to city managers eager to demonstrate 'need' for more federal dollars, it send the message that Cincinnati is becoming the "Next Detroit". This fact is not lost on Corporate CEO decision makers and boards  on where to locate or relocate as we are now losing companies looking for more 'attractive' metro environments.

City Inspectors, permits and the city manager want to maintain the status quo and continue with that federal funds addiction. But those funds may be going away and without a plan to change things we will become less and less competitive and our fiscal crisis will grow.

We need real leadership and vision, city government that will lead and maintain fiscal responsibilty. The answers are simple.

Eliminate the VBML Program in favor of repair based inspections like other cities, eliminate the vacant building task force and realign the department so we have  inspector who applies the building code not one for occupied, one for vacant.  Revamp city database so health inspectors, building inspectors and permits are on the same page. Establish a dedicated housing court. Streamline the permit process, offer incentives to people buying a foreclosed property who agrees to live in it. Create CRZ's (Community Reinvestment Zones) with reduced permit fees, Tax abatement for historic restoration increased to 500K. Partner with schools to offer preservation based trades training and properly fund the Urban Conservators office (or better yet, outsource it) and create an office that will advocate and market the historic resources of this city.

In short cut the red tape and roadblocks and adopt common sense strategies to attract reinvestment in our community.

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