Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The "Big Picture" of Cincinnati Demolition Policy: Part 5

In previous parts of this series we have analyzed the issue of how 'Blight removal" and city demolition policy negatively effects neighborhoods, and how other cities deal with this issue . In the final part of this series we will discuss the economic benefits of a demolition moratorium and greater emphasis on restoration and stabilization. We will also talk about how a different approach makes "Dollars and sense" in the turn around of this city.

First of all 'whining' to the city council about preservation accomplishes nothing. There is no indication that this city council or this Mayor "Cares" about historic preservation or has any working knowledge of how it works or what it does.

In fact if you look at how things get done in this city the real education needs to occur in the city managers office and with those city officials who have been here 'forever' (through several administrations) and are just basically taking up space waiting for their pensions to kick in. That is not to say that there are not people in city government who understand why historic properties are important , but their voices often get drowned out by superiors who could care less. Our focus must be on Education of those people and our willingness to "publicly embarrass" them if they fail to act in the best interests of this community and if necessary see to it that our elected officials fire them.. As taxpayers we need to expect more of our city officials than the status quo and we should no longer accept "we can't do that' as a valid response to legitimate issues and proposals.


For the preservation community to have any real voice, it has two options, run its own slate of candidates in the next council election in few years or make a compelling argument that abandonment of the current demolition policy makes good economic sense and will create jobs in the community. Making an argument that we should "save' our historic architecture will simply fall on deaf ears in city government. Making the 'financial argument' that historic preservation will solve the city's budgetary crisis ( insuring those fat city pensions get paid out) and that historic preservation and the Historic Tourism industry it will create, will create more jobs that any other project this city has ever embraced makes far more sense. Changing the perception that historic tourism is not a"pie in the sky" ideal but rather a sound proven economic development tool that one can evaluate and quantify.

So let us talk about in the 'real world" what the city demolition policy actually does. It consumes monies and resources, it does not generate jobs, it fills up our limited landfills and it trades one problem, a vacant house for another problem,a vacant lot which often becomes a dumping ground, and uses city resources to cut and maintain.Most importantly it does not Generates tax revenue! Now city officials will argue we are not spending local Taxpayer dollars we use CDGB funding or perhaps stimulus money. Regardless of WHERE it comes from it is still taxpayer dollars that funds this "failure" and we all pay for it.


So does the demo of a house actually create jobs? No. Demolition "maintains" some jobs with a handful of demolition companies ( all of whom seem to have close ties with certain city government officials, something the State Attorney Generals office might want to look at). Most of these demolition contractors also do other work such as grading or hauling or concrete work. Full time "demolition contractors' are rare in this city.


Restoration of a historic property generates far more jobs than demolition and those jobs are high paying jobs. Electricians, HVAC contractors, plumbers and other skilled trades persons. While a 15,000 demolition may "maintain' 1 or 2 jobs, restoration creates new jobs because it opens up greater demand for trades and as part of sustained policy will add jobs to our economy. Spending 100-150K, or more, on a house restoration creates jobs not only in the skilled trades field but also adds to the coffers of LOCAL businesses and provides jobs at the local home improvement store or paint store.


Demolition of a structure removes those opportunities and more importantly it removes an important opportunity to bring people back to urban living or better yet bring people from out of state into Cincinnati to live. The city proper (not the metro area) has gone from a population of 500,000 in the 1920's to 330,000 now. When a person moves to Cincinnati and buys an old house to restore not only are we getting the benefit of that family's tax dollars but on a more important level we support local business because that income is spent locally now. It is not spent in Indiana or Pennsylvania or New York, it is spent HERE. Spent at the grocery, the gas station, places like Findlay Market or Fountain square. Those out of state dollars are now Local Dollars. These are people who pay income taxes, property taxes , sales taxes. Taxes that help the economic engine of our city, and help pay the salary of local officials, policemen, city building inspectors , firemen, and teachers.

Over the next decade a concerted effort, a seed change, of policy of city government to use demolition as real "last resort' and instead embark on a "get tough" policy on slumlords and encourage restoration of our current housing stock would generate thousands of jobs in the construction trades industry and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy. The 'restoration' of Cincinnati will be the largest generator of economic development in the next decade IF we can convince local government and embark on a positive course of redevelopment via historic restoration.


The result? Cincinnati becomes a Historic Destination. A destination that will generate millions of dollars in income for the city, create thousands of jobs in the hospitality industry, expand the city's convention business opportunities and put people back to work. Now I am sure some of you in the "new and shiny crowd' will say, " a bunch of tourists looking at old houses are not going to create jobs. We need our good ol manufacturing jobs!"

First of all , those jobs are gone, FOREVER! Cincinnati will never again be a manufacturing city. You can not live in the past, you cannot live in a "fantasy world" that some major manufacturer will pick Cincinnati to build some huge industry in. But you can use your past to build your future.

Historic Tourism as an economic development engine FACTS:


Fact: We have the architecture that only a FEW cities in the country have left. Most cities bulldozed their history, we still have ours and it is not too late to not only save it, but use it to create jobs!


One need only look at those handful of cities, like ours, with a good historic architecture inventory to see the REAL economic opportunities.

Charleston SC.: In 2007 Visitors to the Charleston (population 110,000), helped pour some $3.09 billion into the local economy, according to reports, which said that tourism’s local economic impact increased by about 1% from 2006. With so many visitors coming to see Charleston’s historic districts, it has become economically sensible to conserve the historic buildings downtown. Cultural heritage is one of the fastest growing markets in the tourism industry, and the historical ambiance of Charleston is a top reason for visitors coming to the city. Historic districts are especially attractive to baby boomers and 53% of South Carolina tourists visit with the primary purpose of seeing historic sites, said Jan Schach, dean of Clemson’s College of Architecture, Arts & Humanities.
Savannah GA: Take a look at Savannah Georgia (population 205,000) . Savannah Georgia’s historic tourism industry is responsible for creating 15,000 jobs . Imagine what the creation of 15,000 jobs would do for the city of Cincinnati? We have NEVER had a industry in modern history come to this city and create 15,000 jobs!

New Orleans LA: New Orleans 2007 Visitor Numbers increased from 3.7 million in 2006 to 7.1 million in 2007 according to a survey conducted by the University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation. In 2007 visitors spent a total of $4.8 billion, compared to $2.8 billion in 2006. Continued marketing, sales and promotion will be key to achieving pre-Katrina visitor levels of 8.5 million people per year. Despite the sagging economy in the nation, New Orleans continues to attract, and win, major convention away from other cities who do not have the kind of "Historic hook" New Orleans has.

Historic Tourism is big business and a business that only a FEW cities have because they have the historic architecture. Cincinnati has it, BUT, we are not using it and by continuing to demo it, we are losing a real opportunity for economic development.

Cincinnati has real problems. We are fortunate to have many fortune 500 companies here. However looking the "real world" we probably will not get another Proctor and Gamble. We also lack a highly educated workforce that would help us land some "high tech or green jobs " company". In fact our "best and brightest" move away. Hamilton county has seen a 15,000 person increase in welfare recipients to 56,000 a month. 1 in 7 people in Hamilton county receive food stamps. Those are real numbers, and those are hard numbers to deal with. A large part of our workforce lacks a college education. These are people who probably couldn't work in a highly skilled tech job. These are people who could work in a hotel, a restaurant, a retail environment or people who could work in construction. Historic preservation and the tourism industry it creates could create REAL JOBS for REAL PEOPLE.


Imagine an industry coming to town and creating 10-15,000 jobs? The "Banks" project won't do it, the streetcar won't do it. Both are worthy projects, but we need to start taking the resources we already have, and capitalize on them. This city's real "Ace in the Hole" is its history and architecture and that may be our best hope for the future . We need to abandon our demolition policy, trade it for real enforcement and start planning our future as a historic destination and prepare for the real jobs, the real expansion of our tax base and the return of Cincinnati to the great city it once was. we NEED to be Charleston or Savannah or New Orleans, we do not need to become the new Detroit!

We have to make more effective arguments, partner with the business community who can see the real benefits that Cincinnati, as a historic tourism destination would bring to their ability to attract new employees and expand. We need to engage neighborhood groups who are watching this citys' policies destroy their neighborhoods, we need to engage the currently disenfranchised and unemployed who depend on us as taxpayers to support them because they can't find a job

We can no longer accept "We can't do that' as an acceptable answer from city officials who are PAID by our tax dollars. We need to rebuild this city, we need to create jobs. Historic preservation and tourism can do that. We have to demand action from city officials and if they ignore us we have to be prepared to take the steps to see that they are Fired. YOU need to talk to your city officials.YOU need to talk to your city councilman, and yes you will get that blank "Deer caught in a headlight look" from them, but if enough of us hammer these arguments home we become not just some someone complaining but a "collective force' of people. People who vote, people who pay taxes, people who are willing to stand up and challenge city councilmen at council meetings to "do better"! We have to be the people who are not 'going away" after this Election. We have to be that 'thorn in the side" of city government who DEMANDS accountability. The future of our city, and future jobs depend on it.
Lead, Follow, (or to certain city officials who know who they are), GET OUT OF THE WAY!

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