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UPDATE, 8:30 p.m.: Here’s a statement from John Cranley, mayoral candidate and former councilman:
“With so many projects like the MLK Interchange, Westwood Square, and the redevelopment of the old Swifton Commons in need of funding, it is time for Council to stop wasting money on the streetcar and start investing in our neighborhoods.”
UPDATE, 8:15 p.m.: Former congressman Tom Luken didn’t appreciate so much emphasis at the meeting on other cities’ experiences. “I’d rather live here than in Portland or in Canada.”
Joyce Fields, of College Hill, opposes the project.
“I am not for the streetcar,” she said. “The funds are not there.”
She said she finds it unbelievable that many people speak about the project as if it’s going to save the entire city. “It’s like pie-in-the-sky.”
Cincinnati’s controversial streetcar project and its increasing cost drew hundreds to City Hall on Monday night to hear the city administration’s case forforging ahead.
City Manager Milton Dohoney brought a Toronto councilwoman and the project manager for the Portland streetcar to back him up. He did not mention where he might get the extra $17 million he needs since construction bids came in over budget in February. For every $1 spent, he said, the streetcar wi ll generate $2.70.
He reminded the hundreds packed into council chambers that he still envisons a third phase, after the streetcar line goes from the riverfront to Uptown, that would connect some neighborhoods.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, a streetcar opponent, joked on Twitter: “All right, if the administration brings out the mayor of Tokyo next, I’ll be convinced!”
Streetcar supporters outnumbered opponents among the 59 who signed up to speak. Proponents used Facebook and other social media heavily throughout the day Monday, urging their followers to show up and be heard. People stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the back of chambers after all the seats and balcony filled.
“Cincinnati’s on the right track – pun intended,” said Jean-Francois Flechet, who owns Taste of Belgium, which he’s expanding to another location on Short Vine.
No decisions were made. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls didn’t plan to take any vote. She called the meeting to learn more about the $17 million cost overrun. The estimated cost of the project is now $133 million.
Qualls, though a supporter of the project for years, says she can’t condone a blank check.
Gwen Marshall, an opponent, said the main question is whether Cincinnati should throw good money after bad.
“We really can’t afford a streetcar project that has creative bookkeeping,” she said.
Mike Moroski, who’s running for City Council, said, “I think we need to be courageous and move on.”
He’s the former administrator at Purcell Marian High School who made news earlier this year when he lost that job after posting on his Facebook page a positive message about gay marriage.
Dohoney said if the city scraps the project, it would lose $19.7 million in money already spent and $14 million more to close out the contracts already signed. Another $38 million would go back to the federal government.
Toronto Councilwoman Karen Stintz said the debates in her city were worth it because the streetcar line has created an urban redevelopment there she says would not exist if not for the streetcar system there.
“You know what you have,” she said. “But it’s sometimes a struggle to imagine what you could be.”