Welcome to The Greater Cincinnati Foundation‘s new blog, Leadership Matters. In this forum, GCF’s leaders will focus on timely and challenging community issues, and the role that GCF, its donors, and other partners play in creating a more thriving and vibrant community.
In this first post, GCF’s Kathy Merchant recaps the unprecedented community effort to save two important historic buildings, which culminated this week in a vote by Hamilton County Commissioners not to support a fully vetted and viable plan to permanently fix Union Terminal and Music Hall.
The iconic Music Hall and Union Terminal are hubs of education, economic, and artistic activity that have helped our region thrive for 136 and 81 years, respectively. The museums and cultural organizations that call these buildings home have a significant direct and indirect economic impact in the region. The buildings are critical anchors for economic development and cultural enrichment in Queensgate and Over-The-Rhine, two important neighborhoods in our urban core. Like most great cities, our cultural facilities are located in densely populated areas, convenient for residents, and yet inviting for visitors from many places.
But these iconic buildings need us now.
In July, they made the National Trust for Historical Preservation’s list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Buildings.” Other investments, both past and future, may be jeopardized if these buildings are left to decay. Their unique and historically significant architecture helps to define and differentiate Cincinnati from other Midwestern cities—a plus in attracting companies and people to our region.
Cultural and economic development consultants have, for many years, concluded that our region “fights above its weight” in the cultural sector. We are unique among benchmark American communities as a destination to live, work, and visit. Many successful cities such as Denver, Charlotte, Indianapolis and Kansas City yearn to create the range of cultural assets we already have here, and they are willing to pay for them.
For more than a half century, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) and its generous donors have supported the development of a diverse cultural sector throughout our region. Fueled by this insight, GCF has partnered with cultural institutions and other philanthropists for more than a decade to figure out how we can “diversify and grow the pie” of resources to support the continued growth of the cultural sector.
The work of the Cultural Facilities Task Force, co-convened by GCF and the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, is an unprecedented collaborative effort that produced a comprehensive renovation plan for Union Terminal and Music Hall.
Brilliantly led by former P&G chairman Bob McDonald and teams of experts from engineering, architecture, public finance, and philanthropy, the Task Force’s review was thorough and represents a huge step toward changing the dynamic of how we do business as a region. The financing proposal is prudent, paving the way for a balanced public and private approach to saving our icons. We believe that the mix of investment sources, which includes a ¼ cent increase in the local sales tax, is reasonable and achievable at an annual cost of $23 per taxpayer, whether they live in or are visiting Hamilton County. You can read more about the Task Force’s report here (PDF).
This solid renovation and financing plan was presented to the Tax Levy Review Committee and Hamilton County Commissioners with a request to permit the residents of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to vote on the ¼ cent sales tax in November. With some suggested modifications, the TLRC recommended sending the sales tax levy to voters. Despite strong support from Commissioner Todd Portune, Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann declined to allow this plan to be placed on the November ballot. Instead, they passed a measure that eliminates Music Hall from the equation and does not fully address the needs of Union Terminal.
The Greater Cincinnati Foundation is committed to working with the Cultural Facilities Task Force toward the complete restoration and repair of Music Hall and Union Terminal.
Image Credits: Wally Gobetz
Kathy Merchant is President/CEO of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Learn more about her here.