Center of city attention

Arguing against the multi-million dollars in funding going to the Baltimore Based Cordish Company to develop downtown Louisville, Metro Council Republicans have taken their opposition to Center City to the airwaves.

Last night on FOX 41, Councilman Hal Heiner, R-19, appeared on Point of View with a guest editorial poking holes in what he calls another “government giveaway” by Mayor Jerry Abramson.

“Our Mayor has signed an agreement with a Maryland developer to give away $36 million in cash and property in hopes they will build downtown,” he says. “Unfortunately the Mayor’s agreement only requires the developer to invest $12 million of their own money to receive our generous $36 million gift.”

Saying the Mayor “blew this deal”, Heiner petitioned the public to call their Councilperson in the hopes of stopping the deal. Council Republicans announced their opposition to the Mayor’s plan last week after Democrats passed the ordinance to purchase $12.2 million in property in a 6 to 4 vote that fell along party lines in the Budget Committee.

Highlighting the troubling financial markets, members of the minority caucus voiced their concerns regarding the giveaway of millions in taxpayer subsidies that if passed by the Metro Council this week, would be the single largest downtown investment in Louisville history.

With completion expected by 2010, the Center City District project would cost more than three times as much as 4th Street Live, covering well over six city blocks with the core of the project located on the 6-acre lot known as the Louisville Water Company Block.

“During tough financial times, our city is opting to do what it always does – give away assets and tax dollars to bring development downtown,” Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7, said. “During tight times, when the Mayor says he is forced to work with a meat and potatoes budget, he is out giving away acres of prime real estate, promising to fund architectural drawings or renovating privately owned buildings.”

The Mayor’s office, however, says the multi-million dollar purchase is a critical continuation to the downtown development puzzle.

“When you think about the momentum we have in this community, the possibility of putting a $250 to $450 million investment downtown in a central location is very important,” Chad Carlton, a spokesman for Abramson told LEO Weekly.

Over the past few weeks council members have submitted questions and inquiries to the Mayor’s Office as well as his Economic Development Director, Bruce Traughber, seeking clarification on issues related to the purchase. Carlton says those inquiries and feedback regarding the development agreement between the Mayor and the Baltimore-based Cordish Company have been helpful.

Council Republicans say some of the questions have been answered, but others have not and in reviewing the project more questions have arisen causing greater concerns.

“The Center City Project was first presented through a slideshow with renderings of the buildings and promises of up to $400 million dollars in economic investment for the downtown area,” Heiner says. “After many questions, and further investigation the project’s minimal investment requirements are closer to $12 million with few protections for the citizens of this community.”

Heiner says he will vote no on the proposal due to the “failure of this administration to protect taxpayers and the Mayor’s unwillingness to fix vital aspects of the development agreement”.

Carlton says Councilman Heiner, however, has consistently opposed downtown development projects to the detriment of the city.

“You don’t have to look very far into the the rhetoric of Councilman Heiner to see the word downtown. On this project, on the Arena Project, and Museusm Plaza, he’s been against it all. The consistency is his opposition to improving downtown and its renaissance,” he says.

The bad blood between Councilman Heiner and Mayor Abramson is nothing new. Earlier this year it spilled over in the pages of LEO Weekly during a one-on-one interview where with the Mayor. Heiner was a leading critic of the Mayor’s library tax, a ballot initiative to increase occupational taxes to pay for better libraries. The ballot initiative failed and was rejected by voters 2-to-1. When asked about the Councilman’s alternative to fund the libraries expansion plan, Abramson called Heiner a “snake oil salesman” .

Carlton says they’re confident the Council will pass the ordinance to purchase the Center City property. The ordinance will be voted on by the entire Metro Council at their next meeting, October 9, 2008 at 6:00 p.m. (PB)

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