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Long Term Plan Called for in Union Terminal's Future

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Published on Nov 18, 2013

CINCINNATI (Jeff Hirsh) -- The Cincinnati Museum Center brings some 1.3 million visitors through its doors to see historical, cultural, scientific, and just plain fun exhibits for all ages. But the old train station that houses the museums is starting to crumble so much so that a fix is pretty much urgent if the facility is to have a long life. Union Terminal is one of the great assets of our community so says the tax levy review commission, an agency you may not have heard of, but one with a lot of power. That agency told county commissioners Monday not to approve a tax levy for Union Terminal in May but rather, insist on a long-term improvement plan before any tax levies go to the voters.The 1930s art deco Cincinnati Union Terminal, now the Museum Center, is a local icon. Perhaps nearly as much as fountain square. But Union Terminal is falling apart: the steel is rusting through the building which is really endemic through the building. And its price tag is getting worse and worse to fix it; 120-to perhaps 180 million dollars. The Museum Center wanted to put an operating levy on the ballot next May. That's a levy just to keep the place running not a long term improvement. But the county's tax levy review commission said no, you need a commitment for a long term fix first. Tom Cooney of the Tax Levy Review Commission said, I think that what tugged on us a lot, without a plan to fix the Union Terminal building we felt continuing to fund significant dollars towards a patchwork repair was not a good use of taxpayer funds.The review panel told county commissioners that a long term plan is needed by July; a commitment from private and government sources to pay for the repairs. There's a sense of urgency. Now we need a plan that people will step up and say yes, this is what we will do.If come July the long range plan is in place, then the tax review panel says an operating levy is okay for November. Not a lot of time to preserve the future of a Cincinnati icon. That is a 100-200 year solution once it's done and we think we should do it is now. The Museum Center now has to put together a task force to figure out that long term plan by July. One hope is to get federal tax credits which will reduce the amount of money needed. But a consultant who worked with the tax levy review commission said there is not enough private philanthropy money to pay the rest. In other words, government money is needed. Will that mean a tax hike or issuing bonds? Dont know yet. One issue is the city of Cincinnati owns the building, so city money is a likely component but you can't get everything by killing the streetcar, so there are lots of questions to be answered by July. While Union Terminal is primarily the Museum Center, it also remains what it started out to be, a train station. Amtrak serves the terminal in the wee hours of the morning running between New York and Chicago but there are only six trains a week, down from more than two hundred a day the terminal handled in its prime.

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