Saturday, July 07, 2007

Blue Ash Airport and Park

Thursday's Cincinnati Enquirer had an article about the soon to be complete purchase of about half the land of the Blue Ash airport. The City of Blue Ash (CBA) bought the land from the City of Cincinnati in order to develop it into a park with plans for several buildings including a convention/performing arts center. I have two main issues with the city going down this path. OK...let me say up front that I'm biased and skeptical since I fly out of the airport.

First, this plan offers no assurance that the airport will remain open. The future park land now contains all the ramps, airport parking, and businesses that support the airport. To develop the park and keep the airport functional, these businesses have to be torn down and relocated to the opposite side of the runway. According to the purchase agreement, the relocation is handled by Cincinnati who runs the airport. A clause in the contract allows Cincinnati to close the airport and sell the remaining land if the relocation costs are prohibitive. Why on earth the CBA entered into an agreement containing such a clause is beyond me. Although they acknowledge the value of the airport, their actions don't support keeping the airport.

The second issue is the character of the proposed park. When I think of a park, I think of primarily green space. With several buildings, an observation tower, and roads proposed, how much green space will be left? Right now the area looks pretty open because of the runway and the lawn around it. But if Cincinnati opts not to relocate the businesses and sells the remaining property, it will be developed. The character of the park will be changed dramatically with the adjacent development that isn't shielded by any tree line. The CBA has said they don't have plans to purchase the remaining property -- i.e. no contingency plan.

So am I worried about the airport and the remaining property? YES! It's now a year after this plan came out at the Blue Ash city council and the manager of Blue Ash airport (a Cincinnati employee) is quoted in this week's Enquirer article as saying "we're trying to determine how much the reconfiguration will cost. The Federal Aviation Administration's collection and funding bill expires in September. So it may not be until September or after that we will know what kind of money is available." The article also mentions that the reconfiguration plan is still being developed. Still being developed?!? Wow!! I want that job. If you don't even have a plan yet, how can you possibly know how much it will cost or ask for support from the FAA?

In the meantime, even though the CBA has surplus money in its coffers, a 25% increase in the city income tax associated with this land purchase went into effect in January. According to the Enquirer article, through June 15th that increase alone brought in $2.1 million for the CBA and they are paying Cincinnati $1 million for half the airport land. Hmmm....so by the end of the year the tax increase will probably bring in about $4 million. That would have easily been enough to purchase all the land and then the CBA would have controlled the outcome (either to reconfigure the airport or protect the green space).

Is purchasing all the land with the income raised 20/20 hindsight? NO. Several folks suggested this option during the debate last summer and the CBA council shot it down. I'm no city planner, but it was obvious there would be enough money for purchase of the land and park development. Was the council that stupid or was there some behind closed door politics going on? I sincerely hope the entire property is developed in such a way to protect our tax dollars. However, events over the last several years and news stories like this continue to raise doubts. I'm certainly not voting for Jack Buckman in future elections.

1 comment:

Erika said...

I hope they don't get rid of the airport!! I don't fly or anything but when ever I'm out there I enjoy looking as I drive by and looking at the little planes flying overhead.