CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval touted several successes and room for improvement at his first State of the City Address.
Sworn in this year, the city’s 70th mayor gave his hour-long speech before a packed room at Union Terminal Tuesday.
He touched on four key topics: economic growth, public safety, affordable housing and environmental action.
“Cincinnati, I am proud to carry forth a rich legacy, standing on the shoulders of all those who have come before today to tell you that the state of Cincinnati is in a “strong” position overall.
A crowd of about 250 listened to the 45-minute speech at Union Terminal.
He outlined the millions of dollars in investments toward affordable housing and human services, and movement on long-planned transportation projects such as the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor.
Other accomplishments included a push for more equitable development across the city; new efforts to the effect of climate change; and the construction of bike and pedestrian safety features in 15 neighborhoods. A prime goal continues to be supporting the success of Black and Brown businesses.
Then he offered the bad, namely the $36 million operating deficit expected within the next two years. “And that gap will grow from there,” he said.
“This moment of reckoning — this opportunity for introspection, celebration and planning — it’s emblematic of the very foundation upon which we’re built. We are a people who come together to solve our problems, who pitch in together, and who rise up together.” he said.
Those in attendance included former mayors Mark Mallory and Charlie Luken, two former city managers and Procter and Gamble CEO Jon Moeller. On Tuesday, Pureval stated his intent to select Moeller to lead a coalition of business, labor and community leaders to help the city face the challenges of the years ahead.
Once established, the commission will address three tasks “fundamental to Cincinnati’s future,” Pureval said. The group will review the city’s budget, analyze its economic development strategy, and survey the community and businesses to develop recommendations for future funding priorities.
Pureval described the process as similar to the city’s Smale Commission in the 1980s.
“Expenses are growing faster than projected revenues. And right now, with the position we’re in, we can’t just wait for those challenges to come,” he added. The city managed to keep its operations afloat throughout the pandemic only because of “enormous support” from the federal government, Pureval said.
The new mayor and City Council benefited this term from an unexpected $11 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Those dollars helped jumpstart several projects, including pedestrian safety measures and the purchase of new emergency vehicles for the Cincinnati Fire Department.
Those dollars allowed the city to maintain basic services and build for our future, while also “[protecting] ourselves against the financial challenges ahead of us,” he said.
The mayor said the city also prepared for the “uncertain future” by putting money away. It brought the city up to its longstanding goal for financial reserves of 16.7% of general fund revenues.
These efforts wouldn’t have been possible, Pureval said, if his office, City Council and the administration didn’t put aside “egos” and “personal agendas.”
“Last November, voters made their voices heard,” he added. “They mandated, for us to step up and chart a new future (and) to change the culture in City Hall; to work as a unified body for the common good, to have our debates and disagreements out in the open; and to implement a comprehensive plan to build a bright, equitable future for Cincinnati.”
Shortly after being elected, Pureval and his transition team developed comprehensive plans for four key areas: economic recovery and equity, affordable housing, public safety and climate action.
Just this year, Pureval said the city partnered with REDI and JobsOhio to attract or retain over 1,000 jobs, creating over $23 million in payroll.
Pureval went on to say the partnership between the Regional Chamber and the Minority Business Accelerator helped support the growth of more than 70 black-and brown-owned businesses with over $1 million in annual revenue.
Pureval praised large-scale events including the Cincinnati Music Festival, Black Tech Week and BLINK helping to draw in more than 2 million people to the city.
Downtown occupancy saw a 33% increase and hotel revenue grew by 62%.
Efforts taken by Pureval and members of City Council have resulted in “unprecedented action” on affordable housing, the mayor said. Financial incentives from the city led to the creation or renovation of 417 units of affordable housing this year, the mayor said. He mentioned that nearly 400 of them are at or below 60% the Area Median Income.
“Because of this (current system), a city tool to support our residents and improve aging housing isn’t working as well as it can,” Pureval added.
A common talking point throughout the night was the city’s commitment to public safety. Pureval commented that homicides are down 16.7% citywide compared to last year. In an effort to further shrink those numbers, he’s proposing two new pieces of legislation to counteract that. One of the city laws would prohibit people convicted of domestic violence from ever legally possessing a gun. The other focuses on requiring the safe storage of firearms.
The city has invested $20.9 million in public safety infrastructure this year, Pureval said.
The mayor lauded the Department of Transportation and Engineering’s several pedestrian safety projects aimed at improving accessibility and walkability in Cincinnati.
This year, the city implemented measures such as new speed cushions, bump-outs and crosswalks in 15 neighborhoods. There are plans to add more of those measures in the coming years.
Pureval highlighted the recently-approved 30% pay increase and sign-on bonuses for Cincinnati police recruits.
About 1,450 guns have been taken off city streets this year, in a hardened response to the “unprecedented” rise in violent crime during the pandemic, Pureval said. Homicides are down 16.7% compared to 2021.
“Which means we are trending in the right direction, but let me be clear: the violence epidemic in our streets is unacceptable,” Pureval said. “To see lasting change, we have to do everything in our power to address the root causes of violence.
Zoning densities have been a point of contention for this current city council.
Pureval announced Tuesday two new strategies to address the city’s approach to zoning and development: reforming the residential tax abatement program and reforming land use in the city.
The new proposal establishes three tiers — Lift, Expand, and Sustain — and neighborhoods will fall into them based on metrics of income levels and poverty rate, the value of homes, and the level of development that’s already occurring in the market, Pureval said.
“This is a phased approach where tiers will be updated every three years and allow us to evaluate how neighborhoods are growing over time and apply the proper incentives to promote that growth,” he said.
Pureval said right now, too much of the city is zoned exclusively for single-family homes. Moving forward, Pureval said the city will allow and encourage more types of housing options — multi-family units, row houses and townhomes — near commerce centers and transit corridors.
The mayor said he plans to launch a Code Enforcement Unit to protect tenants and hold neglectful landlords accountable.
“But code enforcement alone won’t sufficiently address the problem,” he said. “We’re also going to support our tenants, who are often outmatched when it comes to having the resources to defend their rights.”
Pureval also highlighted work through the Green Cincinnati Plan.
His administration is pursuing an EPA grant to address environmental justice issues concentrated in the Lower Mill Creek Corridor to improve the quality of life and economic outlook for the predominantly Black and brown communities that were impacted by the industry of the last century, he said.