Why Cincinnati is Failing: My Personal Experience with the CBC

With the recent news that Chiquita is considering a move from Cincinnati to Charlotte, North Carolina, it has left Cincinnati in a state of panic as to why Chiquita or any other business would desire to do such a thing. Doc Thompson covers this issue with Cincinnati Magazine Executive Editor Linda Vaccariello in an illuminating broadcast about what Cincinnati has to offer, then considers why Cincinnati has a problem attracting and keeping business in the city.

Well, I have a bit of experience with doing business in Cincinnati that I’ve touched on before, but this topic lends itself to a bit more detail. Well before there was ever a Paul Brown Stadium or even a Great American Ball Park I was with a group who was trying to win the design for the riverfront development project. In fact, the guy I was with presented a wonderful plan to the city council of Cincinnati of which Dwight Tillery seemed to like, (Dwight was the mayor at the time). The plan included paving over completely the various roads that connect the highway system downtown, and put them underground to connect Cincinnati’s downtown with the riverfront. On that paved-over section would be a grassy park, various restaurants, movie theaters, shopping centers, new stadiums, and a plan for including Longworth Hall as a Historic District connected to everything else which would wrap around to join with Union Terminal. The plan received a rousing applause from the people attending this meeting. I thought at the conclusion that the group I was with would undoubtedly be the lead design team which would head the development of the riverfront development.

After the meeting found it odd that none of the city council members, or the media wanted to speak to anyone from our group, after all, we just had the best presentation without question, but we also didn’t have “formal” relationships with any members of city council. By formal that means “friendly” in the world of politics. I knew every member of council through my work at city hall where a friend of mine and I were at that monstrosity every day trying to get the Cincinnati Building Commission to approve plans for a development we were working on which required a simple change of use on an existing building.

What should have been a simple job, relatively speaking had turned out to be a political nightmare. The CBC seemed more interested in creating work for their friends, who are architects, engineers (to design fire escapes and such) HAVAC installers and all those types of related businesses, then in helping a business get their feet on the ground in the city of Cincinnati.

Getting information out of any member of the CBC was like pulling teeth from a 4-year-old kid. I can’t even begin to illustrate without writing an entire book on the matter of how many engineers we fired for not moving at the speed we demanded, which was the speed of business. In fact I remember vividly a conversation I had with our architect and investor at the time. This guy had liked our business plan so much he put some of his own money into the project. Then one day he gave us a call and said, “I heard you guys were down at City Hall yelling at the guys in the CBC for dragging their feet. I want you to know that I have a good standing with those guys, and I find it offensive that you’d chose to do business this way.”

Our response was, “Hey, you’re our architect, you work for us. You don’t work for the CBC. If you are friends with them, that’s not our problem.”

The architect then said, “But you guys are trying to cut too many corners. They are telling you what you need to do and you are bucking them at every issue. They told you the type of HAVAC unit you had to install. They told you what the structural improvements were going to be. They told you how many restrooms you were going to have to install and on and on, and you guys seem to want to argue every fact!”
“Buddy, you are supposed to be working on our behalf. You are supposed to do this arguing for us. We’re not supposed to even be involved in this kind of thing. We’re doing it because you aren’t. Anyone can just say ‘spend more money,’ which is what you are saying, and it’s what they are saying. They want a larger fee for the cost of the project. That is all they are after. They are deliberately driving up the cost to receive the larger fee, why can’t you see that?”

“It’s the cost of doing business and you guys don’t want to pay it. It’s cheap and classless. I’m embarrassed to be associated with you guys. I’ve known those people for years and I don’t know what to tell them when you won’t follow their guidance.”

“Who are they but a bunch of pencil-pushing government workers? If we did what you and the CBC are suggesting you guys would add a million dollars to the cost of this project, and that’s just not in the budget.”

“So put it in the budget!” Said the architect. “Just go raise more money. Isn’t that easier than all this?”

My friend and I looked at each other and realized what was going on. It is the same “looter” mentality that we see in all government, especially in schools driven by radical unions. And here it was in the CBC who had an alliance between them and their friends in the building field. And we were being told to “pay up” or get out of town.

“You’re fired,” was what my friend told the architect.

There was silence for a moment on the other end of the phone. “You can’t do that. I’m an investor.”

“Consider it done.”

My friend and I finished the job by doing all the architectural work ourselves, and we found amendments in the building code that allowed us to by-pass all the additional costs that were just ridiculous excuses to make work for members of the building fraternity which centered on the CBC. The architect went from a friend to an extreme foe, but that’s ok, because he was on the wrong side and chose to put himself there. The situation took years to unravel and was extremely disappointing. My experience in working with Cincinnati is that they have made it entirely too expensive to do business within the city because just like a union, the many political factors have attached additional costs to projects just to take care of their friends in the field.

That’s why nobody would speak to us after the riverfront development meeting. We were in that class as, “radicals” who didn’t want to pay off their friends around the city. The result of course was that we took our business across the river to Covington. My meeting with their building division went something like this.

“You guys want to do what? Well, Ok. Sure, no problem.”

My friend and I looked at each other. “But don’t you want to contest HAVAC units, fire escapes, access ramps, structural improvements and fire easements.”

The man laughed, “Hell no, it’s your business. We want you guys over here. Give me a call when you’re ready to move on this project.”

To this day you can see clearly all the development that has moved in along I-275 by the airport and up in Erlanger and Florence, Kentucky. And in Newport along with Covington where both cities had a very friendly attitude toward business, surprisingly “looter” free. Covington built the Covington Landing and all the nice development around the Convention Center and Newport built Newport on the Levee which turned out to be hugely thriving business. In the process Newport gave new birth to Monmouth Street which used to be a hell-hole of prostitution, gambling, and organized crime racketeering, and turned it into a place that families could take their kids to at night. Meanwhile across the river Cincinnati built two stadiums which went drastically over budget (I wonder why) and to this day threaten to bankrupt the city with the excessive tax burdens they exclusively occupy. And Cincinnati nearly 20 years later still doesn’t have any development on the riverfront. They are just now getting around to that type of development.

That is why Cincinnati fails. And that is why Chiquita wants to move to a dust bowl of a town in Charlotte, North Carolina. Because when times get tough, for a business to survive taking care of the “looters” of a town is not their responsibility. This is the reason so many of those “looters” seek government work, because that is the most secure way to care for their network without having to deal with people like me and my friend who refuse to be “looted.”

This is why Cincinnati is in a state of decline, because it has been overrun by these types and all the people with bright ideas and money will take it someplace else, for all the same reasons that companies don’t want to be limited with unionized labor or to deal with companies who are driven by unionized labor. It’s not because they want to hurt a worker’s rights. Most companies don’t want to worry about that kind of thing, that’s why they hire human resource managers, so they can advise the company how to take care of the employees. Because the men and women of this world with ideas and the money to spend on them do not want to be tied down to the speed of complacency and network friendships. They want to move at the speed of business, which is what drives communities and countries to greatness, and is what the looters of the world simply slow down.

For the answer to everything as to why labor unions fail, check out this link:

Rich Hoffman

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