Commissioners approve sale of Drake Center to pay stadium deficit

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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Hamilton County commissioners officially voted Wednesday to sell the Drake Center in order to pay a $14 million stadium shortfall.

Commissioners Chris Monzel and Todd Portune voted yes on the resolution during Wednesday's commission meeting.

The resolution will restore the property tax rollback to the amount that was agreed upon 15 years ago to build Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park.

The agreement will save the owner of a $100,000 home $47 a year in taxes.

The county will sell Drake Hospital in Hartwell to UC Health for $15 million, which will cover the stadium shortfall through next year. The county then plans on using $8 million in casino revenues and another $1 million in parking garage subsidies to cover most of the shortfall.

"I think that history will prove that a very big mistake was made today," Greg Hartmann said following the meeting Wednesday.

Hartmann was not just discouraged by the sale of the hospital, but of the finer points of the resolution as well.

"A lot of that resolution is hocus pocus. They count a million dollars in revenue next year in events," Hartmann said. "We'd basically have to have a Paul McCartney concert every month, that's not going to happen. "

Hartmann is concerned the Bengals and the Reds might walk away from the negotiation table now that his own resolution failed.

"My plan worked with the teams on for nine months [and] committed the teams to 15 million dollars in concessions," Hartmann said. "That was their commitment to a four year plan. They didn't commit to a one year plan so we're walking away from that and that's frustrating."

Monzel says he believes there is still hope, however, that the teams will be co-operative.

"I think in the end we are still fulfilling the solvency of the fund for next year," Monzel said. "I would hope that the teams, who in good faith were willing to do that, will continue to do that next year."

"Today actually was an extraordinary result for Hamilton County," Portune argued.

"Today is a great day for Hamilton County tax payers," Monzel agreed. "Today we were able to restore the property tax rollback that was promised to them."

Hartmann, however, remained unconvinced.

"We sold Drake Hospital for a song today," Hartmann said. "We sold it in a fire sale with a deadline, they used that against us in negotiations and we gave it away."

"Do I wish we could have gotten more money for it? Sure," Monzel admitted to members of the media Wednesday. "But given constraints of the contract and what we were dealing with, it was the best we could get."

Monzel says the bottom line is that the city does not have time to wait for a better offer.

"As the old saying goes: a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush," he said.

"This was a really good deal we approved for tax payers today," Portune said.

Portune believes the sale of Drake Hospital not only saves tax payers from paying more in taxes in the short term, but that it will have long term benefits as well.

"We have protected county tax payers with this deal," Portune said. "We also have provided extraordinary other benefits for the county in the area of public health and economic development it's going to save the county a lot of money in the long run."

On the other side, Hartmann argues the deal only kicks the can down the road another year.

"This puts the county commission in the same spot, worse next year: a 25 million dollar deficit facing the county," Hartman said.

"Every year we're going to have to go through this because it's not an easy putt because of the position we've been put in by previous commissions," Monzel said.

Hartman says now that the decision has been made, the focus needs to be on moving on.

"You can only sell an asset once. We can't get it back. We can't undo this deal," Hartmann said. "I'm frustrated but we've got to figure the best way forward."

Moving forward, Monzel believes more city property could be sold for even more potential profit.

In the mean time, Monzel and Portune say they plan to have a major audit of the operational costs of the stadiums conducted. They say the goal is to trim costs by 25 percent.

"If we can operate it for less, we should be operating it for less," Monzel said. "Everybody else is doing it with their businesses."

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