Mahogany's granted $1 million dollars in grants and loans

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Mahogany's is granted $1 million dollars worth of grants and loans after a 6-3 vote in council chambers on Wednesday.

The vote came less than 24 hours after the City Administrator sent out a letter detailing his support for the deal.

For council members in favor of the deal that spoke with FOX19, the main reasoning behind their decision came down to confidence that the loan could be paid back if the business fails, a desire to see diversity of ownership at the banks, and trust in the City Administration's vetting process.

"I was just down there yesterday and saw the Mahogany's 'coming soon' sign and I was a little worried," Yvette Simpson said. "So I'm very glad that it will actually be coming soon."

Simpson and five of her colleagues decided to push ahead with the deal Wednesday.

"I haven't seen anything that scares me" Wendell Young said. "I haven't seen anything in the person's character that makes me believe they can't be trusted but more importantly I have yet to be let down by the City Administration in terms of the deals that they've brought to us."

Three of their fellow council members, however, were not on board.

"I can certainly say that I didn't have enough information to take that vote," Chris Smitherman told FOX19.

"I voted no because I think there are too many unanswered questions," Roxanne Qualls said.

"I think that they made a mistake here," Chris Seelbach argued. "I think they should have shared information with us that they didn't."

Seelbach says while he believes the administration does a good gob ninety-nine percent of the time, he feels the handling of this deal was an exception.

"We have to reestablish some trust with the administration, make sure that things like this are handled differently so it never gets to this point," Seelbach said.

"I don't challenge their motivation," Smitherman said. "I think they love the city, I think they want diversity downtown, all of those kinds of things, but I'm a numbers guy. For me, the bottom line comes to: Is it financially feasible? And when I don't have visibility on it, I vote no."

"Going forward I'm going to make sure we do a better job here at City Hall whether it's the administration or city council members," Seelbach said.

Seelbach argues a more transparent process could have saved the city and Mahogany's owner a lot of pain.

"I wish her well and I hope the project works out well in the city's favor, for taxpayers, and in her favor," Smitherman said.

In the Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney's letter to the mayor and members of city council Tuesday, he states that the deal to bring the Hamilton restaurant to The Banks should be allowed to advance. The owner of Mahogany's is currently under scrutiny due to unpaid taxes.

Elizabeth Rogers of Mahogany's Grill is paying off a $49,223 tax lien to the IRS, which she says comes from another business that she owned. FOX19 has also reported that Rogers also had unpaid property taxes in Butler County, which she says she has paid in full.

In the letter written to council, Dohoney says that the restaurant was properly vetted, and was asked for the same type of information anyone else would have been asked to provide to get a loan from the city.

The letter also acknowledges that there was a greater level of risk involved in regards to giving a loan to the business. Dohoney explains that because of this, personal guarantees were requested for the loan portion of the transaction that were confirmed.

Last week, FOX19 spoke to city council members who, at the time, were not aware of the unpaid taxes. In response to this, Dohoney says in the letter, "The fact that not every detail of a person's profile is committed to a report is not an attempt to be less than forthcoming. Risk is always evaluated and at the end we make a professional determination whether to proceed."

The letter also praises Mahogany's as a restaurant that would bring a unique, local offering to The Banks.

The vote to give Mahogany's the funding to move to The Banks was postponed from last Thursday.

As of Wednesday evening, Mahogany's owner Elizabeth 'Liz' Rogers could not be reached for comment.

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