Debate over Music Hall ownership continues

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The debate over whether or not to relinquish ownership of Music Hall continues at City Hall.

The Music Hall Revitalization Company argues the title needs to be transferred so they can make the most of tax credits and private donations needed for the planned renovation.

Mayor Mark Mallory, however, says a title transfer is not necessary. He says the venue can still receive tax credits under city ownership and that the building should stay in the hands of all Cincinnatians.

The Music Hall Revitalization Co. had asked the City to approve a plan by June 1 that would transfer the title of Music Hall over to the not-for-profit.

The company also asked the City for $10 million to go towards the building's projected $165 million renovation project.

A spokesperson for the Music Hall Renovation Co. confirmed Monday that Jack Rouse, the president of the company resigned. Eight board members remain.

The $165 million project would include turning the escalators into elevators,  upgrading the out-of-date bathrooms, extending the stage, and improving acoustics among a laundry list of other renovations.

"We already have tens of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance so I see transferring the building to [number] one: make the project actually happens and two, alleviate the city of a financial burden and alleviate the tax payers too," Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said.

Sittenfeld argues under the right circumstances a transfer of the title makes sense.

"I think that for two basic reasons," he explained. "I think private philanthropy would rather give to a nonprofit, not the city. To make the project work financially I think we need that. Also, City Hall can't afford to keep owning Music Hall."

In a joint effort the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestras, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Opera, the May Festival, Cincinnati Arts Association and the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall released this statement Monday regarding Music Hall:

"Music Hall is one of Cincinnati's most treasured icons, and is central not only to the region's vibrant arts scene, but to one of the most impressive community redevelopment efforts in the country, happening right here in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

The infrastructure needs of the City of Cincinnati-owned facility are significant. The building's mechanical systems including electrical, plumbing, fire suppression, air conditioning and heating are all operating on borrowed time, well beyond their life expectancy. There is an estimated $40 to $50 million in deferred maintenance including these essential mechanical systems and some underlying structural issues that simply must be addressed to responsibly preserve and protect this Cincinnati icon.

The Cincinnati Arts Association, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestras, May Festival and the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall all stand ready to work with the City of Cincinnati, our community's philanthropic leaders and the Music Hall Revitalization Company to make this critically important project successful. We overwhelmingly support this endeavor, and believe a public-private partnership is necessary to unlock the full scope of this substantial investment in Music Hall's future, and the future of our city."

"Decisions should not be reached hastily," Sittenfeld said. "I'm less concerned about the June first deadline and more feel overall transferring the building is the right decision both for the city's finances and for making the project happen."

Sittenfeld may have a hard time convincing at least one of his undecided colleagues down the hall, however.

"A June first date is not viable at all," Chris Smitherman argued.

Smitherman says he wants to see the outlook for the 2013 budget before voting on any title transfer or Music Hall investment.

"It's asking us to vote blindly," he said.

At the same time, Smitherman says he understands the needs of the aging building.

"We're moving forward on a streetcar, we're moving forward on an atrium and we're not even taking care of a facility that we own."

The Music Hall Revitalization Company says they had planned to get construction underway by late spring 2014. The goal was to finish up the improvements and reopen in 2015.

Copyright 2012 WXIX. All rights reserved.