Escrow account no longer an option to save Streetcar, City says

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - As Cincinnati's administration works to find $17.5 million to plug the streetcar project's budget gap, FOX19 has confirmed one potential funding source to save the project is off the table.

Currently, the city and Duke Energy are in a legal battle over who should pay to relocate the utilities around the streetcar.

The city put $15 million aside in escrow just in case they have to pay up with the hope the money might be freed up to help get the project moving.

"There was a proposal on the table that was discussed that certainly involved that," Duke Energy spokeswoman Sally Thelen told FOX19.

Duke Energy says the conversation with leadership from the city was about the company's willingness to release the $15M held in escrow to enable immediate construction on the project.

"After careful consideration it was determined that the best course of action would be to maintain those funds in an escrow account to make sure they are there depending on what the outcome would be," Thelen said. "Both sides were willing to let this play out before the courts and think that would be the best course of action."

The $15 million in escrow came from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport. Already approved to use for the project, the money was set aside awaiting a judge's decision on who has to pay to relocate utilities.

A spokesperson for the city confirmed the Blue Ash money is no longer being considered as an option pending a decision, but would not comment on what other sources are being sought out to bridge the $17.5 million dollar streetcar project gap.

The escrow talks went on earlier in the month and last Wednesday Mayor Mark Mallory remained optimistic the streetcar would still move forward.

"We've been at several points like this along the line that people thought the streetcar was dead, the streetcar is not dead," Mallory had told FOX19. "Bottom line is we are on a very tight time frame but we are very committed to this project."

If it is decided that Duke Energy has to pay to move utilities the money could get freed up from escrow, but even then an appeal would likely follow.

The project's budget will be front and center at a special hearing Roxanne Qualls called for next Monday at City Hall, but so far there are no big announcements on a streetcar solution.

A hearing for the Duke Energy case is scheduled for June.

The streetcar public hearing on the project's budget is set for 6 p.m. April 29 in council chambers at City Hall.

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