Children’s Hospital Medical Center will get to embark on a major expansion of its Avondale campus after the Cincinnati City Council approved the measures needed in a 6-3 vote Wednesday.
The vote on the project, valued at up to $650 million, followed nearly two hours of emotional debate over the project, which has been stridently opposed by the Avondale Community Council.
Children’s needed council approval of zoning changes, modification of the hospital’s development plan and the sale of city right-of-way. The hospital’s expansion in Avondale is a top priority for both the hospital and the region’s business community. The project consists of a new, eight-story patient tower and parking garage extension. The expansion is needed for Children’s growth and because modern medicine requires more equipment and more space, with personnel needing to be in close proximity to one another, hospital officials said.
Council members Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young and Charlie Winburn voted against the ordinances.
A separate motion filed by Simpson and Young aimed at requiring the hospital to kick in at least $14 million more in funding for Avondale housing and neighborhood improvements, create avenues for residents to pursue careers in medicine and for the city to enact pedestrian safety measures to deal with the additional traffic the development will bring failed on a 4-5 vote. Young, Simpson, Winburn and Councilman Chris Seelbach voted for that motion.
Because council motions are not binding, even if it had received a majority vote, Children’s would not have had to abide by it.
Simpson and Young echoed concerns by Avondale residents about the expansion’s scale and how it was planned. Simpson and Young repeatedly referred to a recent Politico article about the Cleveland Clinic’s expansion in an impoverished neighborhood in which critics said the clinic basically has built a fortress that is not connected to the community.
“Everyone in Avondale knows they live under the threat of losing their home,” Young said, referring to the growth of Children’s and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.
Community members say it was clear Children’s had settled on its plan and that its talks with them were for show.
“Our children will not benefit from your oohs and aaahs,” said Patricia Milton, president of the community council, referring to the scale and price tag of the project.
Mayor John Cranley noted that Children’s had not asked for financial aid from the city, a rarity for downtown projects, although the hospital, as a nonprofit, already does not pay property taxes on land it owns.
“They are good people and the implication that they don’t care or don’t understand – it’s not fair,” Cranley said. “To suggest Children’s hasn’t reached out, it’s not true. It plays into an old narrative.”