Struggling Cincinnati Museum Center Looks To County For Help

Apr 2, 2020

The Cincinnati Museum Center is asking Hamilton County for an advance of some reserve money from the sales tax levy used to renovate and repair Union Terminal.

Collection of that 0.25% sales tax ended on March 31 and there's about $20-25 million in reserve after construction work was completed in 2018.

The plan was for the county, working with the Union Terminal Restoration Advisory Committee, to eventually transfer those reserve funds to the Museum Center for future maintenance and preservation.

County Administrator Jeff Aluotto spoke about the issue during the Hamilton County Commission meeting Thursday and he also sent a memo to commissioners with additional information.

The memo said with the Museum Center closed for the COVID-19 pandemic it's losing $1-2 million a month in revenue.

Officials have reduced the salaries and benefits for the senior leadership team and suspended contributions to retirement funds.

If the closure lasts beyond this month, the center will be forced to reduce staff and cut pay for those who remain employed.

"They have requested at least $7 million of that, possibly up to $10 (million), for the purpose of paying off some construction debt that they still have," Aluotto told commissioners. "That will free up around $500,000 of operating cash for them, as well as some other funds for some additional maintenance capital."

The county is asking the prosecutor to confirm whether these are eligible expenses to be funded with sales tax levy reserve funds. Aluotto said he would recommend the transfer if the prosecutor's office deems them appropriate.

"It's a good time to provide some relief where we can," said County Commission President Denise Driehaus. "So, I will be happy to be supportive of that assuming that the prosecutor's opinion marries what we all think is happening here."

The commission could vote on the funding request next week.

Hamilton County voters approved a five-year, 0.25% sales tax in 2014 to restore the Art Deco building. Work began in July 2016 on the $228 million effort to repair the 85-year-old building's exterior and aging interiors and utilities.

Even though the 0.25% sales tax for Union Terminal ended on March 31, the tax itself did not go away.  Hamilton County Commissioners voted last year to keep the tax in place and it's now being used for the county's general fund expenses.