City, county leaders celebrate latest milestone in Cincinnati’s central riverfront transformation

The sixth major portion of Cincinnati’s central riverfront transformation is now finished as city and county leaders celebrate the completion of the new street grid and a 729-space parking garage. The garage will lift the next phase of private development out of the Ohio River’s 100-year flood plain, and the completion of Freedom Way will connect both ends of the massive development.

The new parking garage is part of the larger Central Riverfront Garage system that spans five city blocks and makes the area buildable for private development. To date, Carter and Dawson Company has teamed to build an $80 million development that houses 300 apartments and 90,000 square feet of retail space.

“My wife and I walk, bike or drive past The Banks construction on a daily basis,” explained downtown condo owner Bob Schwartz. “As big a project as it is daily progress is visible if you see it regularly and I’ve thought it’s had a reasonably good pace considering its scope.”


Developers hope to break ground next summer on $75 million worth of mixed-use development atop the recently completed portion of the Central Riverfront Garage.

Officials have stated that negotiations are ongoing to bring a hotel to the site, as well as office tenants that would finance a new tower. Aside from the obvious construction progress there are also several other notable features that are now coming online at The Banks.

The new Central Riverfront Garage system includes valet parking and accepts credit cards through an electronic payment system. The new garage system has also includes a theme-based navigation setup. For example, sports fans can can see whether they are parked in the Baseball Block (red) or Football Block (orange).

All of the exposed garages will eventually be topped with private investment in a manner the development is intimately familiar. By lifting the development out of an undesirable area by garages, the public sector is able to essentially construct building pads for which future development will occur. This approach is very similar to what Carter has used when building out Atlantic Station in Atlanta.


The Central Riverfront Garage includes a theme-based navigation system organized by colors and symbols to help visitors navigate the massive parking structure.

The development team expects to start work on the next $75 million phase of development next summer. That portion, which lies immediately west of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, is anticipated to include an additional 300 apartments and even more retail space. Prior to that developers may get started on two anchor restaurants to be built in front of the Freedom Center.

“Many students are excited for the completion of the development,” said Heights Community Council member and University of Cincinnati student Tim Oliver. “While construction timelines may be adhered to, the public wants what The Banks promises now.”

The vast 2,400-space garage system is controlled by Hamilton County and is intended to serve the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals professional sports franchises, while also creating additional parking for future office towers along 3rd Street. The latest phase of public investment was made largely possible by a $23 million grant from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act.

  • Funny story, walking to a Red’s game one evening a father and son were looking at the construction and the little boy asked what it was. The father never answered so after a few minutes I offered that it’s the Banks project. “That will never get built” the father said. My wife made a goofy face and in shock I said they already have Phase I done and this side is going good. The guy visibly upset grabbed his kids hand and stomped off.
    We were shocked at first but laugh about it now every time we walk past that spot. I wonder how the story went when he repeated it the next Monday to his co-workers?

  • Aaron Watkins

    I’m kinda bummed out for that kid now. Hopefully he won’t be as pessimistic as his dad. Also Awesome story Randy! I had been wondering about the hotel and the tower that I had seen in the renders, and why they weren’t being built yet. Can’t wait to see how far things have come in this last 3 months in person!

  • Marshal

    ^ You reached, and bounced off of, the Great Wall of Cincinnati. But I hear plenty of saboteurs have been chipping away at it these past few years…

  • Marshal

    God I hate it when I post a comment that’s supposed to relate to the one right above it, and someone else posts in the 30 second window that I was writing, and now my post makes no sense.

    QUOTE FUNCTION PLEASE RANDY

  • Glad to see the Banks progress continue. Once construction started it’s clear they’re trying to get it done quickly, and with the apartments getting rented so fast (even at such high rent rates) it’s clear there is demand for luxury riverfront housing.

    With 21c going up I hope the planned hotel can be successful. And I am quite skeptical of a new office building with vacancy already hovering around 20% downtown. But otherwise the apartments and retail should create a great new entertainment/living district on the riverfront!

  • @Zachary Schunn: The downtown office vacancy rate is actually a bit misleading. New Class A office space has been constructed at a faster pace than old Class C space can be converted.

    In downtown Cincinnati’s case there are, by my count, 5-7 Class C office towers that should be converted into other uses – primarily residential. This is currently taking place at the Federal Reserve building where 88 apartments will come online next year and finally take that office space off the record books. The same was planned for The Enquirer building along Vine Street, but financing fell through and it is awaiting a new investor.

    The reality is that the private sector hasn’t move fast enough to keep up with other market forces in downtown Cincinnati. Once it does catch up and finally converts these towers to other uses the vacancy rate will drop significantly.

  • Also in regards to office space. Not all is created equal. So while there may be that office space available in downtown Cincinnati now, it does not mean that a major corporation is interested in occupying it. Most major corporations want premier office space, and that is just not what is available in downtown Cincinnati.

  • Nice article about a great development. I prefer the design of Atlantic Station however: http://www.facebook.com/AtlanticStation

  • Kyle

    Would be Great to see the old Enquirer building get converted sometime soon. That building is amazing and has a GREAT location! Each time I walk past it I look at the Art Deco Detail and imagine how cool a home that could be.

  • @Seth: Having lived within walking distance of Atlantic Station for two years, I can say that I prefer how The Banks is evolving over that. Yes, the archiecture may be more profound at Atlantic Station, but the massings and overall urban context at The Banks is superior.

    Also, at Atlantic Station you definitely get that “Lifestyle Center” feel like you get at The Greene in Dayton or Easton Towne Centre in Columbus where they have hours of operation posted. The Banks, on the other hand, feels much more like an extension of the city’s downtown rather than an island functioning under a different set of rules.

  • @Randy:

    I agree that B/C is more common than A, but is there anyone on-line to come in and use new Class A space? My understanding is there’s still Class A vacancy at the 580 building and Queen City, among other spaces. I could be wrong, though.

    If the new Banks office building gets built and occupied, obviously I’m all for it. I’m just not convinced more office is the best solution.

    (PS: Thanks for the info about the old Federal Reserve building. Didn’t realize that was becoming mixed use.)

  • ^The beauty is that if built properly, downtowns can be used throughout several lifecycels. In downtown Cincinnati’s case it can. What is beginning to take place, and will continue to happen over the coming years, is that current Class B and C office users will upgrade to the class above to take advantage of the new space that has been created. Then, the lowest ranking space available will be converted into other uses since it is no longer viable to be used as office space.

    It’s an evolutionary process that is healthy for the private workforce in Cincinnati, and will help to improve downtown Cincinnati’s overall vibrancy long-term once those low-ranking office buildings are converted to desirable residences.

  • Randy, that’s assuming the economic climate picks up enough that businesses can afford to move to Class A space. But I like your optimism and hope you’re right. Many of the C “office space” we’re talking about now was originally residential, anyway.

  • Here is the deal when you’re talking Class A vs Class C space. Do you want basic things like computers in your office? Its going to be hard if not impossible to do that in Class C unless you’ll put up with cable taped to walls and floors. That’s why so much of it is available.

  • I read Bob’s comment — the first one here — with interest. What is it about people that they don’t know the tremendous strides Cincinnati has been making over the past fifteen or so year? Or, if they do know, are simply content to deny it?

    We’ve rebuilt a principal interstate highway in half the space it used to occupy and recovered 14 acres of prime riverfront land by doing so. Almost everything built there is now leased. We built two major league sports venues, and we’re working on a terrific waterfront park. The largest office building completed in the United States in 2010 opened at Fourth and Sycamore and is already 90% leased in a terrible market. Over-the Rhine continues to advance along with Findlay Market, the new Washington Park and the renovations of Music Hall and the Emery Theater.

    And it’s not just happening downtown — Oakley Station and a couple of large apartment communities in Uptown come to mind. The number of people doing smaller projects in Northside and Price Hill just continues to build.

    The city’s budget is balanced for next year while the county is having fire sales of assets to balance its budget.

    Nothing new has happened on Kentucky’s waterfront for five years now, and most of the commercial projects there are in deep trouble. You don’t see much happening around the airport these days.

    Mason seems to be maintaining, but the commercial momentum has now seems to have shifted to West Chester. You don’t hear much from SE Indiana these days, and it’s sure to take a hit when Cincinnati’s downtown casino opens.

    Blue Ash used to be red hot for commercial development. Not anymore. Norwood … maybe?

    I sit on the City Planning Commission, and every other Friday we’re presented with one to four new projects seeking zone changes. You seldom hear about them, but they are scattered throughout the city and, in the main, they are all material improvements over the status quo. The progress is just relentless.

    All this is happening in the worst real estate environment in any living person’s memory. I’ve lived through four real estate recessions, and nothing compares. But somehow, things are happening.

    I run into people I haven’t seen since college and many of those who know I live downtown tell me they can’t wait to sell their house, get out of the ‘burbs and move closer-in or to downtown or OTR.

    My wife and I own a small apartment building downtown. We don’t advertise, but we usually get several phone calls a week from people wanting to live there. You can sense their disappointment when I tell them we won’t have a vacancy until next May at the earliest because they have been looking for a place to live downtown or in OTR for a long time. I ask them, “Did you check here. Have you called there?” And the answer is, yes they have and almost nothing is available for rent downtown.

    So when I read about Bob’s recounting his experience with the man and his son, it just makes me wonder why people think and say what they do about Cincinnati when it is clearly leading the region in improving its built environment right now. In the absence of any other explanation, I’ve come to attribute it to simple jealousy.

  • I think a lot of people have staked their personal identities to political arguments that have long lambasted cities and boosted suburbia. Now to see the city doing extremely well is something of a slap to the face of their dignity, and they don’t want to admit that it’s real.

  • Hot damn John! I’m printing that on a flag and waving it from the roof of the 100% occupied Parker Flats for everyone stuck on the expressway to see.
    Just got word last night every unit in Parker Flats is sold or has a contract pending.

  • Christian Huelsman

    The Heights has an active community council? As far as I knew, they had no central leadership and no contact, for the past several years.

  • Christian Huelsman

    I think city businesses should offer specials to those who actually live in the city, have paid taxes to make all this happen, who have been cheering on the progress, and embrace all these wonderful changes.

  • Schmiez

    IF the capping project gets any footing, and the retail in the Banks gets going (opportunity is there), downtown won’t look a thing like it did 5 years ago.

    Kudos on pointing out that alot of this has been accomplished during recession. And personally i view it as need based and not speculation driven (i.e. more downtown rental options, OTR rental, Class A office).

    On the Class-A stuff, there is certainly a demand. Queen City has a monopoly on the modern space so someone can cease it (at a lower cost).

    There are a few things that will need some creative thinking to overcome, mainly Tower Place Mall and the Terrace Hotel

  • @Schmiez:

    Any thoughts on Terrace Plaza? I did a school project on it years ago and we proposed various entertainment space–a gym, indoor water park, night clubs–as well as some retail, with residential space above. I think the building has a lot of potential, but you’re right it’s going to need some creativity considering that 6 stories have no windows.

    I’m hoping Tower Place comes back when the economy improves.

  • J

    I’m not too fond of the idea to put two restaurants facing each other on the south block of the Freedom Center. I think it would be better served by some kind of architectural landmark, like a large fountain, sculpture, Arch, or something else.

  • J

    “I read Bob’s comment — the first one here — with interest. … In the absence of any other explanation, I’ve come to attribute it to simple jealousy.” -John

    NAILED IT.

  • grif

    With this development, the riverfront park, the possibility of getting the funding to extend the streetcar, and ongoing planning of the Oasis line, the riverfront is the place to be. It’s exciting watching the growth of the city.

  • Matt Jacob

    @Randy:

    The churn (as you described)is taking much longer than it normally does after a downturn, because of the deep impact on values that we experienced. Many landlords are having a hard time justifying new tenant improvements to their spaces because their entry point in buying the building was so much higher than its current value. As buildings change hands and losses become realized, this will slowly work through the market over the next 3-4 years.

    The biggest thing working for Cincinnati in this regard is the vaccum created after Great American moved to Queen City Tower. It’s forcing many other landlords to compete and upgrade their space to grab the remaining tenants left out looking. It will eventually have the same effect on the class B & C spaces, but in the long-run it amounts to forcing Cincinnati landlords to invest in the city’s building stock and become more nationally competitive.

    I’m hoping once the casino is finally up and running, it will have the same impact on the city’s hotel stock. Right now it’s lacking compared to other cities, which new hotels like 21c are going to try to take advantage of. But the new demand from the casino will hopefully accelerate it.

  • Schmiez

    @ Zachary Schunn: The best bet is for Tower Plaza to get an existing hotel chain to scrape the insides and try again. I have no idea whats on the interior of those 6 windowless floors. Anybody? Its literally the elephant in the room as far as im concerned; HUGE building, 3 tenants: the hat shop, the mens clothing store, and the 2 convenience stores (i think the same family owns both).

    Matt you touched on it (Queen City vacuum), but i do wonder: Who fills all those offices that used to be used by GA employees? They have something like 4 buildings downtown.

  • Matt Jacob

    You mean Terrance Plaza?

    Who indeed? If we are lucky a new out-of-town corporation, but more likely a few other smaller A or B class tenants from either another place downtown or the suburbs. GA’s former buildings do offer something unique though because at least 2 potentally come with signage. Randy said, “Most major corporations want premier office space, and that is just not what is available in downtown Cincinnati.” and GA’s former space isn’t quite premier but it’s up there. For a midlevel corporation it could be exactly what they are looking for. We’ll see what happens.

  • Matthew Hall

    Randy is right. Many of these middle middle class suburbanites believed all that republican propaganda and the realization that is wasn’t true and that they were beneficiaries of enormous subsidies and not of their own hard work and financial planning is a crushing blow. They just can’t let it in all at once. I suppose that is just human nature, not to want to give up on your cherished principles, even when you can’t afford them.

  • This is probably ancient history.I remember when the coliseum was built, Wiengardner & Hammonds acquired the rights to build above the garage,and got a Tax credit fot it. Nothing ever happened and it faded away. Do air rights continue on when demolition and rebuilding take place? If so then they should be obligated to the project.I am no longer in town, but keep in touch with friends there.

  • We’re going off on all sorts of tangents here. Interesting to read.

    @Jerome: The air rights would show up on a title search I believe. The rights remain theirs until they transfer through sale or otherwise.

    @Matthew: I wouldn’t call it Republican propaganda. Both parties have done little to prevent sprawl, at least until the luke-warm efforts that have occurred very recently. Most of those subsidies remain in place, too.

    Regarding Terrace Plaza: as much as I love that building it’s not going to find a single use(r). It needs someone to come in and develop the hotel and old office portions independently. As I said, the windowless box could serve well for entertainment venues. We’ll see. A number of people are working hard to save it.

    I’m going to research office vacancy rates and see if I can’t find anything splitting up classes in Cincinnati. Would be cool to see the difference.