Townhomes Removed from Development Plan for The Banks

Hamilton County leaders announced last Thursday that they had struck a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals regarding a number of issues pertaining to the county’s stadium contract with the team.

The biggest component of that new agreement is that the Bengals will waive their veto right over the heights of buildings at The Banks. This clause in the stadium deal, signed in 1997, delayed the start of construction of Phase IIA work at The Banks by more than a year, and posed a significant risk to the City of Cincinnati in its efforts to lure General Electric and its new Global Operations Center to the central riverfront.

Now that the agreement is signed, developers of The Banks have announced that they will immediately begin construction on Phase IIA project that will include 291 apartments and 19,000 square feet of retail space.

Should the city succeed in its efforts to land General Electric’s facility at The Banks, it is expected that its new office tower would either be located at the office pad within the Phase I footprint, or more likely on top of the street-level retail adjacent to the apartment midrise at Phase IIA.

The development team believes both sites could accommodate the approximately 400,000 square feet of office space desired by General Electric.

The announcement also brought with it renewed questions about the status of the hotel at Phase I, located immediately across the street from Great American Ball Park. On that note, the developers said that they are still working to sign a hotel operator for the space, and that it is unlikely it will be completed ahead of the 2015 MLB All-Star Game.

That leaves only one element of Phase I of The Banks still in question – the oft-forgotten townhomes lining the Schmidlapp Event Lawn.

When asked about the status of the townhomes, and if their delay in moving forward was related to constructability issues with the adjacent and unbuilt hotel site, Libby Korosec, spokeswoman for The Banks development team, said that there are no longer plans for townhomes at that location.

Korosec went on to say that the future of that particular site has yet to be determined, but that it is possible it could be used as part of the hotel, but that no decisions have been made.

“That site was originally planned to have six to eight townhomes, which is not really an efficient number to go in and build,” Korosec explained. “Not only was it not efficient, but it also wasn’t going to be a very good environment for townhomes with all the in and out traffic nearby.”

Korosec noted that the elimination of townhomes from the Phase I footprint does not mean that townhomes will not be built elsewhere. In fact, she said that the development team believes there are other sites at The Banks that would be better suited for such housing.

Part of the change can also be explained by the housing bubble that burst around the time construction started at the site.

“The market on condos and townhomes turned south just when we signed the MDA,” Korosec said. “However, homeownership via condos is still a strong possibility at The Banks for future phases should the market demand it.”

The development team opted to forgo building condos at $91 million Phase IA of The Banks, and instead built apartments due to the housing downturn. The decision has proved successful as apartments at The Banks fetch some of the highest prices per square foot in the region and have a waiting list of approximately 60 people.

Since that time the MDA was signed, however, the owner-occupied housing market has shown signs of life throughout the center city where there is currently little supply available. Recent developments, led by 3CDC in Over-the-Rhine, have sold quickly and, in some cases, for more than $300 per square foot.

The Banks development has drawn a significant amount of publicity since its first phase opened in 2011, but work is far from over at the massive riverfront project site. As of now, The Banks is only approximately one-third of the way built out.

  • Mark Christol

    Wasn’t there a minor war fought over time & sound levels at the event site that might annoy these potential residents – the ones that won’t exist now?

    • I guess this will open the door for Cincinnati Parks to do more programming with that space.

  • EDG

    The attorney for The Banks stated in a presentation that they cannot build condo’s without 100% of the units presold. There’s a glaring difference in feeling of authenticity between The Banks and Covington’s Roebling Point and Licking Riverside Historic District on the immediate other side of the bridge. For the quality of architecture we have around town, it’s an eyesore right in our front yard, from Cincy Mag:

    • It seems silly they’d need 100% pre-sold, when 3CDC is building then selling units at $300+/sf.

      But if that’s the case, doing more apts. with plans for condo conversion makes some sense.

    • EDG

      Makes you wonder about urbanism as a commodity. A nonprofit can build infill condo’s in OTR but a national company backed by the city and county somehow can’t do so on a blank slate.

    • With few exceptions, local developers have not yet figured out how to do urban projects. That’s why an Indianapolis-based company is building a luxury apartment tower and an Atlanta-based company is building The Banks. Some day, local developers will catch on.

    • EDG

      And the Otterbein New Urbanist community in Lebanon is a group from South Carolina. Only two locals ring a bell and they’re small-time, Model Group only does affordable housing and Rick Greiwe can’t do a mixed use condo building for some reason. Good think we have 3CDC.

    • Looking at the data, you’d think they would catch on eventually. Vacancy rates are at or below peer cities, yet required rate of return on urban apartment development is higher than every peer city but Cleveland and Detroit.

      That’s why you see developers from places like Indy and Columbus coming here… higher return on investment.

    • Matt Jacob

      So then is it just that the Cincinnati based developers aren’t downwardly adjusting their expectations and still requiring too high of a rates of return for these types of projects to justify new ones? Whereas the out-of-town developers are already coming in with lower expectations from other markets so they can/are?
      Also where are you getting data on required rates of return?

    • I think it’s a combination of two things: 1) out-of-town developers are seeing more/better opportunities in Cincinnati than their home towns of Indy, Columbus, Chicago, Atlanta, etc. And 2) Cincinnati simply doesn’t have large-scale, urban-focused developers. Some of Cincinnati’s developers are getting there (Towne Properties, North American Properties, and Northpointe Group all come to mind as having shifted to more urban-focused development), but most simply don’t have the experience or the capital to do what companies like Carter and Anderson Birkla are doing.

      We have some internal data on Ohio, but I use Integra for national data. Or sometimes I just steal your guys’ stuff. 😛

    • I do not buy this argument that they “need” to pre-sell 100% in order to make it happen. That may have been the case at the height of the housing recession, but that’s years behind us now.

      And anyway, there were only 6-8 townhomes planned. A Realtor should be able to sell 6-8 townhomes overlooking a park, winding river in one of the most prime locations in the region.

    • A good Realtor… 😉

      But seriously, weren’t the townhomes supposed to be right on the commercial stretch? Seems an odd place to put them.

    • The townhomes fronted onto Schmidlapp Event Lawn. The nearest commercial activity would be the Moerlein Lager House and the hotel, depending on how that was designed.

      While I don’t have any heartburn about the plan changing, I think it’s important to remember that this is a city environment, and that we should encourage the mixture of uses like townhomes, condos, apartments, commercial retail, entertainment, etc. This is what makes for diverse and active communities.

    • I agree, but, if it were me I wouldn’t want my front yard to be an event lawn. Just IMHO.

    • Scott Hand

      I would love that, though.
      Good points all around.

    • Matt Jacob

      With how monsterous Phase 1 of the Banks was in scale, literally taking whole blocks with 1-2 buildings, these townhomes were supposed to humanize it a little and the idea was that off the event lawn would be the quietest part where they could exist still amongst the other parts. While I’m not shocked to see them taken out of the plan, this does reduce the mixture of scales within the plan even if it keeps the mixture of uses mostly intact. That being said I think the planned hotel will be a better utilization of this space. The pad they had set aside for the hotel always seemed too small in the first place to me, and might have been what’s been holding it back from finding an operator.

      Are townhomes part of Phase 2 towards the river/park southern side? Personally I don’t think they seem appropriate anymore, will probably end up being more of a headache for the developers/owners down the line with complaints due to noise etc, and don’t really align with the scale that the Banks has begun to take.

    • No, the townhomes were only ever included in this location according to the Master Development Agreement. The developers did tell me that they have to option to include them elsewhere, and very might do that, but it will just depend on a variety of market conditions at that time. You just never know when a GE is going to walk in and say they want a 400,000-square-foot office tower, for example.

    • The architecture at The Banks leaves a lot to be desired, that’s for sure. I’m not sure I’d point to Roebling Point as a shining example of how to do better though. The architecture there is also awful. I think it feels a bit more authentic than The Banks because it has had many years to mature and wear. This is significant.

      Even the awful University Park Apartments building in Clifton Heights now looks far more authentic than it did when it first opens. It helps to have some wear and well-grown trees. The Banks will get there as well. It’ll just take time.

    • EDG

      I meant specifically the residential areas on both sides of Greenup east to the Licking River. It doesn’t feel like the banks is a residential area at all and even if they can’t do “townhomes” they could still do an apartment building that has the same effect.

  • CollegeHill_45224

    I’m so sick of this city and its inability to finish a project on time, if at all. They might as well scrap the hotel idea. They’re still looking for a hotel operator?. What have they been doing the past 2 years? The incompetence of the people who run this city and its developments are the reason why we are so far behind. Wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t finish this until 2040.

    • EDG

      What hotel is going to leave Covington or downtown just to be right next to a stadium that only operates a handful of weekends every year?

    • Well no hotel is being asked to leave Downtown or Covington to locate here. From the very beginning, the developers have indicated that they are working to bring a new hotel brand to the region at this site.

      Secondly, The Banks is part of Downtown. It’s a four-block walk from Fountain Square. And while The Banks is not diversified enough yet, it certainly is busy more than a “handful of weekends” out of the year. I’ve been critical of the lack of diverse uses and speed at which this project has been progressing, but let’s be reasonable.

    • EDG

      It’s not close enough to the convention center, there aren’t enough football games to sustain it, and are few baseball events that warrant a significant amount of out of town visitors. I hope these guys aren’t trying to land a W.

    • SCADgrad.

      There are a number of brands that could fit the size of lot and room numbers proposed. Couple come to mind, Indigo Hotel by IHG, aloft or Element Hotels by Starwood, Hilton Garden Inn or Home2Suites by Hilton. Majority of these are limited, some are full service hotels, but would work well in the banks and do not take away from Downtown or Northern Kentucky.

    • KeepReal

      Speaking of Downtown hotels, what is the status of the two hotels slated to go into the former Enquirer Building on Vine. Every time I walk by there it doesn’t look like there is any construction activity. The signs in the windows say that completion will be in winter 2014. It is well past that deadline.

    • They did a bunch of interior work over the fall and winter. When they say “winter 2014” they mean end of year 2014. It’s confusing since winter starts at the end of the calendar year and ends at the beginning of the next.