EDITORIAL: It’s Time for Cincinnati to Build a New First-Class Arena

The Cincinnati region has an arena problem that is two-fold. The first part of the problem is that there is no stand-out venue that offers both the capacity and modern amenities to attract large-scale events. The second is that the region has far too many venues competing with one another.

Within a one-hour drive from Fountain Square there are eight arenas with a capacity of more than 9,000 people for their primary tenants. Of these, only three have been built or undergone major renovations since the year 2000. The lone major project currently on the books is the $310 million renovation and rebuild of Rupp Arena in Lexington, which also happens to be the furthest away of the eight venues mentioned.

  1. Rupp Arena (23,500): Built in 1975 with minor renovations in 2001. Primary tenant is University of Kentucky athletics. Major renovation and rebuild planned for completion in 2017.
  2. U.S. Bank Arena (17,566): Built in 1975 with a major renovation in 1997 and subsequent minor renovations. Primary tenant is the minor league hockey Cincinnati Cyclones team.
  3. UD Arena (13,409): Built in 1969 with major renovations in 2002 and minor renovations again in 2010. Primary tenant is University of Dayton athletics.
  4. Fifth Third Arena (13,176): Built in 1989 with several minor renovations since. Primary tenant is University of Cincinnati athletics.
  5. Cintas Center (10,250): Built in 2000. Primary tenant is Xavier University athletics.
  6. Cincinnati Gardens (10,208): Built in 1949 with no major renovations since its opening. Primary tenant is the amateur women’s roller derby Cincinnati Rollergirls team.
  7. Bank of Kentucky Center (9,400): Built in 2008. Primary tenant is Northern Kentucky University athletics.
  8. Millett Hall (9,200): Built in 1968 with no major renovations since its opening. Primary tenant is Miami University athletics (sans hockey).

Recent talks closer to the core of our region have revolved around either embarking on a major renovation of Fifth Third Arena, or building a new one altogether; and performing major renovations on U.S. Bank Arena. The problem with these two approaches, however, fails to address the two core problems with the region’s plethora of arenas.

Any discussion on this topic should be focused on creating a stand-out venue that is both large enough and offers the modern amenities needed to attract major events, while also decluttering the regional arena landscape.

To that end, UrbanCincy recommends building a brand new arena adjacent to the Horseshoe Casino at Broadway Commons that would become the new home for the Cincinnati Cyclones, Cincinnati Rollergirls and University of Cincinnati Men’s Basketball. This venue would also accommodate the existing events held at U.S. Bank Arena and should be built in a way that is conducive for casino operators to program additional events, such as boxing, at the venue.

As part of this plan, U.S. Bank Arena and the Cincinnati Gardens should be torn down, and Fifth Third Arena used as the multipurpose facility it was originally intended to be.

This location makes perfect sense with immediate access to the center city’s hotels and convention facilities, casino, streetcar system, highways and abundant parking. Such a plan would also allow for the current U.S. Bank Arena site to be redeveloped with additional housing and shops akin to what is being developed at The Banks.

The land left over at the Cincinnati Gardens site in Bond Hill could then be repackaged, with surrounding land, to be developed as part of community-driven master plan.

As is often the case, funding is one of the primary hurdles preventing any of this from getting done. In this particular plan, each of the partners (University of Cincinnati, City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Horseshoe Casino) could contribute to the capital costs. Furthermore, value capture tools could be used for the U.S. Bank Arena and Cincinnati Gardens properties to help offset costs even more.

The last thing our region needs is another tax to pay for a sports or entertainment complex. Those scarce public resources should be reserved for more pressing things like improving our region’s transit network.

Our region’s political and business leaders need to think holistically when it comes to this challenge. Moving forward in a panicked and rushed fashion will get us an end result that does not solve the problems before us, and ultimately squanders public dollars.

Let’s build ourselves a modern arena venue that can attract top-level events, but do so without placing the burden on the taxpayers. Let’s also do so in a way that rids the region of some of its excess number of existing arenas, and frees up land to be redeveloped in a more productive manner for our neighborhoods.

There is a wealth of talent and C-Level executives in this region. Let’s get creative and start thinking beyond the sales tax. Let’s get this done.

  • Jasomm

    I knew you’d see it my way…. here is a rough rendering I made of that setup last year.

    The Idea being:
    Horseshoe and other corporations would pay for it to be built next to the Casino. With UC and minor league teams leasing space from them. then build the Uptown street car connection to end at the arena/casino.
    Raze US Bank Arena and 5/3 Arena, build a new East Entrance to GABP, expand the banks around to the old arena’s site, and realign Mehring Way to continue into Broadway.

    • Love your idea about Mehring Way and site for the casino. The space next to GABP I think would be better for one or two housing towers. If you do that then you have to life the site up out of the floodplain. I’m not sure I would want to see even more floodable green space on prime waterfront property.

    • Jasomm

      right on… Mostly spit balling the design for the former coliseum site. The main objectives there was to simplify the 2nd and Broadway intersection with Mehring Way wrapping around to meet Broadway, and also building an east entrance to GABP. The rest of the space was just a filler with public space in mind and un obstructed views of the bridge from the GABP concourse.

    • This is amazing! But its too bad some of our current leaders got to where they are by opposing progress. They don’t have the vision for anything like this. We’ll get some dumbed down beggars can’t be choosers solution.

    • matimal

      Don’t despair. cranely, slitherman, and windbag CAN be isolated politically to get things like this done. It’s our job to do that. Party identification is meaningless in Cincinnati. It’s those who work against Cincinnati versus those who work for Cincinnati. When we approach politics that way, we have a chance of getting things done.

    • EDG

      You could make Court and Main an upgraded stop for the casino and arena, I don’t think it absolutely has to jog over since it’s only 2 blocks but that brings up a good point about maybe getting Bedrock-Quicken-Dan Gilbert involved in an arena and streetcar since we don’t seem to have local leaders with the guts to do so.

      I don’t know why more modern stadiums haven’t modeled Wrigley and Camden with residential overlooking the outfield. There was a brief debate about putting GABP where PB is and then you would’ve been able to do that but PB needed more space. That’s why I prefer maybe a hi rise or two to overlook the stadium if that’s possible and it would be right on the bridge like the ascent.

    • Brian Boland

      I was looking at a map and I think a second streetcar line running mostly east-west would be good here. It could run from Union Terminal and tie in to 5th street heading east then drop down to Eggleston and come up to the Casino where it could loop around the block bounded by Reedy, Court and Eggleston. It’s return path could be back down Eggleston and up Sentinel again then onto 6th to head back across downtown and then back to Union Terminal. This would run the line by almost all of the major hotels and right through the heart of downtown. It would also crate some connectivity for the open lots along Eggleston.

    • Jasomm

      The guest above is right. the stop at Main Street is more than sufficient (only 2 blocks away).
      Until a regional rail system is in place you wont know if a line to Union Terminal or to the Transit Center at the Banks would be the best place for a casino/arena to have direct transit.

      The system I envision:
      would have all 3 commuter lines go through both Union Terminal and the station at the Banks, so the current PH1 street car would suffice for mass transit to get there, and PH2 would get direct access to UC.

    • Brian Boland

      I think the broadway commons site is a great idea. Just asking, is there really enough space in that spot for the arena? For the roads, why re-align broadway through the middle of this space? Right now it connects to the Taylor south gate bridge, and that’s a good alignment. I think a better idea is to give Mehring way a ‘road diet’ and make it more bike and pedestrian friendly. (why is it 4 lanes through the park anyway?)

    • Jasomm

      Yeah, the Braodway to bridge alignment is probably fin the way it is. Ill probably change it back if I work on this anymore… There is plenty of room for a very large Arena where I have it. Even more spacious if the Hotel I drew there was placed somewhere else, and there are some other good options.

  • EDG

    That would be something if a stadium ended up there after all

    • Yeah, I guess it would. Honestly I’m not sure of many sites that even make sense for this kind of thing outside of this location. Perhaps near the new MLK Interchange in Uptown.

    • I agree, the corner of MLK and Reading would also be a great location with both highway and transit access and significant potential for spinoff development. However the Uptown Consortium did not appear to be considering any bold options for this corner in the plan they recently released.

  • Drew Carpenter

    Getting UC to play games there permanently will be a challenge. Although games at 53rd are not as unique as games at Nippert so it would be easier than getting football permanently moved to Paul Brown.

    Ive always thought that they would relocate basketball, tear down 53rd and the old armory and rebuild a better stadium on campus.

    • EDG

      Rupp Arena isn’t on campus and UK basketball is just fine. What’s so special about UC playing on campus? 5/3 is really where the opportunity was missed, basketball stadiums where starting to become modern just around that time with the Palace of Auburn Hills (Pistons) really setting the design we see today.

    • Drew Carpenter

      Being on campus for a game is a completely different experience. While I attended UC, they had a few football games down at Paul Brown to try and attract more people to come and many of the students (and alumni) did not like it, including myself. The atmosphere is completely different, its no where near as exciting and the team plays better at Nippert.

      This is just my experience and only for football. There never was a time where the basketball team temporarily relocated for a few games so I cannot compare directly. Many schools have their arenas off campus and do just fine, Louisville and the Yum Center as well. Basketball is also different than football too though. Football season encourages tailgating, usually on Saturdays, nicer weather, so you get the entire campus experience. Basketball doesn’t tailgate as much, weather is more or less cold/snowy. I am not saying it couldn’t work though.

      If you haven’t experienced a game at Nippert, I suggest going. This year would actually be a great example since every game is at Paul Brown due to renovations. Go to a game this year and then go to a game next season and see the difference. For me it is night and day.

    • Jeff Poetker

      You are comparing Apples to Oranges.

      UK basketball’s fan base is greater than statewide, and the people who are fans come from all over to see them play. The arena could be in Hawaii and they’d probably still fill the thing.

      UC’s fan base is much different. It is mostly students, alumni, and locals. People who find the trip to Clifton part of the charm of going to a game.

    • EDG

      I don’t buy that basketball absolutely has to be on campus as if it’s currently this great college bball experience. Your argument is that if UC basketball had a bigger following then it’d be ok to move downtown, maybe the tail could wag the dog.

    • David Thomas

      UC should stay at 5/3rd. I didn’t go to UC but I went to WKU where our arena is also on campus. It makes life much easier for a student to attend games with the arena on campus. Easy walk from your dorm or after class and all the students who live in the apartments around campus.

      I’m all for a new arena downtown with the Cyclones and Rollergirls as tenants, just don’t think UC should be a part of it.

    • EDG

      Except students aren’t going to 5/3 since they’re giving tickets away to games that aren’t Louisville. If a new arena is built downtown, UC not moving in would not make sense from a program and recruiting standpoint.

    • David Thomas

      Comparing UC and UK/UL is hard. UK and UL are the only shows in town, UK plays for basically the entire commonwealth. Where UC has not only X but also Bengals and Reds. Rupp is only a few blocks from the start of campus and UK doesn’t really need to recruit anyways, being the history and recent sucess there. But my whole point is that on campus arenas are better for students.

    • EDG

      That’s fine but Louisville moved downtown from a more historic campus arena and Pitt football plays at Heinz field and they both just got into major conferences and UC didn’t. UC can’t build a modern arena on their own and neither can downtown but they’re both working against each other just like the two football stadiums we have and don’t need.

    • Jeff Poetker

      No. I haven’t decided whether moving downtown would be good or bad for UC. I just don’t think it is fair to compare UC basketball to UK basketball in this context. A more fair comparison would be to another city type college – like Pitt.

      Personally, I’m not likely to go to any more or less games if they played downtown than I am to go to games in Clifton.

  • zschmiez

    I just dont see the benefit for UC. And frankly neither would they. They have an onsite venue that they control, and can sell rights to, and draw decent crowds.

    Roller Girls would never be able to afford the fees to use a brand new venue. And its a bit ridiculous to have roller derby in a 20K-seat arena when 500 people attend.

    The worst part is, today, if you build an arena in hopes of competing for events (and clearly they do with 8 other venues nearby), it has to have every feature possible and be cutting edge. Thats not something Cincinnati does very well.

    What price range are we talking? I think it would have to be >$250M to really look and feel good.

    • Jasomm

      If a Casino is operating an adjacent venue I think a crowd of 500, brought in during the day, or a weeknight, would still be considered 500 potential gamblers/diners at the casino, and they would put the space to maximum use for this reason. UC in turn would regain some real estate they could do anything they want with. Something they dont have that much of.

    • The benefit for UC is that they could take a $100-200M capital project off their books and share that cost with other stakeholders. If they could move Men’s Basketball out of Fifth Third Arena, then there would be no need to renovate it since it works perfectly fine for everything else.

    • Ashley Keeling Henderson

      Then why is he suggesting to demo it? I get demo-ing US Bank area and re-purposing that area right there on the river, but as a UC alumn the idea of The Shoemaker not being there anymore is not one I would like to entertain. Like you said more than just the UC mens basketball team uses that space. I’d also like to point out that if you want the team to retain it’s student fans then you would need to make it easy for them to attend. Students really complained about the crosstown shootout being at US Bank area last year, and now it has returned to the campus areas. I haven’t heard too much about the games being at PBS this year. My husband and I love our clubseat season tickets, but overall the atmosphere at the games is not the same as at Nippert.I would imagine this could also happen at this shared venue. Would Xavier play there 2? It’s technically their city as well. While I think the location jasonm suggests could work, maybe just not the sports teams he suggested. Just a thought.

    • EDG

      I think the expansions of Nippert and 5/3 is a blind attempt at improving the current state of their athletic program and ultimately gaining membership into the SEC or Big 12. Maybe moving downtown would give their athletic dept. a boost. Not to mention that would put us in contention to land the NCAA tourney games currently going to Dayton and Louisville.

    • Drew Carpenter

      Nippert needs the expansion. It sells out most games. Compared to my freshman year (2007) when I could walk into the game 5 minutes after it started with no ticket and get a front row seat.

    • EDG

      It still won’t be big enough for what the major conferences are looking for.

    • zschmiez, just a clarification – we actually draw 1,500-2,000 fans per game on average. Our largest-ever crowd was 4,100. We are indeed an amateur team and a brand-new venue might be out of our price range, but we love the idea of sharing a facility with other local sports teams. Thanks for thinking of us, UrbanCincy!

  • Jasomm

    The Mohegan Sun in Connecticut is a good example of how a Casino+Arena can play off each other well, doing things that a casino or an arena cant do on their own… This place is also in the middle of nowhere Connecticut (~1hr drive from any city), but still is one of the few non-Vegas casino’s doing well.

    This is their events page which is very comparable to what Cincy could do.

    With the Bearcats and Cyclones anchoring use, the casino could easily book regular music, comedy, magic, boxing/mma, moto/bmx, or Circ du Soleil shows above the caliber that the city would get now. and could possibly lure another sports franchise (AHL hockey, WNBA, Arena football, maybe even NBA?) at some point soon.

  • Tom Allen

    While Cincinnati Gardens may have reached the end of its useful life as a sports arena, could the building itself be repurposed into an industrial or even office use? In fact when the Robinson family (who is now looking to sell the building) bought the Gardens in the late 1970s, their original intent was to convert it into a warehouse, but they saw the value of keeping it going as an arena, and they realized that they could compete with (or complement, whichever way you look at it) Riverfront Coliseum. Of course, this was still long before 3 on-campus multipurpose arenas popped up around the region…

  • Mark Christol

    Bear in mind, one of the selling points for the GOP was that there was nothing going on at the arena. If you bring in two more sports teams, scheduling special events could get tough.
    Seems you could design a new building so the upper half could be closed off for smaller events. Maintenance would be minimized & lower fees paid.
    I realize it’s business but I would hate to lose the Gardens. I get happy just walking towards it.

  • Brian Boland

    I have to say this idea is compelling. I especially like the idea of the direct tie in with the Casino and allowing them to program events. One of the biggest problems with USBA is that it’s underutilized and therefore can’t even make it’s own operations pay for upkeep.

  • Matt Glaser

    Maybe I’m wrong with this, but doesn’t the NCAA severely frown upon any of its member institutions partnering (in any way) with casinos?????? I don’t see how UC (or any other NCAA school), let alone any NCAA sanctioned tournaments would ever be played there.

    While I agree the location would be nice…you won’t ever see a UC/XU tipoff there.

    • I believe UNLV’s planned new arena is being done in conjunction with a casino operation. I may be wrong since the plans for UNLV have changed numerous times over the past 12 months.

    • Jasomm

      The A-10 had it’s conference tournament in Atlantic City from 2007-2011.

  • CincySkate

    I am all for progress, but what a blow to the user groups it would be to lose the Cincinnati Gardens. There are many hockey and figure skating organizations that have called the Gardens home for many years. These groups have had virtually no access to larger venues like US Bank arena, our business is a drop in the bucket for them, as I suspect it would be for a new larger arena. But at the Gardens many of us have found a home. Whether the Gardens continues to host larger events, we are hopeful that someone will buy the facility and keep the ice for the foreseeable future.