Banks Concert Venue Still Up in the Air

“The CSO vote has been unanimously taken care of, in case that’s all you were here for,” were city councilman P.G. Sittenfeld’s words of dismissal on Wednesday, June 20th at the city council meeting in regards to the concert venue that is in action to be developed at the Banks. Several people got up to leave after his swift comment, but the questions for city and county leaders were far from being answered.

Music and Event Management Inc., a subsidiary of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, won the vote over the Columbus based PromoWest for who would develop the venue. But we still don’t know which lot the venue will be built in, or if the City will agree to pay for the parking garage pad that will elevate the venue out of the floodplain.

The lots in question are lot 27, a space adjacent to the Paul Brown Stadium which has been a popular location for Bengals fans to tailgate prior to the games, or lot 24, a much larger space across the street just south of Radius at the Banks and General Electric’s Global Operations Center.

The Bengals, which claim to have veto rights over development over three stories in height adjacent to the stadium, are partial to the venue being located at lot 24 claiming the usage of the lot for tailgating before Bengals home games. On average the Bengals play eight games at home per season.

Lot 24, however, has already received a submission from a joint venture formed by Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate Inc., Pennrose Development and Greiwe Development Group for an $85 million mixed-use project.

A mixed-use development would be in better compliance with the Banks Master Plan, which has been the guiding planning document for the entire development since 2000. The plan identified that lot for mixed-use residential development. Additionally, county leaders have valued property at The Banks at $4 million an acre, so building on a more compact location would leave room available for future developers.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune has commented on the matter, emphasizing that the Bengals do not have veto rights, but the possibility is open for the development to go somewhere besides lot 27.

Counter to that statement, City Councilman David Mann said that the Bengals do have veto rights over the property. Mayor John Cranley’s response to Mann was that direct negotiations should be made with the Bengals in order to come to an agreement on the location. Cranley said that he, too, is open to lot 24 being used as a music venue. The site already has the parking garage podium built.

Tom Gabelman, the attorney advising the county on The Banks has mentioned that the symphony’s proposal incorporates developing in Lot 27 adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium and keeping Lot 23 as park space for more than 90 percent of the time when it is not being used for outdoor concert space. Portune has said that the city and the county need to come to a decision about the music venue by the end of June.

Yet to be addressed is the status of the parking garage. Presently, Hamilton County commissioners expect the city to contribute up to $10 million for the garage, with all revenue going towards the county. The theory behind having the city contribute is that they would receive financial benefits from the income taxes of the people who lived and worked there.

Cranley has said that the council needs to re-evaluate the city’s relationship with the county when it comes to the dispersion of the revenue. “With GE, we gave 85 percent of income tax back, so it has not worked out how the city believed,” Cranley stated at a joint City Council and Hamilton County Commission meeting in early June. “I’m not aware we have $10 million sitting around somewhere.”

Will the plans for lot 24 to be primarily residential be ignored in order to comply with the disputed veto power of the Bengals? And if so, what does that mean for the rest of the Banks development?

An 18-acre venue where there otherwise would have been residential housing could steer the Banks away from its original vision as a new downtown neighborhood teaming with residents, office workers and visitors to yet another entertainment district. While already bookended by two stadiums, the challenges are great but not insurmountable. Realizing the original vision adds more vibrancy to downtown and further helps grow the city and county tax base.

Ideally, even if the venue is built where MEMI proposed there will be enough land left at the riverfront to develop a complete neighborhood with a retail scene and community gathering spaces the way it was planned.

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.

Is Cincinnati in the midst of a contemporary golden age?

Cincinnati is a city that lacks significant amounts of either in- or out-migration. This results in a relatively stable population base, and relatively predictable social trends. What it also means is that people often linger on the “good” or “bad” times they remember most.

The Cincinnati of today is one notably different from the Cincinnati of the past 20 years, however, many Baby Boomers reminisce about the golden years of downtown – that is the time when new office towers were being constructed and both the Reds and Bengals were winning.

Between 1970 and 1990, downtown saw the construction of 29 new buildings with at least ten floors. During the same time, the Reds won three World Series championships and the Bengals went to two Super Bowls. One could argue that these were the most recent boom times in Cincinnati history and, as a result, those that experienced the time period first-hand have written a narrative that it was a high point followed by precipitous decline.


2012 Reds Opening Day outside of Great American Ball Park. Photograph courtesy of The Banks.

This narrative was mostly true until the past half-decade. Cincinnati’s 21st century got off to a tumultuous start, but has otherwise been defined by success throughout the urban core. New hotels, office towers, residential midrises, nightlife, and shops have sprung up all throughout the Central Business District, and Over-the-Rhine is in the midst of one of the most dramatic urban transformations in American history.

At the same time, non-urban enthusiasts have been reinvigorated by the success of the Reds and Bengals on the field which has been now joined by the emergence of the University of Cincinnati as a major division one athletics program.

The combination of these two seemingly non-connected movements was perhaps most evident on Reds Opening Day this past Thursday. It was estimated that the largest crowd in history – 100,000 – gathered for the93-year-old Findlay Market Opening Day Parade. Many of those baseball revelers then conveyed at The Banks for what turned into a massive block party outside Great American Ball Park where a record crowd gathered to watch the Reds beat the Marlins on day one of the 2012 season.

Several new office towers, residential midrises and hotels are scheduled to be built in the coming years. This is in addition to the ongoing work on the Cincinnati Streetcar, Horseshoe Casino, Smale Riverfront Park, 21c Museum Hotel, and continued transformations in historic Over-the-Rhine.

All of this bodes well for continued success throughout the rest of the decade. And while it may still be early, Cincinnati’s Gen Xers and Millennials may eventually look back on the time between 2005 and 2025 as the golden years for their generation in the Queen City. The Baby Boomers established Cincinnati’s center city as an economic powerhouse regionally, and it appears that their children are positioning Cincinnati to be a diverse, resilient city for generations to come.

The city’s back. Back the city.

So Long, Slim

It was January 8, 2006 and the football had crested and was on its way down to a streaking Chris Henry who was a step ahead of the Steeler defender. I was in Section 337 at Paul Brown Stadium and as the rookie ran under the ball and made the catch, I and 65,000 of my closest friends went crazy. The Bengals had arrived and came out as the aggressors in their first home playoff game in fifteen years. It was going to be great. Of course, you probably know the rest of the story. Carson Palmer’s knee was blown out on the play, Henry was injured too, and the game went downhill not long after that.

When the news of Henry’s accident surfaced last week, followed by his untimely passing the next morning this was the one play (video – first 30 seconds) I was stuck on. I have been a season ticket holder since the arrival of Marvin Lewis in 2003 and seen Henry play since his 2005 rookie campaign but this play went through my head all day Thursday, the day of Slim’s passing.

There are two reasons why I think it left such an impression with me, the first of which is how it encompassed and paralleled the unfortunate legacy Chris Henry leaves behind which is that of unfulfilled potential. This has been written and discussed ad nauseam and was even pointed out by Coach Lewis last Thursday afternoon. The long pass to 15 that late January afternoon was about hope and promise as much as it was about “what could have been” after the play ended and damage was assessed.

The other reason I think that play stuck with me is because it is a reminder of how quickly and dramatically life can change and how many of us find ourselves in positions we wouldn’t have expected just nearly four years earlier. I sat in Covington’s Riverside Park on Thursday evening looking across the river at PBS wondering this thought, and then recognized that had I been told back then that I’d be in Riverside Park on December 17, 2009 I would have undoubtedly called you a liar. There was a fire glowing alongside the Ohio River that evening in the shadow of Paul Brown Stadium, and I’m going to guess that if you told whoever was being warmed by it four years earlier that they would be homeless and living by the river they would have done the same. And assuredly had you told Chris Henry that he was to meet his untimely death he would have had more than a few doubts about your prediction.

His passing to me was a reminder that to some degree we all have pieces of our lives that unfold that we don’t expect, or count on. Some are good, some are bad, and some just are. I do find it somewhat ironic that out of all the plans we make and how much control that many people like to have, life continues to unfold in unexpected and sometimes confounding ways. We live and work in a society that is about chasing dreams and making plans, but sometimes the best parts in life are the ones we don’t expect. The unexpectedness can also bring the worst parts in life which is what happened last week.

Regardless of your feelings about Chris Henry and some of his past exploits, his passing is tragic and yet another moment in time where the circle of life is broken yet again as a 26 year young man was buried yesterday. Aside from seeing him around town a few times over the years and of course Sundays on the football field, I didn’t know him nor am I going to pretend to. But that doesn’t mean that I was unaffected. To me his passing was not just about a reminder of how fragile life is, it was so many life lessons that we all can easily forget or not even recognize until it’s too late.

So long, Slim. We were rooting for you in so many ways, and now we root for those you left behind.

Chris Henry image from BleacherReport.com.

Watch the Bengals take on the Broncos live from Fountain Square

The Bengals will kick off the new season in a few hours when they take on the Denver Broncos downtown at Paul Brown Stadium. If you don’t have tickets and are looking for a great way to watch the game Fountain Square LED Video Board will be showing the game live.

The Hudy Tailgate on the Square will take place every Sunday in September and October, except for Oktoberfest weekend, according to the Fountain Square Management Group. This Sunday’s festivities will include live music from 11am to 1pm by Cover Model with the game at 1pm.

The Fountain Square Parking Garage offers convenient parking directly underneath the square. Fountain Square is also well-served by virtually all Queen City Metro bus routes at the Government Square bus hub located across the street from the eastern edge of Fountain Square. To see which route is most convenient for you, and to plan your trip now, use Metro’s Trip Planner.

Photo from Genius of Water on Flickr.