Project Officials Ready to Move Forward With Next Phase of The Banks

Officials overseeing the development of The Banks have announced that they will soon proceed with the design and construction of the infrastructure needed for the next phase of the massive riverfront project.

Yesterday, at a special meeting of The Banks Steering Committee, the eight-member group unanimously voted in favor of moving forward with what they expect to be $29.3 million worth of work, which would then provide the platform for millions more in private investment in the form of offices, residences and retail on what is referred to as Lot 24.

As has been the case with all prior phases of the mixed-use development, the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will build out the utilities and roadway network, and construct a 690-space, two-level parking garage that will lift the site out of the Ohio River floodplain. Carter and The Dawson Company – the private development team selected for the project – would consider what elements should be included and then proceed with building and leasing out whatever is built on top of the parking decks.

A guiding principle that has not changed since the beginning of the development process is that the underground parking garage will be reserved for public parking, leaving Carter-Dawson to develop additional above-ground parking to satisfy the City’s mandatory parking requirements.

The Steering Committee said that the public work will be funded through the issuance of $22 million in tax increment finance bonds, and $7 million from the State of Ohio. Project officials say issuance of the bonds is expected to come within the coming months.

While the Carter-Dawson team has not yet decided the exact mix for this third phase of work, it is widely expected to be primarily residential. In total, the zoning and infrastructure for the site will allow for around 320,000 to 400,000 square feet of developable space.

The timing of the announcement could not be better, with work rapidly progressing on General Electric’s 338,000-square-foot Global Operations Center, 19,000 square feet of retail space, and the 291 apartments at the phase two site to the immediate north; and with the announcement that AC Hotels will develop the long-sought hotel along Main Street in front of Great American Ball Park.

Phase two work is expected to be completed in phases throughout 2016, while AC Hotel by Marriott is expected to open in spring 2017.

While management with the Cincinnati Bengals expressed some concern over the loss of one of the team’s few remaining tailgating lots, The Banks itself is evolving into more of an entertainment district than many had thought.

In April, state officials approved a new open-container district law that will soon be in place at The Banks; and yesterday, in a separate move, the Cincinnati Reds applied for a zoning variance to allow for the installation of a video board that will overlook Freedom Way – providing live video programming when the surrounding streets are shut down to cars for special events. Such moves could render tailgating lots obsolete as fans move to the streets on game days.

Project officials say the phasing of construction at the 18-acre site has been carefully coordinated between the district’s various stakeholders, along with the construction schedule of Smale Riverfront Park. As park work has moved west so has work at The Banks, and with the latest work on the park taking place just south of phase three of The Banks, the timing makes perfect sense.

If all goes according to plan, this next phase of infrastructure work could begin as soon as January or February – just after the conclusion of the Bengals football season.

AC Hotels by Marriott to Partner With Eagle Realty on $35 Million, 165-Room Location at The Banks

After several years of trying to attract a hotel to The Banks, the project has landed a brand that is sure to attract the fastest growing customer segment in the industry – millennials.

In a special meeting before the Joint Banks Steering Committee, Eagle Realty Group development affiliate Main Hospitality Holdings and Blue Ash-based hotel operator Winegardner & Hammons announced plans to build a seven-story, 165-room AC Hotels by Marriott on the southwest corner of Freedom Way and Joe Nuxhall Way, directly across from Great American Ball Park.

The news was broken was UrbanCincy last month and comes one year after the brand backed out of a deal to redevelop the former School for Creative and Performing Arts in Pendleton.

Known for its upscale, contemporary European influences, the brand began as a joint venture between Marriott International and leading European hotel developer Antonio Catalán in 2011. The brand officially launched in the North American market in 2013 and now boasts locations in Chicago, Kansas City, Miami Beach, New Orleans, and Washington, DC, making it the fastest launch of a Marriott brand in history.

“We’ve wanted this brand for over five years,” explained Mike Conway, president and CEO of Winegardner & Hammons, with regard to why the third largest hotelier in the world wants to grow in the Cincinnati marketplace. “We think it’s a…absolutely home run in Cincinnati. The reason why we say that is people are moving back to the urban core; and our city, like all major cities across the country, is experiencing a revitalization of downtown.”

Adding to Conway’s enthusiasm was Cincinnati Reds president and CEO, and committee chairman, Bob Castellini.

“The Banks offers up perhaps the best location for a hotel in the city,” Castellini noted. “It took us a while to find and secure the best possible flag and developer for the hotel at The Banks, and I really believe that we have the best possible flag and developer.”

The designs show an L-shaped structure, with the main building height fronting on Joe Nuxhall Way and a smaller, one- to two-story portion to the building’s south.

Along Joe Nuxhall Way, the building will include the front desk and guest rooms – expected to have a $180 per night average rate – and will be capped with a rooftop terrace bar and deck overlooking the Ohio River. It will also include a water feature and a four-story animated LED video board.

The shorter southern portion, made necessary due to height restrictions, will include a lounge, library, fitness facility, conference rooms, and a courtyard overlooking Smale Riverfront Park.

The project team will present the plans to the Urban Design Review Board on Thursday. If all goes according to plan, construction could begin in August and be completed by spring 2017.

The development is expected to cost approximately $35 million, with the equity and debt financing already in place. But the best part, steering committee member Tom Gabelman said, was that it will require no city or county subsidies.

“That’s rather phenomenal in this environment,” he said. “And it’s rather phenomenal, too, that we basically have the quality of hotel that the city and county desired for this premier location.”

Meanwhile, construction continues on Phase 2 of The Banks, most notably on a 339,000-square-foot office building for General Electric that is expected to employ between 1,800 and 2,000 workers when completed in late 2016. Next door, a building featuring 291 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space is slated for completion next spring.

Project officials provided some additional details on the infrastructure buildout for Phase 3, which will be paid for with revenues produced by prior phases. This infrastructure work is critical to lift the development out of the Ohio River floodplain, and must be completed before any private real estate development can begin.

Leadership also said that there is a desire to diversify the retail environment along the central riverfront, and further add to the “live, work, play” mantra driving the development.

“I want to add another word there pretty soon, because we hope to have there not just a hotel, but a grocery store and some other retail opportunities so it will be a great place to live, work, shop and play,” said Castellini, who also explained how he used to have to walk down to the river at 4am to make sure it was below 52 feet so that he could open his produce business.

Much has changed along the northern banks of the Ohio River since the days of Castellini’s produce business, and much more will change over the coming years. Project officials say that they will bring a detailed plan for the next round of work to City Council within the next one to two months.

EDITORIAL: It’s Time to Consider Moving Major Festivals to Central Riverfront

There has been much rancor over the past week about how or if to operate the streetcar during major events such as Oktoberfest or Taste of Cincinnati. The perceived problem is that the streetcar’s tracks cross the existing location of those major festivals, and would thus pose a conflict.

It is worth taking a look at these festivals and their locations along Fifth Street, along with what other options might exist.

Historical Context
Both festivals got their start in the 1970s, with Oktoberfest tapping its first keg in 1976 and the Taste of Cincinnati kicking off in 1979. While Oktoberfest originally began on Fifth Street, Taste of Cincinnati did not. In fact, it was not until very recently that the Taste of Cincinnati moved to Fifth Street and joined its mega-festival partner.

When Taste of Cincinnati modestly kicked off 36 years ago, it was actually held in Piatt Park. It stayed there for three short years and then moved to Central Parkway, where it remained until 2007 when the renovation of Fountain Square was completed. At that time, it made sense to host both festivals to Fifth Street around the reborn Fountain Square.

When the city’s first modern streetcar line opens next year, it will have been nine years since both festivals were regularly being held on Fifth Street. Following this year’s scheduled events, it will also be time for both festivals to consider moving to even better environs along the central riverfront. Of course, since the streetcar isn’t planned to open for operations until September, that means Taste of Cincinnati could stay where it is without any problems for 2016 as well.

Accessibility
One of the biggest positives and negatives about Fifth Street is its central location and connectivity to Fountain Square – the traditional public gathering point for Cincinnatians. Everyone knows where it is. The problem with it is that it is also all of that for everyday residents, visitors and workers in the bustling central business district; and these events shut down that corridor for days at a time.

With the events typically extending from Race/Vine Street to Sycamore/Broadway Street – a four- to five-block span – they also require a number of cross streets and major transportation hubs like Government Square to shut down. When the streetcar begins its operations, it too will have to alter its operations and only run approximately half of its initial route during the events.

By moving both festivals to the central riverfront they would be able to take advantage of the huge Central Riverfront Garage underneath The Banks, and also be able to take direct advantage of the Riverfront Transit Center, which was custom built for serving massive crowds such as those that attend Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati.

At the same time, Metro bus service and streetcar operations would be able to continue uninterrupted.

Furthermore, unlike Fifth Street, the streets at The Banks do not serve as major access points for the regional highway system, so closing those streets off would not severely disrupt the flow of goods and people in the central business district. Without that restriction, Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati could explore the idea of taking place over additional days, instead of being limited to three-day weekends.

Accommodations
Like Fifth Street, the central riverfront is within close walking distance of the many hotels located in the central business district, but it doesn’t serve as a barrier to them with its tents, debris and staging.

In addition to the hotels, businesses at The Banks would be much better-suited to handle mega events such as these. Buildings and storefronts along and around Fifth Street have been designed in a traditional sense, while those at The Banks have been custom built to accommodate large street crowds and festivals with walk-up windows, fold open walls and the forthcoming open-container law.

In fact, the huge popularity of Oktoberfest has already begun to spread beyond Fifth Street. UberDrome is now set-up in Smale Riverfront Park by the Moerlein Lager House and Paulaner; and the growing number of breweries in Over-the-Rhine are also now hosting special events during the period during and around Oktoberfest. A perfect connection between all of the festivities, as has been suggested by Christian Moerlein’s owner Greg Hardman, is the first leg of the streetcar.

Organization and Set-Up
Fifth Street, unlike the central riverfront, has very little in terms of open areas for special activities. With the $125 million dunnhumby Centre now complete at Fifth and Race, Fifth Street has also lost a large surface parking lot that had served as a staging area for these festivals. Along the central riverfront there are several event lawns that not only offer more flexibility for programming, but also are more comfortable for event-goers than the hardscapes offered along Fifth Street.

Furthermore, while Cincinnatians have grown accustomed to the linear organization of these types of festivals, which may not be the best set-up for them. With the ability to shut down multiple streets at a time without causing problems for traffic flow, The Banks allows for a more district-oriented festival. This would allow people to more easily get from one spot to another, without needing to go back against the grain an entire four blocks to meet friends just arriving.

In addition to all of this, The Banks development and Smale Riverfront Park are only getting bigger. So as they expand over the coming years, so will the possibilities for both of these great festivals that help to define the spirit of Cincinnati and its people.

While the Cincinnati Streetcar may be sparking this conversation, the decision to move Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati to the central riverfront is clear on its own merits and should be seriously considered. Both continue to grow in popularity and set record crowds each year. At some point soon we are going to have to make a decision about how to accommodate these growing crowds.

Let’s allow our companies in the central business district to flourish without interruption, our transit systems to serve huge crowds at full capacity, and two of our greatest cultural festivals the ability to grow and prosper for generations to come. Move Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati off of Fifth Street and to the central riverfront.

Jake Robinson on His Hometown and Its Rapidly Changing Center City

NBC Universal reached out to UrbanCincy last week asking if we would be interested in conducting an interview with Jake Robinson – a Cincinnati native now living in New York City as a professional actor.

He stars in NBC’s new television series, American Odyssey, which follows the journey of a group of three strangers navigating their way through global politics, corporate espionage, and military secrets in an effort to uncover the truth behind an international conspiracy.

While UrbanCincy does not typically cover entertainment news, we wanted to take the opportunity to gauge Robinson’s thoughts on his hometown. The following interview was conducted by email and has been published with minor editing for formatting purposes.

Randy Simes: How would you describe your upbringing in Cincinnati? Did you visit the city all that often? What were your perceptions of the city?
Jake Robinson: My upbringing was very rural. I grew up in Maineville most of my life. My parents rented a house on an old Quaker property that had been part of the Underground Railroad. I had woods, ponds, streams, and rivers all within exploring distance from my house. It was an incredible place for me to stretch my imagination. I did not go to the city very often. Occasionally we would go for Reds games or to the library, which was my favorite place to be. But the city itself always felt really big and intimidating to me.

RS: Do you have any notable memories of city life in Cincinnati that stand out from your time growing up here? If so, please explain one that really stands out to you.
JR: The one that stands out the most to me was getting to play peewee football at Paul Brown. The stadium had just opened and I remember being totally awestruck when I walked onto that field.

RS: How much do you stay engaged with what is happening in Cincinnati these days?
JR: I still listen to high school football games and follow Cincinnati sports. Also a lot of my family is still in Cincinnati. My brother and his wife are both professors at UC. Everyone that is still there is very involved with the community. So whenever I come home we are always talking about what’s happening in and around the city.

RS: A lot has changed in Cincinnati over the past several years. From when you grew up in the area, Over-the-Rhine and the central riverfront may now be entirely unrecognizable to you. What do you think about the changes that have taken place?
JR: I am so incredibly excited about the changes that Cincinnati has gone through. Downtown is now a destination for me. Whether it’s Fountain Square, The Banks or OTR, the entire city has a new life to it. I always tell my parents if I could do what I do in Cincinnati, I would move back. My two favorites are Rhinegeist and Senate.

RS: While living in NYC, is there anything specific that you miss about your hometown?
JR: I always miss the people, particularly my family. There is a way of life that’s really special in Cincinnati it’s why people keep coming back to the city. I have many friends who have returned to Cincinnati to settle down.

RS: Late last year Cincinnati business and community leaders went on a week-long trip to NYC to showcase Cincinnati’s arts and business prowess. Did you engage with anyone or any of the events at that time?
JR: I went to the May Festival concert at Carnegie Hall because my uncle was involved in the chorus, but I did not get engage with anyone else or any of the other events at the time.

RS: More and more films are selecting Cincinnati as a location for filming in recent years. There are varying reasons for this, but what would you think of being offered the opportunity to perform in something filmed locally?
JR: Cincinnati has done a great job encouraging film makers to come to the city. I think it has a wonderful history and that is a major draw for people. I would be so honored and thrilled to do a project locally. It is definitely a goal for me going forward.

RS: If there is one thing about your experience living elsewhere that you would like to see in Cincinnati, what would that be?
JR: Public transit and transportation in general. Updating and bringing more carriers to CVG, as well as improving suburb to downtown public transit and commute times. I think this is key in continuing to see growth in the downtown area.

RS: Cincinnatians are famous for their TV viewing habits. With this in mind, are you or any of your friends/family planning any special viewing parties/events?
JR: I actually threw the first episode viewing party in NYC, but I know my parents religiously watch the show. I hope everyone is tuning into the show. NBC has some really impressive programming right now and American Odyssey is a big part of it. You can catch up on the show on Hulu or NBC On Demand.

RS: What attracted you to this role in American Odyssey?
JR: The script was the single most important thing when picking this project. I loved how fast-paced and intense it was. Reading it had me on the edge of my seat and watching it has me even more engaged.

RS: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what is your favorite Cincinnati-style chili?
JR: Skyline all the way.

For those interested in watching the new series, you can catch it Sunday nights at 10pm ET on NBC.

PHOTOS: Construction Continues to Transform Cincinnati’s Central Riverfront

The changes early phases of The Banks and Smale Riverfront Park brought to Cincinnati’s central waterfront were remarkable to many lifelong Cincinnatians. In fact, when UrbanCincy showed those dramatic changes through Google Street View imagery last year many were stunned.

Those changes, however, were just the beginning. Work has progressed rapidly on the subsequent phases of work at The Banks and Smale Riverfront Park. The structures and final look of this work is now taking shape and is easily visible.

Much of the work at Smale Riverfront Park will be complete within the next month or so; then the next wave of activity will begin and continue to push the park westward toward its ultimate completion several years later. The second phase of The Banks, which includes 60,000 square feet of street-level retail, 300 apartments and General Electric’s 340,000-square-foot Global Operations Center, is scheduled for completion at the end of 2015. The complete build out of GE’s new $90 million office building will not be fully finished until sometime in 2016.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 15 photographs in this gallery were taken by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy on April 12, 2015.