Project Officials To Move Forward With Phase III of The Banks Ahead of Schedule

Business leaders and public officials from the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will gather tomorrow morning to celebrate the groundbreaking of the next phase of work at The Banks.

As has been done in the past at the massive central riverfront development, the first work to be done will be the construction of a public parking garage that will lift the project out of the Ohio River’s flood plain. From there, the existing public streets surrounding the project site will be extended to frame the block.

While the event is being touted as a groundbreaking ceremony, workers from Prus Construction and Beaty Construction began mobilizing on the site to perform preparation work. The news is a bit of a departure from previous announcements that said construction work would hold off until the close of the Bengals season in order to preserve parking for tailgaters at Paul Brown Stadium.

In this particular phase of work, project officials say that 690 parking spaces will be built on two levels that will be connected with the rest of the underground parking deck at The Banks, which has been casually described as one of the largest underground parking structures in North America.

This $29.3 million effort is being jointly funded by the City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, and the State of Ohio’s Jobs Ohio program. Representatives from the various public agencies funding the project say that it will create an estimated 200 jobs, with at least 30% of the contract totals spent with Small Business Enterprises.

Such a claim for small business inclusion is on-target for what the project has been delivering thus far. As of June 2015, the latest reporting date, The Banks has had an average of 36% small business participation and approximately 17.5% minority and female workforce participation.

Nearby work continues on the private sector vertical construction of Radius, a 291-unit apartment midrise with 19,000 square feet of street-level retail, and the 340,000-square-foot General Electric Global Operations Center.

Once these two phases of work are complete, it will allow for the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park to move forward, and will set the stage for private real estate development south of Freedom Way and in between Race and Vine Streets.

So far, Carter USA and the Dawson Company have yet to reveal what will ultimately be built on top of this latest garage extension, but most suspect it will be some combination of apartments and condominiums.

While The Banks has received much positive praise as of late, it has not come without its struggles. The retail in the first phase of the project continues to find its footing, and the area continues to struggle with a brand identity and architectural designs that people feel are worthy for the prominent piece real estate that this development occupies.

PHOTOS: The Impressive Impact of Smale Riverfront Park

There are dozens of development projects underway at any given time, but few have the opportunity to make a truly transformative impact. Smale Riverfront Park is one of those rare exceptions.

As UrbanCincy has chronicled in the past, the changes that have taken place along Cincinnati’s central riverfront over the past two decades have been truly remarkable. The consolidation and burial of Fort Washington Way. The construction of two behemoth stadiums, a world class museum and an entire new neighborhood. And now the opening up of the Ohio River through the redesigned riverbank and park.

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What was once an asphalt riverfront separated from the rest of the city by an inhospitable highway now the region’s central gathering place for tourists and a destination for everyone in the region looking to the river that gave the city its birth. The changes are breathtakingly wonderful.

Of course, there is nothing better than images to help visual such changes. Instead of posting photos of what the area was once like, as we have in the past, this collection of photos are from that past few weeks at Smale Riverfront Park’s latest addition, and its immediate surroundings.

Projects like this and Washington Park, which is currently hosting thousands of thrilled Cincinnatians as part of this year’s Lumenocity event, are the types of investments and projects that change a city. What’s even better is that they’re accessible to everyone.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 20 photographs were taken by Eric Anspach in July 2015.

VIDEO: Latest Phase of Work at Smale Riverfront Park Virtually Complete

Cincinnati Park officials have celebrated a string of openings at Smale Riverfront Park over the past month. While a few more openings remain, the vast majority of work in the latest major phase of the $120 million park is now essentially complete.

In the latest video update from project manager Dave Prather, he explains what all has taken place and what remains before work slows down considerably. At this point, Prather said, attention will turn to raising funds for the next wave of work, including the boat dock and western reaches of the 45-acre park.

The latest additions to the central riverfront park are more active than what has been developed so far. There are more of the popular family swings overlooking the river, an interactive foot piano, a flying pig playset, water pumps and channels, Carol Ann’s Carousel, and the P&G go Vibrantscape. Where railyards once existed, there are now even movable picnic tables sat atop rail ties.

Two of the larger features of the latest expansion are actually passive spaces. The Great Lawn is now nearly complete and the “beach” is in its early stages of formation. Once complete, visitors will be able to walk all the way down to the water’s edge, although this “beach” will not be made of sand due to the risk of erosion.

Two unique historical features are also part of this latest work. The first is a cornerstone marker in the middle of the Great Lawn that shows where the first addressed building in Cincinnati was situated. The second is a collection of foundation walls that were uncovered during the park’s excavation. These foundations, historians say, remain from 19th century buildings developed along the Ohio River.

This is expected to be the last video update from the Smale Riverfront Park development team for some time. As development at The Banks catches up, the park will soon be able to continue its westward expansion.

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.