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Development News

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.

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Development News

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.

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Arts & Entertainment News

PHOTOS: Huge Crowds Turn Out for 96th Findlay Market Opening Day Parade

Everyone knows by now that Opening Day in Cincinnati is like none other. The activities start at 5am and last all day, and into the late hours of the night. Yesterday’s events were no different and were only aided by a dramatic late-inning win by the Reds over the Pirates.

It also seems that the dramatic revitalization of Downtown and Over-the-Rhine are fueling the excitement and turnout on Opening Day. In addition to Fountain Square, which has historically been the central gathering point for the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, scores of spectators now also gather at The Banks and Washington Park. In fact, all along the route crowds were regularly six to eight people deep.

As investment is only just now starting to flow to the area surrounding Findlay Market, and work on the second phase of The Banks still underway, there is no telling how much bigger the festivities and crowds can get.

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Development News

Will AC Hotels by Marriott Open Second Regional Location at The Banks?

The Banks development team is close to finally securing a hotel at the multi-billion dollar development, according to multiple sources close to the project. After years of failed starts and negotiations, UrbanCincy has learned that AC Hotels by Marriott is the hotel now being eyed for the prominent central riverfront location.

The news is yet to be officially announced or confirmed by The Banks development team, but UrbanCincy has confirmed the information over the last week with individuals who have requested to remain anonymous due to the ongoing negotiations taking place.

The understanding is that construction could begin prior to the All-Star Game in July.

The news comes after AC Hotels backed out of a deal at the former School for Creative and Performing Arts in Pendleton. Had that deal moved forward, it would have put it on track to be one of the boutique hotel’s first locations in North America, after establishing itself as a household name in Europe.

According to those sources close to the project, the AC Hotel at The Banks would be a seven-story structure with a rooftop bar named AC Lounge. Once open the hotel, which is expected to have between 150 to 200 rooms, would be managed by Cincinnati-based Winegardner & Hammons, which has close relationships with Marriott and Western & Southern, and has overseen the development of numerous hotels in the region.

According to Winegardner & Hammons’ most recent company report, they also recently signed a contract to manage an AC Hotel in Louisville that is scheduled to break ground in August of this year.

AC Hotels announced their aggressive North American expansion plans in 2013, and opened their first hotel in New Orleans in December 2014. After plans were scuttled for the SCPA project, developers at the $350 million Liberty Center announced that a 130-room AC Hotel would open there in late 2015.

Senior management at Marriott International says that AC Hotels is one of their select-service brands and targets a young clientele seeking a “design-led sensibility.” Overall, Marriott’s president and CEO, Arne Sorenson, says that AC Hotels has some 50 development deals signed nationwide, with dozens more in the works.

In an interview with Hotel News Now, Sorenson specifically identified North Carolina and the Midwest as opportunity markets.

In perhaps a view into one of the reasons behind the failed deal at the former SCPA in Pendleton, Sorenson also told Hotel News Now that the vast majority of the deals AC Hotels has in the pipeline are new construction. In fact, aside from the New Orleans project, he said that only one other project was a conversion.

AC Hotels include more European design influences and place a focus on sleek, tech-focused accommodations that appeal to Millennials. In addition to the rooftop AC Lounge, the new location at The Banks would likely include a communal working space, two to three meeting spaces, and a mixture of one- and two-bed guest rooms.

One of the company’s standard approaches is to locate in vibrant urban areas where significant activity already exists. Hotel management says this is to encourage guests to go outside of the hotel and patronize area businesses. To help further encourage that, most AC Hotels do not include an in-house restaurant, and instead allocate more area for public spaces where guests can mingle and interact with their surroundings.

It is not yet known where exactly the hotel will be located at The Banks, but it is assumed to be targeted for the long-vacant placeholder site along Main Street across from Great American Ball Park, which also happens to be located directly on the Cincinnati Streetcar‘s starter line.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Representatives with The Banks development team did not respond to UrbanCincy’s request for comment; however, sources say an official announcement is expected within the coming weeks. We will update this story with more information as it becomes available.

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Development News

Latest Excavation Work at Smale Riverfront Park Creates Beach Along Ohio River

Great weather seems to always bring great news for construction projects, and this is the case in the latest project update for Cincinnati’s $120 million Smale Riverfront Park.

In the video, project manager Dave Prather points out that the structure enclosing Carol Ann’s Carousel now has its roof decking and framing in place, with the glass wall panels being readied for installation soon. Prather further showed where the elevator shaft has been completed and the large skylight that will form the roof of the building, thus allowing for a flood of natural light inside.

“Keep an eye on this side, it’s really gonna have a transformation” Prather noted. “But right now you can get a sense of how open the structure is.”

Since the last project update, the cascade water features and light fixtures are now in place at the Vine Street Fountain & Steps, which mirror the setup at the already complete Main Street Fountain & Steps. The area is now just awaiting the installation of its granite surface.

One of the more interesting elements of this project update is the excavation work at the river’s edge to make way for the Great Lawn. Now virtually complete, the excavation work as created a beach of sorts going directly into the Ohio River. The completion of this work has also opened up a variety of new views of the Roebling Suspension Bridge that were not previously visible.

Prather then discussed a wall that is now in place along the river bank where the riverwalk will continue from already completed portions of the sprawling park.

“We are now able to connect with the river in a way never had before,” Prather noted proudly.

All components of the current phase of construction work are still anticipated to be completed in late spring or early summer ahead of the 2015 MLB All-Star Game to be held at Great American Ball Park.