WCPO Exclusive: Reds owner talks about his role in luring GE to The Banks

Bob Castellini: I was a great cheerleader

CINCINNATI - Cincinnati Reds owner Bob Castellini downplayed his role in bringing General Electric’s U.S. Shared Services Center to the Banks.

But Castellini was the first person Ohio Gov. John Kasich called when GE expressed interest in relocating the center in Ohio.

“I was a great cheerleader,” Castellini said in a brief and exclusive interview with WCPO after watching city and county officials approve incentives for the project.

“It was wonderful to watch,” he said. “It’s just a marvelous testimony of our ability to, when we work together, get things done.”

Cincinnati and Hamilton County cobbled together incentives worth up to $66 million to convince GE to bring a $90 million office building and $142 million in annual payroll to the Banks. A study performed by the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center projected the project will generate an annual economic impact of more than $1 billion – mostly from the creation of 1,961 indirect jobs created by companies that sell products and services to GE and its new employees.

GE received a state incentive package worth $51.6 million when it agreed to locate at least 1,400 jobs in the Cincinnati area. The company looked at two sites in Mason and another in Oakley before announcing the Banks decision Monday. In the last two months, the company has said the new center housing IT, human resources and accounting employees could eventually grow to 2,500 employees. Its deal with the city and county promises at least 1,800 jobs at the Banks by 2018, a work force that will remain in Cincinnati for at least 18 years.

In exchange, Cincinnati City Council approved a job creation tax credit worth $38.8 million over 15 years. It provides a rebate for 85 percent of all city income tax generated on new jobs at the site.

The city also agreed to a 75 percent property tax abatement worth $12.5 million for GE’s 10-story office building.

Hamilton County Commissioners agreed to a 30 percent parking discount on up to 2,000 spaces for G.E. employees. That perk is worth an estimated $15 million.

In recent weeks, there has been speculation that GE was leaning toward a less expensive site at Oakley Station, but political pressures – applied by Castellini and others – led the company to select The Banks.

A GE executive who will run the new shared services center said that speculation was incorrect. GE’s analysis “literally went up to today,” said Joe Allen, product support systems leader at GE Aviation.

“We went in with an open mind,” Allen added. “It wasn’t the cheapest but the attractiveness” of the site won the day. Allen said The Banks site will be the best at attracting millennial talent and empty nesters who want to work for GE.

“What we’re doing is very transformational in terms of the way we operate at GE,” Allen said. “What you’re seeing down here is transformational for the city. So, it just makes sense to be a part of that.”

Attorney Tom Gabelman, who negotiated the incentive agreement on behalf of Hamilton County, said GE’s involvement will make it possible to “build out the balance of The Banks” within six years. Gabelman said increased parking revenue will make it possible to fund additional garages, while GE’s presence will make the rest of The Banks more attractive to office and hotel users.

“You’ve got an office pad that’s been sitting there vacant now for three years. People are going to want to come downtown and locate proximate to GE,” Gabelman said. “The hotel? You’ve got 1800 employees right there within a couple blocks. The hotel is a certainty now. We’re going to get it done. It’s going to make a huge, huge difference.”

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley both thanked Bob Castellini for his work in landing GE.

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Gabelman said the Reds owner was the first person Kasich called when GE expressed interest in placing its shared services center in Ohio.

As Chairman of the Joint Banks Steering Committee, Castellini is “very good about getting people around the table, bringing things to light, finding common ground and getting things done,” Gabelman said. “That’s the role he has played very well with the Banks working group, the joint steering committee and he was the one the governor called when GE showed interest in Ohio.”

Neither Gabelman nor Castellini would say specifically what steps Castellini took to lure GE to the Banks.

But Castellini made it clear that the job isn’t done.

“This is our living room,’ he said.  “When does a wife ever stop redecorating her living room?”