Bengals officials and Hamilton County administrators have come together on an agreement that paves the way for General Electric Co. and as many as 2,000 employees to move to the banks of the Ohio River within three years.
Both sides announced Wednesday a series of concessions, modifications and amendments to preexisting deals regarding restrictions to construction projects at The Banks in exchange for the right to make tens of millions of dollars worth of upgrades at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals can also participate in a handful NFL games scheduled overseas, per the new deal.
“We are grateful to the state, the county and the city for their hard work in attracting GE to Southwest Ohio,” said Bengals president Mike Brown.
Brown's thanks is directed toward Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann (R) and Todd Portune (D) who signed off on the deal. Republican Chris Monzel, a GE Aviation employee, abstained from the vote.
"It's been a rocky relationship between the county and the Bengals in the past but I think we can put that behind us now," Hartmann said. "I'm thrilled about this new partnership and agreement."
While the team had the restrictions placed in the contract to protect Cincinnati's skyline and river views of and from the stadium, Brown said the importance of the project was in the best interest of all parties involved.
“We wanted to demonstrate our interest in working together to ensure that The Banks is a viable location for this project," Brown said. "We all know that the Cincinnati area is a great place to live and work. Landing this project will let the nation know it as well.”
Hartmann said the deal was necessary in order to make The Banks a viable option for GE, which is requiring groups interested in housing the company's proposed multi-use facility to submit an application by Friday.
It was announced in early April that General Electric, which has facilities in Evendale and West Chester, will bring its payroll and other company functions from around the country to a single site in Cincinnati within three years. The new facility will house at least 1,400 people, GE officials said.
The Banks and sites in Mason and the Oakley/Norwood area are also under consideration. GE officials haven't set a timetable for their decision on a location for the new facility.
The football club's decision to waive height restrictions at the riverfront development will allow construction on Phase IIA of The Banks projects to commence. That includes nearly 300 new apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space that can now be built to upwards of 12 to 14 stories high.
While he wouldn't release details about the specific requirements listed in the application, Hartmann said if the Bengals didn't decide to remove a height restriction from their contract with the county, which owns the stadium, the application for The Banks location couldn't have moved forward.
“We are very pleased with today’s development because it enables the next phase of The Banks to move forward," Scott Stringer, executive vice president of the real estate development group behind the project, Carter . "We look forward to continuing to make The Banks Cincinnati’s premier place in which to live, work and play.”
Funding for the deal is expected to clear next week and groundbreaking on the project could begin by early May, Stringer said.
In return for the concessions, the NFL franchise is allowed to undertake several million dollars worth of enhancements to PBS, which is only a few blocks from The Banks. The Bengals will also be allowed to play in two NFL International Series games every five years, according to Hartmann.
Renovation proposals in the past derailed due to disagreements over who should pay for them. Now, the Bengals will contribute $6 million toward the stadium projects and improvements.
“Quietly, we have been working with the county on a cooperative basis for several years,” Brown said. “Today, with the announcement of our financial participation in several stadium upgrades, we are able to take that cooperation to a new level and put behind us matters that in the past might have turned into battles."
The most prominent enhancements are $10 million worth of video scoreboards. The cost will be split 75/25 between the county and the Bengals.
Also, the county and Bengals are sharing in the cost of installing stadium-wide Wi-Fi, to improve the ability of fans to use smartphones at the venue, starting as early as this coming season. The team initially will fund the total cost and allow the county to spread out partial repayment over several years, according to the Bengals.
Additionally, the Bengals will pick up entirely the approximately $1
million cost of new furniture in the Club Lounges.
The final Paul Brown Stadium improvement in the package will see the Bengals invest almost $2 million in improving team facilities at PBS. But that will be funded outright by the organization.
"These new improvements allow Paul Brown Stadium to remain an exciting place for local fans, and the Bengals are happy to contribute to getting them done,” Brown said.