CINCINNATI -- Remember the last Katy Perry concert in Cincinnati?
Trick question. You wouldn't because she's never performed here. Neither has Adele.
Just ask college students at the University of Cincinnati about the hottest acts in music these days, and many will shake their heads at concerts they'd only dream about seeing in the Tri-State.
"I'm always having to go to Columbus to see the concerts," said student Michael Stanwick.
The list of big musical acts skipping Cincinnati in their most recent tours is long and getting longer. Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Pink, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Madonna and The Eagles skipped Cincinnati in the past two years, according to Travis Jackson, marketing director of local ticket broker 333Seat.com.
"They won't come here," he said, noting top-tier acts want top-tier arenas.
Riverbend Music Center is too small for them, Jackson said, yet Great American Ball Park is too large (unless you're Beyonce and Jay Z in 2014 or Paul McCartney in 2011). Another unpredictable issue is weather at the Reds stadium since it's not climate-controlled.
“Justin Timberlake, for example, is doing only arena tours, so that limits Great American or Paul Brown (Stadium). And he looks at Indianapolis or Columbus and says, 'Yeah I’m not going there,” Jackson said.
Indianapolis, Columbus and Cleveland all have newer, 20,000-capacity arenas with the amenities stars and fans want, as opposed to the 45-year-old U.S. Bank Arena with its tight seats and concourses.
Michael Stanwick said he frequently travels to Columbus for concerts but agrees it would be more fun to have stars come to the Queen City.
It's been 20 years since the last major upgrade of U.S. Bank Arena, but its owners tell WCPO that another update with new bathrooms and seats won't change anything.
"The design of the facility doesn't lend itself to a refitting," said Ray Harris, chief operating officer of Nederlander Entertainment, the Detroit-based company that owns U.S. Bank Arena. “What does it take to get Justin Timberlake or Taylor Swift here? We have been very aggressive with the facility. We just don’t have the capacity they need to attract them. There are so many facilities out there they can play."
Luxury suites are a major part of modern arenas because of the income they bring in. Harris said Cincinnati's skyboxes don't work anymore.
"Our suites, we have 39 of them, all up top. All the new construction has premium seats on the lower lever," Harris said.
A walk through U.S. Bank Arena's offices is a time-warp back to the 1980s with photos of '80s superstars visiting during their prime.
Nederlander has a solution: Last year, it proposed a major rebuild of U.S. Bank Arena, built atop its existing foundation to save money. Harris said it could even bring political conventions and the NCAA basketball tournament to Cincinnati alongside more concerts.
"We can deliver a facility with 19,000 seats with all the amenities people expect in a major market today," Harris said.
Just one small problem stands between today's U.S. Bank Arena and that dream future: the cost.
Nederland is asking for $350 million in taxpayer money. To foot the bill, they've proposed that Hamilton County extend the Museum Center sales tax. Nederlander would then turn over ownership to the Port of Cincinnati.
However, county commissioners have given the proposal a cold reception.
“We have a lot of priorities in front of us. We have more projects than we have money," said Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune.
Cincinnati City Hall hasn't endorsed the idea either. So for now, if you want to see J.T. or T.Swift, you're going to have to drive a couple of hours as our obsolete arena drives more and more big acts to other cities.
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