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The Banks committee met secretly Wednesday to discuss Cincinnati riverfront concert venue

The Banks committee met secretly Wednesday to discuss Cincinnati riverfront concert venue
Posted at 8:00 AM, Apr 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-26 15:50:08-04

CINCINNATI -- The public group charged with making decisions on The Banks project met in secret Wednesday to discuss a concert venue on the riverfront.

The committee did not give the public advance notice of the meeting, where members discussed the future of The Banks, a project that taxpayers own and have spent more than $135 million to build.

The group – called the Joint Banks Steering Committee – is made up of Cincinnati power players, including the owners of the Cincinnati Bengals and the Reds. Both sports teams play in stadiums on the riverfront.

Cincinnati City Council and the Hamilton County Commission appoint members to the commission, making it a public body that must adhere to Ohio’s open meeting laws. State law requires public bodies give notice 24 hours before meetings.

The Banks Steering Committee met at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Cincinnati Red's front office, committee member Charlie Luken confirmed via text message.

In an interview Wednesday, Mayor John Cranley also mentioned the group met Wednesday morning.

Who sits on The Joint Banks Steering Committee?

Bob Castellini, President of the Cincinnati Reds
Katie Blackburn, Executive Vice President of the Cincinnati Bengals
Tom Gabelman, Hamilton County’s counsel for The Banks project
Charlie Luken, former Cincinnati Mayor
Robert Richardson, Sr., president of the Cincinnati NAACP
Robert Rhein, CEO of Rhein Interests, a land development company
Stephen Leeper, President of Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC)
Steven Love, President of SRL Consulting Inc., an economic inclusion services company

Tom Gabelman, the private attorney who represents the county on The Banks project, acknowledge a meeting took place Wednesday but called it an "information gathering session" permissible under Ohio law. No discussions or deliberations are supposed to take place during those meetings. 

Gabelman said a public meeting to discuss the concert venue will be scheduled for sometime next week. 

For years, the Banks Steering Committee has operated under a veil of secrecy. Anexclusive WCPO investigation revealed that public leaders knew little about when the Banks Steering committee meets or how the taxpayer-funded project is advancing. In 2015, an Enquirer reporter was kicked out of a Banks Steering Committee meeting.

In an email Wednesday afternoon, WCPO asked public leaders to explain why the public was not given advance notice of the meeting.

WCPO emailed Hamilton County Administrator Jeff Aluotto, Hamilton County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Roger Friedmann and Gabelman. 

None immediately provided a reasoning Wednesday.  

The Banks Steering Committee is responsible for recommending a concert venue developer and a new master developer for the project.

A decision on the concert venue developer is expected in early May and a master developer will be recommended later this year.