CINCINNATI -- The Hamilton County Commissioners and a Cincinnati City Council committee both voted unanimously on Monday to allow the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to build a concert venue at The Banks.
Their votes put an end to years of speculation about who will build a concert venue along the city’s riverfront and bring much-needed foot traffic to The Banks.
The deal still has to face a vote at the Cincinnati City Council meeting on Wednesday, which will likely be a formality considering the measure’s universal support.
From the beginning, the CSO and its music management firm MEMI had a hometown advantage in its bid to build a $19.25 million concert venue.
But city and county leaders say they voted for CSO because it had the best design, preserved acres of riverfront land as public space, and had a history of paying good wages and working with unions.
The one remaining criticism – that MEMI would not pay admission tax -- was suddenly removed on Monday when president Mike Smith told city leaders that his group would pay an estimated $300,000 each year in tax, regardless of its nonprofit status.
"If PromoWest was submitting some clearly better proposal, which they are not, then there may be some room for debate,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said.
Scott Stienecker, CEO of Columbus-based PromoWest, which also owns Bunbury Music Fesitival in Cincinnati, showed a seven-minute video of the indoor-outdoor concert venue and hip musical talent he could bring here.
But city council appeared unmoved. They were more focused on PromoWest’s battles with stage hand unions in Columbus and Pittsburgh.
"Very few things matter more than how we treat workers,” Councilman Greg Landsman said.
In May, the Joint Banks Steering Committee recommended the CSO/MEMI proposal to build the concert venue.
But city and county leaders had final say.
Hamilton County Commissioners unanimously approved the CSO proposal on Monday morning, while acknowledging that bigger details such as site location and a financing package would be decided later.
Also at issue is a parking garage for the concert venue. Mayor John Cranley is questioning whether the city should spend $10 million on a new parking garage because, under an agreement with Hamilton County, the city won't get to keep any of the parking revenue.
And perhaps the biggest obstacle in moving forward for the concert venue is the Bengals.
Cincinnati Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething, in a memo released last week, said the Bengals have a right to veto the project.
But Hamilton County Board of Commissioners president Todd Portune downplayed the rumor the Bengals would veto the deal because it would interfere with tailgating space.
“There is no Bengals veto looming,” Portune said. “They don’t have the ability to outright veto the decision that we have made.”
Portune even came to city council before their 7-0 vote to assure city leaders that the Bengals would not interfere.
“We certainly recognize the importance to the team of tailgating ... but the reality is there is nothing in the lease that speaks to tailgating," Portune says.
Councilman Chris Seelbach said the city could play hardball with the Bengals, if necessary, by enforcing open container laws on tailgaters.
"We at the county don't feel it's necessary to play hardball on this issue,” Portune said. “The Bengals have not threatened to veto. Frankly, they can't veto."
Portune wants the concert venue open by the fall of 2019 to bring more than 300,000 new visitors to The Banks each year.