Future plans for the next phase of The Banks should become clear in early 2017 as leaders finalize whether a new concert venue, a university law school and for-sale housing could be possible along Cincinnati’s riverfront.
PromoWest Productions – the operator of the Bunbury and Buckle Up music festivals – has been trying for three years to build an indoor and outdoor concert venue in Cincinnati, and spent roughly $100,000 on building drawings.
And yet CEO Scott Stienecker still has no idea where the project stands.
“Last I knew we had a design that worked down there and we had come up with potential deal that would work for everyone,” Stienecker said when WCPO contacted him last week. “Then, for some reason the county went radio silent.”
Stienecker isn’t the only one who is frustrated by the lack of news about future development at The Banks. When WCPO reached out to several city and county leaders, none of them had any new information.
“I honestly don’t know anything firsthand,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. “My impression is that it’s a lack of transparency, coupled with a policy decision by the majority of the board not to be in control or in charge (of The Banks).”
Portune put blame on the Republican-controlled board for that lack of transparency and updates on projects such as the concert venue.
Hamilton County Commission President Chris Monzel told WCPO that questions surrounding the feasibility of a concert venue at The Banks still remain. And, simply put, the venue hasn’t been a top priority for the commissioners.
“From an urgency standpoint, with prioritization, it’s not something that’s up there at this time,” Monzel said.
Portune has been the lone Democrat on the commission but he’s promising big changes once the majority swings to his party next month.
“One of the things I’m going to do to get started is to have a broad, general update to the board and to the general public as to what are all the outstanding issues with regards to The Banks,” Portune said.
What’s next for The Banks?
A detailed plan for the next phase of The Banks -- south of General Electric’s Global Operations Center -- should be finalized by early next year, said Tom Gabelman, the lead attorney representing the county at The Banks.
Planning for this next phase is much like a game of musical chairs, trying to balance retail, apartments and possible for-sale housing.
The Banks Steering Committee, a group of high-profile community and business leaders appointed by city and county leadership, is in the midst of deciding where new developments will fit in best. Gabelman points to an international group recognizing The Banks as its “Best Social Infrastructure Project of the Year” in October as proof that careful planning along the riverfront pays off.
That includes figuring out where – and if – University of Cincinnati’s law school and an indoor and outdoor concert venue might work.
“It takes a lot of time to put all those pieces together,” Gabelman said. “When we do something on that riverfront, we want it to have long-term sustainability.”
Despite efforts by top business leaders to persuade UC to build a new law school at The Banks, the university’s board of trustees voted down the idea in a split decision in August.
It is unknown whether that decision may be revisited once board leadership changes take place in January and Chairman Rob Richardson’s term ends.
Meanwhile Stienecker is still waiting to hear whether he can build a concert pavilion at The Banks.
After building his first indoor and outdoor concert pavilion in Columbus in 2001, and another near Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in 2010, he turned his attention to Cincinnati in 2013.
“We draw 350,000 people to our pavilions,” Stienecker said. “All those restaurants and bars at The Banks that are looking for bodies, we would have drawn 350,000.”
PromoWest’s idea is to build a 2,400-person indoor facility and a 5,000-person outdoor facility at The Banks. Bigger shows would play outside during summer, while the venue would host smaller shows the rest of the year.
Over the years, Stienecker said he has been turned down twice to build at different locations at The Banks.
Now the steering committee is considering a new location for a concert venue – south of Paul Brown stadium.
Stienecker submitted a design plan earlier this year but was forced to redo it in order to make his facility longer and narrower so it would fit within the flood plain and not extend into the flood way.
Gabelman liked the new plans, Stienecker said, and told him he would contact city zoning to see what sort of building material should be used.
That was seven weeks ago, and Stienecker has heard nothing since.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is also proposing its own concert venue on the riverfront. Those are the only two companies currently interested in such a project at The Banks, Gabelman said.
Gabelman expects to have more answers on the concert venue when new, detailed development plans are ready early next year.
“We would love to have it as a part of The Banks project,” Gabelman said. “To have it on the riverfront is key. We think it would have a real, positive impact on everything that happens here.”
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is a nonprofit operating two music venues – PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center in Anderson Township and the Taft Theater in Cincinnati -- that might face increased competition if a new concert venue came to town.
Mayor John Cranley would like to see a concert venue at The Banks, but doesn’t have a preference on who builds it and said he believes that competition is good.
“I continue to believe it would add vibrancy to Downtown and The Banks,” Cranley. “The site is a county owned site. The decision will ultimately be made by the county commissioners and I’m cautiously optimistic they intend to pursue it.”