Leaders at The Banks seek developer to build concert venue on Cincinnati's riverfront

Posted at 8:43 PM, Jan 23, 2018

CINCINNATI -- Leaders in charge of The Banks project have been in talks with two major players interested in building a concert venue on the riverfront. 

A new concert venue could draw as many as 300,000 visitors to the banks of the Ohio Riverevery year, creating a steady crowd of foot traffic for the restaurants and bars that have settled at The Banks.

Columbus-based concert promoter PromoWest Productions and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra both have interest in constructing the entertainment center. 

“We’ve been talking with, and had discussions with, primarily two entities – both based in Ohio,” Tom Gabelman, the attorney who represents the county on The Banks project, said Tuesday.  

Private developers are expected to kick in between $12 to $25 million for the project. Meanwhile, the county has requested $5 million in state funding to build a parking garage to support the new venue. 

The new center is expected to bring as many as 180 shows and events to the city every year. 

Both PromoWest and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra have a history of building and operating music venues. 

PromoWest built and runs popular indoor-outdoor concert venues in Pittsburgh and Columbus. 
Meanwhile, the CSO runs Riverbend Music Center as well as Music Hall in Cincinnati, and Rose Music Center in a suburb of Dayton. 

PromoWest first pitched the idea of building a concert venue in Cincinnati two years ago. 

PromoWest CEO Scott Stienecker confirmed in an email to WCPO that he plans to submit a bid for the project. 

County and city taxpayers jointly own The Banks’ land, and a request for developers to submit a proposal for building the concert venue will be released for public consideration on Feb. 1. 

On Tuesday, the Banks Steering Committee --a group of Cincinnati power players that guides development at The Banks – approved the request for concert venue proposals. 

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

Hamilton County Commissioners are expected to sign off on that document Wednesday, and Cincinnati City Council will need to approve it as well. 

A developer for the concert venue could be selected as soon as April. 

The new concert venue will have an indoor stage, Gabelman added. That will help draw crowds to The Banks during winter months, when the Reds and the Bengals are not playing. 

The venue, which would host events multiple times a week, would also be a crucial way to bring in foot traffic during weekdays. 

“That simply doesn’t happen right now -- especially in the off-season between October and March, other than the Bengals games and (U.S. Bank) Arena events,” Gabelman said.

An exact location for the venue hasn’t been decided, Gabelman said. 

In a request for state funding, however, the county listed a current parking lot that sits west of Paul Brown Stadium as a potential site for the new venue. 

Tuesday was a rare occurrence for the Banks Steering Committee, which has only met twice in the public eye since 2015. 

WCPO first reported that the committee had not met for more than two years and unearthed, unbeknownst to the public, that the developer in charge of The Banks had missed key deadlines – twice – to start a new phase of the project. 

But Tuesday’s meeting was a stark contrast for the committee. 

Several local media outlets attended the meeting, and Steering Committee Chairman Bob Castellini, who also owns the Cincinnati Reds, invited questions from the public and reporters – several times. 

The county and city finalized a divorce from the former master developer for the project in July. 

Now, the county and city are on the hunt for a new developer. 

The steering committee also agreed on a request for proposal for new developers to oversee the project Tuesday. 

Much of the land west of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center remains undeveloped. 

Leaders will consider multiple developers to finish that area of The Banks. 

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley told WCPO in an interview earlier this month he would prefer multiple developers to oversee the site. 

The Atlanta-based master developer of The Banks, who left the project in July, had complete control of The Banks for nearly a decade. 

Steve Leeper, the president of downtown revitalization group 3CDC and a member of the steering committee, said Tuesday he has concerns about one developer taking over The Banks again. 

“Especially with a master developer, I feel a little concerned about that, given the relationship we had with the last one,” Leeper said.  

Developers for the entire Banks project should be selected by June.