New GE Global Operations Center already changing the culture of The Banks -- and that's a good thing

First of 2,000 employees have begun moving in
New GE Global Operations Center already changing the culture of The Banks -- and that's a good thing
Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-22 05:00:50-04

CINCINNATI -- That lunch line at Jimmy John's or Moerlein Lager House may be growing longer every day. There's also bound to be an uptick in traffic during the morning and evening rush. And passengers may soon discover that they'll have to scramble to secure a seat at The Banks end of the streetcar loop.

But for the City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County and the developers of The Banks, those minor inconveniences may prove to be irrefutable evidence that the biggest development project in the city's history -- estimated at more than $1 billion -- has the wind at its back.

After all, does anyone really want to dine out where half the tables are empty at 8 every Saturday evening?

A primary source of the increasing people pressure at The Banks is GE, the industrial and technology giant that began moving into its 12-story, 338,000-square-foot Global Operations Center at the corner of Second and Rosa Parks earlier this week.

Some 900 employees who had been in temporary offices at the Atrium buildings downtown are beginning to settle in, and GE plans to have about 2,000 people on the job in the center by the end of next year, said Arti Johri, who handles communications for GE.

These aren't burgers-and-fries jobs. The company said the average salary will be $79,000 per year and "…span a variety of functions, including accounting, finance, communications, customs, HR, IT, legal, logistics, supply chain and enterprise data management."

In some ways, the $90 million building has kind of redrawn the boundaries of the downtown business district, expanding it south toward the Ohio River shore.

"Nothing speaks to the city's renaissance more than 2,000 jobs on The Banks, which is a significant achievement of city-county cooperation and working with the governor's office to add vibrancy to the city," Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said Tuesday. "This (the GE building) helps us connect Downtown to the riverfront the same way the Smale Park does."

GE made it clear that it believes its decision to locate at The Banks has some special significance for the company.

"We chose The Banks because we had the opportunity to be an economic catalyst for the exciting development activities already underway along the riverfront and in downtown Cincinnati," Joe Allen, GE general manager for global operations in the U.S. and Canada, said in an email. "The Banks is a vibrant, 24/7, live-work-play community and the new "front door" to Cincinnati. It is a centerpiece of the city's re-vitalization efforts and provides many of the amenities that help us attract and retain top talent."

Allen said the company considered a long list of factors before deciding to build on The Banks. Criteria included "…cost, access to local talent, infrastructure and strategic appeal. The pool of local talent and long history between Ohio and GE were the most important factors in our decision to locate the Global Operations Center in Cincinnati. GE has a strong presence in Ohio across the state in GE Aviation, GE Lighting, and GE Power. A top GE priority is simplification and investing in the American workforce," Allen said.

A 2014 report by the Economics Center at the University of Cincinnati estimated that the GE office on The Banks would have an economic impact of $1 billion for Cincinnati and Hamilton County in 2018, which would have been the first full year for GE to have 1,800 employees at The Banks. But that impact figure is expected to increase, because GE now plans to have 2,000 people working at the center.

"GE provides the last pillar of the trifecta for The Banks as a place to live, work and play in a good mixed-use development," said Christopher Nicak, associate director of research for the Economics Center and one of the people who worked on the first of two studies about The Banks.

At this point, parking should not be an issue for GE employees or anyone else who lives, works or visits, said Jon Reischel, a spokesman for The Banks.

The underground parking garage for the project has 5,500 spaces and a ribbon-cutting was held early this month for the Central Riverfront Garage, which has an additional 710 spaces in what will be the foundation for another Banks building, Reischel said.

Besides office space, the GE building also will provide parking for a limited number of GE employees and some residents of the neighboring Radius at the Banks apartments. One of the first-floor tenants in the GE building is Taste of Belgium, a specialty waffle shop that is scheduled to open Oct. 1. Pies & Pints, which will offer “craft pizza and beer” on the ground level of the Radius building, plans to open in November, Reischel said.

Managers for a couple of other Banks restaurants made it clear that GE employees won't starve to death waiting for those two restaurants to open. They also made it clear that they relish the influx of GE employees. 

"We've already seen our business increase with a lot of people coming in with GE shirts and badges on," said Wade Macke, general manager of Jimmy John's.

"I've got a line out to my door right now," said Macke, whose restaurant seats about 45.

"We haven't seen a large increase in our business, but I think we'll see more as they begin to fill the office building," said Justin Weiner, general manager of the Moerlein Lager House, which can handle about 800 customers when the weather's mild and outdoor seating can be used. "We're really excited about GE coming here. It's going to be awesome for Downtown, all of the businesses in The Banks and the Moerlein Lager House."

Reischel rejected the notion that the University of Cincinnati's recent decision not to move its law school to The Banks might dampen enthusiasm for the project.

"It's not a setback because there are still so many opportunities to pursue. That was high-profile, so it got a lot of attention, but there are so many opportunities on the table right now that it allows The Banks to be selective," Reischel said.