Could Banks music venue be Downtown boon?

Posted at 6:00 AM, Jun 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-03 08:46:22-04

Three years. Five locations. $100,000 spent.

That best sums up Scott Stienecker’s struggle to build an indoor and outdoor concert pavilion in Cincinnati.

As CEO and president of Columbus-based PromoWest Productions, which operates Bunbury and Buckle Up music festivals in Cincinnati, Stienecker has been in the music business his whole life.

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, hoping to build at The Banks.

But it has been a slow, expensive process, with $100,000 spent on site drawings, and still no decision in sight, he said.

“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.”

An outdoor concert at Stage AE in Pittsburgh. Photo by PromoWest.

Interviews with Columbus and Pittsburgh tourism leaders back up Stienecker’s claims and place his concert pavilions at the heart of revitalized entertainment districts that have been a boon for both cities.

“Music and entertainment: You need that if you want to be a city that has a future. You need that if you’re going to stay relevant,” said Michael Brown, vice president of strategic development at Experience Columbus. “If you can get a partner like Stienecker’s team to put an anchor in, that adds a lot of value. Anybody can build a building, but his team actually curates quality music and events.”

PromoWest’s Express Live! pavilion was built in 2001 on the site of the razed original Ohio Penitentiary -- an area Brown described as, “a dark, creepy, dirty place.”

Now it is Columbus’ hippest arts and entertainment area, the Arena District, attracting more than a billion dollars in private investment since the concert pavilion was built, Brown said. 

“I’m perfectly happy for Cincinnati not to build it because folks 18 to 45 are going to come to Columbus and spend their money here,” Brown said. 

Stage AE located near Heinz Field in Pittsburgh is similar to the concert venue PromoWest wants to bring to The Banks in Cincinnati. Photo by PromoWest.

Craig Davis, president and CEO of Visit Pittsburgh, said that PromoWest’s concert venue in the revitalized North Shore near Heinz Stadium is a huge draw for millennials.

“They bring in some really good concerts,” Davis said. “They speak to that demographic -- to millennials, and that is, of course, the next generation that has money to spend. I do believe it would be a very positive thing for Cincinnati to have.”

What About Cincinnati?

Whether or not to bring an indoor and outdoor concert pavilion to Cincinnati has become somewhat of a sticky topic recently.

The idea came to light in January, after Mayor John Cranley touted it as a way to enhance the vibrancy of the city.

He liked PromoWest’s idea: 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.

But the idea wasn’t without critics.

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.

“CSO was not happy that PromoWest was being given an opportunity to bid on the arena,” Cranley said. “I said from beginning that instead of complaining about others, they should put together their own bid to compete.”

Now they apparently are.

Tom Gabelman, a member of The Banks steering committee and lawyer at one of the city’s largest firms, Frost, Brown Todd, said leaders at The Banks are considering at least two proposals -- one from PromoWest and one from CSO -- to develop a concert venue along the city's riverfront. 

CSO declined to comment on any plans to build a riverfront concert venue.


Inside Express Live! in Columbus. Photo by PromoWest.

When Stienecker learned that CSO is now competing to build an indoor and outdoor venue, he didn’t mince words.

“I have spent three years dealing with this; now they have somebody else who wants to build it,” Stienecker said.

Concerts at The Banks?

Over the years, Stienecker said he has been turned down twice to build at different locations at The Banks. He also considered sites near Montgomery Inn Boathouse and the old Milacron factory site in Oakley.

He’s also heard mixed messages from The Banks' leaders who, at one point, told him his concert plan was nixed.

“The mayor has been great, (Cincinnati Parks Director) Willie Carden has been great … the fall down has been this mysterious secret The Banks Steering Committee,” Stienecker said.

That suddenly changed last week, when WCPO Insider asked questions about the PromoWest proposal.

“PromoWest is certainly being considered,” Gableman told WCPO last week.

However, now the committee is considering a new location – south of Paul Brown stadium and further away from the condos, hotels and the new General Electric Co.’s Global Operations Center – for the concert venue.

The new location would block noise from disturbing residents and employees working at The Banks, said Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel.

Yet Brown said noise has not been an issue near Express Live! in Columbus.

“They’re building million-dollar condos … less than a block and a half away,” Brown said. “I have heard of no noise complaints downtown.”

A Spot for Millennials

Don DePerro, CEO of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, often sees long lines of young people waiting for a show at Express Live!

“My kids are 24, 23 and 19 and I can’t tell you how many concerts they’ve gone to at that pavilion,” DePerro said. “You’ve got a new Downtown place for hundreds of millennials to hang out and it gets them off campus and engaged right in fabric of the downtown community. It brings a lot of energy.”

A tailgate party at Stage AE in Pittsburgh before a Steelers game. Photo by PromoWest.

In addition to the 110 concerts PromoWest hosts in each city yearly, it also hosts 45 private events at each site, from championship boxing, extreme fighting challenges, casino nights, trade shows and awards banquets.

On football Sundays in Pittsburgh, Stage AE is open to a huge tailgating party for Steelers fans with free bands.

“We’d do same thing if we were at The Banks for the Bengals,” Stienecker said.

Just as PromoWest didn’t ask for public money in Columbus or Pittsburgh, it would privately fund a concert pavilion build in Cincinnati, Stienecker said.

“We don’t utilize any public funding whatsoever," he said. "We’re entrepreneurs who took a risk, and it paid off."