CINCINNATI -- Scott Stienecker was disappointed, and frankly stunned, when The Banks leaders turned down his idea to build an indoor and outdoor arena that would have brought 400,000 concertgoers each year.
As CEO and president of Columbus-based PromoWest Productions, which operates Bunbury and Buckle Up music festivals in Cincinnati, Stienecker wasn’t sure why leaders gave his proposed arena a “thumbs down.”
Then Stienecker learned on May 20, just a few hours after a WCPO Insider reporter called him, that he was suddenly back in the running to develop the arena, after four months of silence and a definitive "no" from a top Banks leader.
“We were told The Banks Steering Committee had given the PromoWest project the thumbs down,” Stienecker said, describing a February phone call he had with Dan McCarthy, project executive for The Banks’ master developer, Carter.
“Now, Tom Gabelman just called me and he said they are considering us for an arena within The Banks riverfront area,” Stienecker said after receiving the May 20 call.
McCarthy only responded to request for comment through a spokesman, Jon Reischel, in a written statement that said "no decisions have been made either in terms of the venue itself or the tenant."
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 still considering at least two proposals -- one from PromoWest and one from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra -- to develop a concert venue along the city's riverfront.
"I'm not aware of any conversation that PromoWest was advised they were not under consideration," Gableman said during a Monday phone interview. "PromoWest is certainly being considered."
But the exchange raises questions about how city, county and The Banks leaders actually feel about an indoor-outdoor arena, it’s proposed location, and who they prefer to run it.
Stienecker is worried that he is being squeezed out of the deal by Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which recently came up with its own plans for an indoor-outdoor arena.
“If it’s the concept we brought to the city of Cincinnati and if they are only trying to copy it to keep us out of it,” Stienecker said. “We’d have a real problem with that.”
Why The Banks?
He liked PromoWest’s idea for a concert arena at The Banks. Its vision: Construct a 2,400-person general admission indoor facility and a 5,000-person outdoor facility. Bigger shows would play outside from May to September while the venue would host smaller shows inside from October to April. The venue could be used 365 days a year.
“That means 180 events would be coming to The Banks that are not coming there right now,” Stienecker said in January. “It would be huge for the restaurants and bars.”
Cranley was especially excited about PromoWest’s plan because they didn't ask for the city or county to pitch in cash for the project.
But the idea wasn’t without critics. Some feared a new concert venue would oversaturate the music scene and create unnecessary noise for people living or working at The Banks. Others in the arts community had their own concerns.
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.”
And, apparently, they're working on it.
A New Location?
Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel said both the CSO and PromoWest have offered to build a concert venue that would hold outdoor or indoor concerts.
He was under the impression – as early as last week – that both vendors are being considered to develop the project.
CSO declined to comment on any plans to construct a concert venue on the riverfront.
"The CSO supports development in our community but has no comment on this particular concept at this time,” the organization said in a statement.
When Stienecker learned that the CSO may be pushing an indoor and outdoor venue, he didn’t mince words.
“The indoor-outdoor concept -- that’s our concept around the country. We designed it and brought it to city of Cincinnati,” Stienecker said. “That would be something we would fight.”
Leaders insist the orchestra won’t be favored in the situation. But Mozel said the CSO does have some things working to their benefit for landing the job.
“They’re local,” Monzel said. “They have established venues, like Riverbend (Music Center).”
Yet PromoWest also operates two other indoor-outdoor venues – one in Columbus and another in Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile The Banks Steering 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 an indoor and outdoor concert venue, Monzel said.
That location would block music venue noise from disturbing residents and employees working at The Banks, Monzel said.
But Cranley is worried the county and steering committee are taking too long to reach a decision.
Especially since Stienecker began looking at other sites away from downtown Cincinnati for his concert arena, since being told in February that his idea had been rejected.
This is exactly what Cranley said he feared would happen, and that the arena may end up in Northern Kentucky or elsewhere.
“The Banks working group and the county need to speed up their decision,” Cranley said. “To hear that PromoWest is looking elsewhere. … They are not moving quickly enough.”
Monzel said if the concert venue is a pressing priority, Cranley could encourage the steering committee – which makes recommendations to both the city and county over how the riverfront land should be used -- to make a decision soon.
“I don’t think anybody’s dragging their feet at the county,” Monzel said.
County leaders have been focused on talking the University of Cincinnati into relocating its law school to The Banks, as well as securing $10 million worth of state funding to build a new parking lot at the site, Monzel said.
“Our position is clear: We want an indoor-outdoor arena, an open bidding process, and we do not guarantee the outcome to Promowest, or CSO or anybody else,” Cranley said.