US Bank Arena: New financing plan calls for demolition, replacement of current facility

CINCINNATI -The latest redevelopment plan for U.S. Bank Arena is getting positive feedback from the business and elected officials who’ve seen it so far, said Ray Harris, COO of the building’s owner, Nederlander Entertainment.

“Everybody we’ve talked to would love to see a new facility,” Harris said. “They think it would be a huge improvement for the community and they know these types of buildings are real economic engines. The debate becomes how you pay for it.”

Harris got that debate started this week by floating a new financing plan that would raise $340 million for the demolition and replacement of the 17,000-seat arena that opened as Riverfront Coliseum in 1975. The plan would require the seven-year extension of a Hamilton County sales tax that’s now in place to fund Union Terminal renovations.

It would also require increased parking and ticket-tax revenue to be pledged to the project. And it would include Nederlander’s sale of the arena to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority.

“If everyone wants it to happen, yes it can happen,” said Port Authority Executive Director Laura Brunner. But she stressed the financing proposal is still just a concept, subject to additional scrutiny.

“In order for us to engage in the due diligence process, it has to be at the request of the city and county, which would signify there is a shared prioritization of this project,” Brunner said.

Still, the new plan represents some big changes from the last project pitched by Nederlander in 2015. That was a $200 million renovation that is now considered unworkable.

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“We were trying to save the lower bowl and build on top,” Harris said. “In conversations with Turner Construction, it became evident that it would be pretty limiting and actually cost us more.”

Harris has been saying publicly since April that Nederlander would prefer to demolish the structure to its foundation and convert the building to public ownership. But this is the first time Nederlander has attached public funding sources to the idea.

“We’ve made suggestions on how it could work and we’re here to try to talk about it with the community,” he said.

The plan calls for the sale of the arena because public officials repeatedly told Nederlander they would not support taxpayer funding of a privately owned arena. Harris said Nederlander would commit to a long-term lease and remain the building’s manager, booking events and subleasing dates to the Cincinnati Cyclones, which Nederlander would continue to own.

To facilitate the deal, Nederlander proposed a sale price of up to $40 million. That’s $19 million more than it paid for the building when it bought it out of bankruptcy in 2001 and less than it’s actually worth, Harris said.

“It’s probably worth $60 million,” he said. “We make good money on the building. It does really well.”

But it could do much better if it were a 19,000-seat arena with luxury boxes, multi-level concourses and media accommodations that other cities can offer national events like NCAA Men’s Basketball tournaments and political conventions. Harris estimates the arena would host 35 to 40 more events than it does now and boost attendance by 40 percent to more than 1 million.

“The community continually wants to know why we don’t get those kind of events,” he said. “To get them, you need a major facility.”

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