CINCINNATI -- It was all but official by June 11, and a City Council vote Wednesday set it in stone: The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has city and county leaders' go-ahead to build a $19.25 million concert venue at the Banks.
"The restaurants, the clubs, retailers down there -- they've told us for the better part of two years that they need help," Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said. "They need something else down there that's going to bring in more foot traffic."
He and council members believe the concert venue can be that something, drawing Cincinnatians down to the riverfront -- and its array of restaurants and bars -- more consistently than Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium.
Although taxpayers have invested more than $100 million in The Banks since 2007, the retail district has struggled since at least 2014 to retain its businesses and turn a profit thanks to high rates of rent delinquency and restaurant closures. As plans for alternate strategies and potential developments swirled, the Banks Joint Steering Committee withheld information from county commissioners and avoided holding a public meeting for two years.
Councilman David Mann said he hopes the orchestra's proposed venue will revitalize the troubled project.
"There are a lot of dark moments that can be picked up with a good venue center that patrons come to," he said. "That means people come to the city, patronize the bars, eat at the restaurants, (and) some of them stay at the hotels. It's all good, I hope."
However, council approval doesn't mean the deal is all the way done. Now that the concept has been given an all-clear, the orchestra must move on to practicalities such as location and funding.
The first proposed location, which would place the new venue beside Paul Brown Stadium, could rankle Bengals leadership as it seeks to hang on to pre-game tailgaiting space.
Mann also said he would seriously reconsider the proposal if the city were asked to fund it.
"We wouldn't do it if it wasn't in the city's best interest," he said. "We'd certainly want to have revenues from parking or some sort of investment."