CINCINNATI — A new convention headquarters hotel in downtown Cincinnati could be open by late 2025, but it's not a guarantee. 3CDC laid out a possible new timeline for the hotel and told county commissioners about the need for renovations to the existing convention center on Tuesday.
The hotel - recommended to be about 800 rooms with a national brand - is "critical" to Cincinnati's ongoingFIFA World Cup bidfor matches in summer 2026, according to the bid committee.
"Are you saying the convention hotel will be guaranteed under your [plan], we can get it up? Or are we not guaranteed?" asked Hamilton County commissioner Alicia Reece.
"I can't guarantee anything. I don't control everything," said Steve Leeper, 3CDC president and CEO. "I can tell you that we have a track record of getting things done and we do so in a timely fashion and we're going to work very hard on it. But for me to sit here and tell you I can guarantee something, that would be intellectually dishonest on my part."
3CDC was appointed to manage the development of a new "convention center district" around the Duke Energy Convention Center earlier this year. That includes plans for a new convention headquarters hotel near the convention center.
Leeper told commissioners Tuesday the plan would place the new hotel on the site of a surface parking lot owned by The Port just to the south of the convention center, instead of on the site of the former MIllennium Hotel to the east across Elm Street. The Millennium Hotel was demolished earlier this year.
"I am confident that we are going to get interest in this," Leeper said.
He told commissioners the goal is to have a developer and agreement for the hotel by the end of the year, with construction starting in the first half of 2023. That would put the hotel on track to open in third quarter of 2025.
Leeper also told commissioners 3CDC has hired two firms to research and make recommendations for possible changes and improvements to the current Duke Energy Convention Center.
Moody Nolan and TVS Architects have been interviewing people and groups who use the center, Leeper said. The firms have worked together on some large projects, like New York City's Javits Center and Nashville's Music City Center.
"I can tell you that this one ranks pretty low down compared to our peer cities," he said. "I'm not gonna kid you, it's not gonna be cheap."
Leeper told commissioners he expects the recommended improvements to cost more than $100 million. Options to pay for those are limited, citing the current 10.5% lodging tax as being one of the highest in Ohio. But Leeper said 3CDC is looking at ways to use that revenue more efficiently.
"They both feed off each other," he said. "The hotel will do better with the convention center upgraded and the convention center will certainly do better with a convention center hotel. They're both important and we need to get them both done if we can."
Commissioners expressed concern over the new hotel timeline and paying improvements, especially on the heels of nearly $500 million in recommended improvements to Paul Brown Stadium.
"We have very limited taxpayer money and the taxpayers are saying 'Hold on, we can't keep funding all this,'" said commissioner Reece. "So to come in and say we need a new convention center, I'm just putting it out there, it's going to be very tough."
When it comes to the current convention center and the lodging tax, the City of Cincinnati has a stake and vested interest as well. Leeper said he will make a similar presentation to City Council soon.