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Hamilton County signs new lease with Bengals so concert venue can be built at The Banks

Posted at 3:19 PM, Nov 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-14 19:53:53-05

CINCINNATI - A long-awaited concert venue at The Banks will open in the spring of 2020, built adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium.

The Bengals had originally opposed building a concert venue on that site, known as Lot 27, because it interfered with pre-game tailgating.

But the Bengals conceded and will allow the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and its subsidiary, MEMI, to build a music venue on its chosen spot as part of a new lease agreement that Hamilton County Commissioners unanimously approved on Wednesday.

“This is not just about the music venue,” Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Todd Portune said. “This also is very importantly about how we reframe our relationship with the Bengals, and put it in writing, in amendments to the lease. This really is a new lease that we will have with the Cincinnati Bengals.”

The amended lease makes some big changes to the county’s deal with the team. It puts an end to the county’s projected $29.4 million out-year payments to the Bengals. And it places a $42.3 million cap on repairs and enhancements that the county must make to Paul Brown Stadium through 2026.

“We were staring at a blank check relative to those enhancements,” Portune said. “If you look at what is happening in other NFL cities, really the sky was the limit.”

Without that cap on stadium renovation spending, Portune said the county could have been on the hook for $100 million or more.

But the Bengals did not walk away from the deal empty-handed. The county agreed to buy 15 acres of property known as the Hilltop site to create as many as 1,950 parking spaces for fan tailgating.

On game days, the Bengals will get to keep the parking revenue from that county-built lot. Portune could not give an estimate on the price of that Hilltop land.

The Bengals also have an option, “at its sole cost and expense,” to build an indoor practice facility on a portion of the Hilltop site, according to the agreement.

In exchange, the Bengals agreed to give the county more flexibility in how it develops future sites at The Banks. The Bengals will review development guidelines with a new urban planner, including height limitations which, based on the previous lease, gave it veto power over new buildings The Banks.

That was a sticking point over the concert venue. Under a lease signed with the county 20 years ago, the Bengals could veto any building taller than three stories or an auditorium that seats more than 3,000 near the stadium, according to a June memo from Cincinnati Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething.

The county and the city have always wanted a new concert venue built on Lot 27, with green space used on Lots 23 and 28.

But city leaders said in June that the team threatened to veto the deal. Instead, the team had wanted the music venue built on Lot 24 -- a parcel further away from the stadium where a proposed residential and commercial development is to be built.

Under the new lease deal, the county can now open Lot 24 for development.

"The fantastic commercial development that can exist there will allow us to take advantage of a $10 million dollar state grant that we run the risk of losing," Portune told WCPO in an earlier interview.

Portune wouldn't reveal details of the potential developer but said office towers and hotels with windows and balconies looking directly into a stadium are being built at other NFL cities.

As part of new lease agreement, the county will spend $6.3 million on repairs to Paul Brown Stadium in 2019, including security improvements, new WiFi and speakers, replacement of the game field, repainting steel, and adding new carpet and roofing.

“Paul Brown Stadium is Hamilton County’s facility,” Portune said. “It is ours to use and to enhance and put to use for other events.”

Portune wants the stadium ready for a 2026 World Cup game. Canada, Mexico and the United States will host the 2026 FIFA World Cup and Cincinnati is competing to be a host city. A total of 16 cities will be chosen to host games as part of the 80-match tournament, with sites announced in 2020.

Once construction begins on the concert venue next year, it will bring more than 1,000 workers to the area, Portune said.

“This deal is good … for the retailers who have been asking us to generate more foot traffic at The Banks,” Commissioner Denise Driehaus said.

Commissioner Chris Monzel, the lone Republican, said the deal is a chance to reset the county’s relationship with the Bengals.

“It is a reset to the lease that has been so onerous on us over the years,” Monzel said.

The county's lease with the Bengals has been controversial since voters first agreed to build the football stadium and the Cincinnati Reds' stadium on the city's riverfront. Taxpayers have invested nearly $1 billion on the stadiums since voters approved a sales tax levy to construct them.