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Commissioner accuses mayor of 'playing games' with Banks development

What's next for The Banks? It's anyone's guess
Posted at 6:28 PM, Jul 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-31 18:28:34-04

CINCINNATI — A Hamilton County commissioner said the mayor changed the agreement between the city and the county regarding development on The Banks.

Commissioner Victoria Parks released a statement on Friday claiming Mayor John Cranley “proposed a deal structure that destroys everything Commissioner (Todd) Portune" — who died in January — "envisioned on The Banks.”

She also claimed the city made hundreds of revisions to the City-County Cooperation Agreement but did not provide examples.

This controversy, like many other recent scuffles between Hamilton County and the city of Cincinnati, can be traced back to the development of a riverfront music venue at The Banks. Securing a space to build the venue involved a complex game of musical chairs among players already invested in the district: The city; the county; the Cincinnati Bengals, who make their home at Paul Brown Stadium; and Hilltop Basic Resources, a gravel and concrete business that sat on a stadium-adjacent.

The Bengals were guaranteed several thousand riverfront parking spaces through a contract with Hamilton County. (Cranley had vigorously protested the contract, which he said allowed the team too much sway in determining the future of the Banks.) Building the venue would take some of those spaces away unless Hilltop could be convinced to move.

It was a logistical challenge that consumed much of 2019.

Hilltop eventually agreed to move, freeing up its space. Cranley and Portune agreed in November 2019 that the city could develop one pair of nearby city-owned lots — lots 1 and 13, the latter of which is the largest undeveloped lot in the city — and that the county could develop county-owned lots 24 and 25, both of which sit directly across Elm Street from Paul Brown Stadium.

It was supposed to be a long-term fix. Parks did not clarify which parts of the agreement had since changed.

“The taxpayers paid for the riverfront and they deserve to be given the development they were promised, which was not surface parking forever, but mixed use development—a riverfront park, office towers, residential and retail space,” Cranley said in a statement.

Read Parks' full statement below:

"Mayor Cranley broke the deal he made with Commissioner Portune before he died. Today, the city proposed a deal structure that destroys everything Commissioner Portune envisioned on The Banks.

I was hopeful that we could come to an agreement, as the County has with every other Mayor for the past two decades, but was concerned when the Mayor told me he wanted to “Blow Up” the Master Development Agreement- the framework that transformed our riverfront. That was not what Todd wanted and the Mayor knows it.

Less than an hour before we were set to finalize the City-County Cooperation Agreement, the City gave us a document that bled red in revisions (578 changes) that had nothing to do with the deal the Mayor struck with Todd. They never discussed eliminating the MDA, they never discussed the City constructing the County’s riverfront garages- both are now huge components of the City’s 11th hour posture. I know what was agreed to between the Mayor and Commissioner Portune before he died because I was in the room.

I’m disappointed the Mayor is being unreasonable and threatening to hold up construction of the City’s own park for no rational reason. The Mayor is playing games with jobs, with development, and with progress by continuing to move the goal post.

Mr. Mayor, I’m done playing games. And no, I will not be quiet and I will not let you put words into Todd’s mouth."

Read Cranley's full statement below:

"Commissioner Portune and I agreed that the city could develop city owned lots 1 and 13 and the county could develop county owned lots 24 and 25. This was necessary because the county and the Bengals made a deal behind the city and the public’s back to turn prime riverfront real estate into permanent tailgating for the Bengals. The taxpayers paid for the riverfront and they deserve to be given the development they were promised, which was not surface parking forever, but mixed use development—a riverfront park, office towers, residential and retail space. City Council and the park board approved all the money necessary for the park on lot 23 subject to the county upholding its end of the bargain to liberate lots 1 and 13 from Bengals/county control. The county has refused. They insist that they and the Bengals have a veto right over the development of lots 1 and 13. The real reason is because they entered into a wasteful $30 million giveaway to Hilltop—a company that promptly moved out of the county—and still cannot figure out how to provide parking for the Bengals."