CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Park Board has launched its third attempt since 2015 to bring a public boat dock to the Cincinnati riverfront, five months after scuttling a controversial proposal that could have reduced access to the Public Landing.
The Park Board issued a request for proposals May 20, seeking new solutions by June 17. At least two potential bidders complain that's not enough time to respond, while a third hasn't decided whether to submit a proposal.
"I certainly hope that we get a responsive bid. I can’t promise you that we will," said Kevin Flynn, a Cincinnati City Council candidate and former Park Board member who championed last year's unsolicited proposal by Queen City Riverboats to build and operate a dock at the Public Landing.
Flynn still thinks that solution could have worked if the city had used the proposal as a starting point for a negotiated contract.
"Honestly, I think that this is one of those things where we are going through the process because people raised hell," said Flynn. "But it's going to involve somebody putting their own capital into the project. That’s what we had in December. We had a partner that was willing to supply its own infrastructure and operate the dock at their own cost for 20 years. That was no small commitment."
The RFP invites bidders to use the Park Board’s $1.7 million budget to design, build and operate a dock that can hold at least 20 private boats at a time, along with police and fire equipment. The document describes a preferred dock location between the Public Landing and John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, adding: “The location shall not interfere with commercial cruise lines or the Public Landing boat ramp.”
The new bidding process marks the second time the Park Board has shopped for dock builders. A 2016 bidding process ended with the selection of a construction manager and a $3.6 million price tag for a dock at the foot of Main Street. By 2019, the estimate soared to $5 million and a second bidding process ended with no satisfactory bids from dock operators.
When Queen City Riverboats owner Don Jones made an unsolicited offer to build and operate a dock last November, the Park Board endorsed the idea unanimously. But criticism over the dock’s location and the financial terms of the deal led Parks Director Kara Kish to request a formal bidding process.
In a May 6 interview with the I-Team, Jones expressed frustration that it took more than four months for the city to invite new proposals and said he was leaning against participating.
“I’ve spent so much money just trying to figure it out, and you can’t get answers,” Jones said. “Anybody’s welcome to bid. I don’t think anybody will because it costs a lot of money to do these things. So, I’ve given up hope that it’s ever going to happen.”
Jones later released a statement saying he will “seriously consider bidding on this project.”
BB Riverboats owner Alan Bernstein told the I-Team in December he would submit a bid if the Park Board offered the chance. Now, he says the city’s deadline doesn’t give him enough time to put a proposal together.
“We’re just coming out of COVID and we’re trying to recover,” Bernstein said. “We’re working double and triple time to try and get our operation back into order. So, with the schedule that they put in there, I don’t think there’s any way I could do it even if I hired someone to take the project.”
Andy Storch has also thought about partnering with others on a riverfront dock proposal. But now that he’s seen the 30-page RFP, the owner of Storch Marine doesn’t think he’s qualified.
“Generally, I would say that the specified scope of services will make it difficult for anyone to provide a proposal by the due date,” Storch said. “I am reaching out to design, build, and installation companies with the necessary experience on similar projects. But again, it is unlikely that well qualified companies will have time to digest and make proposal.”
The RFP is a sharp departure from the 13-page proposal Jones put forward last fall. It called for the city to pay Queen City Riverboats $1.7 million and handle all permits for its 1,280 linear feet of docking. It called for Queen City Riverboats to cover all costs above $1.7 million and receive all revenue from docking fees and a floating restaurant. The proposal included a 20-year lease agreement in which the city would gradually transfer ownership of the dock and receive $1 per year in rent.
The city’s new proposal calls for revenue sharing between the city and the winning bidder and establishes dozens of requirements for companies that would design, build and operate the new dock. Those requirements include compliance with Ohio’s prevailing wage rules and awarding at least 2% of all contracts to minority-business enterprises and 4% to women-owned companies. The city’s RFP says the winning bidder will be responsible for securing all permits and calls for the dock to be monitored round-the-clock with staff available to respond to any emergency within 30 minutes.
Bernstein said the terms outlined in the city’s RFP would lead to a better deal for the city.
“The location is much better,” he said. “They make it very clear you cannot impede the Public Landing.”
Bernstein also likes the revenue-sharing approach in the new RFP, which calls for bidders to propose a “revenue-sharing structure to include mooring services and any ancillary services” offered at the dock.
“It’s very unfair to ask the taxpayers to underwrite that whole operation,” Bernstein said. “They don’t talk about the formula, but they definitely talk about a revenue share, which starts to get some money flowing back to the taxpayer.”
The city is hosting a bidder's conference June 2 at the Public Landing and requiring bidders to submit questions in writing by June 7. The RFP doesn't spell out a timeline for the selection process, but calls for the dock to be built and operating by August 21, 2022.