CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds could become the naming rights sponsor of a floating hotel that would serve as the head boat for a riverfront dock, under a proposal submitted to Cincinnati’s Park Board Thursday.
It’s the latest in a string of surprising twists for a project that city officials have been unable to complete despite three bidding competitions since 2015 to find companies willing to build and operate a “transient boat dock” on Cincinnati’s central riverfront.
The latest competition, which began in May, resulted in two bidders – H. Hafner & Sons and Queen City Riverboats. Each presented their proposals to Park Commissioners Thursday.
The Redlegs Landing concept came from Queen City Riverboats. It wants to convert a riverboat casino into a floating hotel, or “floatel,” that would be moored in front of the National Steamboat Monument on Mehring Way. Docks would extend west from the four-story riverboat.
“We’ve been in discussion with the Reds and they want to sponsor that top deck every Fireworks Friday Night,” Queen City Riverboats co-owner Don Jones told the board. “They have a sponsor already in mind. We have the name Redlegs Landing already here, which is granted should we be the successful bidder.”
The Reds did not immediately respond to questions about the arrangement. But Park Board member Susan Castellini, wife of Reds owner Bob Castellini, offered this quick take: “You’ve just prohibited me from ever voting.”
Justin Cooper was also surprised by the proposal. The Hafner & Sons vice president was not aware that bidders could modify their presentations beyond the “best and final” bids they submitted to the city’s purchasing department in August.
Hafner & Sons won that competition with a floating restaurant and boat dock that also would begin at the steamboat monument and extend westward. Queen City Riverboats shifted its location in Thursday’s presentation. It originally proposed a head boat anchored near the Roebling Suspension Bridge, with docks that extended eastward toward Cincinnati’s Public Landing.
“We were told that we shouldn’t move it downriver,” said Brendan Sullivan, a real estate developer who co-owns Queen City Riverboats with Jones and a third partner. “It’s a much better location. We just didn’t want to offend anybody by putting it there.”
Queen City Riverboats submitted the new location as an addendum to its original bid, but it did not provide the Park Board with cost estimates and financial pro formas that would allow the city to compare its proposal to financial estimates in the Hafner & Sons bid.
Cooper told the Park Board he would seek $2.3 million in city funding for his proposed dock and pay the city “close to $2.9 million” over 20 years in shared revenue from restaurant and dock operations.
The Park Board took no action on the proposals because it is waiting on financial estimates from Queen City Riverboats and legal guidance from the city on whether the new proposal can be part of the company’s original bid.
“We’ve got some sorting out to do,” said Park Board President Jim Goetz. “I personally don’t feel we have enough information today to make any decision on this.”
Cooper declined to say whether he would challenge the revised proposal if the Park Board chooses the RedLegs Landing option over his proposal.
“We’re in it for the long haul," Cooper said. "We’re willing to stick this out and hopefully come out on top as the preferred bidder by both the procurement office as well as the Park Board."