CINCINANTI — A concrete company on a coveted 17-acre parcel of land near Paul Brown Stadium may be close to relocating. This would free up the land for additional Cincinnati Bengals parking and possibly a more permanent practice facility for the team.
Hilltop Basic Resources, an 81-year-old family business, has supplied concrete, gravel and limestone for landmark structures across the region. It also owns valuable riverfront land on Mehring Way that has been at the center of negotiations over Bengals tailgating and parking space, and disputes between the city and the county over how The Banks will be developed.
But after a five-year search, Hilltop President Kevin Sheehan said the company is close to finding a new home.
“Right now, we are focused on one property that is within the city of Cincinnati city limits,” Sheehan said. “I think everybody will be happy when this is accomplished. The city, the county and certainly Hilltop.”
Sheehan declined to name the location of the new proposed site, other than to say it’s on the Ohio River and near Downtown which the company requires for the transportation of its materials.
Sheehan has met with community leaders from his prospective new neighborhood and given them a tour of the concrete facility. The next step is for Hilltop officials to ask the city of Cincinnati for permits at the new site to allow for open storage of sand and gravel, to vacate a paper street and install a conveyor over a roadway.
“We feel there has been good cooperation with the community and we feel good about where we are heading into this next permitting process with the city,” Sheehan said. “As we progress in our evaluation of the property that we’re focused on, there will be more public information available about that and an opportunity for public input. And we welcome that.”
Sheehan has been looking for a new home for the concrete facility since he got a call from Hamilton County officials in March 2017 asking if he would be interested in selling land. Hilltop’s land became a valuable part of a land swap between the Bengals and the county, which allowed the Andrew J. Brady Music Center at the Banks to be built.
Hamilton County agreed to buy Hilltop’s riverfront property in October 2019, at what the county described as "a fair market price" of $29.75 million.
As part of the deal, the Bengals gave up $30 million owed in game day payments to allow the county to buy the Hilltop property and offer it to the Bengals for parking, tailgating and a practice facility.
In exchange, the Bengals gave up parking areas east of the stadium for the construction of the concert venue near Smale Riverfront Park.
But finding a new home for Hilltop has been difficult. Their plans to relocate to Queensgate and Lower Price Hill fell through in 2019, due in part to city politics and community worries about the industrial presence.
So Sheehan kept looking.
“We’ve had multiple sites under contract, and we’ve had discussions with other property owners that we made proposals on that may not have gotten to the contract level,” Sheehan said. “I would say somewhere maybe between five or six sites, on both sides of the river, we’ve been considering or have had discussions with those owners.”
In the meantime, the county purchased seven acres of the Hilltop property in April 2020 for $12 million. Sheehan agreed to squeeze his operations onto the remaining 10 acres, which meant parking trucks closer together and stacking piles of sand higher to conserve space.
This seven-acre parcel is where the Bengals plan to build a temporary indoor practice facility.
The Cincinnati Planning Commission approved plans last week for a removable and inflatable 75-foot high synthetic air dome that attaches to a concrete footer which will house a regulation-size interior turf practice field for Bengals players and staff. The exterior will be paved and include an 8-foot-high security fence and 187 parking spaces.
The Bengals are one of the very few NFL teams without an indoor practice facility. The Bengals’ only practice facility is outdoors and next to Paul Brown Stadium.
Team players and staff will begin immediately using the practice facility, which the Bengals are proposing to build at its expense for use in the 2022 NFL season.
Once Hilltop finally relocates, the remaining 10 acres of its land will be available for future development – and possibly a permanent Bengals practice facility.
The county and Bengals deal specifically allow for the construction and usage of an indoor practice facility on the Hilltop site.
“The Bengals intend to find a more permanent solution, on the subject site or somewhere else, to its indoor practice needs in the near future,” according to the Bengals application.
But a county spokesperson said the final plan for the remaining Hilltop land, “has yet to be determined.” Interim plans are for parking, possibly green parking, for patrons of The Banks, Bengals and Cincinnati Reds fans, and other visitors to Downtown.
Hilltop officials are also eager to move.
“It’s in our best interest to get this move done,” Sheehan said. “It’s not necessarily good for our employees who are wondering are we going to be down here or aren’t we, is something going to happen to our business? Our customers are wondering the same thing.”
Sheehan said the title work on the new site has been completed, and environmental work is continuing as the company prepares for the permitting stage, adding that “we’re further along in the due diligence process than we ever were on the other sites that we were looking at back in 2019.”
Once Hilltop purchases a new site, the company will need time to redevelop it. Sheehan said he is considering a temporary move to an interim site, which would allow Hilltop time to develop their new property and free up their old location near Paul Brown Stadium.
The county’s purchase agreement with Hilltop has a Sept. 1 closing date on the remaining 10 acres of land, but Sheehan said that could be extended.
“We’re big Bengals supporters, we’ve had season tickets as a company since I think the inaugural season,” Sheehan said. “We’re as excited as anybody about the success that they’ve had. We recognize that more attention is being paid to this area as a result of the interim indoor practice facility which was approved by the city planning commission last week.”