CINCINNATI — It will cost more than $493 million to upgrade Paul Brown Stadium over the next two decades, according to an outside firm hired to conduct a capital assessment of the Bengals home field.
County officials were briefed on the capital assessment of the stadium done by Los Angeles-based architecture and design firm, Gensler Sports, Tuesday at a 1 p.m. Hamilton County Commissioners meeting. Commissioners said this is the first time they had seen the full report and at this point, no action is being recommended by the county.
The actual costs that will be covered by the county and its taxpayers won't be known until the county comes back with recommendations on what expenditures to pursue from the report.
You can read the full report here.
Gensler was hired to address long-term capital repair, replacement and improvements at Paul Brown Stadium and offer design options for the next 20 years, according to the contract.
The firm looked at 15 different areas of the stadium, from seating and food to playing surfaces and parking, and provided a suggested priority list and timeline for repairs.
The county and the Bengals split the $375,000 cost for the study.
Paul Brown Stadium opened in 2000 and is approaching middle age compared to other NFL stadiums across the nation.
The study reports that Paul Brown Stadium is in "good" condition and well-maintained. The study presented a recommendation of things that "could be" done, not a laundry list of things that "need" to be done soon. We'll post the full report here as soon as it is available.
The report is also the first step in negotiations with the Bengals over a new lease agreement. Their current lease ends in 2026.
Under its current lease, the Bengals could ask the county to pay for tens of millions in new stadium enhancements starting in July 2024 such as ticketless entry, a holographic replay system, stadium self-cleaning machines, a new playing field surface, next-generation sound and video and premium seating options that are different from current private suites or club seating.
That's unless the county negotiates a new lease before then.
"This piece is the first building block related to what we need to do in the future for this stadium in conjunction with the Bengals, and it leads into negotiations with Bengals," said Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus.
She asked Gensler principal Demetra Thornton what other stadiums currently have that the Bengals could want at Paul Brown Stadium in the future.
Thornton had plenty of ideas from different types of seating, such as cheaper tickets for fans who want to stand or roam around the stadium; better food options including stadium specialties; and better security that allowed for faster entry into the stadium.
But Commissioner Alicia Reece said if the county spends more on the stadium, she wants a guarantee that the Bengals will stay here.
"When we’re looking at fixing something up, we’ve got to have a tenant," Reece said. "And I think we have to express that.”
Commissioners voted in September 2020 to hire Gensler to evaluate the needs of the stadium — especially as the Bengals lease is set to expire in 2026 — and come up with a master plan for the future.
The firm was also asked to forecast future facility renewal and reconstruction costs. Gensler announced Tuesday a new facility could cost up to $2 billion, but said in its presentation that a new stadium is not what it is recommending, citing Paul Brown Stadium's timeless architecture built to avoid demolition.
In March, the Buffalo Bills struck a deal for a $1.4 billion stadium, with an $850 million public contribution. It is the largest taxpayer contribution ever for an NFL facility, according to media reports.
Reece also cited the Tennessee Titans recently receiving $500 million in support for Nissan Stadium from the state, rather than a primary investment from the county.
Gensler will create a separate master plan to suggest specific upgrades at Paul Brown Stadium related to “what is occurring at other NFL stadia," according to the contract.
The capital assessment numbers could change based on the overall master plan that is being worked on for Paul Brown Stadium's future. That master plan was not revealed at Tuesday's meeting and is still a "ways off," according to a county spokesperson.
The county is already obligated to spend roughly $5 million a year on capital repairs and improvements at the stadium. But some items in Gensler's report, such as elevators and escalators, may need more attention in the short term.
"We could find that some things in here just have to be done," said County Administrator Jeff Aluotto.
While Tuesday's report focused on stadium needs such as roofing, electric and plumbing, the master plan that will be released later this year will highlight future possible upgrades and ways to enhance the fan experience.
The Bengals released a statement about the assessment after its presentation during the commissioner's meeting:
"The Bengals are proud to call Paul Brown Stadium home. With respect to this report, the Bengals will study it. We are encouraged by the conclusion that Paul Brown Stadium was well-designed, well-constructed, and has been well-maintained. The condition reflects the care and attention that the Bengals and Hamilton County have taken in maintaining the building to protect the taxpayers' investment. Because of that, it looks like Paul Brown Stadium can continue to be our home for decades to come at far less cost than seen elsewhere. Today's report is a first step, and the club looks forward to studying the report and exploring with the County ways to make the coming decades memorable ones for our hometown."
WCPO submitted several public records requests over the past month for the study and its drafts, as well as performance reports which the contract states shall be provided on a bi-weekly basis to the county. A county spokesperson said no bi-weekly written reports exist.
The county had not provided the documents and only announced that the capital assessment study would be released one day prior to Tuesday's commissioners meeting after WCPO made urgent requests for the study, citing Ohio's open records laws.
You can watch the commissioners meeting below: