CINCINNATI — When the sea of Cincinnati Reds fans overflow the Banks entertainment district today, they won’t just be playing hooky for Opening Day.
They’ll also be filling the coffers of the Banks New Community Authority.
Founded in 2019 to raise money for events and promotions, the quasi-governmental entity raised $1.2 million through the end of last year by collecting a one percent amenity fee from every Banks purchase. Those pennies were instrumental in starting the Banks DORA district, which allows revelers to tote their alcoholic beverages across an 85-acre territory that runs from Paul Brown Stadium to Heritage Bank Center.
“This year alone, we have budgeted around $225,000 to handle the expenses associated with running the DORA district,” said Tracy Schwegmann, an asset manager for Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate, which handles retail leasing at the Banks. “We hire police to make certain that folks are adhering to the law and behaving in a respectful manner. There’s obviously trash that’s associated with that. There’s just even managing permitting and things like that and coordination with large events like the Opening Day Block Party.”
Schwegmann helped to organize the New Community Authority and works with its nine-member board to spend its proceeds. She said its annual budgets were adjusted twice to account for beginning and end of COVID-19 shutdowns. But in the end, the authority came close to meeting its original revenue projection of $500,000 in annual proceeds.
“We haven’t really had a normal year yet,” she said. In 2022, “we will exceed $506,000, our budgeted number. In no short thanks to the Bengals who gave us a Super Bowl run in January and February that we were not budgeting for.”
On the expense side, here’s how Schwegmann breaks down the spending so far:
- Marketing and public relations, roughly $150,000 per year, consumed about 38% of the New Community Authority’s budgets through the end of last year.
- Startup expenses and the first-year operating budgets for the Downtown Outdoor Recreation Area, or DORA, swallowed about 30% of the $1.2 million raised to date.
- About 14% of spending, or $180,000, went to administrative costs and startup funding for the New Community Authority.
- The organization ended 2021 with budget reserves of more than $100,000, which came in handy when the Bengals’ Super Bowl run provided opportunities for a playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium and watch parties in the weeks that followed.
“We’ve budgeted conservatively and minded our expenses,” Schwegmann said. “2021 ended up being a very successful year. It snapped back with a vengeance.”
The DORA district looks like a winner to Amy Barcomb, who returned to Cincinnati a month ago to manage the BurgerFi restaurant on E. Freedom Way.
“Even when it’s kind of rainy and 45 degrees there’s still lots of people out here,” Barcomb said. “Whether it’s a baseball game or a concert or Disney on Ice, it brings lots of people just from all the other, Taft Theater, all the things around here. The Brady Center. We see a lot of the crowds from those events. The Monster Jam brought a lot of people in too, so those events definitely boost everything to almost double (normal sales).”
Holy Grail at the Banks owner Jim Moehring said the New Community Authority is spending its money well.
“The marketing aspect alone has been worth it,” Moehring said. “Having all the various events like St. Patrick parade, polar bear plunge, gay pride all coming to us has been huge. Operation costs were more than we had expected but we were busier than expected.”
Schwegmann is hoping this year will be the start of explosive growth for the Banks, with its DORA district up and running and a reliable funding source to stage more events.
“It starts to feed on itself,” Schwegmann said. “If you have an attractive environment, then that attracts other potential tenants that want to be here because they think it’s a place where they think they can come and be successful. So, you hope that you’re continuing to grow.”