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Dueling concert venues on different sides of Ohio River vying for artists, concert-goers and opening date

'It’ll be heavily competitive'
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Posted at 11:10 AM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-01 18:38:59-05

The race to build new music venues in the Tri-State is nearing the finish line as both the Andrew J. Brady ICON Music Center at the Banks and the Ovation Music Pavilion in Newport near completion. Both venues are on pace to open to concert goers — as soon as concerts are allowed again.

"We are going to be essentially handed the keys to the castle, I want to say, in three weeks," predicted Rosemarie Moehring, director of marketing and public relations for Music and Event Management Inc., or MEMI.

Meanwhile, the Ovation Music Pavilion is a few weeks ahead.

"The building is done. I actually got the key this morning," Scott Stienecker, CEO of PromoWest and regional vice president of AEG Presents, told WCPO in early February during a first look inside the new building.

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Finishing touches on Ovation Music Pavilion in Newport

Stienecker said he hopes to see the first show hit the stage later this summer, hopefully by August.

Moehring also expects to be ready for shows this year but didn't give a date.

The music venues can both host concerts and shows year-round with indoor and outdoor seating, and they'll potentially be in competition for some of the same acts.

"We are going to work hard to get the best shows, but we wish them the best of luck and we're going to do our thing, we're going to let our product speak for itself," Moehring said.

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ICON Music Center nears completion at the Banks

Here's how the two venues compare:

Both are state-of-the-art indoor/outdoor music venues sitting along the Ohio River. PromoWest will host 180 events per year. ICON Music Center expects 120 shows per year. The ICON can hold 4,400 inside, 8,000 outside. The Ovation Music Pavilion can hold 2,700 inside, 7,000 outside. The Ovation Music Pavilion cost $40 million to construct, which includes a garage. The ICON cost $30 million.

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Comparing the Music Venus

“They’re completely different buildings," Stienecker said. "Capacity-wise, the look and feel, they are different. But we’ll go after a lot of the same acts, and yeah it’ll be heavily competitive, but we’ll both end up having our niche.”

Each venue is part of a larger development. In addition to being a neighbor to Paul Brown Stadium, Great American Ballpark and other elements at the banks, Moehring said ICON is a one-stop with a hotel, bars, restaurants and one of the largest parking facilities in the country. There will be garage access to the venue.

"The Banks area has come such a long way," Moehring said. "This is just another element putting (Cincinnati) on the map for people and tourists alike."

In Newport, Ovation is a two-phase, 25-acre mixed-use development. Covington-based Corporex is the developer of the project, which includes a Homewood Suites hotel with a rooftop bar, office space, retail, and 900 residential units in addition to the music venue. There is also a 550-car garage that is the base for the music venue.

There is also a nod to the history of music in Cincinnati. In a partnership with the King Records Legacy Committee, a mural honoring the former Evanston recording company will be included in the artists' green room. Musicians like James Brown, Bootsy Collins, Otis Williams and the Charms and Philip Paul were part of the King Records label.

“He just wanted to reach out and see if there was something we could put together that could be long-lasting,” said Kent Butts, chairman of the King Records Legacy Committee established by the city of Cincinnati.

Butts is also the son of Otis Williams.

“We wanted to give it a feel when the artists come here to the dressing rooms, to feel where they’re at. They’re in Cincinnati," Stienecker said. "They’re in Newport, Kentucky, and what does that feel (like)? Well, that’s King Records and some of those old artists.”

The committee is working on ideas to redevelop the former record label building that is still standing in Evanston on Brewster Street. PromoWest is pledging $20,000 to the project from ticket sales at the Ovation Music Pavilion.

Meanwhile, both music entertainment companies had ups and downs getting their music venues constructed. Construction stopped temporarily on the ICON Music Center because of a land dispute. In addition, Stienecker initially wanted to build a music pavilion at the Banks but couldn't get support from the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. He said when he approached Newport and Kentucky officials, he received full support for the project.

"Of the three that we’ve built, this has been the smoothest by far, getting all the zoning and all the permitting. It’s just been awesome,” he said.

PromoWest has similar music venues in Columbus and Pittsburgh. Stienecker said the new Newport location, so far, is the nicest.

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PromoWest/AEG Presents' Stage AE in Pittsburgh

Businesses at both the Banks and in Northern Kentucky are excited to see the development. Many see the music projects as a major way to bring people and dollars into the Tri-State.

“When things return to normal, we are going to get a boost, a shot in the arm, from this music venue,” said Brent Cooper, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “From West Chester to Florence, from Mason to Alexandria, this is a huge deal for the entire region, and I think it’s something that’s going to help everyone.”

Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of Taste of Belgium at the Banks, has been raising concerns for years about the need for additional attractions beyond seasonal sports. He's encouraged by the ICON Music Center.

"At least there is light at the end of the tunnel, and the music venue is going to be bringing people year-round outside of the stadiums even, which is fantastic," Flechet said. "I think that's going to be a big boost for the neighborhood."

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Inside construction of ICON Music Center

Still, both venues find themselves waiting for more vaccines to be distributed and for guidance from Ohio and Kentucky on capacity allowances due to COVID-19. Stienecker said his venue will be ready to open sometime in April.

"The problem is the world won’t be ready yet,” he said.

"We're going to have this brand new $30 million toy that we can't play with until we can do concerts again," said Moehring.

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