After months of wrangling, Hamilton County Commission today unanimously approved a deal that commissioners say will clear the way for a music venue at The Banks.
That venue, developed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's concert promotion arm MEMI, had been tied up in a complicated land swap deal. The Cincinnati Bengals have veto power over development of lot 27, where the venue would be located, and wanted tailgating space located there replaced. That brought Hilltop Basic Resources into the fray.
The concrete company owns land just west of Paul Brown Stadium but was willing to relocate. But the city-owned land in Queensgate the company eyed for relocation came with some complications: Opposition from residents of Price Hill and other nearby communities due to environmental concerns, businesses surrounding the proposed site, Mayor John Cranley and some Cincinnati City Council members.
Cincinnati City Council last week swatted down a motion expressing interest in selling the city-owned property to Hilltop.
The deal announced by the county today sidesteps those complications by dividing the roughly 17-acre Hilltop site in half. Tailgating will occur on one half of that space while Hilltop operates on the other half as it searches for a new permanent home.
It is unclear where that location will be. County officials say they'd like to keep the company, which has 104 employees, in Cincinnati. But Hilltop leadership indicated last week that the company has looked into other locations in the county and across the river in Northern Kentucky.
The parking site the county will create will be able to accommodate roughly 2,000 cars. The lot will be grass and park-like, according to county officials, and could be used for festivals and other events.
Tom Gabelman, Hamilton County's attorney for The Banks project, says the county will buy the properties for $29.75 million, with 40 percent of the money due by January 2020 and the rest by 2021. The money will come from funds the county will save under a renegotiated lease contract with the Bengals, who will let the county keep money due for stadium upgrades in order to purchase the Hilltop site.
"The bottom line is, what this board has said consistently is, we will pay no more than market value, and it will be fair market value," Gabelman said. "Point of fact, what we've been able to do is bring this in under market value."
According to an appraisal of the property commissioned by the county, the Hilltop site is worth roughly $33 million.
"Hilltop has been a part of building our region for over 78 years and we care deeply about our community," the company's CEO John Steele said in a statement. "We moved our plant operations over 50 years ago so that Riverfront Stadium could be built. We are willing to relocate again so that our riverfront can continue its incredible transformation. We look forward to collaborating with Hamilton County and others to ensure that we can identify and secure a suitable option for our concrete and our customers’ asphalt production facilities.”
Gabelman said the development of lot 27 could catalyze another $400 million in development at the remaining lots at The Banks over time, including the development of lot 24, another nearby plot where Cranley argued the venue should be built. Commission President Denise Driehaus says that lot would be better served with denser development.
"This has been a long and arduous process," Driehaus said today. "I think we're all very excited to have this part of the issue resolved so we can move forward with confidence on the music venue on The Banks. I think we all agreed many, many months ago that this was a good project. We've been begged by the retailers (at The Banks) to please give them some year-round activity at The Banks."
Taste of Belgium owner Jean-Francois Flechet agreed.
"It's really a game-changer for businesses at The Banks," he said, noting the planned 115 events a year at the venue will draw more foot traffic to the area.
MEMI's venue will be roughly 4,500 seats indoors with capacity for another 8,500 people outdoors in a portion that will also serve as an extension of Smale Riverfront Park.
Driehaus said she hoped to have the venue finished by October 2020. The development will compete with a similar venue being developed by Promowest, a candidate for The Banks venue, in Newport.