Hamilton County Commission Votes to Provide $1.3 Million to Keep Millennium Hotel Sale Moving Forward

The deal could be the first step toward a long-desired replacement for the aging downtown hotel next to the convention center.

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click to enlarge The Millennium Hotel - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
The Millennium Hotel

The potential sale of one of downtown Cincinnati's most important properties will continue to move forward for now.

Hamilton County Commission today voted 2-1 to provide $1.3 million from hotel tax revenue as earnest money in a proposed sale of the Millennium Hotel to Oakley-based developer Vandercar LLC by current owner, an LLC held by the Millennium founder Kwek Leng Beng of Singapore.

Another $1.3 million would be due at the closing of the sale, likely early next year.

Many, including Mayor John Cranley and county officials, have complained about the 872-room hotel's condition and lack of upgrades. But until now, no one could convince the owners to sell the property.

Then Vandercar founder Rob Smyjunas broke through after a decade of efforts, getting Beng to agree to a $36 million purchase contract on the Millennium in August. Smyjunas, as well as city and county leaders, envision demolishing the current, 51-year-old building and starting fresh — as well as possibly expanding the neighboring convention center.

Under the proposed deal, the combined convention center expansion and new hotel could cost as much as $500 million. The Port of Greater Cincinnati would issue tax-exempt bonds to fund the construction and proceeds from its operation would pay off that debt. 

There was just one catch: Millennium wanted more than a million dollars in earnest money. It issued two extensions but gave a final deadline of today or the deal would be off. That money was something of a risk — neither the purchase or the hotel replacement plans are entirely worked out yet.

That prompted suspicion from Commission Member Stephanie Summerow Dumas, the sole no vote against the plan. Dumas says the county is wasting its money and that the $1.3 million payment is a bad deal. But Commission President Denise Driehaus and Commission Member Todd Portune both say the payment is a chance worth taking.

“We have the opportunity to solve what our community has collectively identified as the biggest challenge related to regional growth,” Driehaus said in a statement. “A down payment from the hotel tax restricted fund would provide a path forward on a first-class convention hotel, which is the linchpin to increasing convention center business and growing our economy.”

The commission believes a new hotel at the site could generate as much as $1.67 million in hotel taxes its first year. The current facility generated about $670,000 last year.

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