Port to Name Contractor for Millennium Hotel Demolition; African-American Chamber Objects

The Port's board voted unanimously to allow CEO Laura Bruner to contract with a developer without a competitive bidding process, something the African-American Chamber calls "unjust and unfair"

Feb 13, 2020 at 12:28 pm
click to enlarge The Millennium Hotel - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
The Millennium Hotel

The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority won't bid out a contract to demolish the now-shuttered Millennium Hotel and build its replacement — a decision that has drawn protests from some.

The Port's board yesterday approved a resolution that will allow CEO Laura Brunner to negotiate with developers and sign contracts without competitive bidding. The Cincinnati Business Courier reported yesterday that Brunner says she will choose Turner Construction for future work at the Millennium site — a massive demolition and potential construction project.

“It’s both time and efficiency,” Brunner told the Courier. “We think it will probably take four to six months to do the specs. As we move forward, we plan to do this under a design-build (contract), so also for efficiency. It’s much harder to take a design-build project out to bid than one that’s already been designed.”

But the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce says the Port should slow down, calling the no-bid provision "unjust and unfair."

“The African American Chamber is disheartened to learn that the board for The Port unanimously approved a resolution allowing The Port’s CEO to dispense with competitive bidding and directly negotiate with a contractor for the demolition of Cincinnati’s Millennium Hotel," African American Chamber CEO Eric Kearney said in a statement. "Input from the African American Chamber and other economic development organizations should have been solicited by the CEO of The Port.“

Brunner says that Turner has been the nation's No. 1 contractor for hotels and convention centers in recent years, is the top contractor active in downtown Cincinnati and that the company will bid out the vast majority of the work to sub-contractors. 

Last September, the Hamilton County Commission voted 2-1 to provide $1.3 million from hotel tax revenue as earnest money in the proposed sale of the hotel by its current owner, an LLC held by the Millennium founder Kwek Leng Beng of Singapore. Another $1.3 million from the county was due at the closing of the sale.

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

Rob Smyjunas, the founder of Oakley-based developer Vandercar LLC, broke through after a decade of efforts, getting Beng to agree to a $36 million purchase contract on the Millennium in August.

City and county leaders envision demolishing the current 51-year-old building, which closed at the start of 2020, and starting fresh.

A combined convention center expansion and new hotel could cost $500 million or more, though the size and details of the project have yet to be decided. The Hamilton County 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.

Kearney says the African-American Chamber is watching the process closely and wants to have further discussions with the Port.

"Greater Cincinnati’s business, civic and African American communities can rest assured that the African American Chamber is paying close attention, especially in matters of inclusion, diversity and equity, and we will act and advocate to ensure that organizations, like The Port, are honoring the commitments they’ve made to African American businesses," Kearney said in a statement. "The African American Chamber looks forward to meeting with The Port in the very near future to ensure that its processes, moving forward, become equitable and open.”