Proposal would create event space at City Hall

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A proposed 4.4 million dollar project to turn a courtyard at City Hall into an event space has one city leader calling for changes to the budget.

Cincinnati city councilman P.G. Sittenfeld sent out a letter Friday calling for the project to be replaced by other "bread and butter" investments into city infrastructure.

"I commend the Administration for an imaginative and creative proposal … but I also have a number of reservations with the project and believe those funds could be re-appropriated to have a greater impact in other ways…" Sittenfeld stated in the letter.

Sittenfeld goes on to compare the project with a similar one that was undertaken in Columbus. According to his math, the project would take nearly 92 years to pay for itself.

He says by entering the event hosting market, City Hall also risks taking business away from other city-center venues.

"If the city was sitting on millions and billions of dollars, sure, why not?" he said. "But we have to make tough, strategic decisions which is why I think we need to be investing in core, basic infrastructure before we invest in City Hall atriums."

Sittenfeld proposed 26 different projects that could be considered instead. The projects range from business district improvements, to hazard abatements and demolition projects, to lane paving and street maintenance as well as the MLK Interchange project.

The Atrium project was initially proposed by city manager Milton Dohoney as a way to generate revenue for the city by leveraging capital assets. For Dohoney, the goal is to offset annual operating costs at City Hall without while putting the building "back into the center of our civic life".

The manager's office stated in a letter to council members that the proposed Atrium presents an opportunity for job creation. The letter referenced other cities including Columbus and Minneapolis who rent out city space to generate revenue.

According to Dohoney, the city spends $780,000 a year in utilities, security, cleaning and general maintenance and upkeep for City Hall which could be partially offset by event space rental.

A market study is planned to determine potential net revenues.

The design would allow for 300 people in banquet seating or up to 500 people in an auditorium set up. The parking lot would be maintained on the lower level with a floor built above the lot.

The event space would have an open floor plan with 60' ceilings made of glass.

While the total cost of the Atrium project is estimated at $4.4 million, the recommended 2012 budget includes 2.4 million with the rest being paid for in the 2013 General Capital Budget.

Event planners in the area say there is a need for more historic venues in the downtown area.

"The demand for things downtown is big," said Julie Schmidt of Cincy Event Planning. "Brides are looking for something different something unique, not just a hotel."

Schmidt says while the project comes with a hefty price tag, venue-building is not something you want to skimp on.

"If you don't do it right then no one is going to want to come here," Schmidt said. "So you [have to] put the money in, you do it the right way."

Schmidt is the first to admit though, that she is biased in the matter.

"My expertise isn't politics, its parties," she said. "But certainly as a tax payer I appreciate any time we appreciate anytime we can use what's existing here."

Copyright 2011 FOX19. All Rights Reserved.