Cincinnati’s mayor questions deal behind music venue at Banks, calls for transparency

Cincinnati’s mayor questions deal behind music venue at Banks, calls for transparency
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is the developer for a concert venue at The Banks along Cincinnati's riverfront.. Hamilton County commissioners approved CSO’s bid for a three-level venue projected to cost $19.25 million.

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Cincinnati’s mayor is raising questions and calling for transparency regarding a deal for a music venue at The Banks.

It includes Hamilton County buying land along the riverfront that belongs to a concrete company, one that requires the Cincinnati Bengals to approve.

Mayor John Cranley wants to see how much Hamilton County will spend to buy the spot where Hilltop Concrete currently operates to provide new parking and a possible indoor practice facility for the Bengals.

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“We are told that this deal makes the county’s stadium deal better,” he wrote Thursday to council members, county officials and Hilltop executives.

“But the public won’t know if that is true until it sees the amount of public money that will be spent to move Hilltop.”

The Bengals can veto any buildings near the stadium where the county wants to locate the concert venue.

They have agreed to waive their restrictions on buildings next to it if the county buys Hilltop’s land for more parking and lets the team build an indoor practice facility there if it wants.

Cranley is suggesting a different location at The Banks for the music venue.

It’s about a block further from Paul Brown Stadium that won’t require moving Hilltop, according to a letter he sent this week to council members, county officials and Hilltop executives.

HIlltop, meanwhile, is interested in possible new locations in Queensgate and Price Hill, including some land owned by the city.

Kevin Sheehan, president of Hilltop Basic Resources, says the company has long supported the ongoing revival of our region’s core.

Sheehan released a statement to FOX19 NOW which reads, in part:

“Hilltop has worked cooperatively and diligently to find a suitable relocation site for the benefit of the community, including Hamilton County, the city of Cincinnati and the Bengals. Under one potential relocation scenario, we would split operations between multiple sites. We now operate on one site, which we own. While this is not ideal for us, we are diligently collaborating with all parties to find a solution that works for the community and our 78-year-old business. Continued ownership of riverfront property – to receive the aggregate materials critical to our business – remains an important part of an acceptable solution.”

Our news partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer requested documents and emails related to the negotiations but received 275 pages that were almost completely blacked out.

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FOX9 NOW has also asked for unredacted records related to the deal.

“Under Ohio law, real estate negotiations are not public record because they would affect the negotiations so they’ve excluded that," said the commissioners’ attorney, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters.

“We have not gotten word from our clients that we should release it. I have no problem with releasing it. It’s their call.”

The mayor wants all the details released now.

“The public has a right to know and the city should not commit to spend any money or transfer any land until all the facts are on the table,” he wrote. “Sunshine makes better public policy than secrecy.”

Commissioner Denise Driehaus released a statement Friday when we sought comment from all three commissioners.

"We have been working with Council Member Murray to engage community members in Price Hill and business owners in Queensgate throughout this process," her statement reads.

"Hilltop has gone above and beyond in their efforts to solicit feedback from the community, resulting in proposal for a state-of-the art facility in Queensgate and a land swap to finish out Price Landing Park. Along the way, Hilltop’s proposal has been presented at three public meetings, Hilltop has invited members of the community to tour its current facility, and another public hearing is scheduled for September 3 in Price Hill. To date, Hilltop has received favorable responses from residents and community leaders in Price Hill and Queensgate.

“When the Hilltop relocation is complete, our community stands to gain more vibrancy on the riverfront with a new music venue, a renegotiated lease with the Bengals that will save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, a new public space with bike and pedestrian infrastructure on the, and the city will control a parcel of land that is the last piece of the puzzle for the planned Price Landing Park. We also keep a company that employs 100 people in Cincinnati,” her statement continues.

"Many of the issues raised by the Mayor’s letter have already been addressed and we are committed to working collaboratively on any outstanding concerns. We have willing partners in the business community, the retailers and tenants at the Banks, City Council, and in the community. All of these partners are working toward a solution. I look forward to the Mayor’s cooperation to bring home a win for Cincinnati.”

Another county commissioner, Stephanie Summerow Dumas, also released a statement:

“Mayor Cranley’s letter generated questions that have been addressed or will be addressed as part of the property acquisition process. I look forward to the continued ongoing public discussion on this issue on September 3."

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