CINCINNATI (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) - Two of Hamilton County’s three commissioners felt the Millennium Hotel redevelopment plan is worth taking a chance on.
By a vote of 2-1, the commissioners voted to pay $1.3 million in “earnest money” to be used to purchase the current convention hotel from the Singapore-based owner. The Millennium Hotel is widely regarded as outdated.
Millennium Hotels and Resorts had set a deadline of Friday for the county to pay the earnest money or no deal, according to our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The two commissioners who voted for the earnest money payment, Todd Portune and Denise Driehaus, said this was the best chance to build a high-quality hotel and expand the Duke Energy Convention Center.
The money is coming from the county's hotel tax revenue, which is earmarked for conventions and tourism.
“The reality is, this is our only opportunity,” Portune said. “And it’s a great opportunity for the city and the county, for the convention and visitors industry from standpoint of creating new jobs.”
Commissioner Stephanie Summerow Dumas voted no and said it's "the worst deal since I’ve been here."
She believes the county is throwing its money away and expressed suspicion about why the county was given such a tight deadline.
“When you buy a house, you check the roof,” Dumas said. “You check the basement to make sure it’s not leaking. When you buy a car, you check tires to make sure the tires are good.”
The plan is to demolish the 872-room Millennium Hotel and build a new one, possibly a Signia Hilton hotel on top of the new wing of the convention center on the Millennium site. Officials project the combined hotel and convention center expansion will cost between $400 million and $500 million.
Oakley-based developer Rob Smyjunas assigned a purchase contract with Millennium founder Kwek Leng Beng of Singapore in August to buy the 872-room Millennium for about $36 million. The deal had been in the works since at least March. There have been two intent-to-buy extensions already, though they were never made public.
Smyjunas had been seeking a public entity to issue tax-exempt bonds, and he thought the Convention Facilities Authority of Hamilton County could do it. But that would take time.
So he turned to the Port. The Port has helped with projects like the FCC West End stadium and Great American Tower, using its government status for borrowing money. But those projects had private investment money as the base. In this case, the Port – or the public – would own the hotel.
In this scenario, the hotel basically pays for itself. Here’s how it works: The Port issues the bonds, the hotel gets built, then the money from the hotel pays the debt and for the operator. Smyjunas, who has been in talks with the owner for a decade, would be paid for brokering the deal.