3CDC unveils ‘bold’ vision for $200 million convention center redevelopment

A new 800-room hotel is also planned for the convention district.
3CDC unveils ‘bold’ vision for $200 million convention center redevelopment
Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 3:44 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Cincinnati City Council on Monday got its first look at the proposed redevelopment of the Duke Energy Convention Center downtown.

The $200 million project could break ground in the third quarter of 2023, according to 3CDC’s Steve Leeper.

3CDC is spearheading a collaborative city-county effort to redevelop the convention center district including the construction of a new convention center hotel on the 4th Street parking lot south of the DECC. (See map below.)

“I took to heart statements saying be bold in our thinking in terms of the development and also statements saying be bold in our inclusion efforts, and I think we can do both,” Leeper said at Monday’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting.

3CDC is working on the project with Moody Nolan, a Black-owned architecture firm out of Columbus, and TVS, an Atlanta architecture firm. Moody Nolan and TVS have worked together previously on convention centers in Nashville and New York City.

“We really want to make this building attractive, functional, flexible and green and make sure it lasts a long time and is competitive for a long time so were not back at the table 5-10 years from now saying we missed something,” Leeper said. “So we asked them to really dream, and our goal is to match their dream with a budget we can afford.”

3CDC’s priority is to renovate the existing convention center. The site of the former Millennium Hotel will remain vacant, with the long-term plan being a possible expansion of the convention center over Elm Street.

The interim plan for the former Millennium site calls for a “fantastic” outdoor programmable space, per Leeper. The plan would close Elm Street to car traffic by default but allow it to reopen as needed.

Exhibition space on the east side of the convention center would be expanded and opened up to allow programming to flow out into the former Millennium site. The site, referred to in the renderings as “Elm Street Park,” could also be used for community events.

The site was featured in BLINK last weekend. It is now home to Ohio’s largest mural.

The $200 million price tag reflects a significant upward revision since the last time Leeper briefed officials publicly. In May 2022, Leeper gave a rough estimate of $100 million for the convention center alone. He also said a new convention center hotel would cost around $260 million for a total project cost of $360 million.

Leeper did not address the price increase Monday, nor did he say whether the cost of the hotel has changed. The $200 million price tag for the convention center does not appear to include the new hotel.

Leeper referenced a third-party study from HVS showing Cincinnati has the capacity to welcome an 800-room upscale hotel from a national brand with as much as 80,000 square feet of flex meeting space, a 25,000-sq.ft. ballroom and a 12,000-sq.ft. ballroom.

The renderings shown Monday depict a building around 28 stories tall, though it isn’t clear the hotel design falls under the architecture firms’ purview.

3CDC has issued requests for proposals to four hotel national hotel developers. They are due next Monday, Oct. 24.

“I think there is strong interest in this,” Leeper said.

3CDC will review the proposals, interview the firms alongside local stakeholders and officials and then make a recommendation to City Council and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.

The convention center hotel would go on a surface parking lot along 5th Street immediately south of the DECC.

Leeper noted 3CDC has secured a sale agreement for the Whex Garage, which lies between 4th and 5th streets fronting Elm Street south of the DECC. 3CDC is eyeing a mixed-used development on the Whex block.

Renderings of the proposed redesign and redevelopment of the Duke Energy Convention Center in...
Renderings of the proposed redesign and redevelopment of the Duke Energy Convention Center in Downtown Cincinnati.(City of Cincinnati/3CDC/Moody Nolan)

Financing is a “tall order,” Leeper conceded. The primary funding source would be the transient occupancy tax, which is currently allocated to several existing debt commitments, including the debt service on the DECC, the Sharonville Convention Center, the Millennium Hotel and TQL Stadium.

3CDC’s is creating a common plan of financing that would remove those debt commitments from their silos, consolidate the debt into one pool and refinance it. The plan would also reallocate some of the transient occupancy tax revenue.

Leeper says 3CDC will also work with the State of Ohio to pursue other revenue capital sources.

The convention center project would receive $7 million from the City of Cincinnati in carryover funds if City Council approves the mayor’s carryover budget announced last week.

Meeting diversity, equity and inclusion goals is a stated priority, according to Leeper. The project’s inclusion goals are to use 25 percent of minority-owned businesses and 15 percent of women-owned businesses, each 5 percent greater than the city’s existing inclusion goals for economic development projects.

3CDC hopes to award the contract for a construction firm before June 2023.

Construction expected to start in the third quarter of 2023.

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