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Urban Design board not impressed by drawings of new GE building on The Banks

The developer and architect of the planned General Electric Global Operations Center showed preliminary drawings to Cincinnati's Urban Design Review Board, and board members were not impressed.

The five board members said they didn’t believe the architectural drawings of the 10-story building to be constructed on The Banks were distinctive enough; and that the building was too plain.

But, in the end, there is nothing the Urban Design Review Board can do about it.

GE, said Laura Swadel, vice president of investments for Carter, The Banks’ developer, is “a very conservative company and they are proud of their brand. But they are very proud to be in Cincinnati and they want something classic that will stand the test of time.”

Greg Blaylock of the Atlanta-based architectural firm RJTR told the board GE "doesn’t want something that is truly iconic. We thought we could keep the office tower a little more subtle.”

But all five board members said they had hoped to see a more exciting, unique design.

“It is a building in the background and it is a conservative building,’’ said H.C. “Buck” Niehoff, the chairman of the board. “P&G is a conservative company too, but it built an iconic building for its headquarters.”

“We were looking for a special building and this seems to be a routine one,’’ Niehoff said.

Swadel said GE is not going to pay for a lot more than what the architects have designed.

“This building is going to be 100 percent occupied by GE and the design is driven by the tenant,’’ she said.

But, Swadel said, she and Blaylock would take the board’s ideas back to GE “to see if there is a way to do what you want and stick within the budget.”

Construction on the 10-story office tower is set to begin in October and should be fully functional by 2017. GE is bringing at least 1,800 jobs to The Banks building, which is being built to hold as many as 2,500 employees.

The city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County offered GE a generous tax incentive package to bring its Global Operations Center to The Banks. It will be located between the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Paul Brown Stadium, along with residential building.