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Port Authority Approves Its Part Of Proposed Millennium Hotel Project

Bill Rinehart

The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority approved a resolution Friday for the agency to be involved with a plan to redevelop the site of the current Millennium Hotel in Downtown Cincinnati.

The Port's Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution accepting a $1.3 million grant from Hamilton County to make an earnest money payment required in a purchase and sales agreement for the property that's currently held by a private developer.

The funding is contingent on a "reasonable agreement" for the developer, Vandercar, LLC, to assign the purchase contract to The Port.

The Port and the developer would then work on a plan to demolish the current Millennium Hotel and build a new one on the site next to the Duke Energy Convention Center.

The Hamilton County Commissioners voted 2-1 Thursday to use $1.3 million in residual funds from the county's transit occupancy tax, or hotel/motel tax, to assist with down payment.

Vandercar's contract with the Singapore-based owner of the Millennium set Friday as a deadline for completing due diligence on the project. That due diligence work is not completed, and the Millennium's owner would not grant an extension. The county agreed to make the payment even though it will not get the $1.3 million returned if the proposed project is found to be unfeasible, or something else goes wrong in the purchase process.

But Commissioners Denise Driehaus and Todd Portune thought the risk was worth it for the opportunity to purchase the Millennium Hotel and redevelop the site into a hotel that will serve as the headquarter hotel for the convention center.

County and Cincinnati officials and even private developers have been trying for years to get the Millennium owners to upgrade the hotel or sell it. Mayor John Cranley even publicly discouraged people from staying there.

Port Authority President and CEO Laura Brunner said there is still much "due diligence" to do on the proposal.  The main question is whether the proposed hotel will generate enough revenue to pay back the bonds that would be issued to pay for its construction.

Brunner said the agency must consider that if the project moves forward the Port would own a hotel in Downtown Cincinnati.

The Port will consider four options:

  • A 600-room standalone hotel on the Millennium site
  • A 600-room hotel and expansion of the convention center onto the Millennium site
  • An 800-room hotel and expansion of the convention center
  • A 1,000-room hotel and expansion of the convention center

The group will also study which flag the proposed hotel would fly. Right now, there are two options: a high-end Hilton Hotel or Signia Hotel. Construction costs and space for both brands will be considered in the financial analysis.
Local leaders have said for years the city is losing out on convention business because of the poor conditions at the Millennium Hotel. They say a new hotel will help the city sell more conventions and benefit other hotels and businesses in the downtown area.

Once the $1.3 million down payment is made, the various parties will have until early January to decide how to proceed.

County leaders have suggested that even if the proposal for a new hotel doesn't work, the parties should still consider continuing with the purchase, so the Millennium site is under local control for potential redevelopment.