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Cincinnati, Hamilton County Reach Agreement On Banks Park

Bill Rinehart
New music venue now under construction at The Banks riverfront development.

Cincinnati and Hamilton County reached an agreement Thursday that will allow work to resume on a park at The Banks to support the new music venue currently under construction.

For two weeks, the two sides had been arguing about who should build the Smale Park expansion: the city, the county or both.

The county executed construction contracts for the park project in April, but the city had not signed them by a July 31 deadline. That led to the most recent impasse.

The county had been developing this park space, which will function as part of the outdoor performance space for the future Andrew J. Brady ICON Music Center. County Administrator Jeff Aluotto said the county offered to do this work because it already had contracts in place. The space would be turned over to the city when finished.

But on Aug. 6, the city pulled the county's permit for work on a sliver of land along Race Street that will be the entrance to the park. That stopped construction work and put more than 70 construction workers off the job.

Mayor John Cranley accused the county of negotiating in bad faith concerning a new cooperation agreement for The Banks, and how the remaining lots there will be developed and who will develop them.

Interim City Manager Paula Boggs Muething sent a memo to the mayor and council members outlining the agreement to let park construction continue.

"The documents provide the city with the assurances and construction information required for the city to reinstate the construction permits that had been granted improperly, including without required city consent as owner of a portion of the property," Boggs Muething wrote. "The newly executed documents include adding the city as a co-signatory to the county's prior-executed contract with Universal for construction of the city park, amendments to the county contracts with Messer and THP that designate the city as a third party beneficiary, the city-county-MEMI entertainment venue development agreement, and the city-county term sheet with addendum."

The Race Street Promenade is scheduled to be completed in December, and will provide access to the music venue. The event lawn is supposed to be completed by May 1, in time for summer concerts.

"I'm glad that the County and City have come to an amicable agreement," said County Commissioner Stephanie Summerow Dumas in a news release. "We can't continue to waste time due to the numerous pressing issues facing both of our jurisdictions. Now, let's move forward in a spirit of goodwill to complete this project."

While the park issue may be resolved, the bigger question about developing the rest of The Banks likely remains unanswered. 

The city wants to develop the two remaining lots it owns without the county's approval. To do that, an earlier master development agreement would be dropped. The county has rejected that.

Mayor John Cranley and the late County Commissioner Todd Portune met last November and reached a tentative agreement to resolve those issues, but the two sides have been arguing since then to put that deal in writing, and officials haven't been able to agree on that document.

(WVXU's Tana Weingartner contributed to this story)