© 2023 Cincinnati Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Here's what a $200 million 'convention center district' in Cincinnati could look like

Convention center rendering exterior Fifth and Elm view.png
Moody Nolan
A rendering of what a redesigned Duke Energy Convention Center could look like, as seen from 5th Street and Elm.

3CDC this week unveiled initial plans for a convention center district in Cincinnati. The plans include redesigning the Duke Energy Convention Center and building a new 800-room hotel to replace the now-demolished Millennium.

3CDC is overseeing plans for a convention center district, but will search for a separate developer for actual construction. CEO Steve Leeper says the next planning stage will start in January.

"(We will) further take our design concept beyond the conceptual level; further define our scope; issue and award an RFP for a construction management firm; and then present more defined financing and development plans to the city, county, state and Visit Cincinnati," Leeper told a Cincinnati Council Committee Monday.

He says with a purchase agreement in place for Whex Garage, nearly all of the properties in that area are now under control.

"That would essentially give us that entire block," Leeper said. "That would allow us to really think boldly about not only the hotel, but some other additional mixed-use development."

Construction could start by the end of 2023.

A 'bold and expensive' vision

Initial designs for the existing convention center include updating ballroom and meeting rooms, rebuilding the exterior and adding a green rooftop event space.

"We have a bold vision that's going to be an expensive vision," Leeper said.

The total cost is estimated at $200 million. Funding is available from the revenue of both the Hamilton County Lodging Tax and the Cincinnati Lodging Tax.

But Leeper says the current structure and usage of that revenue complicates things:

  • 3% county lodging tax goes to the Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • 3.5% county lodging tax goes to debt service for the Duke Energy Convention Center, Sharonville Convention Center and Millennium Hotel, plus miscellaneous expenditures
  • 2.5% city lodging tax goes to debt service for the Duke Energy Convention Center and FC Cincinnati infrastructure
  • 1.5% city lodging tax goes to operations of the Duke Energy Convention Center

"But we are now presently developing what we call a common plan of financing, which eliminates the various silos on how that tax gets allocated," he said. "And then create one plan that it's going to go into a fund that will both refinance our debt (and) take care of all the legacy debt that we have out there. And then we would recommend some changes to how we might reallocate some of the revenue that comes on to the existing transient occupancy tax."
Even then, more money will need to come from somewhere.

This week Cincinnati Council is expected to approve $7 million from the carryover budget to go toward the ongoing design and planning stage. The Budget and Finance Committee voted unanimously Monday to approve that allocation, along with millions of dollars in savings and spending from the rest of the carryover.

See the full presentation to Cincinnati Council below:

Expertise: Local politics, housing policy