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Plans for revamping Cincinnati's convention district are taking shape

hotel rendering
Rendering of a proposed hotel by developer Portman Holdings, one of four that submitted proposals for a new convention hotel in downtown Cincinnati.

Four developers have thrown their hats in the ring to potentially build a 60,000- to 80,000-square foot, 800-room convention hotel in downtown Cincinnati.

The Hamilton County Convention Facility Authority met Friday to hear about progress on that hotel, which is currently planned for a parking lot just south of the convention center. The body, which oversees work on the city's convention district, also heard a proposal for a $200 million renovation of the convention center itself.

3CDC Executive Vice President of Real Estate Adam Gelter gave a presentation on hotel plans. The four developers who submitted proposals — Portman Holdings, Matthews Southwest, Inland Pacific Company and Newcrest Image — aren't based in the region. Gelter said the size and niche nature of convention hotels precluded local developers, but that other forms of local buy-in are a major goal.

"We'll want some local ownership of this hotel, and participation in the equity and financing," he said. "And we'll want minority participation in that equity and financing, not just local."

Gelter says officials met with the developers recently and are focused on narrowing down their proposals in the coming weeks.

"We'll reconvene with that group after the holiday, with the goal of trying to select one of these developers to begin exclusive negotiation," he said.

Gelter also briefed the facilities authority on a proposal for renovating — but not expanding — the city's convention center. Those plans, designed by Moody Nolan and TVS, call for extensive updates to the exterior of the convention center as well as upgrades to the interior systems so that the building is net-zero emissions. Ballrooms and meeting rooms would be refreshed and exhibit spaces expanded under the plan.

"There shouldn't be any spaces that look like they haven't been touched in 16 years," he said, alluding to the convention center's last facelift in 2006. "We intend to go through the entire building and upgrade all the finishes and all the spaces."

The project's $200 million price tag is just an estimate, Gelter noted, and would need to be financed. He said reallocating revenue within the city and county's portions of the transient occupancy tax as well as refinancing and extending existing debt could be ways to fund the project.

City and county officials would need to approve details on proposals before they move forward.

Nick Swartsell is a general assignment reporter for WVXU. Before his current role, he worked on the station’s Cincinnati Edition program as assistant producer and was a journalist for outlets in Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and Texas prior to that. When he’s not reporting, he likes exploring places he probably shouldn’t on his bike, taking photos, and growing corn, tomatoes and peppers that are, in all honesty, much too hot for any practical use. He is from Hamilton. You can find him at @nswartsell on Twitter.