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Report: Paul Brown Stadium needs $494M in maintenance for the next 20 years

A pedestrian runs through Smale Park on the Ohio River front near Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals NFL Football team, as the team celebrates their 50th anniversary, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
John Minchillo
Paul Brown Stadium in 2017.

Paul Brown Stadium can remain in use for the next 20 years with about $494 million in maintenance and enhancements, according to a new report. The Bengals and Hamilton County split the cost of the analysis, conducted by Gensler, an architecture, design and planning firm.

Gensler's Demetra Thornton says the estimated cost is much less than building a new stadium, which could cost between $1 and $2 billion.

"I think you're thriving with the current stadium because it's been well maintained," Thornton said. "If you put this money into the building over the next 20 years, you do some fan enhancements, this is a building that everyone's going to want to be in for the next several decades."

The estimated $494 million includes structural maintenance and proposed enhancements (including 15% contingencies):

  • Architecture: $151,180,139
  • MEP and fire protection: $13,058,250
  • Structure: $158,894,914
  • Technology: $114,698,700
  • Food, beverage and retail: $38,089,228
  • Vertical transportation: $9,947,500
  • Roof and envelope: $7,840,055
  • Total: $493,708,785

Paul Brown Stadium opened in 2000. Thornton says it was designed to last a long time.
"Paul Brown Stadium is a very futuristic, very postmodern design that has the bones to be able to expand and adjust with our industry," Thornton said.

Still, there are structural concerns that need to be addressed if it remains in use for the next 20 years. For example, waterproofing the plaza deck, installing cushioned seating, and upgrades to gate and arrival areas to improve security. Suggested enhancements include food service, adding different types of seating, and various other ways to boost the fan experience.

The report is the first step in a forthcoming master plan. County commissioners will have ultimate authority to decide what changes to make to the stadium and how much to spend.

"Our number one primary focus will be to try to reduce the amount of impact on our taxpayers as it relates to providing these enhancements," said Commission President Stephanie Summerow Dumas.

The only public money that goes toward the maintenance and operation of Paul Brown Stadium is a half-cent sales tax passed by voters in 1996, which also funds Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Public Schools and the property tax rollback. The sales tax does not expire and will go toward stadium debt until at least 2032.

"I am a huge sports fan, huge Bengals fan; but as we move into this component, we have to look at how do we represent our shareholders, which are the taxpayers?" said Commission Vice President Alicia Reece. "And how do we reduce the cost on the taxpayers (while) at the same time, having something that will attract not only games, but tourism, concerts, etc.?"

Commissioners say they received the 200+ page report just 30 minutes before seeing a presentation Tuesday afternoon, and they expect to have a lot more questions as they review the information.

"I'm very glad to see that we're talking about renovations not replacement, because the cost is so different," said Commissioner Denise Driehaus. "If we were talking about replacement, we'd be in the billions."

The Bengals are leasing the stadium from the county in an agreement that expires at the end of 2026. County officials want to start negotiating a possible extension well in advance of the expiration.

"I think the county and the team are aligned that these discussions have to go together: these types of investments and an extended and renewed lease," said County Administrator Jeff Aluotto.

The Bengals said in a statement they are proud to call Paul Brown Stadium home.

"We are encouraged by the conclusion that Paul Brown Stadium was well-designed, well-constructed, and has been well-maintained," the statement said. "It looks like Paul Brown Stadium can continue to be our home for decades to come at far less cost than seen elsewhere. Today's report is a first step, and the Club looks forward to studying the report and exploring with the County ways to make the coming decades memorable ones for our hometown."

Gensler's full Master Plan is expected by the end of the year.

See the full facility conditions report online at this link. See a summary presentation below:

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.