Banks Committee Prefers CSO Develop Music Venue

May 2, 2018

The Joint Banks Steering Committee is recommending the Cincinnati Symphony (CSO) and Music and Event Management, Inc. (MEMI) develop a music venue at The Banks. The recommendation next goes to Hamilton County commissioners and Cincinnati City Council.

The group reviewed proposals from the CSO/MEMI, PromoWest and Live Nation teaming with Ark Group. MEMI is a subsidiary of the CSO. The committee voted 4-1 to select the CSO bid. Two members recused themselves for conflict of interest and a third was absent.

Committee members particularly examined how each proposal might increase pedestrian traffic at The Banks, especially during non-peak times like when the Reds or Bengals aren't in season. They say they like how the CSO proposal utilizes an open park-like setting for the outdoor space rather than a traditional amphitheater.

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Bob Castellini argued in favor of the CSO bid, saying he likes that it includes all Cincinnati-based companies. The committee doesn't have to go outside the city to acquire excellence, he says. This might be the most important thing this committee will do, he added, saying he thinks energy is needed "down there and I think this will do it for us." 

Steve Love said he thinks MEMI has the best design and is best positioned to increase pedestrian traffic at The Banks during non-peak times. Robert Rhein likes the bid because he thinks they'll get it done the fastest.

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Former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken was the lone dissenting vote, saying he'd prefer to see more competition in the city's music scene. He says the venue is at a critical juncture with no one fighting over getting into retail spaces at The Banks. "We don't need someone to expand our music venues," he said. "We need someone to bring something new."

The city and county could be losing out on some property tax money since the CSO is a non-profit, but Gabelman says that only amounts to about $40,000 per year.

Representatives for PromoWest and Live Nation attended the meeting and expressed disappointment at the decision. Michael Belkin with Live Nation says he'd wished the company had been given the option to revise its bid, saying it could have offered a less expensive option. He also says his company has a proven record of bringing in big acts and putting "butts in seats."

The question was raised about how a new music venue might "cannibalize" events from other venues. Belkin chastised the committee for thinking this won't be a problem and suggested members should have talked with people in the industry like music promoters before making their decision.

Hamilton County commissioners Denise Driehaus and Chris Monzel say they'll look at the recommendation. They both say having an indoor/outdoor facility is important along with no public subsidy.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley issued a letter earlier this week supporting the PromoWest bid.

CSO/MEMI Proposal

The CSO is teaming with MEMI on its proposal for a largely indoor venue that could hold 600 to 4,000 people. It would be built on just one three-quarter acre lot at The Banks with lots of park space surrounding, which could be used to host up to 8,000 people for outdoor events, of which it anticipates having about 20-25 per year. The cost of the project, titled "Riverview" in the proposal, is $19.2 million with no public funding requested. It would be ready by November 2019.

Live Nation Proposal

The Live Nation proposal is for a $73 million venue that would hold approximately 6,000 inside and 3,000 outside. The group proposes about a 50 percent, $36 million public subsidy and anticipates it could be complete by Oct. 2020. They propose hosting 152 events per year, including 25 outdoor.

PromoWest Proposal

The Columbus-based company is proposing to use three lots (2.2 acres) at The Banks to create a 2,500 indoor capacity venue with a 5,000 outdoor capacity, largely standing. The group anticipates 180 events per year with a $15.3 million facility built by fall 2019 with no capital assistance.