Smale Park Extension Latest Holdup In Furthering Banks Development

Jul 28, 2020

A disagreement between Cincinnati and Hamilton County on a revised cooperation agreement for The Banks development threatens to delay a park project next to the new music venue now under construction.

Leaders are still discussing and trying to reach agreement on how the rest of the development will be completed. 

Mayor John Cranley and late county commissioner Todd Portune met last November and developed a framework for that document. But the plan is still not a signed document between the city and the county. 

Cranley and Portune agreed on several points, and each compromised on some items to move the plan forward.

Now county officials say the city wants to scrap the original master development agreement (MDA), and has not offered a viable replacement document for it. The MDA lays out the legal framework between the city and county for The Banks, and how public infrastructure like parking garages and streets are financed.

Commissioner Victoria Parks, who served as Portune's chief of staff and replaced him on the county commission following his death in January, was at the November meeting with Cranley.

"There is no way that he wanted the development agreement blown up," Parks said Tuesday during a county commission staff meeting. "We know that it is the foundation of what makes this work and so under no circumstances did he want to change it, and I'm hoping that nobody is suggesting that, and if they are, then did they bring something else that makes sense?"

County Administrator Jeff Aluotto also participated in the Cranley/Portune meeting via telephone. He had a similar recollection.

"The city and the county would each have the control of selecting the developer and the types of development that would occur on the air lots on The Banks," Aluotto said. "But that ultimately would be under the context of the MDA or a suitable alternative or replacement."

Scrapping the original MDA could cost the county $268 million. 

Cranley and Parks had a meeting last week to discuss the issues again.

A Cincinnati representative said the city just wants to be able to develop the remaining Banks lots that it owns without the approval or veto of the county.

County officials said the latest disagreement will not impact construction work on the new music venue. But it could impact construction of an extension of Smale Riverfront Park which will serve as the outdoor area for the music venue.

The county said if the city doesn't sign a contract for the park work by Thursday, it may have to rebid that work. The county has already executed that contract. Construction work on the parking garage to support the park is already underway but there's no work happening on the actual park itself.

Last week, Interim City Manager Paula Boggs Muething sent a 19-page memo with attachments to the mayor and City Council members accusing the county of delaying the projects.

"As a result of the county's delay, the music venue and adjacent park projects are facing delays and cost increases that may put the projects in jeopardy," Boggs Muething wrote. "The county alone is in a position to accept the Cranley-Portune agreement already approved by both parties."

Construction on the music venue is scheduled to be completed this fall.

It will have seating for 4,500 inside and 8,500 on greenspace outside the venue. That's the park project that could now be delayed.