City, county bust deadlock
Joint committee to make plans for Banks
BY KIMBALL PERRY, MARLA MATZER ROSE AND DAN KLEPAL | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITERS
In a deal brokered by the Reds' new owners, Hamilton County and the city of Cincinnati agreed Wednesday to resolve their differences over the proposed $600 million Banks project.
The governments will create a new five-member entity that will make all major decisions on the stalled riverfront development.
The Banks Working Group will be led by Reds CEO Bob Castellini.
The other members will be picked by:
Mayor Mark Mallory.
The Cincinnati Center Development Corp., known as 3CDC. The private, nonprofit group is redeveloping Fountain Square and Over-the-Rhine.
Castellini, with approval of the county.
Group decisions, which must be unanimous, will include picking a developer. Decisions would need approval by City Council and the county commission.
"Now, we can finally count on a 50-acre mudhole becoming a world-class retail, office and residential community," commission president Phil Heimlich said.
Wednesday's deal was struck after 13 hours of intense negotiations in the past several days.
Heimlich joined Mallory and council members Chris Bortz and Jeff Berding. The sessions, at Great American Ball Park, were facilitated by Castellini and Tom Williams, both 3CDC board members and Reds owners.
Castellini was the only person named Wednesday to the five-member working group; the rest are expected to be named in coming days.
NO ONE TRAMPLED
"I think this is very close to what the city and the county were originally hoping for. No one is going to feel trampled," Bortz said following Wednesday's announcement at the ballpark, which is located across Main Street from the Banks site.
Among the key issues dividing the two governments were their intertwined land, air and development rights for the project, which will include a waterfront park and will be built up out of the Ohio River flood plain atop garages. Also disputed were a loan being sought from the state, parking garage revenues and the tens of millions in public revenue that the development is expected to generate.
One point left unclear after the announcement was whether the working group's meetings would be public. Mallory said after the news conference that he doesn't think the working group would be public, arguing that Ohio's open meetings law doesn't apply to the group because it will only make recommendations.
"It would be very, very difficult to make the kinds of decisions they'll make in an open process," he said. Among those decisions is how to spend about $100 million in tax dollars.
But Enquirer editor and vice president Tom Callinan said it's vital for the meetings to be public.
"We're pleased the city and county made progress on this important development, but we'll insist that these meetings be public," he said. "They must be open because taxpayers are paying for it."
The county stunned city officials in June with the announcement that it was taking charge of moving the Banks project forward. A hoped-for deal with a consortium led by Covington-based Corporex Cos. fell apart in December, after which the county issued a general request for qualifications from developers in February.
The county faced steep hurdles to continuing the process without the cooperation of the city, including a city ordinance passed March 1 that would withhold needed financing and development rights if the city were not included in the oversight.
The county's selection of a developer has been on hold since early April as the two governments remained at odds.
Under the framework announced Wednesday, there is no specific timeframe for the selection of the master developer.
'THE ENEMY ... IS DELAY'
But it seemed likely that the group would work quickly.
"The enemy of this project is delay," Heimlich said. "Castellini and Williams would not tolerate delay. That was the point they drove home."
Delays potentially jeopardized tens of millions of dollars in financing the county believed it has in place to help pay for the Banks.
Heimlich said the working group would soon receive the recommendation of a four-person county advisory committee as to which company should be selected as the developer.
In addition, the working group will be responsible for developing the project's small- and minority-business inclusion plans.
Immediately following the news conference, City Council adopted a resolution supporting Wednesday's agreement.
Councilman Jeff Berding said the recent talks between the city and county were exactly what were needed to move the process forward.
'AVERT A TRAIN WRECK'
"I'd said to a number of people in the business community, 'If you want to avert a train wreck, you're going to have to get us in a room and work it out.' That's how everything on the riverfront has been worked out in the past," he said.
The agreement came a week after former Cincinnati mayors Bobbie Sterne and David Mann filed a lawsuit, asking a judge to force the county to live up to previous agreements with the city and work cooperatively to develop the Banks.
SUIT LIKELY TO BE DROPPED
"It's hard to believe that was merely a coincidence," lawyer Marc Mezibov said of the announcement, which accomplishes what the Sterne-Mann suit sought.
The deal means the suit likely will be withdrawn, he said.