Deadline for Banks Developer Shifted Again

For at least the third time during the past year, the deadline for selecting a developer to build The Banks project along Cincinnati’s downtown riverfront appears to have changed.

The long-stalled project involves building condominiums, offices and shops between the Reds and Bengals stadiums. It’s expected to cost about $800 million, which will include roughly $200 million in taxpayer money.

Although a high-powered advisory panel formed by Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials stated in late June that a developer would be selected in the next six to nine months, County Commissioner Pat DeWine said this week that the choice will be known sometime in August.

The timeline proposed by the advisory panel — known as The Banks Working Group — refers to how long it might take to get a finalized contract with the developer selected for the project, not the selection itself, DeWine said.

“I think there was some confusion about that,” DeWine said today. “The six to nine months is to go through the whole process to get a development agreement and work out the details.”

DeWine’s clarification comes just after it was publicly revealed that one of four development teams vying for the project, New York-based Rockefeller Group/Kimco, withdrew because of delays. That prompted the county commission’s sole Democrat, Todd Portune, to worry that one or more of the other applicants may also drop out.

DeWine calls those concerns unfounded: “The top two (choices ranked by county staffers) were ranked pretty closely together, so I imagine they will both stay interested.”

The top choices recommended by the staffers were Cincinnati-based Western-Southern Financial Group and Atlanta-based AIG Global Real Estate Investment Corp.

DeWine noted that selecting a finalist or finalists for building the project is listed as the third step in an 18-step process outlined by The Banks Working Group. It’s not until step 8, however, when Cincinnati City Council and Hamilton County Commissioners give the final OK to the selection by formally approving a contract.

Most of the intervening months between the steps will involve negotiations to hammer out a deal. Any contract will include a “completion guarantee” by the developer because the project will be built in phases over a decade, the advisory panel said.

County efforts to jumpstart The Banks project began in June 2005, when commissioners unilaterally took control away from the regional Port Authority and began negotiating a deal with the Corporex Cos. and Vandercar Holdings, hoping to have a contract by December. The six-month negotiation period ended in failure, however, when Corporex withdrew citing financial concerns.

Following the withdrawal, commissioners set up an in-house group of county staffers and others to review applications from potential developers and make a selection by April 5. Amid criticism that Western-Southern’s team — led by big cash contributors to the campaign of County Commission President Phil Heimlich — appeared to be the front-runner, commissioners shifted course again. They created The Banks Working Group in conjunction with city officials to review the selection process and make its own recommendations.

On June 30, The Banks Working Group stated that if the existing applicants fail to impress the panel will their plans the selection process will be opened to other developers. That seemed to contradict previous statements by Heimlich, who wanted a developer picked this summer and hoped construction could begin late this year or in early 2007.

— Kevin Osborne

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