Banks Working Group Needs More Time

Maybe the land is cursed.

A group formed by Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials as the third attempt to speed up development along the city’s riverfront announced Wednesday that it needs more time to negotiate with a potential builder.

The Banks Working Group issued a press release stating it wouldn’t meet its self-imposed Feb. 15 deadline for finalizing a deal with AIG Global Real Estate Investment Corp. AIG was selected as the preferred developer for The Banks project in September, and the Working Group said negotiations to craft a detailed agreement would take five months, which expires Feb. 15.

In the release, Working Group Chairman Bob Castellini states, “We set an aggressive timeline to have the process completed — five months — but the complexity of the project requires some additional time. It is important for us to get this done, but it is more important that we get it done right.”

Earlier this week, it was revealed that city and county officials over the past few years had never asked for a written commitment from the federal government about its pledge to contribute $25 million to help build parking garages and streets on the riverfront site. The lack of a document has made AIG skittish until officials firm up the money, sources said.

In Wednesday’s press release, Castellini, Cincinnati Reds CEO, announced the Working Group would meet Feb. 15 to discuss the situation.

Castellini states, “While we have not encountered any issues or challenges that we feel are insurmountable, we anticipate we will need additional time to complete the master development and related agreements and make recommendations to the city and county. Just how much time will be determined at the meeting.”

Proposed in 1999, The Banks is envisioned as a mix of condominiums, offices and shops on 15 acres between the Reds and Bengals stadiums. The project has stalled over funding and jurisdictional issues, particularly who will pay for up to $81 million in parking garages and other improvements needed to lift the development area above the flood plain. County sales tax revenues were supposed to pay for the garages but are far below initial projections.

About $200 million in taxpayer money is expected to be included in any financing plan for The Banks, which has an estimated price tag of more than $800 million.

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 2005. 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 2006. Amid criticism that one team, the Western-Southern Financial Group — led by big cash contributors to the campaign of then-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.

— Kevin Osborne

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One Comment on “Banks Working Group Needs More Time”

  1. Peter Deane Says:

    Build a park… man that would have solved this problem long ago.

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