City of Cincinnati is expected to approve $7 million for the $200 million project on October 19
By Chris Wetterich Staff reporter and columnist
The Duke Energy Convention Center would be radically overhauled under a proposal by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., which would demolish and replace all street-facing facades of the aging building and wrap it with glass, as well as adding a rooftop solar garden.
3CDC CEO Steve Leeper, who led the efforts to build a new convention center and stadiums in Pittsburgh, previously told the Business Courier the facade should be replaced in an update of the convention center, but Monday was the first time he revealed how encompassing it could be. The proposal calls for an arched roofline aimed at evoking the region’s hilly terrain.
3CDC has hired Moody Nolan, a Black-owned architecture firm out of Columbus, and TVS, an Atlanta architecture firm, to work on the project. They worked together on convention centers in Nashville and New York. The goal? Make the convention center more attractive, useful, flexible and environmentally friendly in a way that will last for decades. The city is expected to approve $7 million for the $200 million project on Wednesday.
The potential cost of the project has doubled since a 3CDC presentation in May, although Leeper cautioned then the cost likely would be more. A full expansion across Elm Street would cost even more.
“I took to heart statements … saying be bold in our thinking,” Leeper told Cincinnati City Council’s budget committee. “We’ve asked them to really dream, and our goal is to match their dreams and their vision with a budget that we can all afford.”
A primary funding source for the project is expected to be the city and county hotel taxes, whose complicated use formula will have to be overhauled. Leeper called it a “tall order.”
Today, hotel tax revenue is used to pay off debt on and operate the existing convention center, the Sharonville Convention Center, the Millennium Hotel purchase, fund the Visit Cincy convention and visitors bureau and the public infrastructure portion of TQL Stadium, to which then-Mayor John Cranley and the previous City Council committed the city.
3CDC plans to refinance all of the debt in order to open up revenue for the convention center overhaul, plus attempt to secure state capital funding. Contingent on funding, the project could see a construction manager hired and break ground sometime next year, potentially in the third quarter.
The last update of the convention center occurred in 2005, and it has struggled the more it ages, with the lack of a first-class headquarters hotel being another major obstacle.
At the behest of the city and Hamilton County, 3CDC also is leading the effort to replace the headquarters hotel, which will go on a vacant parking lot south of Fifth Street, and refresh the convention center. Four firms were selected to respond to a request for proposals for the hotel, which are due on Monday. After the firms are interviewed by stakeholders, 3CDC will make a recommendation to the city and county on which firm with which to enter into negotiations.
The refreshed convention center renderings include an expected, 58,000-square-foot park and outdoor convention space at the former site of the now-demolished Millennium Hotel on the east side of Elm Street. The park also will be programmed and eventually be developed into an expansion of the convention center.
Elm Street generally would be closed under the proposal to create a seamless connection to the convention center, but it could be open if necessary.
“That would be the exception rather than the rule,” Leeper said.
Other aspects of the plan include:
- 12,000 square feet of extended exhibit hall space on the building’s east side.
- Upgraded meeting and ballroom space.
- Making the building have net zero emissions with improvements to building systems and technology.
Council members praised the plan.
“Love the design,” said Councilman Mark Jeffreys. “Our convention center is so out of date.”