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The Banks Cincy

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$35M Banks hotel plan gets first look

The more than 15-year wait to land a hotel at The Banks is now over.

A deal is in place to bring a seven-story, 165-room AC Hotel to the southwest corner of Joe Nuxhall Way and Freedom Way in Downtown Cincinnati.

Developers say the $35 million Marriott brand hotel is European in style and is geared toward millennials, with a rooftop bar, contemporary decorating, craft beers, small meeting rooms and fresh fruit and juices for breakfast.

The Joint Banks Steering Committee unanimously approved a resolution Monday for Eagle Realty Group to begin building the hotel and for Blue Ash-based Winegardner & Hammons to operate and manage it.

The agreement calls for the hotel site to be sold to Eagle Realty, a subsidiary of the Downtown-based Western & Southern Financial Group, later this month. Construction could begin this fall and the project would be wrapped up in spring 2017.

Tax incentives are not part of the hotel project, an important consideration to city and county officials wary of handing out more breaks to developers.

“The AC Marriott will be a unique and special property that will help make The Banks a premier destination to our city,” said Bob Castellini, president and CEO of the Cincinnati Reds and steering committee chairman.

Hamilton County commissioners signed off on the plan Monday and the city plans to execute the hotel development agreement on the steering committee’s recommendation. The vision for landing a hotel at The Banks was established in 1999 as part of the Central Riverfront Urban Design Master Plan.

“This is really a huge leap forward for The Banks project,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann.

During the steering committee meeting Monday, Castellini praised the city’s and county’s commitment to helping the project move past its days spent as a “dust bowl.” About $1.6 billion has already been invested in The Banks from public and private sources since 1997, he said.

The hotel and other aspects of The Banks project have come together slowly over the past several years, in part because of the recession. Three restaurants have closed on the site and the collapse of the condo market a few years ago forced developers to shift their focus to apartments for the residential phases of the development.

There’s still space for an office building at the corner of Second and Walnut streets. You can’t buy clothes or shop at a service-based businesses such as a dry cleaner at The Banks. There’s a retail out lot near the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center that sits undeveloped. Parcels near Paul Brown Stadium that are now parking lots could be prepped for additional development.

But Banks officials now say the project is moving along well, bolstered by the construction of General Electric Co.’s new office building and the 2,000 jobs expected to locate there. The AC Hotel, part of Marriott’s upscale “lifestyle” brand of hotels, is a good fit for a residential and commercial developments such as The Banks, which hope to attract young professionals to its bars, restaurants and apartments.

“We think it’s a round peg in a round hole,” said Tom Gabelman, the county’s attorney on The Banks project. “It fits extremely well.”

The hotel agreement is the first time Carter and Associates, The Banks’ master developer, is using a third-party to complete development work since being picked to lead the project in 2007. Gabelman said using a third-party made sense because of Eagle Realty and Winegardner & Hammons have worked together on 15 hotel projects. In Downtown Cincinnati, the team developed the Residence Inn and are working together to convert the former Anna Louise Inn near Lytle Park to become an Autograph Collection Hotel.

“I want to thank the city and county Banks project teams, Eagle Realty Group, and Winegardner & Hammons who worked hard to get this deal done,” said City Manager Harry Black. “This development will add vibrancy and jobs to a critical piece of our Downtown riverfront and continues the strong momentum we are experiencing throughout the city.”

Mike Conway, chief executive of Winegardner & Hammons, said his company has been working to land the lifestyle brand AC Hotel in the region for several years. Spanish hotelier Antonio Catalán founded the AC brand in 1998.

The Downtown AC would be the region’s second, the first opening at Liberty Center in Liberty Township this fall. The Downtown location is expected to have a first-floor lounge and library, a seasonal rooftop terrace bar and deck, meeting spaces, fitness center and outdoor courtyard. Rooms will be on the building’s second through seventh floors.

One section of the building’s exterior near the corner of Joe Nuxhall and Freedom is envisioned to feature a four-story-tall animation board. City approval is likely required for the sign, but officials have said it isn’t expected to feature advertisements.

Average room prices could be about $180 a night in the hotel’s first year of operation, according to hotel development officials.

The city’s Urban Design Review Board will review the hotel design plans on Thursday and May 20.

The announcement of the hotel deal comes a week after county officials shuffled their economic development team because of disagreement over the pace of progress at The Banks.

Commissioners removed County Administrator Christian Sigman from all economic development projects, including The Banks, after he wrote an email to city officials critical of Atlanta-based Carter.

Commissioners and city officials said they did not agree with Sigman’s assessment and said they were pleased with Carter’s work. They said more of the same Monday before voting to approve plans for the AC Hotel.

Last year, Mayor John Cranley said he did not want taxpayers to provide additional subsidy to land a new hotel at The Banks. Gabelman said the preference when evaluating proposals for The Banks is that projects require no public subsidy, but a case-by-case analysis is completed later to determine whether they may be necessary.

“We looked at it and said ‘well the market is changing’ and therefore in terms of property tax abatement, those dollars we really want to go to the additional infrastructure we need to build,” Gabelman said.