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CINCINNATI - Downtown: The Long Road for Broadway Commons

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The Long Road for Broadway Commons

Broadway Commons is a site located at the junction of Reading Road and Broadway in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio that was once the site of a proposed baseball stadium. But the proposal from a railroad yard and industrial site to a casino was a decades long process that was anything but easy.

In the mid-1800s, the land for Broadway Commons was once home to a Cincinnati, Lebanon and Northern Railway yard and train depot until 1969, and various industries and businesses, including Eagle White Lead Company and Queen City Chevrolet. In the late 1990s, the site was sought after for a potential location for the Cincinnati Bengals stadium, and then for the Cincinnati Reds. Issue 1 in 1996 led to a half-cent county sales tax to build new stadiums. On May 29, 1997, the Bengals and the county signed a lease to build Paul Brown Stadium on the riverfront.

A 1994 rendering of a Reds baseball stadium at Broadway Commons.

On April 7, 1998, city council offered $20 million to the Reds to build a stadium at Broadway Commons. The county, along with the Reds, preferred a riverfront location. This is a gross simplification of the debates and threats of lawsuits that actually occurred, but that is for another day – and eventually articles for the stadiums.

A 1998 proposal, from Atlanta-based Post Properties, was introduced to city council on April 13 that called for 600 housing units and retail. The idea was not well received by some – including then-Councilman Jim Tarbell, who stated that Post’s intent was to lobby for a pro-riverfront baseball stadium. John Schneider, chairman of the pro-riverfront Move Greater Cincinnati Forward campaign, stated that a facility would not physically fit at Broadway Commons. Neighborhood Committee Chairman Charlie Winburn, however, saw that Broadway Commons would be a great way to attract more people to live in downtown. It was also a site that could be redeveloped “immediately,” as a riverfront site was next to Fort Washington Way that was being reconstructed and would be under construction for the next several years.

1998 housing proposal for Broadway Commons.

On July 1, the county and city signed an agreement to build the Reds stadium along Main and 2nd Street in what was described as “the wedge.” Not satisfied, backers of a Broadway Commons stadium gathered enough signatures by July 24 to have the issue put to ballot that November. Issue 11, which went to voters that November, called for a baseball stadium location to be placed at Broadway Commons over the riverfront. It was ultimately defeated.

The first notion for a casino was 2006, when Louis Beck, a hotelier and banker, began an effort to legalize casinos in Ohio. That eventually led to Issue 3 for 2009.

On September 18, 2009, Rock Ventures, a group that would own a proposed Cincinnati casino as well as one in Cleveland, released a rendering of the casino if Ohio voters approve Issue 3 at the November polls. Issue 3 would authorize developers to install up to 5,000 slots machines and an unspecified number of table games. In return, the casinos would pay a 33% tax on gambling revenue, traditional business taxes, and for four, one-time $50 million licenses. The proposed Cincinnati development would generate $517 million in gambling revenue during its opening year, attract 6 million visitors a year and employ 1,700.

On April 15, 2010, Rock Ventures closed the deal on a 20-acre site in the northeast part of downtown for $35 million, roughly double the market value of $14 million. It was announced at that time that the casino would feature four to six retailers fronting the streets, restaurants, a main entrance at Reading and Broadway and a 4,000-space parking garage.

A rendering for Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati showing the front plaza and entrance.

Ground was broken on February 4, 2011 for Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati, the seventh nationwide, and heavy construction began within days on the site. Between February and March 2011, 7,700-tons of lead-contaminated soil was removed from the casino site and hauled to a landfill. The lead contamination came from Eagle Picher Lead Company, located near Reading Road and Broadway between 1867 and 1945. The “corroding house” was located near the main casino floor location, and was where acid was poured on sheets of lead to develop paint pigment.

On May 11, work was suspended on the casino after a dispute arose between Rock Gaming and the state of Ohio, who had proposed an increase in their tax rate. The Republican-led Ohio House of Representatives had approved a proposed budget the week earlier that included a tax rule that meant a larger bill for the casino developers under the Commercial Activity Tax (CAT). The casinos’ gross receipts, without deductions of winnings and payouts, would have been taxed. The House deal sought to apply the .26% CAT to total betting rather than just the net losses by the gamblers. But just shortly after introducing the bill, the lawmakers stripped out language that would have cost the developers millions of dollars and may have been illegal. The language was revised to define the taxation as to 33% of gross earnings, or total amount wagered minus winnings – as was agreed to in the 2009 constitutional amendment.

After a stoppage of 31 days, work began on the casino after the developers and the state came to an agreement.

On January 11, 2012, the city sold a half-acre, 450-foot portion of Broadway between Reading Road and Court Street to Rock Gaming in exchange for 1.4 acres of land along the edge of the casino property for a Reading Road realignment between Eggleston Avenue and Liberty Street. The county had previously agreed to sell a three-sided, nearly 1-acre, 160-space parking lot bordered by Broadway, Eggleston Avenue and Reading Road in exchange for 300 parking spaces in the casino’s 2,500-space garage.

On January 27, part of the casino’s second floor collapsed, injuring more than a dozen workers and halting construction at the development for one week. The incident occurred when workers were pouring concrete for a floor onto sheet metal that was supported by a steel beam that broke. On April 9, six construction firms, Messer Construction, J&B Steel Erectors Inc., Pendleton Construction Group LLC, D.A.G. Construction Company, TriVersity Construction Company and Jostin Construction Inc. were issued $108,220 in citations.

The two-level, 350,000 square-foot Horseshoe Casino is expected to open in spring 2013, and is expected to cost $400 million to complete.

Below are photographs taken in mid-May of the casino construction.

Further Reading
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