Sunday, September 02, 2001

Newport stealing Hofbrauhaus

Cincinnati expected beer garden for the Banks

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — Auf Wiedersehen, Cincinnati. It appears the Hofbrauhaus is coming to Newport.

        A pair of Northern Kentucky developers and the Cincinnati Restaurant Group Inc. are in the final stages of a lease agreement to build a Hofbrauhaus restaurant/beer garden in the block bordered by Third Street, Saratoga Street, Washington Street and Southgate Alley.

        It is the same Hofbrauhaus — a copy of the famous Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany — that was to be built on Cincinnati's riverfront. City leaders and developers have considered the project a key entertainment cornerstone of the Banks development project.

        The Banks is to run along the riverfront between the Reds' Great American Ball Park and the Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium. Plans call for stores, restaurants, apartments and parks.

        Nick Ellison of Fort Thomas said he and his partner, local businessman Eric Haas, “basically have the deal. The lease is currently being reviewed, but we think we have all the hurdles overcome. We're not out of the woods, but we are convinced we will have everyone signed on the dotted line very soon.”

        Negotiations are unfolding between the developers and Cincinnati Restaurant Group, the company overseeing U.S. expansion for Hofbrauhaus Muenchen. No city dollars are involved, and Newport officials do not need to sign off on the deal.

        The developers own the property, which is zoned for a restaurant.

        If a deal happens, work on the Newport project is expected to begin soon with an opening date of June 2002.

        Andi Udris, former Cincinnati economic development director and head of Cincinnati Restaurant Group, confirmed from his new home in Kansas City that the lease was under review. The deal in Newport looks solid, he said.

        “The building is exactly the right size and appearance,” he said of the one-story brownstone structure that is more than 100 years old and once housed a beer distributing business. “And it's a great location.”

        Cincinnati leaders say they have not been competing with Newport to attract the restaurant-beer garden.

        “Most of that is fabricated,” Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey said Saturday. “There was never any race or any competition. If they decided to go to Newport, that's a decision they've made on their own.”

Part of riverfront fun

        Mr. Ellison said Hofbrauhaus officials in Munich “liked the idea that there was a building ready to go, and they very much like it being in a new entertainment district. Of course, they also want their own identity.”

        Newport on the Levee, just a block from the site, opens in early October. It eventually will have about 50 tenants, including a 20-screen AMC multiplex theater, a 3-D IMAX theater, a GameWorks, a Shadowbox theater, a number of restaurants and specialty shops, and the 2-year-old Newport Aquarium.

        “By being on our own property, we maintain a separate identity,” Mr. Ellison said. “But at the same time, (we will be) a part of the overall entertainment picture on the river front.”

        The restaurant will seat about 350 customers inside, and Mr. Ellison said the plan calls for an outside beer garden that will accommodate another 250-300 people.

        There will be parking on site for about 160 vehicles, but the 2,000-car parking garage at Newport on the Levee is within easy walking distance.

        Hofbrau Muenchen is the Bavarian state brewery and the Hofbrauhaus is among the most prominent tourist attractions in Munich — a sister city of Cincinnati. It draws about 1.8 million visitors per year. The only brauhaus operation outside Munich is in Hong Kong.

        The Hofbrauhaus comes to Newport on the heels of another Cincinnati defection — the Great Inland Seafood Festival. It moved to the Newport riverfront this summer after 14 years in Cincinnati.

        The Newport Aquarium also was originally planned for downtown Cincinnati. However, it was built in Newport with tax assistance from the state through the Kentucky Tourism Act.

        “It's clear the people in Newport are all going in one direction,” Mr. Udris said. “There is help from the governor and the state, and they know what direction they want the city to go.”

        Just a month ago, Mr. Udris was discussing the possibility of the Hofbrauhaus coming to the Banks. Hamilton County officials are still seeking funds to pay for $68 million in parking garages that will physically support the project.

        “We think this location is a winner for several reasons,” Mr. Ellison said. “We will attract customers from both sides of the river. And we are within a short drive of about 55,000 college students. That will be one of our target markets.”


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