Thursday, July 04, 2002

City wants to relocate Ch. 9 HQ

Convention center expansion needs site

By Ken Alltucker,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The only things standing in the path of an expanded Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center are about $200 million and the Channel 9 building.

        Now that Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials think that most of the financing puzzle is solved, they're negotiating a purchase of the WCPO-TV building and parking lot at Fifth Street and Central Avenue.

        The city expects to make a formal offer within two weeks, Mark McKillip, coordinating the expansion for the city of Cincinnati, said Wednesday.

        The city wants the television station moved within 18 months so crews can demolish the building and expand the convention center toward Interstate 75 by 2005. WCPO officials say it will take at least two years to find, design, build and move to a new location.

        “We have no plans for holding up City Hall,” said Bill Fee, WCPO vice president and general manager. “We would like to solve this amicably.”

        WCPO, which employs 154, needs a building about twice the size of its current 35,000 square feet.

        Some sites suggested by the city are too small, including an empty lot at the northeast corner of Central Parkway and Vine Street, across from Kroger Co.'s headquarters, Mr. Fee said.

        A lack of available space in downtown with easy access to interstates for news trucks has prompted Mr. Fee to look at sites in Northern Kentucky and Hamilton County suburbs.

        But Mr. Fee said, “We want to stay as close to the center of downtown as possible.”

        Mr. McKillip will give WCPO the results of a property appraisal within two weeks. If WCPO objects to the price, it might hire its own appraiser.

        A budget presented to Mayor Charlie Luken's convention center task force suggests setting aside $21.5 million for land acquisition costs and roadwork.

        Last year, the task force directed city staffers to negotiate a purchase price with WCPO. Talks gained momentum last month, after the General Assembly passed a bill to allow Hamilton County and Cincinnati to increase hotel taxes to pay for the expansion.

        The new legislation allows Hamilton County to raise its hotel tax from 3 percent to 6.5 percent.

        The proposed tax increase has sparked fierce debate among Sharonville-area hoteliers, who think that downtown properties will unfairly benefit from the expansion.

        Other parts of the financing plan are less certain. Delta Air Lines said it wants to lower its pledge of $30 million for naming rights.

        Mr. McKillip said construction crews may expedite the project by renovating the existing convention center before the WCPO building is demolished. Almost 50,000 square feet of exhibit space will be added, giving the center 200,000 square feet.

        Plans also call for adding a 40,000-square-foot ballroom.

        Enquirer reporter John Kiesewetter contributed.


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