Thursday, October 9, 2003

City, eatery swapping land

Montgomery Inn to develop site on river

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Owners of the Montgomery Inn restaurant group plan to double the size of the Montgomery Inn Banquet Center and build a parking garage as part of a riverfront development that could include shops and a hotel.

Cincinnati officials have approved a land swap that will give the restaurant group a chance to develop a valuable, city owned parcel in exchange for a much smaller gravel-covered parking lot north of Pete Rose Way.

The swap is a good deal for the city, Mayor Charlie Luken said, because it could trigger an ambitious riverfront project rivaling the successful $215 million Newport on the Levee complex of entertainment, restaurants and shops.

"From the city's point of view, it's jobs and economic development," Luken said.

Montgomery Inn today will unveil a plan to solicit proposals from 30 developers nationwide for the 3-acre site at the base on the purple pedestrian bridge linking Cincinnati to Newport.

A letter of intent signed by the city and Montgomery Inn gives the restaurant three years to successfully build a project on the city owned, 1.7-acre site. Montgomery Inn controls the rest of the land for the proposed development.

The only thing the restaurant knows for sure is that it wants to double capacity of the 375-person Montgomery Inn Banquet Center and add a 500-space parking garage.

"Whatever gets done, we want to take our banquet center into this new development," said Evan Andrews, vice president of Montgomery Inn.

He isn't worried that Cincinnati and Hamilton County's ambitious plans to build homes and shops between the Reds and Bengals stadiums have been slow to materialize. The local governments haven't been able to round up money to start building parking garages to support the Banks project.

Andrews thinks the Levee's success in Northern Kentucky shows that shops and restaurants are eager to claim a spot along the Ohio River. But tax breaks helped trigger the 10-acre Newport development, including a $10 million state package aimed to spur a $40 million expansion that will include a hotel.

Other than a favorable land deal, Andrews said, Montgomery Inn has no plans to ask for a public subsidy to start the development.

"We're not counting on the city or county participating in order to get this off the ground," Andrews said.

The city owned land, which is worth up to $1.9 million, is now used as parking for the Montgomery Inn Banquet Center, also known as the Gregory Centre. In exchange, the city gets a one-third-acre parcel worth $500,000.

The extra value will be considered the city's financial contribution to the project, according to City Manager Valerie Lemmie.

A letter of intent signed by the city and Montgomery Inn indicates that another possible public funding source could be tax increment financing - a method of using property tax dollars to help pay for site improvements.


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