- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals and Hamilton County (Ohio) officials reached an important deal Thursday that will provide the team with desperately-needed upgrades to Paul Brown Stadium, and help bring more jobs to the region.
The Cincinnati Enquirer first reported Thursday afternoon that the Bengals agreed to waive height restrictions at "The Banks," a riverfront development on which stands Paul Brown Stadium, Great American Ballpark, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and a host of shops, restaurants and an apartment complex. The lease for the Bengals' stadium had allowed the team to invoke height restrictions on any new development that came to the area.
As a trade-off for waiving the height restrictions, the Bengals will be receiving stadium upgrades that the county will help pay for. Atop the list of renovations are changes to Paul Brown Stadium's scoreboard. It hasn't been replaced since the venue opened in 2000, and is considered far behind the digital style boards that nearly every other NFL stadium currently has. According to the Enquirer, the Bengals will foot 25 percent of the cost for the $10 million scoreboard upgrade.
Other renovations include the sprucing of furniture and other items in the stadium's boxes, the installment of wifi, and the expansion of the Bengals' weight room in the event the city is able to attract a major league soccer team. In a news release, the Bengals said they will spend about $6 million on all stadium upgrades, including completely footing the $2 million bill for the locker room and weight room changes.
"Quietly, we have been working with the county on a cooperative basis for several years," Bengals president and owner Mike Brown said in a statement. "With the announcement of our financial participation in several stadium upgrades, we are able to take that cooperation to a new level and put behind us matters that in the past might have turned into battles."
While the Bengals get their stadium tweaks, the city and county (since Hamilton County taxpayers approved a half-cent sales tax for the construction of the Bengals' and Reds' new stadiums in 1996 the county controls the stadium leases) will hope to add jobs, be able to build a pair of new buildings that will go into the iconic riverfront skyline.
The easing of the height restrictions at The Banks means a commercial building will soon go up near the stadiums. City and county leaders are hoping to entice General Electric to occupy the property after sites in two nearby neighborhoods made bids for the company's new building. GE wants the bids all in by Friday, according to the Enquirer. Cincinnati's leadership would prefer GE's new offices go on the riverfront instead of to points north and east of downtown.
Along with a space for a new GE office building, the county will soon be erecting a second housing complex that will have shops and restaurants around it, much like the one that is currently operating on The Banks. All told, the two developments could bring about 2,000 jobs to the region.
Brown's daughter, Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn, also was named Thursday to a Banks development committee.
"I am looking forward to getting more involved as the development of The Banks continues," Blackburn said. "The riverfront has been our home since 1970. It is now an exciting place to live, work and have fun. There is a lot of work ahead to make sure that the promise of The Banks is fulfilled."
As was mentioned in this stadium-upgrade primer on the blog Thursday morning, the entire situation is a win-win for all parties involved. The Bengals get much of what they wanted in the way of stadium upgrades without having to completely foot the bill as the county had previously desired. Hamilton County and the city of Cincinnati should have an influx of jobs and new housing and retail opportunities in an area that has started taking off in the last decade.
"This is an economic home run, or more appropriate to the situation, a touchdown," Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann told the Enquirer.
Bengals fans should have even more bars to frequent before and after games, will have a modernized, in-stadium video board and wireless technology.
Now if the team can only win a playoff game, Bengals fans will really feel like winners.