3CDC's Steve Leeper says the next major Downtown development priority needs to be the area around the Duke Energy Convention Center.
The aging convention center is surrounded mostly by blighted properties and surface parking lots. The old Millennium Hotel is in the process of being demolished, but there's no plan for a new convention center hotel.
Leeper, the development organization's president and CEO, had plenty to say about that area of western Downtown as this week's guest on The Enquirer's "That's So Cincinnati" podcast:
"We should strive to do better. I think there's a movement (afoot) that we do that and start thinking that district is critical to Downtown. When visitors come into our community, we need to show better than we're showing right now.
"We ought to start looking at the bright side of this, and that we now have a lot property under (public) control. Let's not do anything stupid here. Let's think about this and be bold but fiscally responsible. I think you can do both. Everybody is on the same page here. Our political leaders are actually trying to think about this in a comprehensive manner. They're excited about the potential. We ought to be excited about something instead of tinkling on each other."
Leeper said it's a "viable option" to build a new convention hotel on a site directly south of the convention center across Fifth Street and preserve the old Millennium site for a potential future convention center expansion.
"I don't think it's the only option," Leeper said. "The site to the south, quite frankly, I think it's big enough for not only a (hotel) but other uses. It could be more residential. It could be more hospitality. It could be entertainment. There's all kinds of possibilities here. We just need to get off our butts and start focusing on it."
The problem: There's no funding source for a new hotel or convention center expansion. And who's going to lead any of those projects has not been determined, though Leeper said conversations have been positive among political, business and development leaders.
Meanwhile, a block east of the convention center, 3CDC continues to make progress on overhauling the building that once housed the Fountain Square Macy's store. It was announced last week that Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse
will be relocating to the building, known as The Foundry, once the $51 million mixed-use project is finished.
In the podcast interview, Leeper told the story of how Ruby's decision came about unexpectedly from a conversation between Jeff Ruby's CEO Britney Ruby Miller and 3CDC Executive Vice President Adam Gelter.
Said Leeper: "Britney, with a colleague of mine, Adam Gelter, were walking down to the site. We were actually talking to another restaurateur at the time, and Adam was asking Britney about this restauranteur, what she knew about him. She said, 'Well, why?' He said, 'Because we're thinking about moving them into this spot.' She didn't know we were redeveloping the building at the time. (Jeff Ruby and his team) took a look at the site and said, 'I'd like to come here.' "