AEG Presents announced Thursday a plan to build a $40 million live-music complex in Newport, Kentucky, on the southern banks of Ohio River, directly across from downtown Cincinnati. The move came after AEG and Columbus, Ohio-based subsidiary, PromoWest Productions (which AEG bought last year), lost a bid in June 2018 to build a similar venue in a Cincinnati riverfront development known as the Banks, positioned between Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park, the respective homes of the Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds.
The winning bidder for the Banks project was the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The CSO owns Music & Event Management Inc. (MEMI), a promotions arm that books Cincinnati venues such as Riverbend Music Center and the Taft Theatre. Similar to AEG’s Newport concept, the CSO has a plan to build a double-duty venue on the Banks site: a 4,500-capacity indoor room, and an adjacent 8,000-capacity outdoor amphitheater. But the Banks project has been slow to move, due to city-county government discord and the concerns of surrounding businesses, including the owners of the NFL’s Bengals.
PromoWest CEO Scott Stienecker tells Billboard that there’s far less red tape on the Kentucky side of the river, and that was the biggest factor in turning a failed bid into a fast-tracked one. “As soon as we got turned down by the city and the symphony won the bid, I literally drove across the river that day and said, ‘OK. We’re ready,'” he says. “We’re not having to deal with all the different entities. In Cincinnati we were dealing with city, county, the Banks steering committee, parks and recs, the Bengals, the Reds and the county’s attorneys. Across the way we dealt with the developer, Corporex, and they dealt with the city, and boom, it just came together.” The venue will be positioned in the middle of a $1 billion riverside residential-commercial development called Ovation.
Back in Ohio, the blame game has begun, now that AEG, a nationwide powerhouse, is moving in directly across the river to go toe-to-toe with the symphony, a regional booker and the hometown pick for the Banks location. Cincinnati mayor John Cranley is pointing the finger at infighting among Hamilton County politicians and stakeholders. “I did everything in my power, but because of the county’s stubbornness, we lost a huge deal to Newport,” Cranley told the Cincinnati Enquirer. Cranley had supported the PromoWest bid for the Banks project.
The Newport complex will be similar to the PromoWest facilities Express Live! in Columbus and Stage AE in Pittsburgh. Those rooms are 2,300-cap indoor and 5,200 outdoor; Newport’s will be 2,700 indoor and 7,000 outdoor. PromoWest also owns and operates the annual Bunbury music festival, which takes place in downtown Cincinnati.
According to Shawn Trell, AEG executive vice president and chief operating officer, the company’s midwest footprint provides an advantage over the Cincinnati Symphony. “It makes a tremendous amount of geographic sense to have those venues tied together from a booking perspective, being that many artists would play all three markets when coming through that area of the country,” Trell tells Billboard. “If we were to submit an offer to an act, rather than just a one-off play to the Cincinnati market, that offer is now tied in with an offer to that act to Columbus, to Pittsburgh, and on the indoor side, the Agora Theater in Cleveland, as well as venues that we own or operate in Detroit.”
Stienecker says the Newport location will host 180 events a year and draw between 350,000-400,000 people annually, and that the first show will take place in late 2020. Rosemarie Moehring, director of marketing and public relations for MEMI, says that AEG’s announcement hasn’t changed the symphony’s plans.
“We are moving forward as scheduled. We just released our final design and all the engineering has been completed, so we are ready to move onto the construction phase. We are waiting for details to be finalized by the city and county,” she tells Billboard. Moehring pointed to MEMI’s foothold in the region as an advantage over AEG. “We have Riverbend (20,000 seats), the Taft Theatre (2,500), PNC Pavilion (4,200) and the Rose Music Center (4,200),” she says of the three Cincinnati venues and the Rose, located just outside the city in Huber Heights, Ohio. “Our talent buyers are actively on the phone with managers and always trying to get the newest, hottest artists to come through Cincinnati. I think that we are on equal playing ground with (AEG), if not at a slight advantage.”
Live Nation Entertainment assists in the booking Riverbend alongside MEMI. Moerhing says it has yet to be determined if Live Nation will play a similar role with the Banks venue.