Cincinnati is a classic tweener city, and without the ability to lure a major tenant, the future of U.S. Bank Arena may remain with the status quo: an arena that likely will go without upgrades for many years.
The arena is actually owned by Nederlander and AEG Facilities, but neither want to put the money into serious upgrades for the waterfront facility, which hasn’t been upgraded since 1997. Public money for an upgrade seems highly unlikely: With no chance of landing an NBA and NFL team as a tenant, and with the Cincinnati Reds and Cincinnati Bengals playing in facilities carrying Hamilton County debt, it would appear there’s little chance for a major sports tenant to land at U.S. Bank Arena. And while there’s tons of evidence that a major arena can thrive without a major sports tenant — Kansas City’s Sprint Center does just fine without one, relying on entertainment and one-off sports events, like NCAA regionals, to financially thrive — the folks in Cincinnati seem reluctant to take that route.
The state of the arena also causes Cincinnati to lose out on major events: because of a lack of luxury boxes and other amenities, the city lost out on the chance to host the Republican National Convention in 2020.
One option: bringing in the University of Cincinnati men’s basketball team as a tenant. The Bearcats did play for a period at U.S. Bank Arena to surprisingly small crowds, and it sounds like the university would rather concentrate on a renovation of Fifth Third Arena — its oncampus home — rather than committing any money to a U.S. Bank Arena makeover.