“Game changer” is not often a term associated with mixed-use real estate developments, but in the case of one major new project in downtown Cincinnati the phrasing seems fitting.

For more than a decade, Cincinnati could not figure out what to do with a prime 18-acre swath of land along the Ohio River on the southern edge of downtown. The large parcel is ideally situated between two sports stadiums, the 42,000-seat Great American Ballpark, home to the Cincinnati Reds, and the 65,500-seat Paul Brown Stadium, home to the Cincinnati Bengals.

In recent years, political and business communities began to align their interests to reclaim the downtown riverfront edge. After a long proposal process and intense negotiations, Atlanta-based real estate services firm Carter secured development rights for the property.

Financial partners include San Antonio-based USAA Real Estate Co., an arm of financial services firm USAA, and The Dawson Co., an Atlanta-based developer. Construction financing is provided by PNC Bank.

The result is a new public-private development, a so-called “front porch” along the northern edge of the Ohio River known as The Banks. This multi-phase $600 million project features 300 rental apartments, 80,000 sq. ft. of street-level retail space, two stand-alone restaurants, and an underground garage.

Plans for the eventual 3 million sq. ft. of development include a 300,000 sq. ft. office building and a 200-room hotel.

Spearheading the project since its kickoff four years ago is Trent Germano, vice chairman of program development at Carter. Germano has led development of more than 20 million sq. ft. of office, retail, and industrial space in his career.

Germano-led projects have included redevelopment of the retail component of Atlantic Station and the transit-oriented development of Lindbergh City Center, both in Atlanta.

“There is nothing gimmicky here,” Germano noted on a recent site tour, referring to integrating the project into the downtown fabric. “It is all designed to connect to the city.”

Apartments were key to making the project work, says Germano. Some offer views of the entry to Great American Ballpark next door. By mid-April, 50% of the units were leased. Residents began moving in April 18.

On opening day of baseball season in late March, 42,000 Reds fans filed past The Banks including the Holy Grail Tavern & Grill, an early tenant across from the ballpark's Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

Other notable retail tenants opening in 2011 include Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill, Huey's 24/7 Diner and a City of Cincinnati Police Department welcome center.