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FC Cincinnati: How serious is buzz about West End getting MLS stadium?

FC CIncinnati General Manager Jeff Berding waves to City Council members after they passed the stadium deal at City Hall Wednesday to clear the way for MLS bid.  (Photo: The Enquirer/Meg Vogel) FC CIncinnati General Manager Jeff Berding waves to City Council members after they passed the stadium deal at City Hall Wednesday to clear the way for MLS bid. (Photo: The Enquirer/Meg Vogel)
Cincinnati Enquirer -

FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding walked out of Cincinnati City Hall on Wednesday with a deal for the public to help put a Major League Soccer stadium in Oakley, should the city be awarded a franchise.

But several people are telling our news partners at The Cincinnati Enquirer the stadium could still be built in the West End.

"A viable bid has to include property control," said Vice Mayor David Mann. "The West End isn't in the team's control. Oakley is. If the team is successful, there is time to make a run at the West End."

The MLS decision is expected Dec. 20.

For months three sites have been under consideration: Oakley, the West End and Newport.

The advantage of the West End is its proximity to Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, parking and restaurants, Mann said. MLS has expressed a preference for an urban location.

There aren't a lot of public details about a West End plan – or Oakley, either, for that matter.

But the West End site could encompass Taft Information Technology High School's Stargel Stadium and some land around it along Central Avenue.

A block to the south, the CET building could also come into play.

It sits in a city tax district and has been eyed by city officials for redevelopment.

The CET building and the adjoining city-owned Town Center garage are a block east of vacant land owned by the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA).

A Cincinnati Public Schools spokeswoman said the team had not reached out about Taft's stadium. 

But a spokeswoman for CMHA, Leslie Wardlow, told The Enquirer on Wednesday that about two months ago "a member from FC Cincinnati asked CMHA if there were plans for the site."

His first name was Jeff, but she did not recall his last name, she said. No costs were discussed, she said.

CMHA has a signed contract to sell the property to another organization, she said.

As reporters swarmed him after the council vote, Berding addressed the idea of the West End. He said: “We are taking Oakley up to the MLS. This gives us a chance to get the MLS bid. We are not advancing the West End to the MLS.”

Both the city and Hamilton County commitments to FC Cincinnati leave open the option for the stadium to go someplace other than Oakley.

The ordinance says the city supports the soccer club's bid for membership and "wishes to facilitate the redevelopment of the area in the vicinity of the site the club selects, whether at ... Oakley ... or another site within the city ... "

A Sept. 18 memo to council from City Manager Harry Black related to the Music Hall pedestrian bridge, which is connected to CET, said: "The City has begun preliminary discussions with 3CDC in order to evaluate a larger redevelopment of the entire block where the existing Town Center garage is that would accommodate existing users of the site and provide a gateway between Over-the-Rhine and the West End."

Lorrence Keller, a CET board member, told The Enquirer he is aware the city wants to redevelop the CET building.

"So far there has been nothing specific, except that it would include a garage," he said. "They could hardly redevelop it without a garage. There is a need for parking there."

Any change in an MLS stadium site would have to come to council, since some of the money is Oakley specific.

At least for now, the West End Community Council has not been brought into the conversation.

"There are no active discussions that I am aware of," said Keith Blake, the neighborhood's community council president. "In my opinion, the West End is only in play as a Plan B, but there is definite interest."

Some Oakley residents have previously complained about FC Cincinnati's poor communication with the neighborhood about its plans there before a community council vote on Election Day.

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