Council deal likely clinches FC Cincinnati stadium in West End

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Two Cincinnati City Council members unveiled a plan Friday that could clear the way – at least at City Hall – for a Major League Soccer stadium in the West End.

Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld's and David Mann's plan would cost taxpayers almost $34 million – fewer tax dollars than if the stadium were built in Oakley. It also means five council members are on board.

Also Friday, Sittenfeld announced another major obstacle had been removed: FC Cincinnati has agreed to pay Cincinnati Public Schools property taxes equaling 25 percent of the final property value, which according to a tentative agreement with CPS is estimated at $175 million the first year it's built.

It's a deal worth roughly $25 million over the life of the stadium deal, with $10 million of it to be paid in the first year and the rest on a year-to-year basis over the following 20 years.

The CPS board is expected to vote next week.

FC Cincinnati has also agreed to infuse $100,000 a year into the neighborhood for at least 10 years through a community benefits agreement. Details of where the money will go will be decided later with community input.

Sittenfeld brokered the financing plan, which all but assures it will have the needed five council votes for approval despite neighborhood opposition.

"The outcome is significant investment in the students, families and workers of community," he said.

He added there will be accountability "every step of the way."

The Hamilton County commissioners previously committed $15 million to a parking garage in Oakley, but that money can be used for the same purpose in the West End.

That means the biggest remaining hurdle is whether the school board will agree to sell the Stargel Stadium land to FC Cincinnati in exchange for a new school stadium.

Team owners have said they will pay $150 million for a franchise license, one of two to be awarded this year, and privately pay for a $200 million, 21,000-seat stadium.

FC Cincinnati is awaiting word on whether Major League Soccer will award it an expansion team. General Manager Jeff Berding and the ownership group made an official pitch in December, but it has been more than a year since the club began pitching the idea of a MLS stadium at one of three sites: West End, Oakley or Newport.

Berding said Thursday he was focusing back on the West End, an idea that seemed dead just two weeks ago when FC Cincinnati walked away from the school board's demand on taxes.

"While we have yet to achieve necessary political support to advance plans for a privately financed stadium in the West End, we continue to engage elected leaders in Cincinnati to build a winning partnership here in the City," he said.

In a statement Thursday night, he outlined the problems with the other two sites.

Oakley, he said, is "not as close to the urban core as desired."

In Newport, he said, the roadblock is the owner of the property.

But building in the West End has been contentious, with several groups, including the neighborhood community council, against the idea.

Sittenfeld and Mann are hoping the plan will alleviate concerns.

For taxpayers, the plan proposes:

  • $17 million in hotel tax money
  • $6.3 million in money from the sale of the Blue Ash airport.
  • $8 million from a Downtown tax financing district
  • $2.5 million from the city's capital budget.

Sittenfeld voted no on a plan to build the stadium in Oakley, a deal that would have cost city taxpayers $36 million. This plan, he said, won't allow tens of millions of dollars go elsewhere.

"I am glad we have forged a plan for FC Cincinnati to call Cincinnati home," Sittenfeld said.