Recap: Oakley is packed with entertainment. Will FC Cincinnati join the crowd?

CINCINNATI -- With the news that FC Cincinnati will announce a stadium plan next week, coupled with the fact that Oakley's community council endorsed locating the stadium there, we thought it would be a good time to recap what we learned about the neighborhood's bid in a June story.  

Options for having fun in Cincinnati's Oakley neighborhood have mushroomed in the last five years.

Mad Tree Brewery, a movie theater complex with leather loungers and a host of restaurants and bars clustered in and around Oakley Station barely scratch the surface of the entertainment boom in the east-side neighborhood.

Would an FC Cincinnati soccer stadium be a good addition to the mix? The soccer club aims to find out.

"It's a neighborhood where you have plenty of young professionals and families working, living and playing," FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Berding said after Oakley was announced as a potential site earlier this year. "We think we can possibly add $250 million in investment and build on the electricity of Oakley."

Oakley Station, parts of which are still undeveloped. Photo courtesy of Oakley Station website.

FC Cincinnati was waiting on professional assessments of the viability of each of the three neighborhoods before taking additional steps to begin outreach to community councils and other neighborhood leaders, Berding said.

Related: FC Cincinnati wants to make a deal with taxpayers. So what would you get for your money?

But the two Cincinnati neighborhoods and Newport all fit broad criteria for success for a soccer stadium, Berding said.

'Progressive sport'

"Soccer is in a stadium that is synergistic with the urban core. It's a progressive sport that thrives within stadiums that are located in the urban core," he said.

American football crowds want a lot of parking and room to tailgate before a game, Berding said.

Jeff Berding

"That's not soccer. People want to drive in to the neighborhood, park, go to some bars and walk to the stadium -- maybe even march into the stadium. We are looking in walkable communities," he said.

Early days

Berding emphasized that speculation about the exact location of a stadium is premature because FC Cincinnati is still waiting on assessments before making a decision. They’ve scouted multiple sites, especially within West End.

It's still possible, though less likely, that one of the daily pitches he receives about other neighborhoods could be the winning location, Berding said in June.

"That's why I've said that to continue to suggest that it's narrowed to a couple sites is not accurate. We're focusing on a couple of neighborhoods. People continue to pitch ideas every day," he said.

As for Oakley, the club was drawn to its proximity to Interstate 71 and to I-75 by way of the nearby Norwood Lateral. 

"I'm not making promises. We're not even at this (site selection) stage yet. Whatever neighborhood we go in, we want to make sure there's an economic impact to make the neighborhood better," Berding said.

Community reaction

Oakley Community Council President Sean Fausto thought in June it was premature to comment on the prospect.

"It is very early in the process and I have no information about the possibility this stadium locating in Oakley other than what I have read online or in the paper," he said.

But another big player in the Oakley boom loves the idea of FC Cincinnati becoming a neighbor.

"I'm sure there are a lot of details to be worked out, and we're only going off on what we've read," said Jennifer Sperry, spokeswoman for Crossroads Church. "That said, we think it would be great. I don't know of any cons to be honest."

Crossroads draws thousands of worshippers to its church on Madison Road, and Sperry said the church spends a lot of money and volunteer hours making sure visitors can park and exit as painlessly as possible.

She said the days when she could turn left or right onto Madison from Crossroads barely looking for oncoming traffic are already gone with additions of Mad Tree, a Kroger superstore and Fresh Thyme supermarket. But Crossroads is happy with that.

"We would say that healthy things grow. We're excited to see Oakley growing. We're willing to partner with FC  or whoever it would be. We would be fine with having those conversations," Sperry said.

Rezoning challenges

Dan Driehaus, chairman of the Cincinnati planning commission, said large parcels in or near the old Milacron site owned by a single entity might make an Oakley site appealing compared to locations where dozens or hundreds of smaller parcels would have to be acquired.

"If it means assembling fewer parcels of land, I think Oakley would encounter fewer obstacles than in West End. It might require fewer zoning changes," he said.

Driehaus added Oakley's population density might be a good substitute for the loss of University of Cincinnati students at FCC's current home at UC's Nippert Stadium.

Berding said in June that FC Cincinnati that Oakley would have to be analyzed more thoroughly and neighborhood council outreach would follow. 

"Until we have the results of our assessment back, we would certainly be worried about traffic, ingress and egress, parking. We would want to be a positive addition to Oakley," he said. "We look forward to the opportunity to having collaborative conversations on how this might be a good way to help the neighborhood."

Bob Driehaus covers economic development. Contact him and follow stories on Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

Note: WCPO reporter Bob Driehaus and Planning Commission Chairman Dan Driehaus are cousins.

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