Port Authority getting into the soccer stadium business? It's on the table

CINCINNATI -- With Hamilton County officials leery of owning another sports stadium, FC Cincinnati has approached the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati with the idea of owning its proposed possibly $200 million soccer stadium.

“We have had a very initial conversation with the Port Authority about being the owner,” FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding told the WCPO editorial board Wednesday.

Berding, a former Cincinnati city council member and Cincinnati Bengals executive, knows many Hamilton County residents are still stinging from the cost overruns and county budget woes that followed voter approval in 1996 of a sales tax increase to pay for new Bengals and Reds stadiums.

“This community has been scarred by our experience on the riverfront. And I was part of that,” he said.

But Berding argued that government leaders and private investors have learned from those mistakes.

Better deal?

He said the soccer stadium deal would bear little resemblance to the two-stadium deal because FC Cincinnati’s ownership group has proposed putting up $100 million toward the stadium. That’s in contrast to the Bengals and Reds paying for a much smaller fraction of their county-owned stadiums.

Still, with resistance from county leaders to shoulder responsibility and costs for a third stadium, Berding said the Port Authority would be a natural fit if the stadium were built either Cincinnati’s West End or Oakley neighborhoods.

Newport’s riverfront site, the third location under consideration, would be structured differently because the entire riverfront site is owned by the developer Corporex, which has a memorandum of understanding with the soccer club. Kentucky’s generous Tax Increment Financing incentives would allow FC Cincinnati to recover the entire $100 million it’s seeking in public financing without any additional taxes or tax breaks, he said.

Port Vice President Gail Paul emphasized that discussions with the Port are preliminary, but she’s pleased that the Port is in the conversation.

Gail Paul

“The county and the city created the Port Authority to be a creative, flexible tool for development,” Paul said. “I think there are certain advantages for partnering with the Port on complex, capital-intensive projects.”

Public ownership means lower private costs

Port Authority ownership would cut the costs of building the stadium significantly through a number of tax advantages. A Port-owned stadium -- as opposed to a privately owned stadium -- could be financed with tax-free bonds and construction materials could be bought without paying sales taxes.

The Port has been part of other large public-private partnerships, most recently using its lease financing tools to help finance the new Dolce Hotel adjacent to MedPace in Cincinnati’s Madisonville neighborhood.

It also helped create the Great American Tower high-rise downtown through $64 million in Tax Increment Financing and $259 million in lease revenue bonds.

We’re excited about the number and nature of these projects that are being considered for our region,” Paul said. “We want to help in the prioritization and finding innovative solutions for them, including FC Cincinnati.”

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

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