West End looks at prospect of FC Cincinnati stadium with hope and caution

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati's West End neighborhood is a tantalizing area for FC Cincinnati to build its soccer stadium.

Next door to Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, it's a short walk from the streetcar line and right next to Interstate 75 and Fort Washington Way.

The ownership group would have to proceed carefully if its second-phase analysis shows the West End is the top pick.

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Residents have a long memory of outsiders changing the neighborhood for the worse when government leaders virtually cut it in two when they routed Interstate 75 through it in the 1950s.

 

Aerial view of Cincinnati's West End neighborhood. Courtesy of The Google.

 

"It's not that people are opposed to development or anything new. It's just that things pop up without much warning," said Alexis Kidd, executive director Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses.

Alexis Kidd

Seven Hills is a social service agency that offers a number of services to individuals, children, families and seniors in the West End.

It's is one of three neighborhoods that FC Cincinnati has identified as the finalists for a stadium estimated to cost more than $200 million to build, along with Cincinnati's Oakley neighborhood and Newport, Kentucky.

The club is investigating multiple sites in the West End but has declined to identify them during this assessment period. A disproportionately large number of its residents are unemployed or making low wages, making it an area in great need of a new, nearby job center.

Keith Blake, president of the West End Community Council, sees little downside to the club building its stadium in the neighborhood.

He said a good spot would be Cincinnati Public Schools centralized athletics stadium by Taft High School, if CPS sold it and was compensated enough to relocate the stadium.

"I think it would awesome to have the West End as a sports destination again because back in the past it was when it was home to Crosley Stadium (home of the Reds before Riverfront Stadium)," Blake said.

Kidd is disappointed that the neighborhood has only heard about the prospect of FC Cincinnati building a stadium there through news reports rather than the soccer club approaching the community council or other neighborhood leaders.

FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding said there's a good reason for that. With the West End, Oakley and Newport among the finalists for the stadium site, he doesn't want to waste neighborhood leaders' time before additional cost-benefit analysis is completed.

Once the preferred neighborhood is established, "You sit down with the community council and community leaders and you start to talk to them," Berding said. "But we're not there yet."

Jeff Berding, FC Cincinnati president and general manager

Berding said the West End appeals to the club because of its proximity to downtown, OTR, I-75 and Fort Washington Way.

The prospect of stretching Over-the-Rhine's renaissance to West End is appealing.

"Our question is, if done the right way, can $250 million invested in the West End be a positive development for people living and working in the West End?" Berding said. "If the answer comes back that issues cannot be positively addressed, that's going to weigh on our interest in investing there."

The upside for neighborhood, Berding said, is bring jobs to the neighborhood as well as boosting property values.

"It's something that absolutely could be a positive," he said.

Berding also sees a West End location boosting usage of the streetcar, with riders able to take it to Over-the-Rhine to walk a few blocks west to the stadium.

Shirley Colbert, 78, has spent her life in the West End devoting countless hours to volunteering and community organizing. She wants to see benefits to the neighborhood that support families.

If FC Cincinnati can do that, she's all for it.

"I'm always welcoming things in the neighborhood. I've always been for anything that is upgrading the families," Colbert said.

Kidd pointed out that the West End recently created a quality of life plan that was formally adopted by the city. While a soccer stadium wasn't in it, of course, she said that FC Cincinnati could be a great addition to the neighborhood if done right.

"It's all about where it is located and whether we can preserve the neighborhood's rich history," she said.

Kidd envisions a stadium that residents can walk to for jobs, partnerships with Hays Porter Elementary School, Taft Information Technology High School and other schools in the neighborhood. Exposing neighborhood children to soccer could open new paths.

"I think the potential is unlimited for the community," she said.

But Kidd adds that neighborhood leaders need to be part of the conversation.

"We don't have the greatest ability to communicate with the masses, and often we find out too late when things happen," she said.

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

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