FC Cincinnati will privately fund its own stadium, but wants $75M for infrastructure

CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding says the club will privately fund its own soccer-specific stadium.

But the deal won't get done without some public dollars: specifically, a $75 million ask for infrastructure at the site. The concept is a 21,000-seat stadium in Oakley -- meeting the minimum bid requirement for Major League Soccer. 

Berding said funding for the stadium itself will come from owner equity, team debt and direct stadium development revenues.

"In order to get this done, what we're talking about a private investment in the magnitude of $200 million," he said.

FC Cincinnati wants the county and city to tap into hotel tax revenue -- Hamilton County collects a 6.5 percent tax on all hotel stays; Cincinnati collects 4 percent -- for the site infrastructure. This year, the county and city are expected to collect more than $12 million in hotel tax.

Berding would like the county to commit to using $2.8 million of that cash, every year for the next 30 years, to help fund the project. That money would help pay for new roads and a 1,000-space parking garage, among other things. 

"At this point, it is rather unclear if the county shares the vision," he said.

The tax would not be increased to pay for the project, Berding added. 

The three-member county commission is planning an announcement for the stadium plan at 1 p.m. Wednesday. 

Documents provided to WCPO show that most of the money collected every year pays for maintenance and pays down debt on the Duke Energy Convention Center and the Sharonville Convention Center. 

The $2.8 million piece of that hotel tax FC Cincinnati wants for its stadium project is a pool of money set aside every year, per state law, county budget analyst Jeff Weckbach told WCPO earlier this year. County commissioners decide later in the year which projects to spend the money on.

MLS owners meet Dec. 14, at which point FC Cincinnati may learn whether it's one of two cities accepted into the league.

The city and county will need to cooperate to make the Oakley site feasible, Berding said. He promised public dollars would be "only for infrastructure."

"You can't build a stadium in a vacuum," Berding said. "You have to build it on a site. And you have infrastructure needs to get 21,000 people in and out of the site."

He argued if FC Cincinnati doesn't build in Oakley, other developers will build there instead -- and they'll ask for government help with infrastructure, too.

Mayor John Cranley reiterated his advocacy for the stadium project in a statement and called on county leaders to change their tune in support of the team.

"My vision is to help FC Cincinnati meet requirements for the expansion bid through infrastructure support," he said. "It is bringing vibrancy and excitement to our city, and we can help bring this dream to life for our city with tax increment finance dollars generated by the project and the development around it. We will offer support for public infrastructure only that will benefit all. No city dollars will go into the stadium. We hope the county will partner with us to make this happen."

Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus said she expected her board would have a statement prepared Wednesday and called it "a tough issue."

"We were already talking about how we were going to deal with the FC issue," she said. "We're still working on it currently."

Tuesday's announcement doesn't mean FC Cincinnati has ruled out a move across the river, Berding said: The club's still talking with leaders in Northern Kentucky and would "100 percent privately finance" a stadium in Newport, too.

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