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Will public own FC Cincinnati stadium? City Council releases new details on deal

Posted at 6:58 PM, Apr 11, 2018

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati City Council members will consider a $34.8 million stadium infrastructure deal for FC Cincinnati next week. 

New details surrounding the 21,000-seat stadium deal were released Wednesday. 

Under the city’s plan, the soccer club would privately fund the $200 million stadium. 

But the team will lease the stadium from the Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority – a public entity better known as the Port Authority that the city and county collectively control – who will ultimately own it.

That leaves some concern that Hamilton County, which already owns Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium, might be responsible for a third professional sports stadium.

Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel said he has questions about what the Redevelopment Authority’s possible ownership of the stadium could mean for county taxpayers.

“Hamilton County already has two sports stadiums,” Monzel said. “We don’t need another.” 

The county has committed to building a 1,000-space parking garage for the stadium, but all three commissioners have said they do not want the public to own the stadium.

Redevelopment Authority Board Chairman Charlie Luken did not immediately return requests for comment on Wednesday. 

If the Redevelopment Authority owns the stadium, FC Cincinnati is likely to be exempt from paying millions in taxes over the years, including sales tax for building materials and some property taxes. 

The city is offering to kick in $34.8 million for parking, utility lines, and site preparation for the stadium site. The money will come from next year's budget, hotel tax, cash from the the Blue Ash Airport sale, and money set aside in the Downtown/Over-the-Rhine tax increment financing fund, which reinvests property taxes into new developments in the area. 

The ordinance released Wednesday requires FC Cincinnati to develop a community benefits agreement with West End neighbors. 

Ordinance - FC Cincinnati (West End) (00255534xC2130) (2) by WCPO Web Team on Scribd

Under the proposal, the city will withhold all funding until the team inks a community benefits agreement. This will require FC Cincinnati to spend $100,000 yearly on West End organizations; sell 60 vacant West End lots to an affordable housing developer; and address stadium lighting, noise as well as traffic concerns.

The deal also says FC Cincinnati will pay $25 million to Cincinnati Public Schools over 30 years. It’s an agreement the schools approved Tuesday, in exchange for trading West End land with the team.

It’s unclear if the deal, which Council members David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld proposed Friday, has the five votes needed to pass.

FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding said the team is "having productive conversations with members of city council to answer their questions and make our commitments clear." 

Five council members have expressed support for a West End soccer stadium but two of them – Jeff Pastor and Christopher Smitherman – have held off on officially endorsing the taxpayer-funded infrastructure package. 

"I had a really good meeting with FC Cincinnati officials today to share my concerns about the need for a formalized community benefits agreement," Pastor said Wednesday afternoon. "I'm closer to a yes (vote) than I was yesterday." 

Councilwoman Amy Murray said Wednesday she is a "yes" on the plan.

“I feel like giving $100,000 to the (West End) community, that is a great investment and many neighborhoods would be happy to have that,” Murray said. 

The remaining four council members have not moved from their "no" position on the stadium.

“Real economic growth comes from investing in people and infrastructure, like public transit, not stadiums. FC should work out an agreement with UC and stay at Nippert, and save taxpayers and fans a lot of money,” Councilman Greg Landsman said Wednesday.

The city Budget and Finance committee, which eight of nine council members sit on, will consider the deal on Monday.

The full city council is expected to vote on the proposal sometime next week.