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Redevelopment Authority Chairman Charlie Luken halts deal proposal for Oakley stadium site

Redevelopment Authority Chairman Charlie Luken halts deal proposal for Oakley stadium site
Posted at 8:43 PM, Mar 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-27 22:20:28-04

CINCINNATI -- Discussions surrounding a public financing deal for a potential FC Cincinnati's stadium in Oakley halted suddenly Tuesday night.

The Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority -- the city and county's financing arm for big development deals -- was poised to discuss a possible financing package for FC Cincinnati Wednesday morning, but Redevelopment Authority Board chairman Charlie Luken called off the meeting.

According to Luken, a chat with team general manager Jeff Berding led him to believe the team's ownership is lukewarm over building its coveted soccer stadium in Oakley.

"I talked to Jeff Berding tonight, and he said ... they were still undecided on a site," Luken said Tuesday night. "I was concerned we were being used as leverage ... (Berding) did not seem excited about Oakley to me."

Major League Soccer, the rarified club FC Cincinnati hopes to join, requires all new member teams to have a soccer-specific stadium. Oakley is one of three spots -- the other two being Cincinnati's West End and Newport, Kentucky, across the river -- FC Cincinnati has pursued as a potential stadium home since submitting its MLS application in late 2017.

In an email, the Redevelopment Authority's spokeswoman Gail Paul confirmed the meeting was canceled, citing a "mutual agreement based on information still need to be confirmed by FC (Cincinnati)."

In an a statement, Berding said he "respects" the Redevelopment Authority's decision to halt financing deals on the project and the cancellation will not affect the neighborhood's chances of being selected.

"If Oakley is selected as the stadium site, the financing opportunity made possible by the Port would allow for improvements at the former Cast Fab site in a way that benefits the community with jobs, inclusion, prevailing wages for construction workers, increased visitors to the neighborhood, and an opportunity for further development on or adjacent to the site," Berding said.

He added that the team was "absolutely enthusiastic" about Oakley. 

The team's path toward selecting a site has been fraught since before it submitted its MLS application, and it remains precarious even as Berding insists the selection needs to happen by the end of the week.  

In November, Cincinnati City Council and Hamilton County approved a $52 million infrastructure package for the project to be built in Oakley. In January, however, the club's owners began pursuing a site in the West End -- and many residents of the West End began vocally resisting the would-be incursion.

Earlier this month, the Cincinnati Public Schools board of education requested the soccer club pay as much as $2 million per year in property taxes on a stadium site in the West End. FC Cincinnati said it could only offer up to $750,000 a year, and negotiations lapsed.

Berding, who maintains the club is still equally interested in all three sites, has visited community events in the West End, Oakley and Newport for the last month. 

The offer to work with the region's development authority still stands, Paul said in an email Tuesday evening. 

"The Redevelopment Authority is ready to reschedule as soon as FC is ready with their plans – we remain committed to participating in the financing of this exciting project," Paul wrote. 

The MLS is expected to announce if FC Cincinnati's bid for membership is approved later this year.