Cincinnati in 'no position' to pay for all of FC Cincinnati's $75M stadium ask

Posted at 4:25 PM, Nov 16, 2017

CINCINNATI -- Hamilton County Commissioners tossed the political hot potato of how to pay for FC Cincinnati's $275 million stadium project back to the city.

FC Cincinnati's owners are shelling out $200 million to pay for the actual stadium while county commissioners Wednesday offered up a $15 million parking garage or Paul Brown Stadium to the team.

The city's leaders, however, have yet to reveal just what they can put toward the $75 million ask.

"I'm lost now," said Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann. "We're in no position to make up the additional money we had hoped for from the county. I don't know where that leaves things."

County commissioners said the city could cover other costs -- new roads, sidewalks or sewers -- that must be built if a soccer stadium is erected in Cincinnati. At a press conference Wednesday, they estimated that could cost another $30 million.

"That's up to the city now to figure out what they're willing to do," Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, said.

But FC Cincinnati estimates the cost for stadium infrastructure will come with a much bigger price tag of $75 million. That could leave as much as a $60 million funding hole for the project.

RELATED: FC Cincinnati turns sights to Newport but not giving up on Oakley yet

So the next few days will be filled with behind-the-scenes horse trading to get a deal done between the county and city before the FC Cincinnati's Dec. 14 deadline to apply for an MLS spot.

Mayor John Cranley told WCPO's Tanya O'Rourke that a city stadium financing plan would be announced Friday.

Cranley, who has been an enthusiastic supporter of FC Cincinnati building a new soccer stadium in the city, is staying quiet about what specific incentives he will propose.

"John looks forward to working with FC Cincinnati and the county to hopefully reach an agreement," spokeswoman Yasmin Chilton said. "There are no specifics to discuss right now."

WCPO contacted all nine Cincinnati City Council members to see what kind of deal they would be willing to approve. Several declined to comment, did not return requests for comment or couldn't offer up specifics on how the city would meet the rest of FC Cincinnati's $75 million demand.

"The Councilmember hasn't been involved in the discussions, so without a final proposal on the table he can't make a decision," said Jake Hessling, chief of staff for Councilman Charlie Winburn. "He's always committed to fighting any increase in taxes, but would like to see FC Cincinnati stay in the City with an MLS berth."

City leaders appear poised to approve a tax increment finance district, which will help FC Cincinnati net a few million dollars. Tax increment finance districts -- or TIFs -- would take property taxes from new development that pops up around the stadium and funnel them into a fund that pays for its construction.

Any funding for the stadium beyond that is uncertain, Councilwoman Amy Murray said.

"If that and the $15 million (for the parking garage) is enough to do all the infrastructure, I don't know," Murray said.

FC Cincinnati said it favors a stadium location at Oakley Station, where a mega-church, Madtree Brewing and shopping have created a busy intersection in recent years.

"We will have to do infrastructure at some point as other companies come into that area also," Murray said.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said he wants to FC Cincinnati earn a spot in the MLS, but he needs to learn more about how a funding plan would work.

"While fairly broad financing concepts have been floated, the devil is entirely in the details," Sittenfeld said. "In order to be a win for the community, this deal also has to be a fair shake for the taxpayers."

In an interview this week on 700 WLW radio, Cranley insisted no city tax dollars would be spent on a new stadium, but other incentives would be offered.

"We will (be) and are open to providing infrastructure," Cranley said. "For example, if they go to that Oakley place, there needs to be an access road there ... that road will be a public road that will also service the neighborhood and the community ... and other businesses."

Cranley is also pushing the county commissioners to give an excess portion of the hotel tax revenue the city and county jointly collect to FC Cincinnati. He is still calling for the county to hand over at least $1.5 million for the stadium, according to an email WCPO obtained.

County commissioners rebuffed that idea earlier this week.

The hotel tax also fluctuates from year to year. In 2013, for example, the county only had an extra $1 million extra hotel tax on hand -- not enough to cover the payment Cranley is seeking.

Councilman Kevin Flynn said there are other options for the city to look at, including income tax breaks.

"I support using a variety of economic development tools for public infrastructure around the project, as we do with most new development in the city," Flynn said. "These tools could include tax increment financing (TIF), community reinvestment act abatement, partial earnings tax abatement, and allocation of existing capital project dollars."

The city and county have used those tax deals to attract new development before.

For example, General Electric received one of the biggest tax-incentive deals in Cincinnati's history when it agreed in 2014 to locate its U.S. global operations center at The Banks.

The $112 million incentive package included up to $90.4 million in Job Creation Tax Credits from the city of Cincinnati and state of Ohio along with a property tax abatement worth $12.5 million and $4 million in JobsOhio workforce training and investment grants.

Under a job creation tax credit, companies receive a certain percentage of the city earnings taxes paid by their employees back as the jobs are created.

Once the GE deal was finally hammered out, Cincinnati City Council members and Hamilton County Commissioners approved it at a rare joint meeting.

It is uncertain if the city and county will be able to agree on a deal for FC Cincinnati – especially given the tight deadline.

Cranley touted his deal-making prowess on the campaign trail for more than a year, frequently saying at debates that he helped forge deals that brought over 6,000 jobs to the city. He won re-election on Nov. 7.