CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding said some of the people who pushed back at the idea of a West End stadium were “paid organizers from interest groups that like to agitate.”
Berding told WCPO Friday that about 50 people who opposed the stadium showed up at every meeting, and some of them were paid and “have an agenda.”
Berding also claimed about 75 percent of the people FC Cincinnati officials talked to about the West End stadium were supportive.
He said he and FC Cincinnati officials went door to door in the West End and visited 1,500 homes over the course of four months and called 600 people on the phone to ask about the stadium.
And what about that MLS bid?
MLS officials had a “very good discussion” about FC Cincinnati at a Board of Governors Meeting, Berding said.
“While there’s not news yet, I think we’ll have some news before too long,” Berding said.
In a Tweet Tuesday night, MLS executive vice president of communications Dan Courtemanche said the owners viewed the recent Cincinnati City Council vote "as a positive step forward for Cincinnati's expansion bid." Officials voted Monday to approve funding for infrastructure related to a future FC Cincinnati stadium in the West End.
— Dan Courtemanche (@courtemancheMLS) April 17, 2018
A member of the "Coalition Against an FC Cincinnati Stadium in West End” challenged Berding's claims.
"Nobody inside the coalition paid anyone to speak at a meeting," said Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. "That's insulting to the people of the West End to suggest they don't have the ability to form their own opinion."
Spring said he doubted that three-fourths of the West End residents who talked to Berding supported a soccer stadium in their neighborhood.
"Truthfully, in conversations with the coalition against the stadium, almost every person we spoke to is against the stadium. In no case did we even have to be convincing. We'd just mention the stadium and they'd say, 'Hell, no," Spring said.
Stadium opponents spoke out vehemently during a series of public meetings starting in January, when FC Cincinnati turned its attention to the West End, a low-income, historically black neighborhood where past development deals have pushed out residents.
Opponents expressed fears that residents would be forced out by higher rent or property taxes and that the community would become gentrified.
Four city council members who voted against the April 16 stadium deal questioned if residents really want the stadium, the need for public money, and if the team will follow through on promises to better the neighborhood. Council vote 5-4 to provide $34 million in infrastructure.
Following the council vote, the coalition vowed in a news release “to use every method available both legally and socially to stop this stadium.” It claimed the process of obtaining approval from the school board and city council was “riddled with backdoor deals and lies.”
The news release said the coalition represents several West End resident councils and community and black groups, including the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and Cincinnati chapters of NAACP and the National Action Network.