CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati school board didn't say yes and it didn't say no to a deal with FC Cincinnati to put its soccer stadium in the West End at a Friday news briefing.
But as school board president Carolyn Jones revealed what FC Cincinnati pledged in a term sheet to the board this week - including an upfront tax payment estimated at $175 million - it appears that the soccer club agreed to all of the school board's demands for a land swap in the West End that would allow the stadium project to go ahead.
Jones said CPS would delay approval until it reviews the term sheet and determines it meets all the requirements the board set forth in its March 21 resolution.
Jones didn't comment on how the school board might vote, but a vote is planned for the next board meeting April 16. She said that's in time for an April 17 meeting in which Major League Soccer will consider the last piece of FC Cincinnati's application for an expansion franchise.
Jones spoke two hours after City Council members P.G. Sittenfeld and David Mann announced a new stadium plan that appeared to bridge the take-it-or-leave-it ultimatums that the school board and FC Cincinnati had delivered three weeks ago.
Jones said superintendent Laura Mitchell and CPS officials would first review the term sheet before the school board votes.
Included in the term sheet, Jones said, were FC Cincinnati's pledges to:
- Make an upfront payment of the value of 10 years of property taxes on the stadium - estimated at $175 million - by June 30, 2019. That's to cover the board's demand that FC Cincinnati pay its "full share" of taxes.
- Build a new $10 million Stargel Stadium across the street from Taft High School.
- Use local and minority suppliers in the construction of the stadiums.
- Enter into a community benefits agreement with West End community organizations and residents and contribute $100,000 per year for 10 years.
- Establish partnership with CPS for expanded academic internship and employment opportunities.
When Sittenfeld and Mann announced Friday they would back FC Cincinnati’s efforts to build a $250 million soccer stadium project at the current site of Stargel Stadium, it seemed to cleared the way for city council approval and end the soccer club’s months-long battle to construct in the neighborhood.
In addition to the term sheet, Sittenfeld said FC Cincinnati had promised to spend $15 million on affordable housing in the West End.
For weeks, city leaders, residents and school board members have cited a lengthy list of concerns over the West End site. Many worried that the new stadium would drive up property values, pricing residents out of their homes.
If the school board ultimately approves the SittenfeldMann plan, as expected, that would mark a stunning breakthrough from the stalemate between FC Cincinnati Vice President and General Manager Jeff Berding and the school board that existed just three weeks ago.
The soccer club needs school board approval so it can build on the Stargel Stadium site. FC Cincinnati offered a land swap, saying it would build a new "better" Stargel Stadium on a vacant lot across the street.
CPS wanted $2 million per year in payments in lieu of property taxes and rejected three offers from Berding – starting with a lowball offer of $70,000 per year that he eventually raised to $750,000 per year for the first 10 years.
At that point, Berding said he was done negotiating for the West End site and returning to work toward an Oakley site.
"We are working to secure rights to property in support of a prospective stadium development in Oakley," Berding told WCPO on March 22.
The school board had voted March 21 to approve a stadium plan but only on its terms.
The two sides were far apart on how much FC Cincinnati should pay the school board under a 1999 city agreement that allows developers to make payments directly to Cincinnati Public Schools in lieu of property taxes.
In its last proposal, the soccer club offered annual payments of $750,000 in the first 10 years. CPS, though, demanded $2 million per year for the first 10 years, insisting that was the real tax value for such a project. In its last public response, CPS said it would be willing to accept a 12-year deferred payment plan.
READ the club's March 14 statement about its latest offer here or below.
READ CPS' March 14 letter rejecting the club's offer and listing its demands here or below:
Berding said FC Cincinnati couldn’t afford higher payments so soon since stadium costs and the $150 million franchise fee to join Major League Soccer would set owners back $400 million at the start.
CPS also demanded a community benefits agreement with community organizations and residents in the neighborhood. FC Cincinnati made a CBA proposal and plans for new programs at the schools with its last offer.
The club made its "final" offer at 10 a.m. March 14 and gave CPS until 5 p.m. that same day to respond. Berding explained that the club had to act fast because it was facing a deadline to pay $1 million to secure commercial property for the project.
The school board then met in emergency session that afternoon. Berding told WCPO he was looking for an encouraging response - not necessarily a "yes" vote. He wanted an indication that the two sides might come together.
After the emergency session, though, CPS sent a letter to FC Cincinnati calling the deadline "unreasonable," rejecting the offer, listing its demands and saying it wouldn't vote until its next regularly scheduled meeting March 21.
That's when Berding said FC Cincinnati didn't make the property payments and recommitted to Oakley or Newport.
When FC Cincinnati made a formal bid last December to land an MLS expansion franchise, it submitted Oakley as a tentative stadium site. However, the soccer club had turned most of its attention since January to the West End. It even secured options on 66 vacant properties and said it planned to build housing.
Berding had promised not to take anyone's home and to ditch the West End plan if a majority of the community didn’t want the stadium there. But he still had a tough sell. Distrustful residents expressed fears that they would be priced out of their homes, and activists, citing broken promises of affordable housing through the years, said the community would become gentrified.
Berding is still waiting for MLS to announce if it will award a franchise to FC Cincinnati. If MLS rejects FC Cincinnati, Berding said the club would not build a stadium but continue to play in the United Soccer League with UC's Nippert Stadium as its home.