CINCINNATI – City Council is apparently joining the rush to approve an FC Cincinnati stadium in the West End and clear the way for Major League Soccer to award the Queen City an expansion franchise as early as next week.
But are there enough votes in City Hall to pass it?
MLS owners are scheduled to meet in Los Angeles Tuesday and could vote on FC Cincinnati's entry into the league. In an email earlier this week, FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding said he wants to have stadium legislation passed through council before MLS owners meet.
Mayor John Cranley announced a special meeting at 4 p.m. Monday for the FC Cincinnati stadium deal, instead of waiting to vote on the issue during a regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday.
A City Council majority had been expected to approve a deal brokered by council members P.G. Sittenfeld and David Mann that would provide $34.8 million in taxpayer money for the stadium site. But that might depend on council member Jeff Pastor.
The former West End resident, who originally spoke out in favor of putting the stadium there, says he wants a Community Benefits Agreement between the soccer club and the West End completed and in writing before council votes. The ordinance requires a CBA.
Pastor could be the swing vote unless a CBA somehow comes together by Monday.
— Jeff Pastor (@votePASTOR) April 10, 2018
SEE the proposed city ordinance below.
Council member Tamaya Dennard, a Sittenfeld ally on other matters, tweeted Friday that she opposes the deal.
Just so we’re clear, I do not support the deal for FC Cincinnati as proposed by Councilmember Sittenfeld.
— Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard (@tamayaforcincy) April 13, 2018
The deal requires FC Cincinnati to pay $25 million worth of school property taxes and to sell West End lots to a private developer to build $15 million worth of affordable housing in the neighborhood.
The Cincinnati school board rushed a similar vote this week, holding a special meeting Tuesday and approving its own deal with the soccer club instead of waiting for its next scheduled meeting on Monday.
The school board approved a land swap that allows FC Cincinnati to build its stadium on the site of Stargel Stadium adjacent to Taft High School. In return, the soccer club agreed to build a new $10 million Stargel Stadium across the street and pay millions of dollars to Cincinnati Public Schools in lieu of property taxes.
Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel said he has questions about what the Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority’s possible ownership of the stadium could mean for county taxpayers.
The Redevelopment Authority plans to discuss FC Cincinnati at a special board meeting at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Under the city’s plan, the soccer club would privately fund the $200 million stadium, but the team would lease the stadium from the Redevelopment Authority – a public entity better known as the Port Authority that the city and county collectively control – who would ultimately own it.
If that happens, 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.
“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, at an estimated cost of $15 million, but all three commissioners have said they do not want the public to own the stadium.
In a best-case scenario for FC Cincinnati, the soccer club could be hosting MLS Commissioner Don Garber for a "Welcome-to-MLS“ celebration by the end of next week.
There’s no telling if FC Cincinnati asked Cranley or City Council to move up its vote, but after missing several deadlines, the soccer club has to feel a sense of urgency to wrap up the final piece of its MLS bid.
It may not have been a coincidence that the MLS deputy commissioner and other league officials were in Detroit April 6 meeting with soccer club management there. Detroit is competing against Cincinnati and Sacramento for the next MLS expansion franchise.