CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati is one step closer to playing in its new home, and the club offered a look inside the new West End Stadium for the final time before it opens to fans.
With a vintage beer hall-style club, a 360-degree roof and 26,000 seats surrounding the pitch, the stadium is nearly ready. Construction was 93% complete on Thursday, according to VP of Facilities Dan Lolli, also the stadium’s general manager. Primary construction wraps in April before the stadium opens on a to-be-determined date in mid-May.
"We understand that in April, the guidance is 30%, and we're grateful that we're starting to build up capacity as the situation improves, people are vaccinated,” said FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding during Thursday’s tour.
But long before the pandemic, the project overcame a different obstacle. When the idea of a stadium here was first introduced, neighbors were split.
"People in the West End had some concerns, had some questions,” Berding said. “They've had a highway put through their neighborhood. It's a proud neighborhood -- maybe they weren't trusting. ‘How is this going to make the neighborhood better? Is this just going to be another one of those projects?’ They had a lot of questions.”
According to data shared by the team, FC Cincinnati has exceeded the promises laid out in the community benefits agreement. The franchise has worked with small, women-owned and minority-owned businesses, distributed grants, donated to affordable housing and created youth soccer programs.
While the Major League Soccer team’s new stadium hasn’t opened to the public, the people who live in the West End are already being included, as those youth soccer members will get to play on the pitch before the team itself.
“The first folks that are going to be in the building in any large way is going to be people from the West End,” Berding said. “We’re going to open the doors to our neighbors, say thank you for welcoming us into the neighborhood.”
In a statement Thursday, Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses said in part that FC Cincinnati has "done a good job of keeping to the terms they prepared in the CBA," and that the community has benefited from the team's foundation, the largest in the league.
"They had questions and I would like to say I think during this process we've tried to answer the questions and honor the answers,” Berding said. “I'm very proud of that."
But affordable housing and displacement concerns remain. SHNH adds that "pressures from major developments continue to arise. Speculators are still trying to get their hands on properties."
While the neighborhood changes, Berding said the commitment continues: “More work to do, but I think we've done it the right way.”