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Rush is on to get approval for FC Cincinnati to build Major League Soccer stadium in West End

Is window closing on MLS franchise?
Posted at 7:20 PM, Apr 07, 2018

CINCINNATI – After a frustrating site search that dragged on for months, the rush is clearly on to get approval for FC Cincinnati’s choice to build in the West End and get the final OK to join Major League Soccer while the window is still open.

The Cincinnati school board has moved up its vote, originally scheduled for April 16, to a special public meeting Tuesday. That could be followed by a City Council vote the next day.

In a best-case scenario for FC Cincinnati, the soccer club could be hosting MLS Commissioner Don Garber for a "Welcome-to-MLS “ celebration before the league owners meeting April 17, if not by the end of next week.

The window could be closing, though, with MLS officials in Detroit Friday meeting with soccer club owners there who want to steal the MLS bid from Cincinnati.

School board member Mike Moroski seemed to speak for all concerned, including FC Cincinnati fans, when WCPO asked him Saturday why the school board had advanced its vote.

“It was moved up so we could finally put this to bed and move on to other matters,” Moroski said. “The only thing to iron out is if we are all amenable to the new terms from FCC.”

FC Cincinnati’s term sheet, released Friday, seemed to meet all of the seven-member school board’s demands for a land swap in the West End, and nothing Moroski said indicated otherwise.

“Speaking for myself, I feel much better today than at any point throughout this process. And I am always concerned that things work out for the benefit of everyone,” Moroski said.

Moroski said the school board has been negotiating separately with FC Cincinnati and was not involved in talks between City Council members P.G. Sittenfeld and David Mann and the soccer club that led to a new deal to provide public financing for the stadium site, also announced Friday. The soccer club is paying for the stadium and the $150 million franchise fee.

A majority of council is expected to approve the deal.

 

‘We did not negotiate together. We have been working on engagement for nearly three months, and holding strong to asking for our fair share,” Moroski said.

For months, the major holdup has been FC Cincinnati’s refusal to pay what the school board considered a full fair share of property taxes on the stadium. After CPS rejected three previous offers, that appears to have been resolved.

“I think we did very well by our students and taxpayers,” Moroski said.

FC Cincinnati also struggled to engage with the West End community and win support. President and General Manager Jeff Berding met strong opposition from residents and activists at a series of public meetings. FC Cincinnati finally won over the leadership of the West End Community Council, but not everyone has bought in.

Other groups and some residents still denounced the stadium plan Friday after the soccer club pledged to the city to pour millions of dollars  into affordable housing,  minority businesses and jobs and athletic and academic programs for West End youth.

“I am not as familiar with the city’s deal as our own,” Moroski said. “My concern has always been our students, schools, and other interested community folks. It appears the city’s deal takes these groups into account.”

There’s no telling if FC Cincinnati asked the school board 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 bid to MLS.

It may not have been a coincidence that the MLS deputy commissioner and other league officials were in Detroit Friday meeting with soccer club management there. Detroit is competing against Cincinnati and Sacramento for the next MLS expansion franchise.

ESPN, Sports Illustrated and other soccer media have said that FC Cincinnati just needs to get stadium site approval from the school board and city council to clinch the deal with MLS. ESPN and Sports Illustrated first reported that MLS rejected FC Cincinnati’s original plan to put the stadium in Oakley in favor of a site in the urban core.

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