CINCINNATI — After more than a year of back-and-forth over parking near the incoming FC Cincinnati stadium, the county struck a deal with the team Thursday evening, and it's a deal that will mean a slightly higher construction price tag for taxpayers than originally estimated.
At its final meeting of 2019, the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners approved a tentative plan to build not one but two parking garages, providing more than 1,100 parking spaces for Major League Soccer fans attending games at the West End stadium -- soon to be located on Central Parkway.
View the resolution and terms sheet approved Thursday in the viewer below.
By the deal's terms, the team will donate a portion of the stadium site -- currently Wade Street, between John Street and Central Avenue -- for the first parking garage, which will house roughly 850 parking spaces. Once that's built, the county will build a second, 300-space garage, with 100 adjacent surface lot parking spots, at a yet-undisclosed location near Findlay Market in northern Over-the-Rhine.
At Thursday night's meeting, Board of Commissioners President Denise Driehaus touted the deal as striking a balance between providing gameday parking as well as benefiting both the West End and neighboring Over-the-Rhine communities.
"There's a lot going on around Findlay Market. They are clamoring for a parking facility because of all the activity there, current and expected in the future," Driehaus said. "But we also recognized that we needed to put something nearer to the stadium."
Watch the Board of Commissioners' discussion of the deal here:
The soccer club will take 85 percent of parking revenue from both garages on all home game and other stadium event days, and the county will collect the full amount of parking revenue on all other days throughout the year. If parking revenues from the garages prove insufficient to cover debt incurred by construction and ongoing operating costs, the club's share of event day parking revenue will shrink to 50 percent.
"The revenue split guarantees that we do not go under water by way of the operations of the garage," Driehaus said.
MLS teams will host 17 of 34 games during the 2020 season, and that number of home games is likely to continue into future seasons, according to the league.
The deal approved Thursday did not indicate how much it will cost to park at either facility.
As for construction costs, all told the facilities will cost the county $27 million, up from the administration's 2017 estimate of $15 million. Combined with the city of Cincinnati's $35 million toward road and utility infrastructure around the stadium site, that brings the total taxpayer contribution to the project up to $62 million. The county will cover the capital construction costs through parking revenue generated by the county's other parking facilities located at The Banks and throughout Over-the-Rhine.
City of Blue Ash Councilman Jeff Capell, a longtime critic of county-subsidized stadium deals, was the only public speaker on this topic at Thursday's meeting. He urged the commissioners to hit pause on the deal until the club commits to paying property taxes on the stadium site.
"Unfortunately this is just the culmination of two years of mismanaging this issue," Capell said. "Don't move forward with something like this until you get a signed agreement that guarantees FC Cincinnati will pay the county property taxes they should be paying on a $250 million facility."
The club's agreement with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority allowed the stadium to be exempt from county property taxes, pending approval from the Ohio Department of Taxation. The port has applied for the exemption, but no final decision has been made. The team also reached a side deal with Cincinnati Public Schools for a payment in lieu of taxes. The I-Team estimated the club would avoid $88.7 million in property taxes with the arrangement over 20 years.
Earlier this year, the Board of Commissioners voted to maintain 0.25% of the Hamilton County sales tax, previously approved by voters for the recently completed Union Terminal renovations and originally set to expire at the end of this year. In response to Cappell's concerns, Driehaus emphasized that no general fund monies or county sales tax revenue would go toward constructing the parking garages.
Construction on the stadium-site garage is expected to begin as early as February 2020 in order to be open by the start of FC Cincinnati's 2021 season. Construction on the Findlay Market garage will wrap up no more than 18 months following the completion of the stadium-site garage, per the agreement.
If the county misses the 18-month deadline to complete the Findlay garage, the club will begin collecting 100 percent of the parking revenue from the stadium site on event days.
The team and the county have until Jan. 15, 2020 to finalize the agreement.
WCPO I-Team reporter Dan Monk contributed to this report.