FC Cincinnati stadium holds up, and could kill, Over-the-Rhine safety project

CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati's stadium in the West End will hold up, and could potentially kill, a long-awaited project to improve safety along an Over-the-Rhine corridor.

Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney also said there's a funding gap. For now, he's put the project on pause but left open the possibility that it could be "revisited in the future."

The city widened Liberty Street several decades ago to link Interstates 71 and 75 before Fort Washington Way was constructed. That meant demolishing dozens of buildings, leaving empty, undevelopable half-lots lining the street's southern side. In the end, it more than tripled the street's width.

People living in Over-the-Rhine have complained that, in its current state, Liberty splits their neighborhood in two, encourages speeding and is dangerous to cross. They've worked for years with city engineers on a plan to reduce the number of lanes on Liberty and narrow the length of crosswalks.

In a memo Tuesday, Duhaney argued traffic going to and from the stadium would use Liberty. He also said Central Parkway would "change dramatically" with the new stadium." While the stadium site itself sits two blocks west of Central Parkway, and two blocks south of Liberty, parking garages will be nearer to those two roads. 

RELATED: What will stadium mean for traffic, parking in West End?

FC Cincinnati's stadium is expected to host about two dozen matches annually. That amounts to less than 10 percent of all days in a given calendar year, though the club's leadership has said it wants to host other events. 

Duhaney wants to wait for the results of a new traffic study.

He also argued there's a gap in funding; the city budgeted $2.3 million, but now he says the project is expected to cost $3.2 million. That leaves a gap of roughly $960,000, which would be needed to move a water main.

For comparison, the city agreed to spend $2.5 million from the its 2019 capital budget, $6.38 million from its reserves and $8 million from the Downtown and Over-the-Rhine tax increment finance district to help FC Cincinnati pay for infrastructure around its stadium.

The administration faced pushback from multiple members of City Council during a special committee meeting Tuesday.

"This seems like it came out of left field," council member P.G. Sittenfeld told Assistant City Manager John Juech during Tuesday's meeting. "It feels like you're trying to dictate policy. Just two days ago the city's website said this had funding."

Council member Chris Seelbach called for the discussion of the program's delay.

"(A majority of council) do not want a pause. We do not want to study more of the same," he said.

Juech said the decision to pause the program was to consider all the factors that weren't in place when it was originally approved by City Council.

"The goal is to make the wisest decisions for the future long term," he said. "Circumstances have changed."

Sittenfeld recommended a special session of the Major Projects and Smart Government Committee, with possible legislation directing the administration to follow through with the plan. That meeting would take place some time after Labor Day.

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