Berding 'optimistic' about FC Cincinnati funding plan despite some City Council opposition

CINCINNATI -- City Council will vote on Mayor Cranley's proposed funding package for FC Cincinnati Monday night -- a prospect about which Jeff Berding said Sunday he was "optimistic," despite the vocal opposition of council members such as Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld.

"I think people having a privately financed stadium is very different than what has happened to this community previously," Berding said. "Having that professional soccer franchise is great for the city."

Sittenfeld agreed in an open letter that "FC Cincinnati has been a lightning bolt of positive energy for our city," but said he would not support the proposal in Monday's vote due to "the timing, lack of due diligence, specific financing arrangement and location," which he called questionable at best and wrong at worst. 

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"Being a fan of the team is, of course, a different matter than deciding if and how taxpayers should participate in the creation of a new stadium," he added.

As Major League Soccer's Dec. 14 deadline to announce new member teams approaches, Berding, Cranley and other FC Cincinnati proponents have pushed harder for local governing bodies, including the council and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, to acquiesce to the team's requests.

According to Berding, the team will kick in $200 million to construct the stadium itself and only needs outside help to fund accompanying infrastructure.

Figures like the $27 million Berding referenced Sunday (which the city has said would be $37 million) would go toward these infrastructure costs, but the real price tag on the project isn't available — to anyone -- because FC Cininnati hasn't released a total project cost incorporating all aspects of stadium construction and infrastructure funding.

Even if such a figure were definitively identified and a financing plan agreed upon, a corresponding return on investment would not be guaranteed.

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"The overwhelming consensus of academic and economic research -- ranging from conservative-leaning branches of the Federal Reserve Bank to more progressive-leaning think tanks like the Brookings Institution -- share the conclusion that stadiums are, at best, a questionable deal for taxpayers and communities," Sittenfeld wrote in his letter.

Other sources bear this assertion out. Sports teams generally play host to just a few games a year and, therefore, don't generate the type of job creation or activity other businesses do.

That's especially true with stadiums having relatively few home games per year. FC Cincinnati had just about two dozen home matches last season -- less than 10 percent of a calendar year. A shopping center or office space that's in operation nearly 365 days a year generates far more economic activity.

Additionally, under Cranley's plan, the Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority -- a government agency most people know as the Port Authority -- would own the team's stadium. That means the city, county or school system could not collect property taxes on the stadium, saving the team's owners roughly $5 million in tax payments every year, Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes told WCPO.

Berding didn't deny the heft of the financial package for which the team is asking and acknowledged that a Newport site was the next option if Cincinnati couldn't find the funds to accommodate the team in Oakley. However, he said he hoped the Council would support Cranley's proposal.

"We have to show that we're a city that can pull off big things," he said. "This would be a big thing for Cincinnati. The beauty of it is that $350 million is all privately financed." 

Millions more are not. Council members will decide Monday whether they believe a potential MLS franchise is worth the asking price for the people of Cincinnati.

Late Sunday night, the Oakley Community Council came down with an answer of its own: Not like this.

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