CINCINNATI -- Is FC Cincinnati planning to build its new soccer field on Cincinnati Public Schools' Willard R. Stargel Stadium?
Team President and General Manager Jeff Berding, speaking on 700WLW's Bill Cunningham Show Friday, said "there are some configurations where that could be possible" to build the new stadium on the site of the field near Taft High School in the West End.
"But I want to stress, Bill, we're not quite there yet," Berding said. "And that would only be real if we had, first, the opportunity to talk to CPS, to talk to the folks associated with Taft. So, I don't want to get people all alarmed."
"I can reassure people, the high school building isn't going anywhere. And there's plenty of opportunities for us to do this without Stargel, but there could be some opportunities to partner with CPS and build a bigger and better Stargel adjacent."
That possibility didn't sit well with one of Stargel's sons. Jason Stargel told WCPO he was "shocked" to hear that a professional soccer stadium might replace the high school stadium named after his father, who was a legendary coach and teacher at Taft.
"We feel that the stadium is a landmark fixture down in the West End community, and that's where Pop served as a teacher, a coach, and he impacted the lives of so many kids down there that we felt it would be a travesty if something like that was to happen in this school and the stadium was to be removed," Jason Stargel said at a Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses meeting Thursday night.
Jason Stargel also shared concerns for the greater community and the impact of gentrification in the West End.
"For the neighborhood, we worry about displacement ... It seems that we're losing ground for our kids, and we worry about that," he said.
Cincinnati School Board President Carolyn Jones sent a letter to Berding Friday, before his comments about Stargel Stadium aired on the radio, requesting more information about a proposed "partnership" the team is seeking with the school board.
“As you know, the correspondence you sent to CPS last week has generated attention, speculation, and some concerns from CPS stakeholders,” Jones wrote in a letter dated Feb. 2.
The school board plans to schedule a meeting this month to meet with West End residents and discuss the potential impact of a stadium in the neighborhood, according to the letter.
Some West End residents are concerned about what a $200 million sports venue would do to their neighborhood. Residents discussed the issue at the Thursday night meeting.
"Change is good, but there have been so many families that have already been displaced, so many broken promises," Sharon Carr said at the meeting.
And the possible use of the Stargel Stadium site has raised even more eyebrows.
Stargel Stadium is not only home field for Taft teams, the 3,000-seat complex is used by six schools: Aiken, Gamble Montessori, Hughes, Riverview East, Schroder and Taft.
Stargel, a former Taft coach and teacher, is revered in the community as a man who overcame racism on and off the field and advanced educational and athletic opportunities for Taft and CPS students. Stargel starred in football, basketball and track at Woodward (Class of 1940) and the University of Cincinnati and coached at Taft and Walnut Hills. He was one of the original inductees in the Cincinnati Public Schools Athletic Hall of Fame.
At UC, Stargel, a tight end, helped the Bearcats' football team to one of its greatest seasons in 1946 marked by victories over Indiana in the season opener and Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. But Texas banned Stargel from El Paso for the bowl game under Jim Crow laws in force at the time.
Despite UC President Raymond Walters’ position that UC should not accept the invitation, the UC board of directors overruled Walters and accepted the bid, according to UC Magazine.
Stargel ran track at UC and held the school record in the low and high hurdles until they were broken by his son, Scott. He's also a member of the UC Athletic Hall of Fame.
FC Cincinnati is seeking an expansion slot in MLS, the top pro soccer league in the country. They're looking for a place to build a soccer-specific stadium to make the league happy and they've narrowed that search to the West End, Oakley and Newport, Kentucky.
In the past couple weeks, the team has made some public moves for a potential West End stadium. Berding reached out to Cincinnati Public Schools board members last week "to discuss a potential FCC-CPS partnership in the event we choose to pursue a West End stadium location." Then, on Tuesday, the Metropolitan Housing Authority voted unanimously to grant buying rights for more than 60 empty West End lots to FC Cincinnati. Team leaders have said they would build housing, not a stadium, on that land.
Speaking on 700WLW Friday, Berding reiterated plans to reach out to members of the community and meet with leaders from the West End Community Council.
"We're going to get out there, and we're going to talk and listen to people and determine if the West End is a site we should continue to pursue or not," he said.
Berding said that Oakley and Newport are still also being considered.
Building any new stadium rests on MLS choosing FC Cincinnati for that expansion slot. Berding said again on 700WLW that he expects the league will choose Cincinnati.
"I'd be very disappointed and surprised" if MLS doesn't pick Cincinnati, he said. "I think the franchise sells itself -- what we've done here, proven that we're a major league sports town, the support for soccer, the interest in FC Cincinnati -- the renaissance happening here in our city is so enormous -- I would be surprised."