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Cincinnati City Council 'will not be rushed' on FC Cincinnati stadium decision

Posted at 12:07 PM, Feb 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-27 19:04:11-05

CINCINNATI -- Even if FC Cincinnati is selected to join Major League Soccer soon, Cincinnati City Council members say they won’t be in a hurry to sign off on a new stadium deal for the team.

In November, Cincinnati City Council approved a $37 million financing package for the FC Cincinnati stadium project in Oakley. The deal was passed just 12 days after Mayor John Cranley first proposed it.

But council members said Tuesday they won’t rush to pass any new deals if FC Cincinnati comes back to City Hall with a new plan to build a stadium in the West End.

“We basically had a gun to our head at the time,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld Tuesday during a joint meeting of the Cincinnati Public School board and the city’s Economic Innovation and Growth Committee. Sittenfeld voted against the stadium deal in November.

“I don’t think any of us has the desire to be under the circumstance again,” he said.

Members of council and school board met Tuesday to discuss FC Cincinnati’s latest stadium proposal. School board members told council members they are worried that the team will be exempted from paying property taxes when a new stadium is built.

Councilman David Mann, who voted for the stadium deal last year, agreed that council won’t be hurried for any new deals this time around.

“I don’t know if anybody in this (council) is going to participate in that,” Mann said.

FC Cincinnati has named three possible sites -- Oakley, Newport and the West End -- for a potential stadium site if the team earns an MLS bid. The league is expected to announce if FC Cincinnati gets in the league sometime this year.

In recent weeks, however, the team has focused on building its new stadium in the West End, at the site of Cincinnati Public Schools’ Stargel Stadium. Team leaders have spent weeks at West End community meetings, and offered to build a new, $10 million replacement stadium for the schools.

If FC Cincinnati does move forward on the West End site, it’s likely council will need to vote again on a new financing deal for the team.

A $7 million piece of the city’s $37 million infrastructure offer will be missing if the team moves there: Council’s deal counts on money from Oakley’s tax increment financing fund -- a pot of property taxes used to make improvements in a specific area -- that cannot be transferred elsewhere.

With a new council -- three new members were elected last year -- and a new neighborhood in play, that could be yet another hurdle in FC Cincinnati’s months-long stadium saga.

Council members will spend more time this round crafting a community benefits agreement in the West End before doling out any cash offers to the team again, they say. A community benefits agreement could require the team to complete certain tasks, like hiring minority workers or setting aside money for affordable housing developments, as a condition of building the stadium.

Such an agreement was not developed between the city and FC Cincinnati in November, when council approved the $37 million infrastructure package.

But since then, council has changed its tune.

In recent weeks, West End residents have said they are worried that the stadium could drive up property values -- and drive out current residents from the neighborhood.

“I will only accept zero displacement,” Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard said of a potential community benefits agreement for the stadium plan. Dennard joined council in January.

The MLS was expected to announce by the end of this month which of three cities -- Sacramento, Detroit or Cincinnati -- would join the league. But no dates for an announcement have been scheduled