CINCINNATI -- A West End soccer stadium appears doomed after Cincinnati Public Schools rejected the latest offer from FC Cincinnati on Wednesday.
The soccer club had given CPS a 5 p.m. deadline to accept its new offer of annual payments beginning at $750,000 - twice its previous offer. After meeting in emergency session, the school board sent back a letter demanding $2 million per year for the first 10 years.
Shortly after that, an FC Cincinnati spokesperson released a statement that appeared to signal the end to negotiations.
"Tonight FC Cincinnati received a letter from the attorney for Cincinnati Public Schools. As a result, FC Cincinnati did not move ahead with the purchase of needed property for a West End stadium, property that was scheduled to close today. We will have no further comment this evening."
FC Cincinnati didn't announce the deadline until Wednesday morning, and Vice President and General Manager Jeff Berding said the club needed to move fast so it could pay $1 million to secure commercial property for the planned $250 million stadium project.
Berding said he didn't expect the board to vote Wednesday but he wanted some indication that CPS was willing to deal before the club shelled out money for the property.
"If we can’t get there today, we run the risk of losing control of the property, which probably makes then the ability to put the stadium in the West End past us and at that point we still have two other terrific sites," Berding said in an interview with WCPO and WVXU earlier Wednesday.
For weeks, school board members have asked how much the club planned to pay on its future soccer stadium. Within the last week, it rejected two previous FC Cincinnati offers and threatened to cut off negotiations.
“The board is very much interested in making sure we receive our fair share of taxes,” CPS Superintendent Laura Mitchell said shortly before releasing its demands in a letter Wednesday.
The club wanted to strike a deal to pay $750,000 yearly in lieu of property taxes. That was 10 times more than its first offer, but short of the $2 million per year the schools estimate they should collect on a $250 million project. FC Cincinnati also revealed a proposal for a Community Benefits Agreement and plans for new programs at the schools with their offer.
If CPS is sending FC Cincinnati a letter back with what they expect, that indicates to me that they’re sending back a counter offer. I don’t think that’s what FC Cincinnati is looking for to make this deal happen. https://t.co/pD7CgJLfMX
Berding said early Wednesday that if the school board rejected the offer, the team would need to pivot to the other two possible stadium locations: Oakley and Newport, Kentucky.
“If this partnership cannot work, we will be disheartened to share this news with all our supporters in the West End who are excited about the benefits an MLS stadium would bring to the West End neighborhood,” Berding said.
The school board called FC Cincinnati's 5 p.m. deadline "unreasonable." A spokesperson said they weren't notified about the deadline until 10:19 a.m., forcing the board to hold an emergency meeting at 1:30 p.m. to discuss the club's offer. An attorney with FC Cincinnati came into the negotiations shortly after 4 p.m.
Ohio law typically requires 24 hours' notice for any special meeting, except when there's "an emergency requiring immediate official action."
READ club's statement about its latest offer here or below.
The team can’t afford to pay more on a West End stadium deal, Berding said. The school board needed to sign off on a deal because FC Cincinnati wants to build on the current site of the district's Stargel Stadium. The club offered to build a "new, better" Stargel Stadium across the street.
This might have bee lost, but it’s worth nothing @JeffBerding said just now that FC Cincinnati is still in talks with Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority, and has presented financing models on both Oakley and West End site @WCPO
In a March 7 letter WCPO obtained, the school board called an offer to make the current yearly payment of $70,000 to the schools “very disappointing.”
The club made a better offer on March 10 saying it would pay $100,000 to the schools over the first two years, eventually increasing the yearly payments to $500,000 by 2027.
"Being as transparent as we can be about it, it’s not in the best interest of our schools and our district to accept what they currently propose," school board president Carolyn Jones said.
Berding said FC Cincinnati needs to select a stadium site by March 31. FC Cincinnati is competing with two other cities — Detroit and Sacramento — for entry into Major League Soccer and expects the league to announce the winner this month.
Berding has said the club will not build a new stadium if it doesn't get accepted by MLS.