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FC Cincinnati gets OK to build West End stadium on Cincinnati Public Schools land

Posted at 7:08 PM, Apr 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-11 06:39:05-04

CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati can build a $200 million stadium in the West End on the site of Willard R. Stargel Stadium. 

The Cincinnati Public School board agreed Tuesday night to trade the high school stadium for a vacant West End lot, where FC Cincinnati plans to construct a new $10 million athletic facility for the schools. 

Six school board members voted for the land swap, with none voting against, during a special meeting. School board member Ryan Messer was absent.

A crowd of nearly 50 people, some of them holding signs opposing the deal, chanted "Shame!" following the vote. 

The soccer club, however, fulfilled the demands school board members made in exchange for the land.

FC Cincinnati will make a $10 million property tax payment to the schools and promises to enter into a community benefits agreement with West End organizations by June 30. The team also vowed to leave Taft High School untouched with the stadium construction. 

"We feel we made the right decision for the district, therefore students," CPS Board President Carolyn Jones said shortly after the vote. "On the other hand, we feel very strongly that the community did speak out loud in a way that we had to listen. Like I always said, it's a no win-win situation." 

If the team earns an invitation to join Major League Soccer, a new West End stadium site could open to fans in 2021. The team will build and open the high school's new sports complex, which will sit across from Taft High School on Ezzard Charles Drive, before starting construction on the new FC Cincinnati stadium. 

FC Cincinnati has spent much of the year lobbying school and community stakeholders to support the agreement, but talks stalled last month when the soccer team’s wealthy owners said they would only make a reduced school property tax payment on the multimillion-dollar stadium’s value.   

School board members wouldn't budge on a lower payment. 

The club finally won school board members over last week, after promising to pay the same tax rate -- 25 percent -- as other new developments in the city. 

The new stadiums will "bring positive development to the West End and benefits for CPS students and families," team owner Jeff Berding said in a statement after the board approved the agreement Tuesday night.

FC Cincinnati’s property tax payments on the stadium site are expected to pump roughly $25 million into the city’s school system over the stadium's 30 year lifespan.

Under the deal, the soccer club plans to make a $10 million payment – representing a decade’s worth of property taxes on a stadium with an estimated value of $175 million – to the schools next year. 

This doesn’t make a West End stadium official yet. 

The team still needs to earn the MLS bid, and council needs to sign off on a $34 million infrastructure package before stadium construction begins. 

Last week, Cincinnati City Councilmen David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld introduced a West End stadium plan that will have taxpayers fund the site preparation, construction of parking spaces, and installment of utility lines for the stadium. 

To pay for the project, the city will draw on money from the 2019 budget, a hotel tax, and cash set aside in the Downtown and Over-The-Rhine tax increment financing fund, which takes the property taxes owners pay and re-invests the money into new developments in the neighborhoods. 

In return, the team has agreed to pay $25 million in school property taxes, develop a community benefits agreement with the West End neighborhood and sell West End land to a private developer who will erect a $15 million affordable housing complex nearby.  

Legislation for that deal will be introduced Monday, during the city’s budget and finance committee. 

Cincinnati City Council could vote on the funding package by April 18. 

Some who spoke out against the West End stadium at Tuesday's school board meeting said they are concerned a benefits agreement between the team and neighborhood has not yet been signed. 

That work now rests with the city council, Jones said. 

"Developing the (community benefits agreement is not the school board's jurisdiction," said Jones, the school board president. "That is a city concern. They have to take their vote, they have to decide how to partner." 

Councilman Jeff Pastor, a Republican who is a needed vote for the West End stadium deal, said he's hesitate to sign off on a stadium infrastructure plan until a community benefits agreement is inked. 

Major League Soccer owners are expected to meet April 17 and FC Cincinnati hopes to have most West End properties needed for the stadium acquired by then.