City council approves FC Cincinnati stadium infrastructure funding

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati City Council approved a $34.8 million stadium infrastructure package Monday, granting FC Cincinnati the last public financing piece needed to build its $200 million soccer facility in the West End. 

The city’s nine council members were divided over the financing deal and how a 21,000-seat soccer stadium will change the West End – a low-income, historically black neighborhood where past development deals have pushed out residents before. 

Five members gave the support needed to pass the deal, which will use city money to fund parking, utility lines and site preparation for the stadium.

“The West End deserves better than it’s had,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, a Democrat who proposed the city’s latest stadium funding offer. “I think that better future can be married with this deal.” 

The money for the project will be come from the following sources: 

  • $6.38 million from the city’s reserves funds, money made on the Blue Ash Airport
  • $1.5 million, annually for 30 years, from the city’s hotel tax collection
  •  $2.5 million from the city’s 2019 capital budget
  •  $8 million from the Downtown and Over-the-Rhine tax increment finance district. The fund, commonly called a TIF, takes taxes property owners pay in the neighborhoods and reinvests them into new development

The other four council members questioned if residents really want the stadium, the need for public money, and if the team will follow through on promises to better the neighborhood.

“If people in the West End are made to live with something they don’t want, that’s very bothersome,” said Councilman Wendell Young, a Democrat and frequent critic of the plan. 

HOW THEY VOTED
 
Yes
David Mann
Amy Murray
Jeff Pastor
P.G. Sittenfeld
Christopher Smitherman

No
Tamaya Dennard
Greg Landsman
Chris Seelbach
Wendell Young

FC Cincinnati has faced months of questions and, at times, shouting matches in public meetings since the team announced its interest to build a stadium in the West End. 

If FC Cincinnati earns a spot in Major League Soccer, the club plans to build a new soccer stadium on the site of Willard R. Stargel Stadium, which several area high schools currently use. Last week the school board agreed to swap land with FC Cincinnati as long as the team pays 25 percent of its property taxes and builds a new $10 million high school stadium across the street on Ezzard Charles Drive. 

Residents told FC Cincinnati they want a community benefits agreement that would address stadium parking, noise, lighting and affordable housing issues.   

On Monday, FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding and Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor presented a contract that addressed some of those concerns. 

Under its terms, which only FC Cincinnati agreed to Monday, a community advisory council will be created to oversee the stadium’s development. 

More than a dozen people -- including West End Community Council members and an FC Cincinnati season ticket holder who lives in the neighborhood -- will sit on the board. The council will also work with the team and the Greater Redevelopment Authority to alleviate any resident concerns. 

The advisory council will have the chance to weigh in on the stadium’s design, as well as the design of the new high school stadium. 

Among the other things, the team promised to: 

  • "Aspire” to have 25 percent of its contractors owned by minorities and seven percent owned by women. 
  • Invest an annual $100,000 in West End organizations, including a college scholarship program for Taft High School students 
  • Spend $10,000 to establish a parking permit program for West End residents  
  • Select a developer who will build affordable housing in the West End
  • Create an athletic association and a youth soccer program in the West End  

West End Community Council President Keith Blake supported the deal Monday. 

"This is not the first company to come to the West End, but this is the one to offer the most outlook from day one," Blake said. 

Some said the deal doesn’t have the backing of the community. Roughly 30 people, many who opposed the stadium deal, spoke at City Hall. 

One resident said some West End Community Council members want to “impeach” Blake for his support of the stadium project. The community council meets Tuesday.

“There’s no signature from the community on there,” said Alexis Kidd, the executive director of the Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses. “We need more time to develop a true (community benefits agreement for the West End community).” 

A final community benefits agreement was not approved Monday and, under the deal council passed, the city can withhold funds for the project until it approves the community benefits agreement.

Cincinnati City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard, a Democrat who voted against the deal, said she wants to work to make sure West End residents end up getting a good deal if the stadium opens up in 2021.

“It looks like the votes are there to push this through,” Dennard said moments before the final vote to pass the stadium plan. “I will do everything I can to make sure this is a success.” 

FC Cincinnati will get more public financing help for its stadium project.

Earlier this year, state officials agreed to kick in $4 million for stadium infrastructure. Hamilton County also pledged money from its parking garage revenues to help build a new parking garage for the team’s stadium.

The Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority -- a public entity that is controlled by the city and county -- also agreed Monday to negotiate a deal where the authority would own the stadium, and lease the property back to the team. That allows FC Cincinnati to avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes, including property taxes and sales tax on building materials for the stadium’s construction.

FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding told WCPO last week he wanted legislation surrounding the deal passed by Tuesday, before Major League Soccer owners are slated to hold an annual meeting in Los Angeles. 

MLS owners are expected to discuss expansion -- a topic that has been on their agenda for every meeting since 2004. 

FC Cincinnati has been waiting for an answer to its bid application since December. The club is competing with soccer teams in Sacramento and Detroit to earn a bid. 

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