CINCINNATI -- It's looking more and more like FC Cincinnati's new stadium -- should it come to fruition -- will land in Newport.
The second-year United Soccer League club unveiled some impressive designs for its proposed $200 million stadium Monday at a town hall meeting with season ticket holders at Woodward Theater, and most of the plans were based on the Ovation mixed-used development site across the river from the Queen City's downtown.
Club officials and architect Dan Meis stressed that the designs could work at any of the three proposed neighborhood sites, which also include the West End/Over-the-Rhine and Oakley areas, but right now it appears Newport is the leading option.
"As an architect, I love the Newport site because you're looking right back on the city," said Meis, who also designed the Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium and is working on stadiums for international clubs Everton and AS Roma. "It's not like it's buried in Cincinnati. It's right on Cincinnati's front door, and the river to me has always been a connector. When you look at Paul Brown, you're looking out of the river but you didn't see a lot of the skyline so this is an opportunity to turn that around. I think it really has some potential."
FC Cincinnati is hoping to earn one of the four remaining spots in Major League Soccer's expansion plans and is required to have a club-controlled, soccer-specific stadium to be considered.
The club submitted its MLS application on Jan. 31 and is competing with 11 other cities for a bid. Two of the expansion clubs will be announced by the end of the year with plans to begin play in 2020, and FC Cincinnati president Jeff Berding said the goal is to have the stadium plans and funding figured out by the end of the summer to give MLS time to seriously consider the Queen City.
If awarded a bid, the club would break ground in the spring of 2018 in order to have the stadium complete by the 2020 season.
FC Cincinnati remains open to any of the three proposed sites -- or any new ones that pop up -- but Berding said when the club submitted the MLS expansion application, it used the Ovation site in Newport as its location because it was the only one it knew it could control at the time.
According to Berding, the club entered into a development understanding with Bill Butler and Corporex, which developed most of the northern Kentucky riverfront, before submitting the bid. The other two neighborhoods would require agreements from multiple owners.
"Our whole focus has been to try to find a way to build the stadium in Cincinnati," Berding said. "However, the sites we are looking at are owned by multiple people and we may or may not be able to pull it off so it is great to have the opportunity to develop the stadium in Newport."
Michael Schuster, of MSA Sports, helped narrow down the three sites. Although each one has its drawbacks, they all fit what FC Cincinnati and MLS are looking for in building a stadium that will attract millennials, who make up the largest soccer audience and like to include stops at bars and restaurants in their plans to attend games.
Schuster said Oakley would create a great pedestrian kind of place and the kind of environment FCC is looking for, while the West End/OTA would integrate a "uniquely Cincinnati" urban atmosphere.
"There's not a big, big, big place that's waiting for something to happen necessarily, so it requires a little bit of thinking," Schuster said. "We're working with very significant groups, looking at planning issues, looking at infrastructure issues, looking at ideas."
After receiving a mixed reaction to the Newport site revelation, Schuster defended it as one that worked as the "test fit" for MLS and remains ingrained with the city of Cincinnati while just a five minute walk across the river.
"Things will continue to evolve and we will continue to get feedback, and it's going to be an amazing place, you will see," Schuster said.
During Monday's event, Meis revealed the preferred stadium designs and described the plans as "really dynamic," while engaging fans in the history of the game worldwide and activating the local neighborhood at the street level. Hundreds of fans responded to the images with enthusiasm.
The idea is to build a 25,000-seat soccer-specific stadium -- with a grass pitch -- on eight to 10 acres of land. The facility would be a sort of horseshoe shape with a berm in the open end that could later be used to expand to 30,000 seats.
"We wanted to do something that's really dynamic," Meis said in an interview after the town hall meeting concluded. "There have been a lot of MLS stadiums over the years, a lot of new ones as the league grew, but we really wanted to bring an international flair to it, so drawing on some of the design ideas we've seen in some international buildings that really make the stadium stand out, no matter what the site is it becomes a beacon and I think represents that wild fan base we have."
Meis said the stadium would highlight Cincinnati's innovation as a city through the use of Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), which is a translucent material that through LED lighting can make the building glow and change colors. Bayern Munich's Allianz Arena is well-known for its use of ETFE, but the NFL Vikings are the only team in the U.S. who have integrated that material into their stadium, on their roof, according to Meis.
FC Cincinnati's stadium also would include a fan plaza and Brew House along the exterior that would connect the community to the club even outside of games.
"These buildings are really event driven and they come alive," Meis said.
Financing still remains the biggest question. FC Cincinnati has committed over half the stadium cost with $100 million pledged to the facility -- on top of the MLS $150 million expansion fee the club will pay itself -- but will need a public-private partnership to complete the project.
Berding suggested the use of tax increment financing and other economic incentives that are routinely used on development projects around the city, region and state, but said ultimately, it's up to the elected officials. The funding will not go to the voters because FC Cincinnati is not proposing a new tax.
"We're confident if we can pull this (stadium) off, we'll be invited into MLS," Berding said.