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FC Cincinnati turns sights to Newport but not giving up on Oakley yet

Berding hopes mayor can broker deal with county
Posted at 4:20 PM, Nov 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-17 04:54:08-05

CINCINNATI -- With the deadline nearing, FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding told WCPO the club has turned its attention to Newport while hoping Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley can convince city and county leaders to pay for infrastructure for its preferred stadium site at Oakley Station.

“If the county is not willing to participate and it’s beyond the reach of the city, I feel confident we have a pathway over in Newport and we’ll go there,” Berding said Thursday in a one-on-one interview with WCPO Anchor Tanya O’Rourke.

Meanwhile, O'Rourke obtained a copy of an email Cranley sent to county commissioners. It said, in part:

"Let's make fc happen. Let's make sure it stays in Ohio and in the city. And let's help them win their MLS bid by investing in public infrastructure."

In the email, Cranley asked commissioners to contribute a share of hotel tax revenue that he believes belongs to the city. Berding had asked the county and city to commit an annual $2.8 million in hotel tax revenue for 30 years.

"Let the city have the money at the bottom of the waterfall, roughly 1.5 million. Since we impose a higher hotel tax than city, it really is city money."

Cranley told O'Rourke he will announce his plan Friday.

RELATED: City in "no position" to pay what FC Cincinnati wants

Berding said there’s no question that FC Cincinnati would totally finance a $200 million soccer-specific stadium in order to win a Major Soccer League expansion franchise, and he dismissed again the county’s notion that Paul Brown Stadium should be its first option.

Asked if there’s any wiggle room regarding who pays for infrastructure or the county's preference to play at PBS, Berding said no.

“We’re going to spend private dollars on a private stadium. We are not going to spend private dollars on public infrastructure. Public dollars go to public infrastructure,” Berding said.

But Berding made it clear his preference - his heart  - is in Oakley. He talked excitedly about his vision to create a Wrigley Field-type atmosphere around the stadium, blending restaurants, bars and shops with homes there and spreading the excitement to nearby Pleasant Ridge and Hyde Park.

Berding said FC Cincinnati didn't pursue overtures from Mason and the airport area because they wanted to build in the urban core, not the suburbs.

"Soccer works best in a neighborhood," Berding said.

But that might not happen for FC Cincinnati.

Hamilton County commissioners have balked at the club’s request to help the city contribute $75 million in infrastructure for FC Cincinnati's stadium. The county Wednesday offered to build a 1,000-car garage – at an estimated cost of $15 million – but even that offer had strings attached.

The county said it first wants the opportunity to try to convince MLS and the club that county-owned Paul Brown Stadium is ideal for an MLS team.

Berding said that is a losing proposition and would kill FC Cincinnati’s chances to get one of the two MLS expansion franchises to be awarded next month.

“Listen, the county wants us to sit down and have us review for them once again how it doesn’t work and they want to do that today, tomorrow, but we literally have spent over a month on Paul Brown Stadium,” Berding said.

“Paul Brown Stadium is a losing bid. They know that … We transparently opened our books and showed them how it’s not a winning bid.”

Berding indicated that it’s up to Cranley to work out a deal to keep the team in Cincinnati.

“We will have a stadium one way or another. I’m confident of that. But I want to make this clear: the city - Mayor Cranley - is trying to get this done. But he needs a partner and he needs the county to be the partner,” Berding said.

“They’ve offered their support. I don’t think the numbers added up yesterday in some of their public statements. But in the end of the day they did signal a willingness to work with the city and see if they can get the infrastructure done in Oakley.

“We were encouraged by that. We hope the county and the city are sorting through these issues and maybe they can get it done.”

Berding said FC Cincinnati will spend $350 million to bring MLS to the Cincinnati area: $200 million to build a 21,000-seat stadium and $150 million for franchise fees. He said people who think the city doesn’t need a third pro sports stadium are wrong if they want to bring MLS here.

“If we want to risk $350 million of our own money to build a stadium, that should satisfy the people who think we don’t need a third stadium,” he said. “We know we do to win this bid.”

Berding indicated that negotiations with Newport officials have picked up speed in the last few days after working through some issues with Tax Increment Financing at the Newport Ovation site, on the riverfront just west of Newport on the Levee. A TIF would take property taxes from new development that pops up around the stadium and funnel them into a fund that pays for its construction.

“We have had some timing challenges with the TIF on the Newport side,” Berding said. “I’ve had people ask why has it taken so long if  the TIF was in place at the Ovation site, and the issue is you have to build a lot of buildings in order to have TIF revenue and we have to build the stadium on the front end. But now that we’re 100 percent self-financing the stadium, we’ve had some very encouraging conversations over the past two days and we feel very optimistic about that opportunity.

“There’s ongoing conversations with the developer and with elected officials in Northern Kentucky and  our ask in Cincinnati is the same ask in Northern Kentucky: We will build our own stadium. We will privately finance the stadium. We need help with the infrastructure around the stadium.”