CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding wants to make a deal with Cincinnati Public Schools: Give us Stargel Stadium, and we'll build a new $10 million high school athletic facility in the West End for students.
Facing well-publicized opposition to the prospect of a soccer stadium in the West End, Berding arrived at a crowded Monday night Cincinnati Public School board meeting bearing promises to work with the community and plans to build a $200 million stadium.
The only issue? He'd like to put the Orange and Blue in the spot Stargel Stadium, a 3,000-seat complex used by six local schools, already occupies.
Stargel, which is named after a former teacher and football coach, opened in 2004 and cost $5.8 million. The stadium sits in the city's West End, home to more than 6,000 people.
Berding's offer would relocate the school's stadium to a site across the street and to the southwest of Taft High School. The club would build the new stadium for students before beginning construction on the current Stargel Stadium, he said.
Right now, existing Stargel Stadium is in Taft's backyard. Students would have to cross street to get to new stadium (vacant lot pictured here) pic.twitter.com/SBmbLKDAGJ
— Amanda Seitz (@AmandaSeitz1) February 13, 2018
Stadium skeptics such as the NAACP and Councilman Wendell Young have raised concerns over the new MLS stadium, which they worry could endanger homes and the history in the majority-black neighborhood.
"Will Stargel means a lot to this city, especially African-Americans," Councilman Wendell Young said at a Feb. 8 press conference. "The nerve of anybody to want to replace a stadium with his name on it is absolutely unconscionable. (It) cannot be allowed, cannot be supported, and in my opinion, when we say 'no,' it should be loud and clear what we're saying."
Berding announced Monday he did want to use Stargel's current site for an FC Cincinnati stadium but offered to build a replacement -- "the best high school stadium in the district" -- for local schools at another site. The replacement would have concession stands, LED lighting, a larger press box and team meeting rooms.
"We could put a statue there for Mr. Stargel," he said. Some members of the audience grumbled.
In addition to paying for the stadium, Berding pledged the team will meet with West End residents in coming weeks, work to bring new businesses to the West End and focus on recruiting minority workers for construction jobs. FC Cincinnati also has exclusive buying rights for more than 60 empty lots on the West End, and Berding has vowed to push for more affordable housing on that land.
Still, dozens of speakers said Monday they are worried the stadium will drive up home prices -- pricing residents out of their homes. Some asked why the city and county had committed money for the stadium's infrastructure. Other said they want to know if Berding can actually deliver on his offer.
"I’m a skeptic because there’s a constantly changing narrative," Joe Mallory, who grew up in the West End, said of the stadium deal. "There's no trust."
Under the plan, the new Stargel Stadium would be built on a currently vacant lot, that was slated to be used for new housing built as part of this year's CiTiRAMA development. CiTiRAMA plans for that site are currently on hold, the home builder told WCPO earlier this month.
The CPS board would need to approve the land swap but didn't make a final decision Monday.
FC Cincinnati's owners have pledged to pay for the new $200 million MLS stadium. Last year, Cincinnati City Council and the Hamilton County Commission have committed a $52 million for the stadium's new roads, sewer lines and parking garage.
The team submitted its MLS bid in December, but the league delayed a final announcement on FC Cincinnati's bid application. The league is expected to announce if FC Cincinnati can join the major leagues at the end of this month. If accepted into the league, the team is considering building its stadium in Oakley, Newport and the West End.
Berding said the team will select a stadium site location in March.
Last week, Cincinnati City Council passed a motion requiring FC Cincinnati develop a community benefits agreement -- a wishlist of sorts from neighbors -- for wherever the new stadium lands.