CINCINNATI -- Officials with the City Planning Commission Friday afternoon approved a zoning change and initial plans for FC Cincinnati's new $250 million Major League Soccer stadium, sending the proposed plans to City Council for final approval.
But the club's plans are far from being a done deal.
"This is just starting," said FC Cincinnati president Jeff Berding at Friday's commission hearing.
While the CPC's approval Friday means the club is one step closer to beginning construction, numerous details remain unresolved -- including a potential conflict between FC Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Ballet, whose facility on Central Parkway sits adjacent to the proposed stadium site at the former Cincinnati Public Schools' Stargel Stadium in West End. The ballet company has exclusive leasing rights through 2035 to a parcel of land that sits within the proposed stadium site's footprint, which it currently uses as a surface-level parking facility.
"We welcome FC Cincinnati. We're happy to have them here, but we do have concerns," said Stephen King with Thompson Hine, who spoke Friday on the Ballet's behalf. "We have this interest, and we have no current agreement."
Also remaining unresolved: where the county will build a promised 1,000-space parking garage. As the team began negotiations with the city and Hamilton County, the county's board of commissioners committed to constructing a parking garage somewhere in the vicinity of the stadium, but has not selected a site.
Traffic engineers' estimates for available parking around the stadium did not factor in the county-funded garage.
Another hurdle still facing the stadium's construction lies in City Council chambers, where its approval remains uncertain. Council was nearly split last year -- voting 5-4 to approve -- on a $34 million infrastructure package to supplement the team's investment of more than $200 million in the stadium. One of those five "yea" votes was Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman, whose brother and sister-in-law's company Jostin Construction recently won contracts to develop the stadium site. As a result, Smitherman -- who also sits on the planning commission -- recused himself from Friday's commission vote.
The team expressed urgency in winning approval, as a delay in the stadium's 2021 opening could result in punitive fines from MLS.
Full house at this morning’s City Planning Commission to discuss the site plans for a new FC Cincinnati stadium in West End. @WCPO pic.twitter.com/aem3Jn8i0x
— Pat LaFleur (@pat_laFleur) January 4, 2019
Crews ceremonially broke ground on the stadium last month. The team hopes to begin construction in earnest this spring.