MLS expansion: Breakthrough for FC Cincinnati?

FC Cincinnati general manager Jeff Berding had recently warned that no announcement on its MLS expansion bid, once expected for early January, should be forthcoming before FCC plays its USL home opener on Saturday against defending USL champion Louisville City.

Until recently, Berding was exploring three sites, but now the search has narrowed to one site in the West End .

FCC received key support on Friday morning when a Cincinnati city councilman, P.G. Sittenfeld, announced he will back a proposal to build the soccer stadium at the current site of a high school stadium, Willard R. Stargel Stadium, in return for an agreement on the property taxes that will be paid.

Sittenfeld said FCC proposes to pay more than $25 million worth of school property taxes and spend $15 million on affordable housing in the neighborhood.

What needs to happen more generally:

-- FC Cincinnati must reach an agreement with the Cincinnati Public Schools board of education on payment of property taxes;
-- The West End Community Council must sign off on the construction of a soccer stadium in its neighborhood by agreeing to a community benefits plan; and
-- The Cincinnati city council must sign off on details of the plan.

This followed a statement from Berdling on Thursday night to go over the three sites:

West End. "We have worked for nearly three months in the West End, engaging neighborhood stakeholders, CPS [Cincinnati Public Schools], elected officials and others in a variety of public meetings and private discussions," he said. "While we have yet to achieve necessary political support to advance plans for a privately financed stadium in the West End, we continue to engage elected leaders in Cincinnati to build a winning partnership here in the City."

Berding made the statement as he acknowledged that the two other sites -- Cincinnati's Oakley neighborhood, which was the focus of FCC's presentation to MLS in December, and the city of Newport in Northern Kentucky -- were no longer being considered at this time.

Oakley. "Experience shows that successful MLS teams have stadiums in the urban core," said Berding. "While we believe in Oakley, it is not as close to the urban core as desired. FCC ownership has acquired additional property near the proposed stadium site to allow for a more significant development to provide a more vibrant and urban environment to support the stadium, sponsored a traffic study to understand necessary public improvements required for the site, and engaged the Oakley Community Council. But we do not believe Oakley is the best fit for a move into MLS at this time."

Newport. Berding said FC Cincinnati "would happily build" a stadium at the site it has eyed in Newport but could not come to terms with the site developer, Corporex, on site development and financing plans.

Leaving the West End as the only option is not without risk. FC Cincinnati has spent months trying without success to reach an agreement on a site, a high school stadium. But Berding left hope an agreement could be reached, noting the continued engagement of elected leaders.

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