Twelve days have passed in what has already been a busy February in FC Cincinnati’s pursuit of a potential stadium location. While there’s no news yet in terms of securing an MLS spot, there is a LOT happening in the city’s West End neighborhood, which is the current focus of FC Cincinnati’s stadium negotiation efforts.
On Monday night Jeff Berding presented his vision of what a West End stadium might look like to Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education. The details of the proposal are complex, and there’s still a lot to be negotiated, but the proposal can be summarized as follows:
FC Cincinnati is proposing a land/site swap involving the current CPS-owned Stargel Stadium, in order to build a soccer stadium in that location (and nearby plots). FCC would build a new improved Stargel Stadium in return on a different site adjacent to Taft High school. The construction of the new Stargel would be done prior to any impact on the existing Stargel stadium, ensuring no interruption in school or neighborhood activities.
In addition, FCC promised to keep Cincinnati Public Schools “whole or improved on every level” (taxes), continue community engagement to address neighborhood concerns, and enter into a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) established by the City of Cincinnati to protect the interests of residents in the neighborhood.
Monday’s meeting is the culmination of a series of recent events in the West End. Things kicked off at the end of January when FC Cincinnati sent a letter Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) asking them to engage with the club and discuss a partnership in pursuing a stadium located in the West End. A week later, FC Cincinnati secured the option to buy 60 empty lots in the neighborhood, that were acquired from the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) for residential development.
Here’s a timeline of the events that followed, with corresponing links if you want more details:
- Jan. 31 – CPS met and discussed FC Cincinnati’s letter. They request more clarity on what is being asked of CPS in an “open and public” forum.
- Jan. 31 – Cincinnati NAACP publishes a statement indicating that they are “monitoring the developments with serious interest.” Their statement demands transparency and community engagement.
- Feb. 2 – A letter from CPS President Carolyn Jones requests more information and transparency from FC Cincinnati on their stadium plans.
- Feb. 2 – Jeff Berding and Mark Mallory speak on 700 WLW, reiterating that all three sites are still in play, that Taft High School “won’t be touched”, and that Mallory’s involvement is needed “to get the correct information out” in the West End community.
- Feb. 5 – Jeff Berding attends Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance committee meeting. Councilman Mann recommends a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the new stadium. Berding states that he is targeting to know MLS’ decision by end of February and have a firm stadium plan by March if they are awarded entry.
- Feb. 6 – The Enquirer publishes an editorial by Jeff Berding stressing that a stadium in any neighborhood must a net positive for the neighborhood and the club with make decisions with the community and city leaders where it is located.
- Feb. 7 – Hamilton County Commissioners update the expiration date of their December resolution to pay for a $15M parking garage in support of a stadium, extending the expiration date to February 28 (it originally expired at the end of 2017).
- Feb. 8 – West End Community Meeting is held and media reports indicate a negative neighborhood reaction to the proposed stadium. Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young makes statements opposing any impact on Stargell stadium and has concerns about gentrification.
- Feb. 10 – Jeff Berding goes door-to-door in West End neighborhood to seek input and hear concerns of West End residents on a potential FC Cincinnati stadium.
- Feb. 12 – A CPS Board of Education meeting is held, where Jeff Berding presents details on plans for a West End Stadium site and residents that live in CPS districts have an opportunity to speak for and against the stadium proposal.
While we don’t often wade into the waters of the politics surrounding the stadium situation (this is a soccer blog after all), we will make a few observations about recent events in the West End.
Monday’s proposal might feel like the conclusion of several events pointing to a West End stadium location. However, this is likely just the beginning of an arduous negotiation process. The club must see great value in the West End location because the path it needs to travel to get a deal done there will be a difficult one. Each location presents its own unique obstacles, but one could argue that the West End might be the most politically charged and financially difficult of the three.
Dynamic Situation Across Three Sites
Berding reiterated on Monday that all three stadium locations (Oakley, Newport, and the West End) are still very much in play. The Oakley traffic and environmental studies promised in December are now underway. The Newport site has made the fewest headlines, but don’t be surprised it if rises to the surface again if negotiations take a bad turn elsewhere. This is a dynamic situation, and the club has to keep all its options open as it pursues a viable situation on multiple fronts.
FCC to Go Big on Outreach and Transparency
The three points Jeff Berding made in his editorial are going to need to become the hallmarks of the club as they move forward: communication, outreach, and partnership. FCC is going to have to overcommunicate and go above and beyond with both community engagement and probably financial generosity to get a deal done, particularly in the West End. The club has taken some hits in the media for not being transparent enough. Whether you agree with that or not, expect them to now engage fully and make a big push in these respective communities to turn a plan into reality.
Update: Feb. 13 – On Tuesday, Jeff Berding presented a customized version of the West End stadium proposal to the West End Community Council. This version of the plan, which was presented with the assistance Mark Mallory, was customized and focused on the potential benefits and impact to the neighborhood. Thereafter he fielded questions and concerns from the council. No public comment was a part of the meeting.
Really enjoyed opportunity w/ my friend Mark Mallory to present @fccincinnati stadium opportunity to West End Community Council Board tonight. Great questions, terrific discussion. Look forward to ongoing engagement to develop legally-binding Community Benefits Agreement. (1/2)
— Jeff Berding (@JeffBerding) February 14, 2018
(2/2) Great to see @dsmann115, @mike_moroski & @tportune tonight listening at Lindner YMCA & thank you to all the West End residents for coming out. Together we learn from but need not be bound by history as we can create our own future by working in partnership. #RiseTogether pic.twitter.com/CRdPF2V21T
— Jeff Berding (@JeffBerding) February 14, 2018
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press, where we’ll get back to talking about soccer-ball-kicking soon enough. Wednesday’s friendly with the Chicago Fire reserves was canceled, so the next time we’ll see the Orange and Blue in action is Thursday, February 22nd at Indy XI.