On April 10, the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education voted 6-0 to enter into an agreement that will allow FC Cincinnati to build a potential soccer stadium on district land in the West End.
The deal is the latest domino to fall in what once seemed like an unlikely proposition. The board batted down earlier offers by the team, and FCC at one point threw up its hands and said it was moving on. But that never quite happened.
Now, with a deal from Cincinnati City Council to bring the team to the West End also on the table, it seems like FCC is heading to the neighborhood after all.
“I believe from our point of view, what we did was establish our position,” Board President Carolyn Jones told reporters after the meeting. “We were prepared to say no, and it would be done. But I honestly think, as has been stated in the media, that the West End was the No. 1 priority location. So the board had to establish its position and stick to its guns.”
The deal would give FCC land currently occupied by Taft High School’s Stargel Stadium. In exchange, FCC would make payments equivalent to 25 percent of assessed property taxes on its new stadium’s valuation — the standard arrangement under Cincinnati’s 1999 property tax policy.
Should FCC win a franchise with Major League Soccer, it would pay CPS $70,000 a year until it takes occupancy of the stadium, likely in 2021.
Under FCC’s original offer, that $70,000 annual payment is all the district would have ever gotten. The deal the board passed tonight would require the team in fiscal year 2019 to make a lump sum payment of $10 million for the subsequent 10 years it occupies the stadium. That figure assumes the stadium will be valued at $175 million. That’s lower than stadium costs — $200-$250 million — floated by the team previously.
Following construction, FCC and CPS would enter into a reconciliation process with the Hamilton County Auditor, and payments would be adjusted to reflect the stadium’s true value.
Under the deal the board passed tonight, FCC would also build a replacement Stargel across Ezzard Charles Drive at a cost of $10 million. The team would also need to enter into a community benefits agreement with neighborhood groups no later than June 30.
The land swap is controversial. Critics have pointed out that the main neighborhood group involved, the West End Community Council, voted against the stadium coming to the neighborhood by a margin of 50-10. The Over-the-Rhine Community Council also opposes the deal, pointing out that the stadium will border the neighborhood on Central Parkway.
“We feel we have been ignored by FC Cincinnati, even though Over the-Rhine and West End are neighbors,” Over-the-Rhine Community Council’s Peter Hames told the board. “There is a diverse and highly dense neighborhood within 200 feet of the proposed location of the stadium. We’ve reached out three times to FC Cincinnati… silence came from them.”
As in past meetings, a number of West End residents and other stadium opponents spoke against the board’s resolution prior to the vote, citing concerns about displacement from the neighborhood, traffic, noise and other issues.
Many zeroed in on the as-yet unformed CBA, and dinged CPS for making a deal before it was done, saying it takes away leverage from community groups and the city.
“We have a moral dilemma,” meeting attendee Katie Hoffman told the board. “Jeff Berding said here and in news releases that if the West End didn’t want FCC, they wouldn’t build there. I was at the West End Community Council meeting when they voted no to FC Cincinnati overwhelmingly. They have been run over in the past. And they believe they will be run over in the future. And look what’s happened. They’re going to get run over. If you pass this tonight, without a defined community benefits agreement, you’re wrong.”
Others spoke in favor of the stadium.
“I believe the overall direction of CPS is tied to the overall direction of Cincinnati’s economy,” Over-the-Rhine resident John Walter said. “I believe MLS soccer will be positive to the economy. MLS is a huge draw for young people. The businesses in the urban core, in downtown, the West End and Over-the-Rhine, it will help those businesses.”
Jones acknowledged the decision would be painful for some, but that the millions coming to the district from the deal and other benefits offered by the team make the deal worth it.
“The community did speak out loudly and in a way that we had to listen,” she said. “As I’ve said before, though, it’s not a win-win situation. It is bittersweet, but all in all, we feel like we made the best decision.”
Opponents, however, say it’s about more than just school funding.
“I understand about taxes,” West End resident Carol Brown told the board prior to its vote, “but taxes can’t replace flesh and blood.”