CPS holds fast — for the most part — on FCC stadium land swap

CPS Board of Education members say they hope the resolution passed today will send a message about tax deals on future developments

click to enlarge The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education - NICK SWARTSELL
Nick Swartsell
The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education

The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education today passed a resolution setting the terms for a proposed land swap with FC Cincinnati in the West End.

Those terms, very similar to those laid down in past correspondence and rejected by FCC, don’t seem to offer much opportunity for a new deal between the district and the team.

Board members said they hoped to send a larger message about the ways in which abatements on other developments should be handled by the City of Cincinnati in the future. 

The situation is a unique one: the district can dictate the terms of this development because it owns the land upon which FCC would like to build its stadium. That gives the Board of Education leverage it usually only wishes it had.

“In my short tenure on the board, I’ve learned how some decisions made at City Hall, when the board isn’t necessarily in the driver’s seat, that aren’t necessarily in the best interest of our children,” said board member Ryan Messer. “I hope this is just the start of a much broader conversation about what is important in our city, and much of that focus should be on our children.”

Other board members echoed that sentiment, at times slamming the city for its hands-off approach to the soccer stadium situation and its past practices abating properties.

“By taking a stand with this resolution, we are taking a stand on future developments as well and not setting a bad precedent,” said board member Melanie Bates.

Bates added that the board has commissioned an audit on all tax abatements and TIF districts the city has approved to make sure that all the money owed to the district associated with those deals is paid.

All of this comes as CPS looks toward asking voters for future levies, which represent much of the money the district uses to run its schools.

The board’s resolution basically tells FCC it must pay the same taxes that any commercial development would incur under the city’s 1999 tax abatement policies. The district estimates those payments would equal roughly $2 million a year, though, by the wording of the resolution, the team would be on the hook for payments in lieu of taxes based on the stadium's appraised value, which could be less than its construction costs.

The team made a seemingly final offer of $750,000 a year last week. That offer came with a last-minute, same-day deadline. After the board rejected that deal, FCC released a statement saying it was moving on from the West End.

Yesterday, the West End Community Council voted 50-10 against supporting a stadium in the neighborhood, putting yet another nail in the coffin of a potential soccer stadium there.

As they have in past meetings, supporters and opponents of the stadium alike came out to be heard.

Some West End residents spoke emotionally, occasionally in tears, about the prospect of the stadium and potential displacement and other impacts should it be built near their homes.

“The last two months for me and my family have been difficult,” said Marc Casey, who lives with his family in the West End’s Park Town community. "Throughout this process, I’ve felt powerless. I feel like people in my community are saying the same thing. I get that we’re all coming off in different ways. But the majority is saying the same thing — we feel powerless. We’re at the mercy of your decision, which could change the community we live in.”

Others, however, see the stadium as an opportunity.

“When I walk in the West End, there’s nothing to be proud about,” said resident Christopher Griffin. “I think FCC will be an investment that we need. Economically, people in the West End need jobs. If we don’t get the stadium, we get Drees homes, and I know no one in the West End can afford that. It’s a slap in the face to say, ‘We don’t want you in the West End, but we want your money if you do come.’ That makes zero sense to me.”

Though the team has said it has moved on to considering Oakley and Newport, rumors abound that it may still be interested in the West End. The resolution passed by the board today carved out the smallest bit of daylight through which a new agreement might be reached.

Among the revisions to the board’s original request is a provision saying that some of the tax money the district would seek from FCC for its $200 million stadium could be paid by a third party — most likely the City of Cincinnati.There's no indication that the city is willing to do that, however, or from which city funds that money would come. Earlier this week, the city's administration revealed the city is poised to run a $23 million deficit next fiscal year.

The board also included language about partnering with FC Cincinnati on educational, internship, athletic and employment opportunities for students.

The message, however, seemed clear: the board had little desire to bend much from its initial stance — make the district whole or go elsewhere.

“This has been the hardest decision of my board life,” Board President Carolyn Jones said. “Number one, because we didn’t ask to be here. Number two, because we’ve kind of been disregarded in terms of the work involved. We’ve given a lot of time to this effort. I’ve been torn about how my vote is going to go. But we did not back down from our position about our fair share of taxes. We feel this is strong.”

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