FC Cincinnati joins Major League Soccer

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber announced the team's acceptance into the league at a raucous event in Over-the-Rhine

click to enlarge Fans celebrate during the announcement of FC Cincinnati's acceptance into Major League Soccer at Rhinegeist Brewery. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Fans celebrate during the announcement of FC Cincinnati's acceptance into Major League Soccer at Rhinegeist Brewery.

With chanting fans packed into Over-the-Rhine's Rhinegeist Brewery, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber announced today that FC Cincinnati will join the league, ending months of uncertainty.

The announcement marks a break-neck rise for the three-year old team, which won one of four recent expansion franchises from among a dozen cities vying for a spot in MLS. Cincinnati beat out Detroit and Sacramento for its spot. FC Cincinnati will begin MLS play next year.

Garber credited fans, team ownership and management, and city elected officials in his remarks. Garber also revealed that FC Cincinnati's chosen location for their coming stadium in the West End was the league's favorite site.

"Many years from now, after your club has been launched and playing many years, after many thrills and victories and agonies and defeats, you're going to remember this day as a truly historic event for the Queen City," he said. "You should be incredibly proud of your meteoric rise as one of our continent's major soccer cities."

A number of elected officials, including Cincinnati City Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann, Jeff Pastor and Amy Murray. Also in attendance: former Mayor Mark Mallory, who worked doing community engagement for FCC, and former councilman Kevin Flynn, who voted for an early version of the team's stadium deal. Mayor John Cranley, who pushed aggressively for the public infrastructure funding for the stadium, gave remarks following Garber's announcement.

"We are a new city," Cranley said. "Are you ready for the new Cincinnati? We believe in new parks and new businesses and new sports. And most importantly, we welcome new people, no matter where you're from, and soccer brings new people from all over the world."

click to enlarge MLS Commissioner Don Garber announces FC Cincinnati's acceptance into the league. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
MLS Commissioner Don Garber announces FC Cincinnati's acceptance into the league.

Also among those speaking at the event were majority owner Carl Lindner III and FCC GM Jeff Berding

"This is a heady day for a humble kid from the West Side of Cincinnati," Berding said. "But this is the vision from the very beginning for Carl Lindner and I. It’s appropriate that we’re here today at a bar. We’re accessible to everyone. We’re not up on some big mountaintop looking down. We’re literally in the valley of our city with everyone, celebrating our city."

The announcement is the final chapter in a process that unfolded over many months and included plenty of uncertainty and controversy. After passing on sites in Oakley and Newport, a continued struggle blew up over a potential stadium in Cincinnati's West End.

Concerned about the effects of the stadium on housing affordability, traffic and noise levels in the mostly low-income, predominantly African American neighborhood, the West End Community Council's general body voted against a stadium there in March by a wide margin. But the council's executive board later signed a benefits plan with the team that, along with last-minute negotiations between community members and the team earlier this month, became the framework for a community benefits agreement approved by Cincinnati City Council.

That agreement was necessary to secure roughly $35 million in public infrastructure funding to support the $200 million, privately financed stadium in the West End.

"Many times, it's hard to get the private sector and the public sector and the community to work together," Garber said. "But you have a mayor and a city council and so many others who just get it."

The controversy continues, however. At the same time FCC's acceptance was officially announced, a group of protesters gathered at downtown's Piatt Park pushing for two voter referendums on the November ballot that would strip public funding for infrastructure around the stadium. And West End Community Council President Keith Blake, who signed the earlier community benefits agreement on behalf of the neighborhood last month, now faces impeachment.

A small contingent from the neighborhood's recent negotiating team attended the event, saying they were looking forward to the coming partnership with the team.

"I'm looking forward to working with FCC, the City and the Port to have equitable development in the West End and to hold them accountable," said West End Community Council Member Tia Brown. "This community has been overlooked for decades and with this new attention the need for greater community support cannot be ignored.As the team prospers, the neighborhood should receive greater support and prosper as well."

The controversy seemed far from the minds of many at the announcement and related festivities today. In addition to the hundreds packed into Rhinegeist, huge crowds also gathered at Fountain Square.

"You folks have shocked the world," Garber said. "You've showed us that if you have the right city, the right ownership and management and public support, and the ability to bring fans together around this sport for a new America, great things can happen. The world has taken notice."

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