FCC proposes soccer stadium at site of Stargel Stadium in the West End

At tonight's Cincinnati Public Schools Board meeting, FC Cincinnati proposed swapping land with the district in order to build its soccer stadium.

Feb 12, 2018 at 9:37 pm
FCC Cincinnati stadium rendering - Provided
FCC Cincinnati stadium rendering

FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding tonight told Cincinnati Public School Board members that it would potentially like to build its soccer stadium on the site of Taft High School's Stargel Stadium.

In exchange, Berding said, the team would build CPS a new Stargel Stadium across Ezzard Charles Blvd at the former site of Laurel Homes. That land was slated for CitiRama, which looked to build higher-end homes on the site.

The project wouldn't touch Taft High School, wouldn't displace residents and the replacement stadium would be larger and better appointed, Berding promised. But some residents and other critics aren't quite convinced.

Berding also pledged robust public engagement efforts around the potential stadium, which hinges on FCC being awarded an MLS expansion franchise sometime this month. FCC is still looking at potential sites in Oakley and Newport as well for its privately-financed, $200 million stadium, Berding said.

"If we're awarded an MLS franchise, FC Cincinnati will not make the decision alone," Berding said. "We look forward to winning with MLS and an inclusive conversation with the community." Berding said he spent 10 hours in the West End this weekend, and touted a community survey that spoke to more than 160 West End residents about their concerns and wants from the prospect of the stadium.

West End Youth team Little Senators Coach Nick Johnson spoke in favor of the proposal as well, saying it would provide great opportunities for young people in the West End.

Board members had a number of questions about the proposal, which would require their approval. How would the facility, which would be behind Taft High School, impact the school? Would the district be made whole in terms of taxes in the event of tax abatements awarded to the project?

"Tonight's presentation is an initial start," Board President Carolyn Jones said. "We didn't know details before this. We continue to commit to transparency and community engagement."

Some of the board's questions didn't get fully answered. Berding promised that the stadium deal would be "harmless" to CPS in terms of taxes —  a promise that doesn't necessarily meant the team would pay the full tax burden of a $200 million development project. Jones said at the meeting that she still doesn't feel the proposal is clear.

The CPS board will next hold a public meeting to hear community input, tentatively scheduled Feb. 21st at 6 p.m.

Berding said the team is committed to signing a community benefits agreement in any neighborhood it builds in, a stipulation that Cincinnati City Council member David Mann brought before council recently.

More than 40 people signed up to give input on FCC's plan, both for and against. A number were concerned about the potential stadium, including State Sen. Cecil Thomas, former mayor Dwight Tillery and NAACP Vice President Joe Mallory, brother of former mayor and FC Cincinnati booster Mark Mallory. All have deep roots in the West End. Thomas called for a super majority of the residents in the neighborhood to decide on the proposal.

"I cannot support this stadium being built in the West End," he said. "It is a residential neighborhood rich in African-American history."

Thomas pointed out that the West End doesn't have a grocery store or drug store and needs those before a stadium.

Others echoed those sentiments.

"Be very careful in your consideration of the offer you've seen here this evening," Councilman Wendell Young said. "It looked really great on the screen. But here's what I want to say to you — FC Cincinnati has said over and over again that what they're bringing is a community benefit. But we have a historic neighborhood full of people who will have no other place to go if they're moved out."

Young cited the displacements experienced by blacks in the West End during highway construction.

"I can assure you that there will be displacement of residents as other people begin to speculate about what they can do in the community. We've seen this before, the West End in particular, always in the name of progress."

FC Cincinnati will present its plan to the West End Community Council Tuesday night. Over the weekend, council President Keith Blake wrote an open letter asking that the council be the one speaking on behalf of West End residents. That came after FC Cincinnati critics hosted a news conference at Stanley Rowe Towers Thursday to decry the potential stadium there.

"We appreciate the interest and desires of organizations and concerned citizens in providing input to the potential FCC stadium and its impact," Blake wrote. "We respectfully request that West End Community Council and West End Community be allowed to represent the views and desires of our residents."