City Council approves deal to build FC Cincinnati stadium in West End

Cincinnati City Council voted to approve an emergency ordinance to build a soccer stadium in the West End Monday afternoon. (FC Cincinnati)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Cincinnati City Council voted to approve an emergency ordinance to build a soccer stadium in the West End Monday afternoon.

FC Cincinnati got the critical approval it needed to nail down a stadium site and boost its bid to join Major League Soccer. Council voted 5-4 to approve the ordinance and $33.8 million to spend on public infrastructure.

The passing of the deal is something FC Cincinnati President and GM Jeff Berding says he’s grateful for.

After all, this is everything FC Cincinnati could possible do for Major League Soccer, the ball is now in the hands of the MLS.

“We now have an opportunity to development that stadium in the urban core, so we think we have a complete bid,” said Berding. “This has been an incredible process of nearly two and a half years since we started FC Cincinnati and we look forward to an exciting future in our city.”

The swing vote came down to council member Jeff Pastor, who said he needed a community benefit to swing in favor of the stadium. That seemed to come together at 12:30 p.m. Monday, establishing a community advisory council, setting up a community fund and guarantees on hiring from the neighborhood.

The agreement was signed but not voted on, and all parties moved on to council chambers. There, the budget committee discussed $35 million in public improvements needed for a 21,000-seat, $212 million stadium.

The CBA outlines what FC Cincinnati promises it will do for the West End including establishing an advisory council that will have a chance to offer up stadium designs of the new Stargel Stadium.

The team also promises to:

  • Have 25 percent of its contractors owned by minorities and seven percent owned by women.
  • Invest $100,000 annually in West End organizations including a scholarship program for Taft High School students.
  • Establish a parking permit program for West End residents.
  • Build affordable housing in the West End.
  • Create an athletic association and youth soccer programs in the West End.
  • Community protection in form of security and beautification.
  • One-time endowment payment of $20,000 to MORTAR Cincinnati
  • Support redevelopment of Laurel Park.

However, all of this is on the honor system, there is no enforcement mechanism in the agreement. That’s something that concerns council member Wendell Young, one of the four “no” votes.

“They have the obligation to follow through on their promises and delivering a winning franchise,” said Young.

Joining Young on the short end on Monday, council member Greg Landsman.

“This was rushed as has every aspect of this deal has been rushed which is really an unfortunate reality and it’s just not the way to do good public policy,” said Landsman.

Public comment was overwhelmingly against it, 2-1.

When council members began discussing it, council member Chris Seelbach called it taxpayers making billionaires richer. Council member Tamaya Dennard said the West End deserved better, but Pastor said they deserved new investment.

West End youth coach Nick Johnson agrees with Pastor.

“This was a very hard fight, both sides had real strong opinions, at the end of the day it’s something for our neighborhood,” said Johnson. “Who’s willing to help out to bring what FC is bringing to the table. The city can’t even bring what FC is offering.”

Council members Pastor, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Amy Murray and David Mann voted in favor of the deal. Council members Dennard, Seelbach, Greg Landsman and Wendell Young voted against it.

All of this comes just a week after Cincinnati Public Schools agreed to a land swap with FC Cincinnati.

Expansion is on the agenda at Tuesday's MLS Board of Governors meeting in Los Angeles, but a spokesperson did not say whether a vote will take place.

The league plans to award one more franchise in its latest round of expansion. Cincinnati is competing for that spot against Sacramento and Detroit.

If Cincinnati is awarded the next expansion franchise, construction could begin on the stadium later in 2018.

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