The following opinion piece was submitted to Cincinnati Soccer Talk from one of our listeners. The article is regarding the letter that FC Cincinnati recently submitted to Cincinnati Public Schools. The piece is included below, as submitted. We hope you find it interesting and it prompts some healthy debate and discussion.
There is rampant speculation and hand-wringing over the news last night that FC Cincinnati has engaged with the Cincinnati Public Schools about a partnership on the new stadium. Based upon this news we are all inferring that the team wants to use the site of Stargel Stadium on Central Avenue in the West End. Because we are emotionally invested in our club, and anxious for the MLS franchise award to be announced, many people have begun to question if the Oakley site is unacceptable to MLS. There are multiple quotes from Jeff Berding and Don Garber that indicate that Oakley is an acceptable site to MLS. Then why is FC Cincinnati now pushing for a West End location? I think I have a pretty good handle on this but feel free to correct me if I am wrong.
Let’s go way back to the beginning of this process….
The timeline to submit a bid was really short. In December of 2016 MLS announced a formal bidding process for the next 4 teams to enter the league. This announcement required an initial bid submission by January 31st of 2017. That gave the team only 6 weeks including the holidays to get the initial bid submission in place.
This short timeline also meant that the team had to develop the outline of a stadium plan as part of that bid submission. Once that initial application was in place the team had to develop a more detailed plan that included hiring an architect, identifying sites, developing financing structures, etc… They publicly announced the stadium design in June of 2017 that included renderings at a couple of sites. At that time the only public discussion was about the Corporex/Ovation site in Newport. However, within a few weeks the Enquirer and other news outlets began to mention the West End and Oakley.
Newport was the easy choice because of the single ownership structure of the site, and the TIF that was already in place to ensure a financing source. However, many people heard that Jeff Berding and Carl Lindner would prefer to have the stadium in Cincinnati and the press ran with it. Additionally, the #BuildItHere movement led by Max Ellerbe formed to keep the stadium in Cincinnati proper. The challenge was difficulty in securing a location that had a TIF in place, or finding other public financing options within Cincinnati
Oakley came on the scene when the team had to nail down a more definitive location prior to their presentation to the MLS Board on December 6 – 6 months after the initial stadium plan announcement. The team had to show a financing plan in place and a viable site. The Oakley Cast-Fab site was only two parcels and two private parties that had to be negotiated with in order to secure rights to the site. While the site wasn’t ideal it was in the City of Cincinnati. The timing of that decision and the pressing MLS presentation led to the marathon push with the Hamilton County Board and the Cincinnati City Council. I believe the primary reason that the West End wasn’t chosen at that time is that team didn’t own the privately held parcels they required around the site. In fact I recall a recent report saying there were 16 or 17 different owners of parcels in that area that would require separate deals in order to secure the land required to fit the plan. I suspect they just couldn’t get that done in time.
I feel certain that throughout this timeline that the team has been trying to buy up the parcels, or at least pay for options on the parcels they want. The letter yesterday tells me that they have largely been successful. More importantly it would be folly to make a public approach to CPS until they had the appropriate parcels purchased, or under option contracts. Why? because their interest would become public and they would then face way above market prices with many property owner holdouts.
If the team can work out an amenable solution with CPS (such as relocating the existing stadium and making the FC Cincinnati Stadium available for a slate of CPS driven events) then I believe that this site is much better than Oakley for both the team and the City of Cincinnati. There are a number of reasons for this:
Drives Development: It is great for the continued development of our urban core. There is essentially a dead zone behind Music Hall that extends to the start of the West End’s more residential areas. This dead zone is a combination of lower slung buildings, parking lots, garages, and empty lots. The idea of putting the stadium there is appealing because the stadium plan when originally introduced included a year round dining option and retail at street level. This development would bring some life to that area.
Easier Access: It is “in the grid” of the existing urban core meaning that the site can best leverage existing mass transit options including the streetcar and bus lines. There are many points of ingress and egress to the area. It promotes pedestrian traffic on game days from throughout the OTR, Pendleton, and Downtown areas.
Shared Infrastructure: The area needs additional infrastructure, and any garages or other amenities built to service the stadium will be used by the community at large including the various performance and event venues along the west side of Washington park. There is a parking problem in OTR, and when Music Hall has events the problem is magnified. Furthermore the existing WCET garage behind Music Hall is in need of significant repair and upgrades as was made clear when the pedestrian bridge from that garage was torn down. Additionally the site would not require additional exits and major roads and utility additions like the Oakley location would require.
A West End stadium is a great way to showcase the vibrancy of our urban core to people who have historically been afraid of OTR and have missed out on what it has become over the last 7 years. OTR is one of the best stories in urban redevelopment. It is another symbol of Cincinnati on the rise, and the West End needs to become part of that story.
It has been a circuitous path to end up on Central Ave. We haven’t ended this journey, but the end is in sight. I hope and believe that in the coming weeks thousands of us will be standing together in Stargel stadium as Jeff Berding, Carl Linder III, and Don Garber announce that the team will be joining MLS in 2019, and that we will be breaking ground in the West End for the new home of FC Cincinnati. #RiseTogether
I am a North Avondale resident and Cincinnati transplant who left Manhattan, and my beloved New York Red Bulls to find a new home in Cincinnati. Over the last 7 years I have realized that there is no place I would rather be. My partner Thomas Cochill and 9 of our closest friends call section 123 home. I am honored to be a part of the fan council where I have had a chance to meet some amazing people. I am thankful to be part of this club and this tribe. You, my fellow fans have helped make this city feel like home.
– Thank you, Jack Emery (@CentreJack)