Stadium Q&A with FC Cincinnati President and GM, Jeff Berding

During an interview last night with Lance McAlister, Jeff Berding, President and GM of FC Cincinnati, lit Social Media on fire. If you want to catch the interview, it is posted in podcast form on Lance’s twitter account and the link is included below.

Jeff’s comments stirred a lot of thoughts and emotions but also left some questions unanswered. CST spoke with Jeff to try to get some clarity on what he said.

CST: On Lance’s show last night you mentioned a $300M private investment. Up till then, you’ve talked about $250M. What is the extra $50M for? Smaller public ask? Larger stadium? Training facilities?

JB: We initially planned an estimated $200 million stadium which would have a capacity of around 21,000. After 2017 season averaging nearly 22,000, we recognize the need for a bigger stadium. So we are now thinking a 25,000 seat stadium, costing approximately $250 million. The public ask has not changed at $100 million, so the team will cover the added costs.

CST: Why did FC Cincinnati feel they needed to increase the size of the stadium from the initial plan sent to MLS? Is this the maximum size of the stadium or are there still plans to be able to expand it more in the future?

JB: Our initial design was 21,000 to expand to 25,000 then to 30,000. We are planning on moving immediately to a capacity of 25,000.

CST: Again on Lance’s show, you indicated that we had to send a single site plan to MLS and that Oakley might be that site. That’s a big change from Newport which you indicated we sent in January on the MLS application when you did the public stadium reveal. Why has Oakley risen to the top recently that makes it more appealing to our MLS bid?

JB: We continue to work on all three neighborhood opportunities, as we need to since we don’t have everything set on a single site. However, with the clock clicking down on the MLS Expansion process, we have begun to focus on Oakley as preferred Ohio site. We continue to move on Newport plans as well. Oakley has the advantage of a single property owner who is interested in selling his site, a large enough parcel to build a stadium and adjoining exciting development. We are in negotiations to secure an option on the property and hope to have that step concluded very soon. With a site, we can finalize the stadium financing plan specific to that site, by the end of this month. But fans should not conclude from our efforts that we have decided on Oakley. My meeting with the Oakley Community Council was simply an important step in the planning process. And let me be clear, the meeting was the beginning of an important community conversation with residents. If we were to move ahead near OTR/West End, would meet with residents and community councils there. Tuesday was the Oakley regular meeting of the month, and we cannot wait until December. We were thrilled that the elected leaders of the Council voted to support the stadium vision that we shared and to work with us as plans proceed. Their vote could have been a red light that they were not interested, but their support gives us and the city’s leaders a green light to continue working on developing best plans for the City and for FCC.

CST: Does sending ANY location in the final bid to MLS lock us into that site or is there still flexibility to look at the remaining 2 sites?

JB: Everything is contingent on the MLS bid. If we are blessed to get the bid, we would really begin stadium design process, work with the City on infrastructure needs and throughout the process, work with the Oakley Community Council to ensure the development fits greatly with their neighborhood plan. It is possible that a better stadium plan emerges, but for now, nothing matters but having a workable stadium plan to secure the bid.

CST: You mentioned unveiling a stadium plan with Major Cranley next week. Is that just a financial plan or do you anticipate that it is the plan you will submit to MLS?

JB: Our expectation is to announce a stadium development plan next week with the Mayor, but that is a process we will be working through over next several days. We are not yet able to share further details. The plan will require timely action by local government officials and allow for public discussion and feedback. Clearly, the MLS process concludes in 4-5 weeks, so we need to move now.

CST: Many people are worried about Oakley not being Urban enough. Can you comment on this? Has MLS reviewed the 3 sites? Do they have any concerns about Oakley?

JB: MLS has reviewed all three sites and each of them meets their criteria.The Oakley area has long been regarded as one of the most highly regarded redevelopment prospects in the region, with the proper development plan expected to generate significant economic growth in the form of jobs, retail sales and residential housing.The Oakley community has emerged as a popular residential landing spot for young professionals and millennials, two key, complimentary demographic segments for FC Cincinnati.

CST: Many people are worried about the traffic situation in Oakley. They site the Crossroads church nearby as a disaster during services. You recently met with Oakley council and brought the City of Cincinnati Director of Transportation and Engineering. Is there a plan to manage traffic for game days? Any details that can be shared?

JB: FC Cincinnati is a family-friendly brand. We recently conducted a survey with fans who come to our games, with over 7,000 responses. We fully understand that traffic ingress and egress and parking are very important to our fans. We will work with the City of Cincinnati for an independent parking and traffic study to ensure that our game experience is only improved from current status in Clifton. Part of that plan will result in an Event Plan where the team is responsible for working with the City to provide officers who manage the traffic lights to ensure people attending our games, living in the neighborhood or passing through can all do so cohesively.

CST: Another concern about Oakley is the game day experience. People who are used to Clifton and Short Vine and beginning their game day experience several hours before kickoff are worried that Oakley won’t provide the same atmosphere as Clifton. Do you anticipate any development around the stadium that will help create more local atmosphere?

JB: The MLS stadium would be the anchor of a mixed-use, destination-oriented real estate development project including office, residential, retail and entertainment components. Soccer works best in an authentic urban environment, and we are committed that our plans will provide that atmosphere around the new stadium.

Now let’s go win the bid.

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