Stadium Infrastructure Deals Pass as FC Cincinnati is Named MLS Expansion Finalist

One year to the day following a visit of Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber to Cincinnati, the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County approved funding measures for an FC Cincinnati Stadium Infrastructure plan in Ohio. While FC Cincinnati initially presented three stadium sites to supporters at a June meeting, the Oakley community site will be the one presented to MLS next week as FC Cincinnati was announced as one of four finalists for MLS expansion.

The first piece fell into place as the Hamilton County Commission met at 11 a.m. Wednesday to approve the funding for a $15 million parking garage. This garage would provide about 1,000 spaces for FC Cincinnati to use on match days and would provide additional parking opportunities for developments around the stadium. County support, along with redistribution of hotel tax revenues to the city, was the catalyst for the beginnings of the deal. While the county originally wanted FCC to use Paul Brown Stadium, without their “Plan B” to fund the parking structure, the stadium most likely could have ended up across the river in Newport.

Mayor John Cranley’s plan for the city portion of the infrastructure solidified the club’s bid at the 11th hour. The Mayor and council met Wednesday at 2 p.m. to deliver the final piece in a decisive 5 to 3 vote that set forth the guidelines of the city’s involvement. While many on the council were not comfortable with the lack of final details, the Memorandum of Understanding should show MLS that both local governments are in support of a franchise in the city.

With these two pieces in place, majority owner Carl Lindner, co-owner Scott Farmer and club President Jeff Berding will present their case to the expansion committee of Major League Soccer on December 6th. While speaking at the Sports Business Journal Dealmakers Conference this morning, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced that Cincinnati, along with Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento have been named finalists for the two expansion clubs that are scheduled to be announced later this year. These groups will all have an opportunity to present their final case next week.

FC Cincinnati leaders will finally present their plan that includes a privately funded stadium. They can also speak on the great public-private partnership in place where the local governments will help provide parking garages, highway improvements, street widening, sewers to the tune of a $52-$57 million public investment. The public funds of the county come from surplus parking revenues while the city plans to pay their portion with several TIF districts, redistribution of hotel taxes and the remaining proceeds from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport among others.

While not mentioned specifically today, other locations such as Newport and the West End neighborhood considered by the club and may not be completely off the table. According to reports, the legislation could make it possible for FC Cincinnati to build the stadium in another city neighborhood such as Over-the-Rhine or West End if land becomes available. Funding avenues may have to be updated (Oakley TIF), but Berding is hopeful the city, county and club could work together.

“The government approvals do not mean that we’re going to break ground tomorrow in Oakley,” Berding said. “What an affirmative vote means is that we can continue to work with the city, [Hamilton County] and the Oakley neighborhood, to finalize a plan that works for the best interest of the neighborhood, the city and FC Cincinnati. Then we look forward to continued discussions with policymakers and the public as we solidify our plans so we can use our private stadium investment to realize an exciting vision for the area.”

While today represents a solid endorsement of the stadium plan by the two governments, final details will need to be ironed out pending the league’s announcement in December. The club, city and county must find a way to close a $20-30 million funding gap in their plan to make a reality.


@bryanweigel for @CincySoccerTalk

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