FC Cincinnati’s quest to build a new soccer stadium gained hope under a new proposal from Mayor John Cranley on Friday after county commissioners nearly derailed a plan earlier this week.
Cinicinnati is one of 12 locations vying for one of four MLS expansion slots, and the race is on to confirm a stadium plan quickly, with the first two teams set to be announced next month.
Sacramento and Nashville already have stadium plans, and Cincinnati appeared on the verge of joining them as the current USL club wants to build a privately financed $200 million, 21,000-seat stadium in the Oakley neighborhood.
However, the Hamilton County Commission on Wednesday refused to use existing hotel tax funds to pay $70-75 million in infrastructure costs such as roads and utilities, putting a wrench in the plan.
Then on Friday, Cincinnati mayor John Cranley said the city could provide about half of those costs — if the Port of Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority owned the stadium and leased it to the club until it pays off its bonds.
“This is what we can offer, we can’t offer any more,” said Cranley, who added that he hoped to work with the county to “get us over the finish line.”
The county commissioners had rejected the original plan from FC Cincinnati general manager Jeff Berding and said the soccer team should look to use the city’s taxpayer-funded NFL venue, Paul Brown Stadium.
But with MLS prioritising soccer-specific stadiums in its expansion plans, Berding called that plan “a losing bid,” especially as Sacramento and Nashville have already approved stadium plans, and the league did not look kindly upon Detroit’s new plan to use the Lions’ Ford Field.
Berding also projected this week that FC Cincinnati would lose $167 million over 10 years if it shared a stadium with the Bengals, versus a $12 million profit at a soccer-specific stadium.
FC Cincinnati and MLS set up a conference call with the county commission, but county officials on Friday asked to reschedule, leading Berding to say: “As time is of the essence, we are disappointed that the call will not happen today.”
The county is willing to pay $15 million of the needed $70 million to build a parking garage, from which it would keep the revenue, but commission president Todd Portune told the Cinicinnati Enquirer: “That’s all we have to give. That’s it.”
Portune said he wasn’t willing to use any public funds on a stadium, but the mayor said infrastructure costs are a different story, would create “thousands of jobs” and are similar to costs used to lure other businesses to the area.
“This would expand this city from two major league franchises to three,” Cranley said. “As the fastest growing sport in the country, securing this franchise… provides the city with an opportunity to be there at the beginning… and to obtain national and international renown.”
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