Playing Footsie – Hot and Cold Site Negotiations with F. C. Cincinnati

March 31st, 2018  |  Published in March 2018

In recent months, Cincinnatians have been witnessing discussions about Futbol Club Cincinnati’s (F.C. Cincinnati) interest in building a new soccer stadium at one of three sites: the West End (near Downtown); Oakley’s Cast-Fab site near I-71; Newport, Kentucky (“Ovation” site at the confluence of the Ohio and Licking Rivers).  This $200-250 million project will be funded primarily with private funds, but the club has requested $39 million from taxpayers for infrastructure improvements including a 1,000 parking space garage.  If the West End or Oakley sites are selected, the city of Cincinnati will fund their portion of the project by utilizing money from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport, tax district funds, and revenue from hotel room taxes.  It is unclear how Newport, Kentucky officials will pay for infrastructure improvements if their site is chosen.

Since private funding is paying for approximately 85% of the project’s expense, why can they not afford to fund the remaining infrastructure portion as well?  Why do taxpayers need to assist, once again, in the financing of another sports facility?  Not that the Bengals would agree to it, but F.C. Cincinnati would not even consider sharing the Paul Brown Stadium which is only used about eight times a year currently.  The latter already has the parking garages and the requested infrastructure improvements.  Using Paul Brown Stadium would cost a fraction of the proposed expense, and would help to use an excellent facility with greater regularity which also would assist businesses in The Banks and Downtown.  In the “history-repeating-itself” department, the Reds and Bengals required Cincinnati taxpayers to fund their new stadiums, but would not let city officials select their sites nor entertain the consideration of a shared facility.  Once again, F.C. Cincinnati is allowed to choose the three possible sites while demanding $39 million in infrastructure improvements, but not allowing taxpayers to have any say in the final selection.  The three proposed sites by F.C. Cincinnati each have their drawbacks, which is one of the reasons why negotiations have dragged on for so many months.  The following are the positive and negative aspects of each location:

1.         The West End

F.C. Cincinnati desires an urban site for its stadium and is willing to make strong financial and social commitments to the West End.  The $200-250 million cost for the new soccer stadium would do much in theory to invest in this neighborhood and our city.  In addition, F.C. Cincinnati offered the Cincinnati Board of Education $750,000.00/year in payment in lieu of taxes for their Willard Stargel Stadium site at 1430 John Street (a few blocks west of Central Parkway and north of Ezzard Charles Drive).  With the added incentives of creating new soccer programs in 29 Cincinnati schools which currently do not have them, as well as the construction of a new state-of-the-art Willard Stargel Stadium nearby, it would seem a generous offer.

However, the basic problem of F.C. Cincinnati’s stadium built on the West End site is that it is simply inappropriate to place a stadium with 30,000 to 40,000 people in a neighborhood where new and old townhomes are across the street.  It is one thing to have a school stadium with a 3,000 seat capacity; it is another to have more than ten times that amount being constructed on this same property.  How can minor two lane residential streets even begin to handle the number of cars, vans, trucks, and buses for each of the soccer games?  It would not be logical to place the Paul Brown Stadium in the middle of a residential neighborhood – why would we think that the F.C. Cincinnati stadium would be any different?  West End residents should not be criticized for wanting to protect their neighborhood from the hordes of people and vehicles descending on them.  For those who have sat in traffic arriving and departing a sports event, it should seem totally reasonable for neighbors to be in opposition to having this inserted into their West End front and back yards.  Tens of thousands cheering (and booing) fans, beeping horns, and vehicles spewing fumes at your front doorstep would not be pleasant for any neighborhood.  With numerous blocks in or near the West End which are either vacant, abandoned, or underutilized for commercial and industrial use, these would be much better choices for F.C. Cincinnati as well as the residents.  These areas also would be closer to major highways allowing easier access to the new stadium.

2.         Oakley

The former Cast-Fab site is situated in an established middle class suburb that, in recent times, has had vast former industrial land developed for numerous large box stores, Crossroads Church, theaters, fast food restaurants, and apartment complexes.  The result has been to create a major increase in traffic and congestion, but at least existing major roadways such as Madison and Ridge Roads have been better suited, so far, to be able to handle these recent changes to the neighborhood.  However, adding this soccer stadium to this mix of development will create gridlock traffic congestion, particularly on the weekends.  This proposed site is located near I-71 and the Norwood Lateral, in allowing spectators relative convenience in traveling to and fro; it is the added congestion once people exit the expressways onto roadways never envisioned to handle thousands of vehicles at the same time which is troubling.

From F.C. Cincinnati’s viewpoint, the Oakley site is less advantageous because it is not situated in an urban setting – a characteristic which they have stated is of major importance in their decision-making process.

3.         Newport

Located at the “Ovation” site owned by Corporex, this property has a spectacular view of Downtown Cincinnati, Mt. Adams, and the Ohio River with its many bridges.  If views were of prime consideration, this place would be the winner.  Nevertheless, it would be a shame if Newport did not learn from Cincinnati’s mistakes in placing two stadiums and an arena on its shoreline.  Stadiums and arenas do not need breathtaking views of their surroundings – their focus should be inward on the sports activity or event.  Placing this soccer stadium on Newport’s most valuable property would be wasteful, when it could be better utilized for housing, offices, and hotels.

Although just a mile from I-471 and 1½ miles from I-75, the current roadways in Newport and Covington would need major upgrades to accommodate the increased traffic.  In spite of the added expense, these improvements would benefit both communities for all purposes and not just a stadium.

The “Ovation” site is near Newport on The Levee and separated by the psychological divide of the river from The Banks, but made physically close with nearby bridges; both are well-equipped to handle the influx of sports enthusiasts with their garages, bars, and restaurants in supporting F.C. Cincinnati’s team.

One of the other advantages of this “Ovation” location is that it already has tax increment financing (T.I.F.) in place for development of the site.  This special tax district has been in place for 12 years, long-awaiting a project.  How Newport, Campbell County, and the State of Kentucky will help finance their portion for the stadium and infrastructure improvements is unknown at this point.

In reviewing all three proposed F.C. Cincinnati sites, it is clear that none of them are ideal – in fact, all of them fall short in benefiting our city and its residents.  If we had leaders who could concentrate on important matters confronting our region rather than on personal disputes and vendettas, Greater Cincinnati would be able to live up to its name.  Whether the new soccer stadium is constructed north or south of the Ohio River, leaders should step forward and help guide F.C. Cincinnati to the most appropriate site, quite possibly one that they haven’t considered as yet.

–Stewart S. Maxwell

 

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