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Cincinnati's World Cup bid moves forward as Hamilton County commissioners agree to contract

artist rendering of Paul Brown Stadium set up for soccer with fans in the stands.
United Bid
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An artist rendering of how Paul Brown Stadium might look if selected to host 2026 World Cup matches.

With two yes votes and one abstention, Hamilton County commissioners have agreed to allow county administrators to ink a contract with FIFA. The move clears the way should Cincinnati be selected later this month as a host city for the 2026 World Cup.

President Stephanie Summerow Dumas and Commissioner Denise Driehaus voted to approve entering an agreement. Vice President Alicia Reece abstained.

The final Stadium Authority Agreement the county will sign with international soccer's governing body could look slightly different than versions the commissioners have seen, according to County Administrator Jeff Aluotto. He points out final language and details are being worked out and could echo some concerns expressed by commissioners. However, the major details are set.

One change since commissioners first discussed the document earlier this week is the contract now names the stadium authority (basically the county) and the host city committee as responsible for upgrades to Paul Brown Stadium.

The largest financial outlays include installing a grass pitch or field, and removing the corner seating areas at Paul Brown Stadium to provide for a soccer-size playing field. The cost for the field is about $4 million and the cost to remove — and reinstall — the corner seating is about $6 million. Aluotto says the seat removals would not affect the Bengals competition season.

Total modifications and upgrades requested by FIFA add up to $40 million to $45 million. According to Aluotto, many of those items — such as a ticketing systems, WiFi, and video screen upgrades — are either already complete or are scheduled as part of the county's capital improvement plan (CIP) for the stadium. The pitch and stadium seating items are the two projects not in the county's CIP for Paul Brown Stadium.

The county sets aside $5 million each year for upgrades in the improvement plan. Aluotto says as part of the county's discussions with FIFA, it has made clear the county is willing to make requested updates as far as how they fit into the county's improvement plan.

For anything FIFA might request beyond that plan, Aluotto says the goal would be to ask an as-yet-to-be-formed host city board to find funding through private or philanthropic donations. The current local hosting committee has said it aims to raise $35 million to $50 million in donations to cover a slew of other costs surrounding being a host city.

In voting in favor, Summerow Dumas noted the money will come from the county's stadium fund.

"We're not trying to raise any taxes or anything like that," she said.

Earlier this week, the UC Economics Center released a study suggesting the combined economic impact of hosting World Cup matches would be nearly $450 million, including about 3,000 jobs for the 15-county Tri-State area. It also estimates hosting would generate about $20 million in tax revenue for state and local governments and $15.4 million in sales tax revenue.

"The question is — the FIFA World Cup, the financial investment we would have to make — is it worth making? I came up with 'yes,' " Summerow Dumas concluded.

Commissioner Denise Driehaus agreed, pointing to the commitment from the organizing committee to raise additional funding.

"To my view, that gives me sufficient confidence that we have covered ourselves and covered any liability for the taxpayer in moving forward with something that's going to generate so much benefit for the community," she said.

Vice President Alicia Reece was less certain. She was upset about the short turn around between receiving the contract language and being asked to vote. She pointed out, as she did earlier this week, that she has many questions about the language, the financial responsibilities, and potential loss of negotiating power with the Bengals.

"My concern today is process, cost, timing and risk," she said, ultimately concluding, "The reason I'm abstaining (is) because I don't want to get in the way of it happening, but I'd like to see some of these contracts, and I think that the Bengals lease is a component that has not been answered."

Cincinnati is bidding to be one of 10 U.S. cities to host games during the 2026 World Cup. The United States is jointly hosting the tournament with Canada and Mexico. FIFA is set to announce its selections June 16. Other U.S. cities in the running are: Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, D.C., Boston, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, and Seattle.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.