Updated: 2:40 p.m.
A tentative deal is in place for FC Cincinnati to build a soccer-specific stadium in the West End, likely bringing the team one step closer to a Major League Soccer franchise, if approved.
Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld announced his support of an FC Cincinnati stadium in the West End, unlocking a key vote for the embattled stadium to move forward in the neighborhood.
"We come together at a time when Cincinnati is on the move," Sittenfeld said at a news conference Friday. "Behind this renaissance is an attitude. An attitude that says, 'We don't pass on opportunity, we seize on opportunity'... I and the people standing here have helped craft a deal that we believe brings real value and real benefit to the city we love and to the people we represent."
That deal includes:
- FC Cincinnati building its stadium at the site of Cincinnati Public Schools' Willard R. Stargel Stadium and paying for a new high school stadium at the corner of Ezzard Charles Drive and John Street.
- Additional land the club acquired there being donated to a private developer who will build $15 million worth of affordable housing, a total of 162 units.
- FC Cincinnati also will make a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) in line with CPS's 1999 tax abatement agreement with the city.
- A community advisory council will be created to oversee the stadium build.
The displacement of current West End residents is a major point of contention since the team first announced it was seeking property in the West End, with many worried a new stadium would drive up property values and prices so that residents -- historically black and low-income -- would be forced from their homes.
Sittenfeld was joined, among others, by Eric Kearney, president of the African American Chamber and West End Community Council President Keith Blake, who called the deal "the beginning of a bright future" for the neighborhood.
"I don't make big decisions lightly, and I don't make big decisions without an enormous amount of listening and doing my homework," Sittenfeld said. The question, he continued, was how to do the most good for the most people. "There must be, and there will be accountability every step of the way."
Sittenfeld says he now has support from a council majority for a West End stadium, giving them the five votes needed to get any deals passed.
FC Cincinnati needs its own stadium in order to earn a bid in Major League Soccer. It had considered building in Oakley or Newport, KY, though favored the West End due to its proximity to the urban core, a "must" for the success of any soccer stadium, the team said.
"What will happen if instead of seizing this opportunity, we let it pass us by and go across the river to Kentucky," Sittenfeld asked. "I am glad that we have forged a plan for FC Cincinnati to call Cincinnati home, and following today's announcement, I believe they will soon be doing so as a major league soccer team. But today, I am even more proud of the good I know we can do for children, and families, and teachers, and workers, and minority-owned businesses and those who are underserved."
The Cincinnati Public School board is reviewing the proposal. Board President Carolyn Jones wants the administration to make sure it "does meet the board's requirement that FC Cincinnati pays its fair share of taxes, as well as meets our expectations around the construction of Stargel Stadium, a community benefits agreement, and an FCC/CPS partnership for academics and athletics."
The board next meets on April 16.
Last November, Hamilton County commissioners pledged $15 million toward infrastructure improvements around a stadium. While their vote was centered around an Oakley location, commissioners since clarified it could apply anywhere in Hamilton County. The money would come from Banks parking revenue, and would be used to build a parking garage.
When asked if the county is still on board, Board President Todd Portune replied simply, "yes."
This story was edited to remove a reference to the school board meeting and voting Friday afternoon.