FC Cincinnati moves forward on stadium plan
26 May 2017
FC Cincinnati’s owners have definite plans to build a soccer-specific stadium in Greater Cincinnati and plan to have a location picked and financing in place this summer, in time for Major League Soccer’s decision to award two expansion franchises.
“Through our communications with MLS, we believe a soccer-specific stadium is necessary to win an MLS bid,” said Jeff Berding, FC Cincinnati’s president and general manager.
The highly successful second-year soccer club’s owners, including Carl Lindner III and Scott Farmer, have committed to invest $250 million toward winning a Major League Soccer franchise and building the stadium, Berding, who is also part of the club’s ownership group, said Wednesday after the team practiced at Nippert Stadium.
“That’s a historic investment from private owners to support a prospective professional sports franchise in this market,” Berding said.
FC Cincinnati is not looking to raise taxes or put a new stadium tax in place to finance the stadium, Berding said. The club is looking to create a public-private partnership to finance the stadium as Lindner told me on Tuesday.
FC Cincinnati is one of a dozen cities vying for four MLS expansion franchises. MLS has said it will award two of those franchises by year end at a cost of $150 million each.
FC Cincinnati’s owners’ financial commitment includes $150 million for the expansion fee and another $100 million toward building a new stadium. Berding said he doesn’t know how much of a gap that leaves to be financed publicly. He said FC Cincinnati’s share will be more than half of the total financing needed.
“Nothing like this has been done in this market,” Berding said. “This is private owners putting up their own money.”
By comparison, the Cincinnati Bengals put up $25 million to build Paul Brown Stadium while $425 million in public money was used.
Berding said the form of public money hasn’t been determined yet but club officials have had a lot of conversations with public officials. He sees an opportunity in using existing economic development tools. Public financing could be used for infrastructure or parking-related costs, he said.
He compared FC Cincinnati’s request for public funding to public money that helped General Electric decide to locate a huge office at the Banks that could employ 2,000 or Medpace Inc.’s offices in Madisonville.
The club wants to finalize financing and site selection by summer, Berding said. That would give it time to show MLS it has plans in place for a new soccer-specific stadium before MLS officials make their expansion decision.
FC Cincinnati has narrowed its search to three neighborhoods in the region, Berding said: Over-the-Rhine/West End, Oakley and Newport. He has previously told me the club is looking at a site at Taft High School in the West End and he mentioned the Ovation site on the Newport riverfront where the Ohio and Licking rivers meet. FC Cincinnati is also considering sites such as the Milacron site near Oakley Station. But he said the club is considering multiple sites in those neighborhoods.
“Those are the (neighborhoods) we feel are most viable,” Berding said.
He didn’t identify specific sites because FC Cincinnati doesn’t control those sites yet.
Nippert Stadium at the University of Cincinnati, where FC Cincinnati plays now, won’t work for FC Cincinnati to win an expansion franchise, Berding said.
“We love Nippert, we’ve spent millions of dollars to improve it and we’ll seek to play here as long as we can,” Berding said. “However, we have an MLS expansion bid with 12 cities. Of those 12 cities, we’re the smallest market. The feeling is we will not win a bid to get one of those expansion franchises without our own stadium. Would we win a bid to bring MLS to Cincinnati? No, we would not.”
He also said Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals, wouldn’t work because the Bengals have it to themselves based on the lease with Hamilton County. And MLS wants teams to own their stadium and control all of its revenue streams. That wouldn’t be the case at Paul Brown Stadium.
“We’d be looking for something that’s not there,” Berding said.
FC Cincinnati believes its ownership group stacks up against any competing bids and it has proven its ability to generate fan support. The club broke several United Soccer League records last year in its inaugural season.
“This (stadium) is the last piece for us,” Berding said.
Berding said the stadium wouldn’t just be used by FC Cincinnati or even only for soccer. He envisions the possibility of hosting Xavier University or University of Cincinnati matches, the high school state tournament or U.S. National Team games. The club has already talked to promoters about hosting concerts there, too.
Berding said public financing makes sense because the club has proven to be a major attraction to young people.
“FC Cincinnati is part of the renaissance that’s occurring in our city,” Berding said.
An MLS franchise would add to Cincinnati’s status as a major-league city, he said, and the exposure would be enormous: MLS games are broadcast in 170 countries.
“We live in an international economy,” he said. “What a great way to promote Cincinnati and get people to move to Cincinnati.”