FC Cincinnati now will privately finance the entire cost of the stadium it seeks to build in its quest for a Major League Soccer expansion bid, but the United Soccer League club still needs assistance with infrastructure to keep it in Cincinnati.
Club president and general manager Jeff Berding announced in a press conference Tuesday afternoon the club is now committing $350 million — $200 million for a 21,000-seat stadium and $150 million for the MLS expansion fee – to win the bid. FCC will use owner equity, team debt and direct stadium development revenues to pay for the stadium and is only asking for public assistance for infrastructure, such as parking, roads and improvements around the stadium.
Seeking to add four more teams, MLS will announce the first two markets by mid-December, and Cincinnati is one of 12 cities vying for a spot. FC Cincinnati is targeting the old Milacron site in Oakley as its preferred location with Newport as the backup plan.
“This is the last box to get checked,” majority owner Carl Lindner III said. “We’re really hoping our county commissioners recognize what a legacy opportunity this is to have FC Cincinnati move up to MLS and have a shot.”
Berding said the infrastructure needs are estimated to cost around $75 million, some of which the city plans to kick in. The rest, about $40 million, would need to come from Hamilton County.
According to Berding, Cranley helped identify where that county money could come from — an ‘other funds’ bucket that is untouched in the county budget, which draws from a tax placed on visitors staying in local hotels. That would amount to $2.8 million a year and $40 million over 30 years.
“Mayor John Cranley has provided enormous leadership to support the infrastructure funding from a city perspective,” Berding said. “He has identified viable city resources to fund the infrastructure part of this plan; however the city resources are not sufficient and it requires county partnership.”
Berding showed some frustration Tuesday regarding his dealings with the county, which still has been pitching the use of the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium as an option, and questions whether the commissioners want FC Cincinnati to make it to MLS.
The Detroit ownership group also vying for an expansion spot recently announced it would be partnering with the NFL Lions to use Ford Field, and MLS gave a lukewarm response to the sudden change in plans from using land on an old jail site to build a soccer-specific stadium. The league issued a statement in response to Detroit’s new plans, saying it continues to “prioritize soccer-specific stadiums as a criteria when selecting MLS expansion markets.”
The Board of Hamilton County Commissioners is set to meet Wednesday to discuss FC Cincinnati’s request for assistance and will brief the media around 1 p.m.
“At this point, it doesn’t appear we have county support,” Berding said.
Berding said the club has tried to make it easy for the county to support it. Originally, FC Cincinnati was asking for $100 million in public aid. Then, last week it upped its investment by another $50 million and now will finance the entire stadium cost.
“You can’t build a stadium in a vacuum,” Berding said. “You have to build it on a site and you have to have infrastructure to get 21,000 people on a site.”
FC Cincinnati also will privately finance the stadium if it needs to go with the Ovation site in Newport, where a funding plan already is in place, along with a memorandum of understanding with the private owner of the land.
Club ownership still prefers to keep the team in Cincinnati, though, and Berding is adamant that Oakley is an up-and-coming area meant for development and that the stadium would be the perfect anchor.
“If we don’t build stadium in Oakley, something will be built there and it will need infrastructure,” Berding said. “Our only ask of the county now is infrastructure, and there is money almost literally earmarked for a project like this.”