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Northern Kentucky Begins Public Courtship of FC Cincinnati

LISTEN: RCN talks with NKY Chamber president & CEO Brent Cooper about the organization's public campaign to bring FC Cincinnati and its new stadium to Newport:

During Oscars season you probably heard a lot about the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

This week, a similarly titled effort is out for your consideration.

Three Billboards Inside Newport, Kentucky.

The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce released a series of images, one with that tongue-in-cheek title, that took advantage through Photoshop of the stale Ovation billboard on the west side of the Newport riverfront.

Replacing the message about a long-dormant proposed mixed-use development, the NKY Chamber played around with some graphics aimed at a certain professional soccer club that is shopping for a site to build a stadium.

FC Cincinnati, the wildly popular soccer team that now plays at the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium, has long stated that there are three possible locations for a new stadium, a requirement in its quest to land a bid to join Major League Soccer: Oakley and the West End in Cincinnati, and the Ovation site in Newport.

But it has been more than a year since The River City News was first to report that Newport was under consideration, and in recent months, all the public effort to construct a stadium has been on the Cincinnati side, first in Oakley and now in the West End.

FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding spoke earlier this month at the NKY Chamber's Pints & Perspectives event at Newport Aquarium, and reiterated that Newport is still a contender. He took exception with an article in The River City News that suggested that Northern Kentucky officials and the soccer team were not doing enough to keep the public informed about the Newport option.

Northern Kentucky leaders have been passively receptive to the idea of a stadium in Newport, but for the most part, nothing public in the way of curtship has taken place until now. The three billboards inside Newport, Kentucky read #BuiltItHere Mr. Berding, We Have Room, And A View. #BuildItHereNKY is the Chamber's hashtag used to promote the low-budget, grassroots effort that is only found on social media currently.

"We want Greater Cincinnati to have an MLS team, we think FC Cincinnati is great, they are a Chamber member, we support them wherever they go," said Brent Cooper, president & CEO of the NKY Chamber. "But we do think we have the best view, we actually think it's the best site."

Cooper said, "We have it all right here within walking distance."

"We're going to be talking about it a bit more, we are relevant, don't forget about us," Cooper said. "And we actually think this is the best site."

While the public focus has been on votes by Cincinnati city council and the Hamilton County commission to support a proposed stadium in Oakley, and now the Cincinnati Board of Education for the site in the Cincinnati West End, there has been no public vote or even a public meeting about what the impact would be on Newport and how local leaders would prepare to land the stadium if it is desired.

Berding said at Pints & Perspectives, and Cooper reiterated, that the Newport site is basically ready and does not require the level of engagement that the Cincinnati sites do. The Ovation site is already part of a tax increment finance district controlled by its owner, Covington-based Corporex, and the land is ready. It also benefits from the new alignment of Kentucky Route 9 which now flows north all the way to Ovation.

So, if Newport is ready, why is there talk about Cincinnati still?

"I think they are legitimately looking at the other options," Cooper said. "What they have told us is, they want to make the biggest community impact for wherever they go. We want them to be an MLS team. We want to find ways for them to succeed wherever they go. That's not just spin. Having them is a big deal for the business community on both sides of the river but we want them to see this side. So, we're rooting for FC, we do want them to see this side and all the good things w ehave so they are aware of it, regardless."

There is now precedent for a Cincinnati sports team playing and having success in Northern Kentucky. The University of Cincinnati men's basketball team played its home games at BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University this season while its own arena undergoes a renovation. The Bearcats are in the midst of the program's most successful season in years.

Meanwhile, what could FC Cincinnati placing a stadium in Newport mean for regional cohesion? Does it warrant serious discussion about connecting the Cincinnati Streetcar to Northern Kentucky? Does it motivate the Northern Kentucky River Cities to speed up its work on Riverfront Commons so that it can connect to Cincinnati's thriving riverfront?

Those questions may not be answered yet, but Cooper confirmed that there is an economic study analyzing the impact on Newport should FC Cincinnati move there. Those numbers are not yet available publicly but Cooper, who also has not seen the study, said that they will be presented.

To hear the entire interview, click here.

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher

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