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FC Cincinnati GM: Unable to Reach Stadium Deal in Newport

This story from Thursday night has been updated following new details on Friday morning about a proposed deal from two members of Cincinnati city council that could land the stadium in that city's West End.

Soccer Stadium Sweepstakes took another turn on Thursday when Cincinnati's West End re-emerged as seemingly top contender to land FC Cincinnati's hoped-for permanent home in its quest to join Major League Soccer.

And for the first time, the team alluded to problems with a possible Newport site.

FC Cincinnati general manager Jeff Berding issued a statement Thursday evening in which he expressed hope to be able to land a deal, after months of disagreements and public debates, in the city's West End. There has been difficulty in securing an agreement with the Cincinnati Board of Education and neighborhood leaders. That changed on Friday morning, though.

Cincinnati city council members P.G. Sittenfeld and David Mann announced a deal to bring the stadium to the West End during a news conference that featured leaders from the neighborhood and school community. The proposal includes FC Cincinnati paying $25 million in school taxes, which is the full amount expected by the board of education, and which had been a sticking point in earlier negotiations as the team sought to pay far less.

During the news conference, it appeared that the plan may have majority support at Cincinnati city council and would also need various approvals from the board of education related to the sale of property that it owns, and the Hamilton County Commission which would contribute to parking.

On Thursday, Berding appeared to rule out another of the three options, Oakley, arguing that MLS teams thrive in an urban center.

Newport is an urban center - but after more than a year of praising the site and saying that there was no need for conversation with government officials on the Kentucky side of the river yet because many of the development incentives are already in place for the Ovation site on the riverfront, Berding said there is a problem.

"In Newport, we would happily build our stadium at the Ovation site, and appreciate all the support from the business, civic and neighborhood communities in Northern Kentucky. However, we have not been able to reach agreement on site development and financing plans with Corporex," Berding said in a statement.

Corporex is the owner of the Ovation site, a sprawling vacant piece of riverfront property that was the target of planned $1 billion mixed-use development a decade ago. But nothing ever happened and the only thing standing on it is a billboard promoting its former promise.

Corporex also controls the tax increment finance (TIF) district created to spur development on the site, a component that Berding cited as attractive for building the stadium in Newport.

In recent months, civic and business leaders have rallied behind the idea, very publicly courting FC Cincinnati to Newport, with its #BuildItHereNKY social media campaign developed by the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Instead, Berding appears to be pinning hopes on the West End. 

"We have worked for nearly three months in the West End, engaging neighborhood stakeholders, (Cincinnati Public Schools), elected officials, and others in a variety of public meetings and private discussions," Berding said in a statement. "While we have yet to achieve necessary political support to advance plans for a privately financed stadium in the West End, we continue to engage elected leaders in Cincinnati to build a winning partnership here in the City.

"We hope to have the support from necessary stakeholders needed to bring Major League Soccer and a privately funded stadium to Greater Cincinnati."

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher

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