The FC Cincinnati stadium: What we learned at the Hamilton County Commisioners meeting
Things are moving fast for FC Cincinnati. The last two years have seen immense growth in a club that many had doubts about upon conception. Currently, FC Cincinnati is looking to build their own stadium in order to strengthen the bid for an MLS expansion spot. On Tuesday night (9/27), the Hamilton County Board of Commisioners held a meeting at the Hamilton County Board of Elections building in Norwood to open up the floor to the public about a wide variety of issues. Here are a few things we learned.
1. This city has passion for soccer. Of course, if you've been to any FC Cincinnati games you already know this. Once again, the fans of the Orange & Blue showed what it means to support their club when a large group got together at a local bar & grill called Gordo's preceding the city hall meeting before marching about a half mile through the streets of Norwood chanting and singing. There were bystanders videoing, cars and police honking and shouting "FCC!", and an overwhelming sense of pride from the people who saw the march. By the time they arrived at the Board of Elections, the chanting didn't stop. They walked through the doors and into the lobby where chants of "Cincinnati, build it here!" echoed through the council chambers. When finally inside the meeting room, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said that he'd "Never seen in 25 years a meeting preceded by a parade and drums." The fans took quite a bit of pride in this.
2. Jeff Berding reminds everyone why he's in charge. There were a few notable speakers, including FC Cincinnati president and General Manager Jeff Berding. Berding was quick to remind the board that Cincinnati is a "Major league community and a major league soccer city." He talked about the increase of young people playing soccer in the Cincinnati area (+20%) as well as the global recognition that FC Cincinnati has received over the past two years with the high-profile international friendlies and the U.S. Open cup run which saw the club reach the semi-final.
That's all well and good, but the Board of Commissioners really opens their ears when the financial aspect is raised. Berding reassured the council that there is already $250 million in private dollars waiting to be spent on the stadium and MLS expansion fee. Berding was quick to remind the board that investing is what has revitalized a lot of the downtown area and further investment is what is needed to continue the "Renaissance" that Cincinnati is currently experiencing. He also reiterated the club's stance on third-party ownership of the stadium to avoid any new taxes for the citizens of Hamilton County. After Berding, over 25 fans and supporters group members put in their two cents on what FC Cincinnati means to them and their communities and why the stadium should be built in Hamilton County.
3. The stadium bid definitely has opposition. There was one speaker in particular that stood out in opposition to the stadium named Jeff Cappel. He spoke of his displeasure for the stadium deals that saw Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park built. He dismissed the "civic pride" argument and went on to make an off-color remark about Cincinnati Bengals player Adam Jones' criminal record that visibly upset some members of the large crowd. He finished by calling the project "Welfare for billionaires."
4. Hamilton County has a lot on their plate. Although about 75% of the packed room of about 110 people were there in support of the FC Cincinnati stadium project, many others were there to voice their opinions on other public projects. There were those who attended to support an increase in funding for infrastructure projects like the Western Hills viaduct, public transportation, as well as a few in support of a complete reconstruction of the aging U.S. Bank Arena in downtown Cincinnati. As Mr. Portune mentioned a few times, they have many more projects than they do money to complete them, so prioritization is key.
All in all, this meeting was just to get a further public opinion on many public projects that are in the works. No decision was made on the night, but look for things on the stadium front to continue to heat up in the coming months.